Saturday, May 1, 2010

* * My ‘Eff-bomb period’ * *


WEDNESDAY, MAY 5 -- Fremont/Market to Howard/Third -- $5.80

DOWNTOWN AT NOON two women hail me for a ride to the Thirsty Bear Brewing Company, a bar/restaurant across the street from the W Hotel. I’m not part of their conversation, but I overhear that one of them is a native of Puebla, Mexico, and for me this is reason enough for a free ride on this particular day. When I pull up in front of the Thirsty Bear and break the news, my fares seem a little uncertain about it all. I can tell they like the idea, but…Really?

“It’s Cinco de Mayo…,” I say, and as gently as I can, I slip my hand around to the handle of the back door and ease it open for them. “You can take a free ride on Cinco de Mayo, can’t you?”

It takes them just a few brief seconds for the date to register with them, and as we’re sitting there, this scenario -- door open, passengers reluctant to depart -- pushes to the forefront of my mind a chain of old memories, and I feel myself start to smile. But I suppress the impulse -- I can unravel those memories later -- and I just wait...

In the rearview I see them look toward each other. The one from Mexico smiles, the other nods. “Thank you very much!”

CHAIN OF MEMORIES: It’s the year 1985 and I am 35 years old, a green, newly-minted cab driver, very inexperienced in the nitty-gritty of street life. My first few weeks are like a trip to a foreign country: entertainment, an education, a peek into an entirely new subculture. At the end of each shift, I and a dozen other drivers squeeze into a tiny, beat-up hoboes’ shack at the edge of the cab lot and line up to slip our daily cab rental fees -- our “gates” -- to a cashier caged behind an iron-barred window.

Being new, I have no stories to tell, but I love listening to everyone else’s -- particularly the tales spun by a cocky, full-of-life fellow named Mickey. Mickey’s stories are hilarious, not just for their content but because Mickey’s accent and in-your-face demeanor are pure Brooklyn. One day his post-shift performance contains this line: “…so I tell dis broad, ‘Get da fuck outta my cab!...’”

I of course know that people don’t really swear like that -- not casually, not at strangers, and certainly not when those strangers are one’s customers. Besides, cab drivers can get fired for talking to fares that way. When Mickey’s finished, and when I’ve stopped laughing, I say, “Great story, Mickey. But you didn’t really say that to her, did you?”

Mickey: “Say what?”

Me: “You know -- ‘Get the fuck out of my cab!’”

Mickey: “Da fuck I didn’t!

ROLL THE CAMERA forward just a few weeks, if you will, to a warm weekend night. Actually it’s about three in the morning and I’m at the tail end of a long shift when I’m flagged South of Market by a moderately-but-quite-noticeably-overweight young woman. I’m not so green anymore -- by now I’ve mopped up after a backseat pukers, have seen fares sprint off into the night without paying, have had a gun held to my head… When she opens my back door, but before she can get in, I tell this woman, “Excuse me -- I’ve only got a few minutes left in my shift, and I can only do a short ride. Where are you headed?”

She: “Daly City.”

Cab drivers who turn in late are charged, often, one dollar per late minute. (The greedier companies consider the late fee a profit center and happily pocket the money, but at a decent company -- Green Cab, for instance -- the late fee goes straight to the next driver, and the fee is charged only if that next driver is present and has been waiting for his/her turn in the cab.) Driving this woman to Daly City will require at least twenty-five minutes and cost me a bunch of money: “I’m sorry, I can’t do it.”

She starts to scream -- she questions my ethnicity, speculates pessimistically on the dimensions of my manhood, proclaims that the collective value of all cab drivers does not equal the collective value of all fecal matter -- and then she slams my door louder than all of that combined.

I’ve spent nearly ten hours chasing fares all over the city -- I’m drained -- but I spring from the cab, glare across the rooftop at her bulging face, and offer a suggestion: “Maybe, if you walk all the way to Daly City, you’ll lose some of that fat!” Tame, even lame, I know, but it’s the best I can come up with -- and it feels good! All the way back to the garage I find myself chortling, and also re-thinking Mickey: Maybe he did cuss that woman out?

ON A COLD WINTER NIGHT a few months later, I pick up two drunk white guys in North Beach. Within a block they toss off the n-word at least five times. Suddenly my hands jerk the wheel, my foot jabs the brake, the cab screeches to the curb at Union and Colombus -- on the far side of Washington Square, the twin, spotlighted spires of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul rise into the black sky. I reach across the back seat, yank the handle, throw open the door… “Get the fuck out of my cab!”

BEFORE THEY MOVED from Oakland to Oregon several years ago, I used to share my cab stories with my old friends Jon and Diana. One morning I woke them up so I could unburden myself of the saga of having a gun pulled on me during the night -- my third gun. They didn’t appreciate that story so much -- it alarmed them, it wasn’t such a great start to their day -- but they always liked my others. They enjoyed hearing about Mickey, and the fat woman, and the two n-word spewers, and about my growing infatutation with telling other obnoxious people to “Get the fuck out of my cab!” And about how this tactic was becoming perhaps my favorite of the few arrows in my cab driving quiver: “Get the fuck out of my cab!” Whenever we would get together, Jon and Diana would always ask if I’d had to let it fly lately?

One December in the early 1990s, Jon and Diana call me before coming to the City for a Saturday night Christmas party. I pick them up at BART and drop them at Ghiradelli Square. When they try to pay, I refuse. No, they say, it’s not right… We have to pay you…you’re working!…etc. But some things cannot be assigned a dollar value: in college, first baseman Jon used to dig my errant throws from third out of the dirt; publisher’s rep Diana has given me hundreds of dollars worth of free books. I tell them, “Hey -- what’s one free taxi ride between friends?” But they’re not having it: We’d have had to pay some other driver… If we’d known you were going to act this way we wouldn’t have called you…!

Stalemate across the backseat.

“Don’t make me say it...”

Jon keeps arguing, but I can see Diana starting to smile…

“I warned you...” I reach back, fling open the door: “Get the fuck out of my cab!”

We still laugh about it whenever we see each other.

NOW IT’S THE YEAR 2010, and I’m older and supposedly wiser and calmer. Also, I haven’t driven a night shift in years, and the day shift clientele is completely different: daytime fares are almost always sober. I can’t remember the last time I eff-bombed anyone, and it’s been a full five years since I’ve thrown anyone out of my cab.

But sometimes I look back fondly on my “Get the fuck out…” period. There was something liberating about it. In an odd way, I view my prior, more proper self as immature. Once I’d mastered Get the fuck out… I felt more complete as a cab driver, and as a person -- or, perhaps more accurately, I felt less incomplete. I can now look back and appreciate that the overweight woman and those two foul-mouthed racists and all their sorry relatives were doing me a favor, were setting me free, allowing me to grow up, giving me permission to do the right, if not the polite, thing. Even though we usually stifle the urge, sometimes the only right thing to do is to say, “Get the fuck out of my cab!” I don’t know where you work, dear reader, but I’m giving you permission. Go ahead. Next time you find it appropriate, just let ‘er rip. “Get the fuck out of my cubicle!” I’m willing to bet that the world won’t end. “Get the fuck out of my office!” “…my store!” “…my barber’s chair!” “Get the fuck out of my face!” At Green Cab, we don’t actually recommend this sort of behavior. We’re a small company -- growing but still small (and polite) -- and should “get the fuck out” get you fucking fired, well, there’s not much I (or we) could do for you. But the cab world does average thirty-three percent turnover each year -- and someone is always hiring.


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