Thursday, April 1, 2010

* * My better-looking brother * *

Shift #41

SUNDAY, APRIL 25 – 16th/Bryant to 22nd/Shotwell -- $6.70

A YOUNG WOMAN with black hair and peanut-butter-brown skin, and carrying a cylindrical tube slung over her shoulder, flags me from the bus zone. I would guess she’s from India, but when she asks if she can pay by credit card I note that her accent is dead-center mainstream modern American. She says she would usually walk the ten blocks to her home, but today she has to complete a project for school and she’s feeling pressured for time. Her tone is apologetic.

I tell her, “You should always...take a cab.” It’s one of my old, practiced lines, and I try to deliver it in a mirthful, grandfatherly tone, even though I can not imagine myself ever being a grandfather.

She tells me she is just about to graduate from the California College of the Arts (CCA). Her cylindrical tube contains a poster, the school project she is working on. I tell her that my family lives about half a mile from the Oakland campus of CCA and that my wife and I tease our daughter by saying she is welcomed to go to any college she wants to as long as it’s CCA. My fare laughs and says that she grew up in Portland, Oregon, just a few blocks from Reed College, and her parents used to tease her the same way about Reed. I ask where did she wind up going to school? “All the way across the country,” she says. “To Bates College in Maine!”

Nearing her house, I employ another old, practiced line of mine: “My grandparents came from Slovakia. May I ask what your ancestry is?”

“I was adopted from a small village in India. My adoptive parents were not Indian... No, I’ve never been to India, but I’m hoping to go soon.” I wish the ride were longer -- I wish I had the chance to dazzle her with some of my grandfatherly India stories -- but we’re in front of her address now. When I tell her not to bother getting out her credit card, she says, “Really?” and then tips her head to the side the way I saw many, many people do in India. She smiles and says, “Oh, you have made my day.”

IT IS ALMOST NOON NOW, and I aim my cab toward the baseball stadium. The cab driver to whom I gave my tickets for today’s one o’clock Giants game against the Cardinals handed them back to me yesterday, said he couldn’t use them after all, and now I still have them -- they’re tucked up under my sun visor.

I cruise for about a mile and a half down Mission Street, scanning the sidewalks for some likely couple to surprise, but it just doesn’t happen. At Fourth and Howard I’m flagged by a young man and woman headed to First and Harrison; they say they appreciate my offer but have other plans. At Spear and Harrison I see my first scalper -- hanging from his neck is a red placard with neat white lettering: BUY AND SELL TICKETS. I consider just giving him my pair and going on about my day, but Body says No.

It’s another beautiful, still, cloudless, windows-down, perfect San Francisco day -- it’s even warm! -- and streams of tee-shirted people are strolling along the Embarcadero esplanade, heading toward the ballpark. Scalpers are everywhere here, bunches of young and middle-aged men, almost all of them black, holding tickets overhead or flashing Sharpie-on-cardboard signs (Need Tickets!) or barking “Who’s got extra?” None of these guys pay any attention to me -- Why bother with a cab driver?

The vehicle traffic is game-day thick, and I crawl down the Embarcadero past Brannan and then sit through two full cycles of the signal at Townsend without moving an inch. I want this part of my day over with. The tickets cost me just ten bucks each, and now I’m wasting time trying to find a home for them. Maybe I really should just hand them to one of these guys, or just forget about them, let them go unused. It’s not like I’m going to be able to use or give away all of the eighty-one pairs I bought for this season…

Rod...-NEEE! Got two?” It’s a scalper on the far side of the Embarcadero yelling to a colleague over on my side, Rodney sprints through traffic and has a short conversation with his colleague and a couple of folks who look to be about my age. All parties flap their hands in the air for a bit and then part ways, all heads shaking, all faces frowning.

I squeeze my cab out of the right lane and over into the left lane, then dart quickly into the left turn lane. The light goes green for me exactly when I need it and I pull through the intersection and skid to a stop in the driveway that leads to City Kayak, the Java House Restaurant, and the Bike Hut. I’m blocking the sidewalk, right in the path of the would-be buyers. They’re five feet from my driver-side window and have to break stride to avoid walking smack into my cab. The man is sucking on a cigarette. The woman is the nearest to me, and her face shows surprise as she glances at me, this Green Cab driver who has suddenly cut her off.

The two of us speak at the same time. As I’m blurting, “You’re looking for tickets?” she’s blurting, “Weren’t you in that commercial?”

She looks down at the tickets I’m holding out, takes them, and begins to study them. Pedestrians stream around my cab. A car behind me is honking. “They’re all yours,” I say.

“Well…thanks!” she says. “But weren’t you in that commercial?”

I’m sure she knows the truth -- my smile says I have never in my life had quite this much fun -- so I don’t feel bad about giving her a line I invented at a party just last night, a line which got me a great big laugh: “That was my better-looking, more-articulate brother.”

She calls after me, “Well, you look just like him!”


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