Monday, February 1, 2010

Betty Bethards

Shift #22

-- Gough/MacAllister to Greenwich/Sansome -- $9.85

THE DISPATCH SYSTEM I USE has many regular callers, including a young woman who rides from Hayes Valley over to Levi Plaza early each weekday morning. I’ve never had her in my cab before, but just a few minutes before six o’clock on this still-black winter morning, I’m two blocks from her address when today’s dispatcher, Tom, puts out her call…

As we climb the Franklin Street hill, pass the Unitarian Church, and head on toward the Broadway tunnel and Levi Plaza, she tells me that she grew up in Boston and has been working in software in San Francisco for seven years now. Whenever I hear the words “seven years” pop out of someone’s mouth -- especially out of the the mouth of someone in their mid-20s, as I estimate this woman to be -- a certain memory invariably pops into my mind.

“May I tell a story?” I ask.


“Back in the early 1980s, a woman named Betty Bethards -- she had a reputation as a ‘psychic’ -- used to speak to crowds of people at the Unitarian Church right back there... My ex-wife used to go to see her, and took me along a couple of times. The evenings were a lot of fun, and I found Betty Bethards really interesting -- a few things of the things she said have stuck with me ever since. One of them was that life happens in seven-year cycles. There is actually some scientific basis for that idea. I’ve had molecular biologists in my cab tell me that the lifespan of most of the cells in our bodies is seven years. Certain cells last much longer -- some of our brain cells, for instance, stay with us our entire lives. But most of our cells, ninety-some percent of them, last just seven years and are then replaced by younger cells with seven-year life spans of their own. So…life happens in seven-year cycles -- I’m okay with that concept. But Betty Bethards added a…a twist.”

My fare: “Okay…”

Me: “Betty Bethards said that we individuals are not actually responsible for the first four seven-year cycles of our lives. What’s happening in those first four cycles is that we’re working off karma from our past lives, or perhaps we’re working off our parents’ karma and their expectations for us, or perhaps we’re working off society’s karma and expectations for us. But, according to Betty Bethards, after our first four cycles we are responsible. After our first four cycles, everything’s different. Everything counts. We’re…responsible.

My fare: “So it’s when you turn twenty-eight?”

“That’s right. That’s what Betty Bethards said, anyway. I was thirty-three when I heard her say that, and I had to laugh at myself because it made me remember something that happened shortly after my twenty-eighth birthday. I was in a bar in Southern California and I met a woman -- a stranger, I never saw her again -- and she asked me if I was married. I just snorted -- ‘Hah! ME!’ -- it just didn’t seem possible. Not me. I just wasn’t the marrying type. And then, just a few months later… Surprise! -- I was married.”

She: “That’s really funny. I’m twenty-eight right now, and I just recently moved into my own studio. In the last seven years I’ve had sixteen roommates. But now, for the first time in my life, I’m living alone. And it’s really different. I love it, but it’s just so completely different! Now it’s just me. I’m finally...actually...physically...on my own. I’m twenty-eight! And I finally have my own place.”

Me: “I have run that Betty Bethards story past hundreds of people now, and I would say ninety-to-ninety-five percent of them look back at that time in their lives, right around twenty-eight, twenty-nine, and say there was in fact some notable shift that took place.”

She: “I was just recently talking to my mom, and she pointed out that when she was exactly my age, she was having a baby -- me. We had to laugh about that. I’m finally getting my own studio -- she was having a baby!

At the end of this free ride, my fare tells me, “Mister, you have made my day.”

Me: “And you have made mine...”

It’s 6:11 a.m., still a black, mid-winter morning outside. I’ve got nine-plus hours of my shift still stretching out in front of me, plus a first cup of coffee waiting for me somewhere out there, too.



  1. at 29 I took my two kids-5 and 3 and left my husband (a perfectly? good marriage) and ran off with my 17 year old boyfriend! a definite life-changing choice! the est training came soon after that!

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