Saturday, May 1, 2010

I’ve had it with men!

Shift #49

SUNDAY, MAY 16 -- Bay to Breakers -- My biggest day of the year: $273

From the ESPN website:

SAN FRANCISCO 4, HOUSTON 3 -- The Giants had a little hometown help for this win.

Several Houston Astros players walked to AT&T Park when taxi drivers in San Francisco declined to transport them because of the Bay to Breakers foot race that was also taking place. Those who did manage to catch a ride spent almost an hour getting to the ballpark from the Astros’ team hotel, which was less than two miles from the stadium.

Houston manager Brad Mills finally arrived 30 minutes after persuading a taxi driver to take a chance in the traffic.

“I had to tell him how to get here, but we wound up getting here,” Mills said. “I’ve never had that before. It was nuts.”

I DON’T KNOW HOW the annual, street-clogging Bay-to-Breakers extravaganza sneaks up on me each year, but somehow it always does take me by surprise. It’s officially called a “race” (it’s the oldest consecutively held running event in the world), but today it’s difficult to spot many people actually working up a sweat. The event began in 1912 with a handful of participants, grew to several hundred over the years, and then dipped to fewer than 50 during World War II. But for the nearly thirty years that I’ve lived here, Bay-to-Breakers always attracts about 100,000 participants and at least a gazillion gawkers.

And today they’re all out here, dressed in all sorts of costumes: Elvis Presley; three pert young women dressed in the tightest, most intriguing Boy Scout uniforms I’ve ever seen (and I was a Boy Scout); a group of men carrying foul-looking mops and wearing oil-stained jumpsuits with “BP” stenciled on their backs; and so many, many more...

At 8 a.m. the race officially starts with an emphatic burst from two hundred elite runners. The remainder of the mob shuffle in behind, a good percentage of them guzzling from beer cans. Things take several hours to develop -- all day, in fact. At least an hour passes before the final entrant reaches and crosses the starting line. At 10:20 a.m., in the Mission District, a mile and a half from the race route, I see crowds of costumed late-comers (a woman in pink butterfly wings; a full-gear Santa Claus; a six-foot-tall owl wearing sneakers) waiting for a MUNI train. They’re all still aiming themselves toward the race, planning to join up halfway along, at whatever time they happen to arrive... Whatever is the day’s relevant word...

RECENTLY IT HIT ME that a fair number of my free rides involve “lovely” or “charming” or “delightful” young women. Not so many men. So at 10:13 AM, when I pull out of the Safeway parking lot at Market and Church and see a handsome young Latino man flagging me, I’m happy for the chance to even things out a bit. He’s got a solid build, thick dark hair, and a chiseled face, but his good looks are providing him no comfort this morning.

Me: "How's your day going?"

He: “Terrible.”

Me: “Why?”

He: “Breakers. I started at Sixth and Geary, but MUNI never came, and now I’m already an hour and fifteen minutes late to work. It’s a big party for the whole city, big fun, but not if you have to get to work.”

He’s been a cook “for years” at a restaurant at 24th and Church, but he doesn’t sound interested in chit-chat, and I let him be. When I tell him that his $5.80 ride is free, he resists, hard. “You have to make a living,” he insists. “I can’t accept this.” He holds his credit card toward me, but I punch buttons on the meter and disappear the numbers. “I can’t run a credit card now,” I tell him (and it’s true). “Everyone else is having fun -- you deserve a break, too.” And he surrenders. With a small smile, even.

MOMENTS LATER at 18th and Castro, another handsome man. This one is carrying a bag of ice and is headed to a party at a friend’s house on the Hayes Street Hill -- “Heartbreak Hill” in Bay-to-Breakers lingo. He’s in a much better mood than than the cook; he tells me right away that today is his forty-first birthday. He thinks this is the fourth time in the last twenty years that Bay-to-Breakers has collided with his birthday, and, to his way of thinking, this is not a good thing -- it’s a distraction from the main event: his own life. But when I tell him, at ride’s end ($7.60), that on his birthday I am refusing to take his money, he just ain’t having it. “No fuckin’ way," he says. He’s already got nine dollars in cash in his hand, and he reaches forward between the two front seats and stuffs the bills down into my coffee mug, which is plugged into the cup holder near the dashboard.

That’s it. I tried. I’ve had it with men. I’m going back to lovely, charming, delightful women now…

(NOTE: At 4 pm, as I turn in, the dispatcher is still calling for cabs at the race’s end point, Ocean Beach -- eight full hours after the race has begun...)


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