Saturday, May 1, 2010


Shift #48

FRIDAY, MAY 14 -- Nob Hill to Multimedia Gulch -- Who’$ counting, anyway?

IT’S BARELY 6 AM, and a gauzy gray mist hangs low over Nob Hill. My first fare of the day is sitting inside the lit-up lobby of her apartment building, waiting patiently. She is a lovely young Asian woman, somewhere around thirty years old. She grew up in Toronto, and her accent is straight North American. She is headed to her job at the Fairmont Hotel -- she’s in her fifth year now. I remark that all the employees I drop at the Fairmont seem to love working there. “I love it, too,” she says. “Hospitality -- either you love it, or you’d better find something else to do.” She strikes me as exactly the kind of person one would hope to find behind a check-in counter at the end of a long journey.

Our journey together is a short one -- six blocks along the cable car line, with the Bay Bridge visible in the distance, tucked neatly under the low blanket of fog. The free ride Feeling is right there: it’s my first ride...I’ve just finished my coffee...the fare is exactly four dollars, almost nothing...she’s charming... Now I can sit back and let the whole rest of my day unfold. Also, a short, uncomplicated ride like this one will be easy to write about, and that’s a good thing, as I have fallen three shifts behind on this journal...

EARLY AFTERNOON. This has turned out to be a particularly slow day -- not the typical Friday. I punched my waybill at 5:02 AM -- seven and a half hours ago -- and since then I have grossed just $109 from 10 rides (no airports, darnit). The rent on my cab today is $102, and gas will cost me another $7-10, so I’m barely at break-even with just two and a half hours to go.

At 12:35 I’m flagged by a young blond woman at California and Presidio. Her father was in the oil business, and until she was sixteen my fare’s family lived in London, England, but then they moved back to the States. She is headed to her job at an Internet startup on Ritch Alley down near the Giants’ stadium. Back during the Dot-com Bubble this area was known as “Multimedia Gulch” but I haven’t heard that term used since the Bust. In college my fare studied something unrelated to business (was it literature?), but when she graduated she was open to anything: “There are people with experience willing to work for nothing these days -- so I was just happy to get a job, period.” The company has grown to fifty or sixty employees, making it big for a startup, and my fare says it’s starting to feel like it’s either time for them to be bought out by a bigger firm or to maybe think about throwing in the towel. She has been working there for three years, has a piece of the company, and is hoping for the buyout.

Toward the end of the ride, she says: “Thank you for driving the way you do -- in so many cabs, I feel like I’m either going to die or at least lose my lunch.”

Me: “Thank you for saying that. I’m 58, and I’m sure I’ve slowed down over the years, but I like to think that even when I was younger my driving wasn’t terribly scary.”

She: “Some drivers! I just had one an hour ago -- he was unreal! But my mom has the worst story. She was eight months pregnant -- this was in New York City, in a pouring thunderstorm -- and she told the driver I’m pregnant, and I’m feeling a little funny, could you please slow down a little bit… And he pulled over to the curb and said, ‘Get out!’”

My gut lurches and I briefly double over at the wheel. A sound escapes me: “Ooooo…

She: “And she did -- in a pouring thunderstorm!”

I say: “I am so sorry…”

She: “It wasn’t your fault.”

I think: I wish I hadn’t given away my free ride already.

Body: Uh, dude…

Me, to her: “Were you the kid?”

She: “I think I was.”

We’re pulling into Ritch Alley, which is crowded with young startup employees on lunch break. During the dot-com days every street in this area looked this way during every lunch hour -- during every evening and every late night, too. The meter reads exactly $13.

I tell my fare, “Every day I give away a free ride. This is my free ride today.”

She: “Oh, you don’t have to do that...”

Me: “It’s payback -- tell your mom.”

She: “Oh, don’t worry."

(NOTE: During the two hours and twenty-three minutes remaining in my shift, I gross $112.)


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