Saturday, May 1, 2010

* * Listen to ME! * *

Shift #51

FRIDAY, MAY 22 -- Here, there, everywhere -- Maybe $1,000 or so?

FOR THE SHIFT’S FIRST HOUR-AND-A-QUARTER I’M EMPTY. But finally I snag a thirty-nine dollar airport off the radio and then, back in the city, I catch another radio call on the edge of the Castro -- my first free ride of the day. Her name is White Feather, and I remember that she rode in my cab back in 2006, the year when I took notes every day for a book I’ve yet to write.

White Feather is an old hippie, like me, and today she’s goin’ up-country. At the Civic Center she’ll be catching a bus to the isolated hamlet of Camp Meeker, in Sonoma County. Ten years ago she bought a cabin in the woods on the high ground above a creek, and now she heads to it every chance she gets -- it’s quiet there, peaceful. If I’m ever passing through, she recommends eating at the Union Hotel in the nearby village of Occidental: “If you order a pizza, you’ll get this frothy pesto sauce that’s been made fresh just for that pizza.”

I recall that White Feather has long ago, like me, published a book, and at the Civic Center, after I’ve told her that this (for me) enjoyable ride is my free ride for the day, I ask her to again please tell me her book’s title. She’s happy about the free ride, but even happier that I remember she’s an author. She says, “Rebel Without Applause: Tales from the Castro Renaissance,” and nods to the big building on the far side of Civic Center Plaza. “It’s still over there in the library.” (Which makes me wonder about my own...?)

MY NEXT FARE is a Citywide Dispatch regular who is heading from Pacific Heights to her job at 525 Market Street. As we’re driving down Post Street (ahead of me I note a bumper-sticker: Humankind -- Be Both!), I tell my fare that from 1982-1984 I, too, worked at 525 Market, in the Credit Card Department of Wells Fargo Bank.

My fare asks a string of the same sort of questions I like to ask when given an opening into someone’s life story.

Her first question: “What was your job?”

Me: “I was a secretary. I was thirty-two at the time, and my boss was a twenty-eight-year old woman -- a senior vice president and a rising star in the bank.”

My fare: “Did you get along?”

“We did. I understood that my job was to make her look good, and to do my best to make sure that her sixty-employee division ran smoothly. By the time I left she was nudging me toward an opening as speech writer/public relations guy for the head of the department -- six hundred employees.”

“Why did you leave?”

“My then-wife decided she no longer wanted to be married, and suddenly I found myself alone and free… Took a backtrip around the world… No, she never remarried… Back then it was of course impossible for me to understand, but now I get it: She simply just...didn’ be married.”

She: “Did you find someone new?”

“I’m married again, and we have a thirteen year-old daughter.”

“That’s wonderful.”

“Yes, thank you. I feel pretty lucky.”

She: “My husband died fifteen months ago. We were married forty-three years.”

Me: “I am very sorry... How are you doing? I know that fifteen months isn’t very long.”

She: “I am lost. I am so, so very lost…”

A few moments later, too quickly, our ride and conversation end in front of 525 Market. I squeeze the cab up against the curb, pop on the flashers, and my fare quickly pays me. I hop out and dig in the trunk for a copy of All The Right Places, the book I wrote about my 1984 grief-stricken, round-the-world backpack trip. My fare and I are standing just a few steps from the forty-story building through whose front door I walked at this same hour every weekday morning, until the bottom fell out of that earlier life of mine, and now I am handing the instrument of my healing to a wounded woman whose eyes have welled up and who could quite obviously stand some healing of her own. She’s gulping deep draughts of San Francisco Bay air, but not because it tastes so sweet. Her shoulders are heaving. She’s trying to recompose herself back into presentable nine-to-five shape. Her tears, I notice, are dropping onto the front of her coat at a rate of about one per breath...

ONE BLOCK LATER, before I’ve had a chance to digest all the shared emotion, I’m flagged by a woman about my own age who is running late due to a BART snafu. Now that she’s in my cab she can relax -- she’ll be on time for her doctor appointment. She grew up in Texas, moved to San Francisco during her twenties, a move that was, she says, probably the best, the smartest thing, she ever did. She loves it here. Loves the scenery, the diversity. She hated the kind of thinking she remembers growing up with in Texas. The racism, the mono-culture... On her most recent visit back, she found herself descending an escalator in a shopping mall: “And I realized I was going down into a solid sea of white faces. It scared me. It was suffocating… A while ago my mom died, and an old boyfriend from high school read the obituary and found my phone number. He’s a banker, makes more money than God -- I’m not kidding, he’s absolutely loaded. He’s a nice enough guy, but he’s as red-neck as they come. And I thought, ‘Look what I could have become.’ Oh, thank you, Jesus!

We’re half a block from her doctor’s office, and she’s opening her purse. “What’s your work?” I ask her.

She: “I’m an attorney. I’ve probably helped more down-and-out people than is good for me. Recently I learned that I charge less than what the non-profit legal services charge. But I don’t care…”

Body: Free ride

I fight back as hard as I’ve ever fought back: I mean, holy shit! I’ve been out here for almost four hours, and I’ve made forty-nine bucks so far -- not even counting for my coffee and bagel. I’m fifty-eight years old. That’s twelve bucks an hour, and I don’t even get to keep it. I’ve got to make another sixty, maybe sixty-five bucks just to pay my gates and gas …

Body: Listen to me, asshole!

No, you listen to me for once! You told me to give White Feather her ride, and I gave the other woman my book -- that would cost at least fifteen bucks in a book store, even on amazon. I can’t give away everything! What the fuck!

Body starts screaming, and slapping me around: Amazon! You fat phony -- you write and write and write about how you listen to me. What crap! You wanna write that shit, you gotta actually fuckin’ LISTEN TO ME! Or STOP FUCKING WRITING IT! Who do you think you’re fooling, you fuckin’ idiot. I’m SCREAMING at you. CAN’T YOU FUCKIN’ HEAR ME!

We’re at the curb. My fare’s money is out, in her hand. She’s got the door open.

“Every day I give away one free ride, and today this is my free ride.”

Her mouth drops open. Her cell phone rings. “Are you sure?” she asks me.

Me: “I’m sure.”

She glances down at her ringing phone: “I hardly know what to say… But thank you so much!” She flips opens the phone and steps from the cab.

I’M SITTING ATOP PACIFIC HEIGHTS, looking out at the sun shining on San Francisco Bay. I’m feeling a little beat up, but it’s nothing serious. Yeah, yeah, so what I’ve been out here for four hours and I’ve only got forty-nine bucks to show for it! I could look at it another way: It’s a gorgeous day and I’ve got forty-nine bucks! I’ve also got a place to sleep tonight, food to eat, people I love and who love me, a city I adore. Right over there is the Golden Gate Bridge -- people all over the world dream about coming here to see it. There’s Alcatraz, there’s Angel Island, Sausalito, Tiburon. There’s the little church where Bob and Nancy got married…”

Then: “And hey, there’s Fort Mason. I should drop on down and check in with the Park Service. It’s nine o’clock -- someone should be in the office by now.”

OVER THE PAST SEVERAL WEEKS I’ve been stopping by the Park Service office to discuss the particulars of an application I’ve filled out but haven’t yet formally submitted. I’ve been hemming and hawwing about whether or not to organize a Beach Impeach-style event in June -- my real desire is to hold such an event every June, but right now I’m just trying to sell myself and the Park Service on the idea of the first one, which I want to hold on the morning of June 26.

I think...

These things are always a ton of work. And they’re expensive -- they’ve ranged from $2,500 to $7,000, and this one will probably come in around $2,500-$3,000. At the last three events, donations covered nearly all of the costs, but you never know. The work, the coordination, the details… It’s gruelling. And my family hates the madman they say I become while I’m sweating out one of these things.

What drives me, however, is this: When I run into or exchange emails with someone who has attended one (or more, or all) of these events, they almost always say something like this: “When are we going back to the beach again? That sure was fun…”

So I’ve been dickering with the Park Service. I’ve asked them to issue me a “First Amendment Free Speech” permit. I did ask for this type of permit at all four of the Beach Impeach events, too, but was always told no, and each time I wound up with a “photographic event” permit costing $300-500 per. And before securing each photographic permit, I was required to purchase $500 (or more) worth of “event insurance” -- and, each time, it seemed just about impossible to find an insurer willing to sell it. But each time, just as I was thinking I’d have to cancel the event, some insurance hero would come through for me. The helicopters were plenty tricky by themselves, but the Park Service permits and especially the event insurance -- those suckers gave me fits.

I’M BARELY IN THE DOOR, we haven’t even shaken hands yet, when my Park Service contact says, “Hey, we decided we can give you a free speech permit this time.”

I’ve barely absorbed this news (ca-ching -- there’s three to five hundred bucks I don’t have to scramble for) when he says, “And for a free speech event, you don’t need event insurance.”

A thousand bucks. My two biggest headaches have just been blasted with morphine.

As I’m walking back to my cab, Body whispers to me: Dude…

Yeah, yeah, I know…

Body grabs the front of my shirt with both hands and jerks me off my feet: Dude! Do Not FUCK WITH ME!


1 comment:

  1. Brad, this post totally made me tear up. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences here. I love reading them.