Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pride Weekend

Shift #59

Sunday, June 27 -- Haight/Masonic to Post/Taylor -- $9.85

WHEN I WAS A BOY, eight or nine or maybe ten years old, I surmised that girls had it made easy -- for life. Boys (and their eventual byproducts: men) were a dime a dozen, but girls were priceless. Any man would always want a girl around, especially a pretty girl. I imagined that if I were a girl, I would have no problems in life ever. And if I were a particularly pretty girl, almost any man would do whatever it took to keep me around, just to be able to bask in the miracle of my beauty and the honor of my presence. He would gladly spend his whole life working even the most grueling, most stressful job as long and hard as necessary; he would without hesitation beat up as many other men as required. I didn’t think of this as unfair. This was, obviously, just the way it was.

But I wasn’t a ten-year old boy for all that long. One need not be terribly mature or brilliant to observe that every life has huge challenges, or to come to understand that even a pretty woman can find her lot in life exasperating. And even those particularly striking women who walk among us sometimes appear to have grown particularly weary, even particularly angry, from the effort of transporting their beauty from Point A to Point B, from having to endure along the way the relentless scrutiny of the male gaze -- plus the jealous scrutiny of the female gaze. Anyone can see that, at least for some women, being beautiful can be burdensome, and sometimes it’s apparently nothing but a great big friggin’ hassle.

I’M FIRST-UP IN FRONT OF THE W HOTEL, engrossed in Depak Chopra’s Freedom, Power, and Grace. Mobs of rollicking people are streaming down the sidewalks, applying sunscreen and maneuvering themselves toward prime viewing spots for today’s Gay Pride Parade, which starts in another couple of hours. This clear, warm, blue-sky morning is exactly what I was hoping to have for yesterday’s “Slash Oil” event. Instead we had foggy, breezy, chilly weather. Four hundred and fifty people showed up. In spite of the disappointing numbers, we managed a couple of great photos, as always we honestly had a fantastic time (it’s hard to not enjoy a day at the beach with four hundred and fifty friends and a helicopter), and I came within a thousand dollars of breaking even... Suddenly a young woman opens my rear door and slips inside so quickly that it seems she has simply materialized in my backseat. I haven’t even closed my book yet.

Her abrupt entrance has precluded my giving her the customary, pre-ride, full-body scan, but in a fraction-of-a-second glance across the seatback I register her clear hazel eyes shining at me like twin miniature flashlights. Her face, just three or four feet from my own, seems perfectly proportioned, as though an architect graphed it out with the most specialized tools of the trade. And within the past hour either this woman or some attendant has washed and pampered and precisely-feathered her dark blond hair.

“Haight and Masonic,” she says. No salutation. No hint of warmth. Just the three words.

It’s a twenty-five block ride, and as we’re sitting through two early red lights, I float some innoucuous cab driver pleasantries, same as I do with any fare -- gorgeous, ugly, crippled, ancient, or you-name-it. This young woman bats each of them away with clipped, one-word parries: “Boston.” “Business.” “Software.” She may have queued up for a second helping in the Gorgeous line, but did that require her to forfeit her spot over in Civility?

I’m not leering. I’m not eye-balling her in the rearview. I’m a fifty-eight-year-old, happily-married cab driver, father of a thirteen-year-old daughter who in another decade or so will be about the same age as my fare is now. I like to think I’m non-threatening, like to think that spending a few minutes with me is not the world’s most oppressive proposition. But I immediately sense -- and this is a sense I get only very rarely in life -- that this woman regards me as though I’m some gross, slobbering, nineteen-year-old who has brashly plopped down onto the next barstool and belched up a “Whoa, mama!”

I let her stew in her beauty for a couple of silent blocks, and then as we’re crossing Market Street I try again. Has she ever been in San Francisco during Pride Weekend before? “No.” Is she planning to catch some of today’s Parade? “No.”

Nobody is required to talk to me in my cab. It’s easy to say, “You know, I’ve got a lot on my mind and I just don’t feel like talking today, thank you.” People do say that to me every now and then, and it’s like a straight-up gift. I mean, who doesn’t understand that? Who hasn’t been there? But to get into the back of my cab and simmer angrily for ten minutes, to rage against even the most benign small talk… Jesus Christ! Ugly people don’t act like this. It’s an affliction specific to the ravishing ones -- but certainly not all of them. During the height of her Olympic notoriety, the stunning, three-gold medal swimmer Summer Sanders sat in my backseat and could not have been more pleasant: she seemed tickled by her own beauty, her own fame, as though they were gifts she’d been handed with instructions to share un-begrudgingly with the world.

I feel like telling this youngster in my backseat, “Hey, next time, take the fucking bus.” But I, of course, don’t. I steer my mind over in the direction of, Well, everyone has a bad day. Or maybe she’s had a bad night. Maybe she’s regretting some Saturday night mistake -- maybe she actually did hook up with some slobberer from the next barstool.

After another extended silence, as we are waiting through another red at Fell and Gough, I give it one final try: “Have you been watching any of the soccer matches?” Just yesterday Ghana brought the USA’s World Cup adventure to a halt, winning 2-1 in overtime.

It’s like she’s been poised right behind me with a tennis racket. A zinging No! volleys past my right ear at about 140 miles an hour.

We ride the last fifteen blocks in a wordless cocoon.

At Haight and Masonic I guide the cab toward an open spot at the curb. A gay man in his mid-thirties is standing right there, and we glide to a stop directly in front of him. A huge smile spreads across his face. His hands float up from his thighs and extend outwards, palms up. A taxicab… pulling over to drop a passenger just exactly when I need one, exactly where I need one… I can’t believe my good luck!

One-Word-Answers pays me, turns away from me without speaking, opens the rear door, and steps out toward the gay man. As she raises herself up off my backseat, I notice that her bottom-side is trim and smooth and exquisitely curved and it is sheathed this morning in a sleek skirt/shorts outfit -- fire-engine red. Her legs, which are the work of a meticulous sculptor, are lashed tightly (all the way up her perfectly-tanned calves) by the long leather thongs of a pair of Old Testament sandals. The gay man is standing in her path, eagerly looking her up and down and up and down again, and I want to get out and hug him, maybe even kiss him, when I hear him trill, “Well hell-oh, darlin’!” I can’t swear it, but I believe I hear an irritated whoosh of air escape Little Miss Smoking Hot -- “Oooofff!” -- but maybe it’s just the hydraulic brakes of some nearby bus...


“I was in the Army for nine years, five months, twenty-four days. I’ve been out for six months now... I came directly to San Francisco... Today I’m meeting a couple of friends down near the parade. This is my first Pride weekend...

“Six months ago I was in Iraq… Yep, saw it all -- I sure did… No, I wasn’t out on patrol every day, but often enough. I was an information specialist. I had trained the twenty-five people who maintained all of our division’s communications -- all our phones, computers, radios, cell phones. My commander knew he couldn’t afford to lose me, and every time I went ‘outside the wire’ I had to get his personal permission. So I wasn’t out very often, but I wanted to experience everything there was to experience over there. And I didn’t want other people thinking I was hiding. I wanted them to know I’d been out, that I knew what the things they were going through were like. If they had some problem, I wanted to know exactly how it showed up for them in actual situations. But even inside the wire, we lived with the reality of mortar attacks. One could happen at any time -- and that changes the way you look at everything…”

Me: “Are you gay?”

He: “I am.”

Me: “How do you handle Don’t ask, Don’t tell?"

Don’t ask, Don’t tell! -- I hadn’t even come out to myself until I’d been in for a few years. But after my first Iraq tour I was home on leave and I realized that even though I may have been acting all brave and manly and soldierly over there, it was ridiculous for me to try to trick myself into believing I wasn’t gay. So when I went back I stopped pretending. I didn’t make a big deal of it to my superiors or even to my peer. It really had nothing to do with my job, with whether or not I could do the work that needed to be done. But I stopped hiding it. And it’s been so much better this way.”

I try not to take money from active military folks or from those who’ve been recently discharged, especially those who’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan. And today, Pride Parade day, well, what’s a boy to do? Free ride!


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