Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Cab Shift #58

Friday, June 25 – Here, there, everywhere…-- $ ??.??

I COME WIDE AWAKE at 3:40 A.M., and there’s no way I can kid myself that I’m going to get back to sleep. Too much on my mind. The helicopter...the photographer...will the walkie-talkies work? Is anyone coming?

By 4:20 I’m pulling my car through the gates of the Green Cab lot at Sixteenth and South Van Ness. This is my first day back at work after a twelve-day absence. I spent last week in Minnesota with my family, and this week I’ve been frantically trying to pull together this helter-skelter event -- "Slash Oil" -- that’s taking place, geez, tomorrow!

At the side of the lot I see two of my Green Cab buddies talking together. One has been a cab driver for thirty years (five years longer than me) and the other is still a youngster who hasn’t quite yet finished his first year. I walk over and slide into the conversation. The veteran is assuring the rookie that Gay Pride Weekend is going to be great -- the money’s going to be fantastic, and hell no, you don’t have to worry about all those out-of-town gay people hitting on you. You can have fun with that, bro!

I can do a faux-hillbilly accent that comes in handy sometimes, and now I look the rookie in the eye and drawl, “You shore are a good-lookin’ man, Mister Cab Driver…”

It works. Suddenly I can see the backs of both drivers’s necks, as they're both bent over now, heads down around their knees, helpless with a double-case of the guffaws.

My god, it’s good to be back here, back in this pool of yellow light cast by the streetlamps at 4:30 A.M., catty-corner from the all-night gas station, one block from the all-night melodramas outside the BART station, in this gritty neighborhood that’s starting to somehow feel like home.

BY 5:04 AM I’m trolling slowly along Market Street, which is totally empty except for one guy jogging along toward Ninth Street. He’s no athlete -- he’s a middle-aged Chinese man wearing loafers and a v-neck sweater -- and I wonder why he’s jogging at this hour. And then a Muni bus overtakes and passes us. The jogger accelerates into a near-sprint, and I see that he’s hoping to catch the bus, which brakes to a stop up ahead at Ninth and Market. He’s giving it all he’s got, he’s closing the gap, he’s at the rear of the bus, it looks like he’s going to make it.... But the signal flips to green and the bus quickly jumps forward, gone... The jogger’s shoulders slump, his whole body goes almost boneless...

And then I pull up alongside him and call through the passenger side window, “Hey, come on. I’ll catch your bus for you for free. Hop in.”

He’s only going four blocks, but he’s late for work. He’s very happy when I drop him at his destination. The bus-zone-hero opportunity only presents itself a few times a year, but it’s always satisfying -- and today it gets me off to an outside-the-box start.

FOR THE NEXT HOUR AND A HALF I’m unsatisfyingly empty. At 6:35 I note an attractive young woman in a bus zone at Haight and Masonic, on the opposite side of the street from me. I cruise a block and a half to where I can make a legal U-turn and then pull back around. Now she’s standing ten feet from the curb, looking past me toward where that darn bus should be coming from. I stop right next to her and roll down my window. “Every day I give away one free ride. Would you like to be my free ride today?”

She smiles. “I would like that very much.”

She’s a nurse up at UCSF Medical Center. She grew up in Boston, has been a nurse for four years, and she’s happy to have a stable profession: health care. She’s not been a big soccer fan until recently, but just yesterday morning her soccer fan-ness, like my own soccer fan-ness, took a huge needle jump when Landon Donavan’s goal put the USA into the World Cup’s round of sixteen. She tries to pass some money over the backseat -- “It’s about what I’d have paid for the bus,” she says -- but I refuse. A deal’s a deal. A free ride is a free ride.

A PORTION of my day is taken up by attending to details for tomorrow’s event. I stop by the Park Service office and get a copy of the event permit that I’ve misplaced. At the Fillmore Street Kinko’s I fax out about ten final press releases. I call Channel 7 (they’ve put up their own helicopter for two of my events in the past) and bend their ears a bit. At the Chestnut Street Apple store I send a confirmation email to our helicopter pilot. I check the sign-up site -- six new people have registered, but it still looks like it’s gonna be a bust. I stop by the house of our photographer, John Montgomery, to review strategy for tomorrow. I stop at Safeway for some last minute supplies.

For much of the day, the weather has been thick and kind of ugly, but what can you do about the weather? I feel resigned to whatever tomorrow is going to bring. In fact I find myself feeling a bit more relaxed than I remember feeling one day before any other event I’ve ever organized, which means I’m only about three-quarters-psycho instead of full-psycho. About five p.m. yesterday evening I realized that yesterday -- a day which I’d spent chasing after agonizing organizing details -- was in fact my fifteenth wedding anniversary! “We can celebrate another night,” my sweet wife told me, as I was headed out the door.

BY MID-AFTERNOON I’M COOKED, but heading back to the yard I am flagged at Fourteenth and Dolores by a man whose name I will soon learn is Sam. I pull over and tell him, “I’m at the end of my shift. Where are you headed?”

Sam’s headed to a place just a few blocks past the yard, and that works perfectly for me.

“How,” Sam asks me, “did this ugly day suddenly turn so beautiful?” The sky above the Mission District has transformed into pure blue silk; back toward the beach we can still see looming white fog.

“I’m planning a big outdoor event tomorrow,” I tell him. “I’m hoping for this stuff instead of that stuff.”

He: “That thing out at Ocean Beach?”

I hold up a flyer that’s lying on my front seat. He glances at it and says, “I’m going to that! You organized it?”

I’m as flabbergasted as Sam is. “How’d you hear of it?”

He: “My sister. We’re bringing a bunch of people. And I don’t even know how she heard of it.”

We talk Oil for a while, and then Sam’s got lots of questions about the event, mostly about money. I tell him I’ve put up about three thousand dollars to make it all happen. I tell him that during the second, third, and fourth Beach Impeach events a friend volunteered to pass a donation bucket. “Those three events cost me almost exactly twelve thousand dollars altogether,” I tell him, “and in the end the donations came to almost exactly twelve thousand dollars altogether.”

Sam is impressed, just as I was. He says, “Man, if everyone just put in five bucks, it ought to work out.”

“Either way,” I say. “I feel like I’m loaded into the barrel of a cannon, the fuse is lit, and now I’m just hoping to enjoy the ride and survive.”

Sam’s auspicious appearance in my backseat...my last ride before the event...how do I know...maybe three thousand people will show up tomorrow. This ride has given me more than hope, it’s given me goosebumps. At ride’s end, I vaporize the numbers on the meter ($7.60) and turn toward Same, but he beats me to the punch -- he’s holding a twenty right under my nose. “This is for the donation bucket.”

What can I say? Only Thank you!

Sam and I promise to look for each other tomorrow.



  1. Beautiful post, Brad- thanks! Best wishes for the Ocean Beach event- sending my best from Boston!

  2. As always, Brad, loved your writing of this day at work for you. I hope everything today went well. My bay area trips have become pretty seldom now due to expenses and little income. It's beautiful up here. Hope it was there, too, in more ways than one.