Thursday, July 1, 2010


Shift #62

SUNDAY, July 11 – 16th/Church to Haight and Fillmore -- $4.90

FOR THE PAST HOUR, as I’ve been cruising through the Union Square, South of Market, and Mission Districts, periodic cries have rifled from countless bars and restaurants. Right now it’s halftime of the World Cup final between Spain and the Nederlands, and each cry has signified a flubbed shot, a sensational save, a penalty call… At the half, the score is 0-0.

At Sixteenth and Church I see three young people jumping up and down, waving. The two young women are waving their hands overhead, the young man a blue vuvuzela. Even from one hundred yards away I can see the smiles on each of their emphatically lit-up faces. As they pile into my backseat, one of the women shrieks to me: “Happy World Cup!”

Me: “And Happy World Cup to you!”

The three of them unleash a barrage of unhinged laughter, as though I were the funniest person in San Francisco -- Robin Williams, perhaps. My fares often do seem to regard me as being about one hundred percent more brilliant and two hundred percent wittier than my family and my friends seem to regard me, and I have come to believe that several factors are at play: 1) relief at having encountered a cab driver whose native language is English, 2) simple nervous public laughter (the same lines that bring down the house in my cab are big fat duds when delivered at my kitchen table), and 3) cab drivers’ collective reputation for being curmudgeonly -- so curmudgeonly that any driver exhibiting even a fleck of lightheartedness tends to be regarded as a quasi-saint.

Me, to these three soccer fans: “That’s the first live vuvuzela I’ve seen…”

I like to think that I occasionally do launch a fairly amusing line or two, but if you ask ten of my friends to describe me, not one of them will say, “Oh, he’s hysterically funny!” Nonetheless, my vuvuzela comment triggers from the backseat the sort of hooting one might expect in a comedy club: Oh my god, this guy is a friggin’ RIOT!

Me, plowing ahead: “On NPR this morning I heard a report that an Islamic cleric has issued a fatwah decreeing that to blow a vuvuzela at one hundred decibels is un-Islamic…”

Them: Another avalanche of laughter.

Me: “Ninety-nine decibels appears to be ok, but 100? That’s un-Islamic…”

Them: More delirium.

Me: “You folks are in a more-advanced state of happiness than anyone else I’ve…”

My observation is truncated by a loud and proud and complicated recounting of this trio’s ongoing, all-night, mojito-driven adventure, which I suspect has been helped along by fuels in addition to alcohol.

It’s a short, six-block ride to an open-fronted bar on Haight Street, where a group of other World Cup revelers are crowding the front door. My fares love my free ride announcement, and after the young man steps out onto the sidewalk he turns back around and tips me with a long buzzy blast from his vuvuzela. It’s not as bad, not as loud, as I’m anticipating. Not even seventy-five decibels, would be my guess.

It sounds kind of cute, actually.


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