Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Shift #57

SUNDAY, JUNE 13 – 16th/Mission to Powell/Market -- $7.15

TODAY I’VE GOT three big extracurricular items on my calendar. And since I’m leaving town for a week tomorrow morning, I want to get them all cleaned up:

-- I’m three days behind on this journal, and if I head out to the airport cab lot early this morning I’ll probably have at least an hour wait during which I can write.

-- At 11:30 I’ve got an appointment with my videographer friend Stefan Ruenzel, who is going to meet me at Ocean Beach and shoot a two-minute film of me standing in front of my Green Cab and telling President Obama about the Slash Oil event. I actually hope (and I do believe that my hopes are not as un-realistic as you might think) that President Obama will personally set his eyeballs on this video after Stefan posts it to Youtube. The idea came to me just yesterday, born perhaps of desperation: I’m looking to attract a crowd of 2,000, and when I left the house this morning only 104 had registered so far.

-- And right after work I’m meeting with two organizers from Hands Across the Sand. The sudden appearance of this group (it started in Florida in January, but I became aware of it just three days ago) is to me nothing short of miraculous -- it feels almost life-saving. On the very same day as Slash Oil, these folks are organizing a global series of beach events, including one right at Ocean Beach at almost the exact same hour as Slash Oil. The Hands Across the Sand organizers and I are talking about combining energies and I think this just simply must happen.

WITH ALL THESE DISTRACTIONS crowding my head, I leave the yard intending to wrap up my free ride as soon as possible. And right away, there she is, Margarita, standing at Sixteenth and Mission, late for work.

She asks me to drop her off right across from the Powell and Market cable car turnaround. She works as a dispatcher for an association of businesses in the Union Square and South of Market areas which have “taxed” themselves to fund a patrol unit which includes casually-dressed “neighborhood ambassadors.” The ambassadors’ duties include: keeping the area litter-free; summoning the “cleaning unit” to move in and address a heavy duty garbage situation or, Margarita says, a “vomit accident”; and providing assistance to tourists and, perhaps, occasional gentle “guidance” (her word) to the area’s many street people. “Sixth and Stevenson is the toughest spot,” she says. Whenever things “escalate” beyond what the ambassadors can deal with, they call Margarita, who calls in the program’s uniformed private security guards, and then, if needed, the city’s uniformed police officers.

Margarita is in her early twenties and grew up in San Francisco. She asks where I’m from.

“I grew up near Washington D.C. But I’ve been here for nearly thirty years now, and I’m home for good.”

She: “How’d you pick San Francisco?”

“I traveled. I visited all fifty states and circled the world four times with my backpack. And then I picked the place that screamed to me the loudest.”

She: “That’s amazing. What made you decide to do that?”

Me: “In college two friends and I challenged each other: ‘Who can get to all fifty states the first?

She: “I love that! And you won?”

Me: “I came in second. About six or seven years after we graduated, we were each stuck at about forty-five or forty-six states. And then one guy went off on a hitchhiking trip through all the states he hadn’t gotten and then he called the other two of us to tell us we were now playing for second place.”

“What was your last one?”

“Michigan. I was traveling across the country by train about twenty-five years ago, and I had a five-hour layover in Chicago. A friend picked me up at the train station and drove me along the edge of Lake Michigan for about an hour. When we crossed the border between Illinois and Michigan, we took the first exit and ate breakfast in a little diner in New Buffalo, Michigan. And then he drove me back to the train station.”

We’re almost to Mararita’s destination. “I bet you’ve got some stories, mister.”

“Everyone has a few."

“I’ve never been anywhere yet. I want to go to Europe.”

“When I was your age, I’d hardly been anywhere. You’re young. You can do anything you want to do. I’m not kidding.”

“You think so -- really? It seems so hard...”

Me: “Pretty much anything. I really believe that...”

We stop across from the cable car turnaround at Market and Powell.

Me: “I give away one free ride every day, and today this, my first ride, is my free ride.”

“Oh, man! You’re kidding! Really! You are just too much!

The instant she closes her door, my first thought is: “Twelve days until Slash Oil... How in the hell am I gonna do this! Who do I think I’m kidding?”


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