Monday, February 1, 2010

* * Herbert Gold * *

Shift #16

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 10 -- 10:35 a.m -- a street flag -- $6.25

of O’Farrell and Leavenworth wearing mirror shades -- maybe she’s smiling, but I can’t tell for sure. She says she’s headed “over near Francisco Street, at the other end of Leavenworth.”

I start climbing the flank of Nob Hill, aiming toward Francisco, but we’ve only gone a block -- we’re stopped at the signal at Sutter and Leavenworth -- when a DeSoto Cab pulls up alongside us on the right. “Oh, no,” my fare says. “I just got out of that cab two minutes ago.”

I can feel the tentacles of the DeSoto driver’s hairy eyeballs trying to grip the side of my right cheek, but I don’t look over. The light changes, I pull away. “What happened?” I ask my fare.

“Well, I jumped in, told him where I was going, and then just a block later we ran right into some police action that had all the traffic stopped. I didn’t want to just sit there with the meter running, so I said, ‘Sorry, dude,’ and I jumped out. I didn’t pay him anything. I thought we’d be sitting there forever, but it looks like he got out of it o.k. That was just two minutes ago.”

In the rearview I see the DeSoto driver turn off down Bush Street, and now the weirdness is behind us. “Well,” I say, “other than that little snafu, how’s your day been going?”

“Fine,” she says. “Class... Painting…”

Me: “You had a class and now you have to do some painting...? Or you have a painting class...?”

She: “I have a painting class. I’m headed to the San Francisco Art Institute. Do you know it?”

Me: “I’ve picked people up there plenty of times. And I ate lunch in the cafeteria once, a long time ago. Does the cafeteria still have a great view?”

She: “There are these great windows looking out over the Bay. Is that how it was twenty years ago?”

Me: “I don’t remember the windows so much... I think we sat out on the deck… Is there a deck?”

She: “There is.”

We’re quiet for a few seconds… But then, what the heck, people want to hear stories from their cab drivers, right?

Me: “Do you know of the writer Herb Gold? Herbert Gold?”

She: “No…”

I’m not surprised -- my fare is in her early twenties. “Herb’s kind of famous,” I tell her. “He’s in his eighties now, and he’s written about twenty books. Back in the 1950s and 60s he hung out with all the Beats in North Beach -- Kerouac, William Burroughs, Ferlinghetti… And twenty years ago he flattered the heck out of me by inviting me to lunch. I had just had a book of my own published, and my agent called me and said Herb Gold liked it and wanted to take me to lunch. He was a very nice guy. He took me to the cafeteria at the Art Institute. I do remember a great view, but mostly I remember sitting there, thinking, ‘Herb Gold… I can’t believe it…’”

(I also remember this: After lunch, while Herb and I were saying good-bye on the sidewalk outside his nearby flat, I asked him, “Can you tell me, the young wannabe writer, how to make a career out of this?” And Herbert Gold gave me some advice which I wish I had followed more diligently. “Just keep writing. Every day. Keep writing.”)

My fare: “What was your book about?”

“A trip around the world I took…” But I’ve talked about myself enough -- too much, probably. I ask her, “What painting are you working on today?”

She: “It’s a figure.”


She: “Yes.”

“Is it someone you know?”

She: “No… just someone that came to me…”

Me: “I guess that’s the best way sometimes -- ‘Well, where did YOU come from? Nice to meet you...’

She chooses to play. “Hey baby…” She’s dropped her voice a notch -- it’s not man-deep, but I get the drift, especially when she continues, and I quote: “Nice tits!

When we’ve both finished laughing, I tell her about my free ride and she actually squeals. She tells me her name...was it Danielle? I can’t remember now, but I do remember that the rims of her mirror shades were covered in tiny rainbow stripes.

“You wouldn’t believe how great this is!” she says. She holds up a twenty-dollar bill for me to see. “Just this morning I took this out of the rent jar!

“Well,” I tell her, “go put it back.”


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