Monday, March 1, 2010


Shift #28

SUNDAY, MARCH 14 -- Fillmore and Chestnut to Fillmore and Union -- $3.55

NO CAB DRIVER COULD HELP NOTICING these two anxious-looking young women -- they are pulling wheeled suitcases behind them, their hair looks as wild as if they’ve leapt from bed two minutes ago, and they both have tense, need-to-get-to-the-airport expressions on their faces. But they are not looking for a cab. While I’m watching them, they stop in a bus stop shelter, prop their suitcases upright, and begin searching Fillmore Street for a bus.

I glide past them, down the business stretch of Chestnut Street. This enclave of shops and restaurants is absolutely level, zero grade, and my Prius can roll from one end of it to the other and back on electricity alone, without the gasoline engine ever switching on. I drive past all my personal landmarks -- past Noah’s Bagels, past Allstar Donuts, past the Apple store, past Starbucks, past Peet’s -- all the way to United Liquor and Deli at the corner of Chestnut and Divisadero, where I make a U-turn. Four blocks later I see the two women still standing at the bus stop, but the four minutes they've just spent waiting for a bus have infused their facial expressions with a frantic quality, and now they are both waving at me in a rather well-lathered panic.

“The nearest BART station,” one of them says.

I ask, “What time is your flight?”

Fare #1: “Eleven-fifteen.”

Fare #2: “What time is it now?”

Before I can answer, Fare #1 says: “Ten after ten.”

If it really were 10:10, there is almost no way they’d make an 11:15 flight. I say, “It’s actually 9:10.”

One of them: “Really?”

“My dispatcher’s been reminding us on the radio all morning.”

It's quiet in the cab. I lift my cell phone over the backseat so they can read the 9:15 glowing on its face. No one argues with a cell phone.

Fare # 2: “Oh, man… I must have set the clock two hours ahead!”

Fare #1: “I thought you did!”

Fare #2: “I need coffee!”

Fare #1: “Can you just let us out at that coffee shop?” The Union Street Coffee Roastery is dead ahead. They’ve been in the cab four short blocks, maybe 200 yards.

I drop them off, wish them luck.

My next fare goes to the airport for $45.

LATER… 1:30 pm. SFO to South San Francisco -- $14.55

A YOUNG WOMAN WITH CURLY RED HAIR. She settles in, says she’s heading to a nearby bio-tech company, where she parked her car, and then her phone rings and she talks non-stop for the duration of the six-minute ride:

“Oh, Dad -- what a nightmare! No -- I’m back home now… A nightmare! A day and a half of travel, and I didn’t even get to New York… I only got four hours of sleep on Friday night because I had to be at the airport at 4 AM. When we left San Francisco there wasn’t even a storm warning for New York -- nothing! -- but then they had these high winds and they shut the airport and diverted us to Pittsburgh. After a full day of traveling I spent the night in the airport in Pittsburgh, and it just didn't make any sense to go on to New York, and of course all the flights were full anyway...

"Then when I woke up this morning I forgot this is the day we turn the clocks back -- right, ahead -- and I nearly panicked when I realized and I had to scramble and I almost missed my flight back here! The ticket cost me six hundred dollars, and (the airline) says they’re not responsible for weather or mechanical, so no refund. I suppose I could write a letter, but it would probably just be a further waste of my time...”

Body is cheering Free Ride!, but I try to be rational: You already gave a free ride to those two women this morning… You just now waited an hour at the airport, you deserve something … Your shift is nearly over and so far you’ve only got $40 to take home… You can’t give away every ride…

My fare continues: “And if I talk to one more ticket agent I’ll probably be... inappropriate. It’s not their fault, but it’s so frustrating. I have to fly to San Deigo this week, but I don’t even want to see an airplane for at least a month. I’m going home and all I want to do is take a nap, but I’ve got a cat sitter coming sometime this afternoon -- and I’ve already paid for that…”

Body: “Heh, heh, heh…

I double-check: “Really?”

Body: “Have some fun, bro…

At the end of the ride, I say, “Just to make your day even more interesting…” and then I tell her.

As I’m pulling away, I look back. She’s loading her suitcase into the trunk of her car and she’s smiling so hard I think her cheeks might just crack open.

My next ride goes from the airport to Half Moon Bay for $60.


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