Monday, March 1, 2010

The Imaginary Foundation

Shift #27

FRIDAY, MARCH 12 – 26th and South Van Ness to 22nd and Tennessee -- $7:15

IF WE GET ANOTHER THREE INCHES OF RAIN THIS WINTER San Francisco will have had its first “normal” rains in four years (average rainfall is around 23 inches). It’s been drumming down steadily all morning, and the young man and woman who have called for my cab are waiting under the eaves of their apartment building deep in the Mission District.

“Citywide is so great,” the woman tells me. (Citywide Dispatch has ten smaller cab companies under its umbrella, including Green Cab.) “We used to always call (one of San Francisco’s bigger cab companies), but our favorite driver there quit and came to Citywide, so now we call you guys. A lot of times (that bigger cab company) says they’ll be there in ten minutes, but then they never come. You guys always come right away.”

Me: “I think we’re the best kept secret in the cab industry.” [Citywide doesn't get as much business as the larger comanies do, but my fear is that if Citywide ever advertised (it doesn’t) we would be flooded with calls -- (415) 920-0700 -- and would wind up giving the same lousy service as most of the other companies. But as it is, the people who know about us are pretty darned happy.]

The man: “Even though it’s raining, I don’t think we were waiting even four minutes.”

The woman: “It makes so much difference having a live dispatcher instead of a computer. And your dispatchers aren’t rude!”

I’m already leaning free ride, but then we get talking about the place where they have both been working for about a year now -- the Imaginary Foundation. “It’s a tee-shirt company,” the woman says, “but it’s really much more than that. The founder is a ‘genius’ and an incredible artist. Sometimes I have to look at his designs for about six months before I see everything that’s going on in them.” (From the company website: “The Imaginary Foundation is a think tank from Switzerland that does experimental research on new ways of thinking and the power of the imagination… The small clandestine team is headed up by the mysterious ‘Director,’ a 70-something über-intellectual whose father founded the Dadaist movement. Avoiding direct publicity, the team has sought clothing as an unlikely vehicle for bringing their ideas beyond the academic realm and into popular culture.”)

We get absorbed in our discussion and at ride’s end the man gives me two five-dollar bills, and it’s only as I watch my two fares disappear into their building that I remember free ride. Well, too late now...

The street where I’ve dropped them dead-ends into an industrial park, so I do a U-turn, and as I’m again passing by their building, I see my two passengers re-emerge through the front door, stop, and huddle together against the wind to light cigarettes. I think of pulling over and explaining to them about my free ride, but might that not confuse them, might that not just be embarrassing all the way around? So I just pass right on by.

But sitting at the stop sign at the next corner, I hear Body squawking: Who says?

I do another U-turn, stop, give a beckoning wave. The woman -- she’s the closer of the two -- walks over to my passenger window; the man stays back, out of the rain. “Every day I give away one free ride,” I tell her, “and I’d like yours to be my free ride today. Can you please give these back to your friend?” I hold out the two five-dollar bills. She takes them. “That’s cool,” she says.


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