Thursday, July 1, 2010


Shift # 61

FRIDAY, July 9 -- Francisco/Columbus to Union/Laguna -- $7.15

MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE MARK TWAIN QUOTE is this one: “The difference between the right word and almost-the-right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

And right behind that quote is another Twainism that always gives me a personal wallop: “Everyone has two home towns -- his own and San Francisco.”

And a bit further down my top-ten list is one that I hear repeated more often than all the others combined (and squared), “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

I’M THINKING OF TWAIN this morning because “coldest winter” has been invoked by nearly every passenger who has ducked into my backseat -- and there haven’t been very many of them. The tourists we cab drivers count upon during the summer months must be huddling in their hotel rooms, waiting for this foggy-chilly-breezy July day to warm up a bit.

Toward noon I pick up a college-aged young man and college-aged young woman who are headed from Fisherman’s Wharf over to Cow Hollow. I size them up as out-of-towners, but when I ask where they’re from they both say, “Here.”

Before we’ve traveled even three blocks, and although she lowers her voice, I overhear the woman tell the man, “We probably should have walked or taken the bus.”

He: “We’d be way late. Anyway, it can’t be more than ten bucks.”

As we climb up Leavenworth, past the crooked portion of Lombard, the woman says, “Well, I’m glad we’re not walking up this.”

Me: “What are you two up to today?”

The man: “Work.”

Me: “What’s your work?”

The woman: “We’re canvassers for Equality California.”

Me: “Oh, boy... Canvassing has always looked like a pretty tough gig to me.”

The woman: “Oh, yes.”

The man: A heavy sigh of agreement.

Me: “How does it work? You do get paid, don’t you?”

The man: “We get paid minimum wage, plus thirty percent of everything above the average.”

Me: “What’s the average?”

He: “About a hundred-and-eighty-dollars-a-day per canvasser per day.”

Me: “Higher than I’d have imagined.”

The woman: “I think it dropped to one-seventy last week.”

The man attends UC-Santa Cruz, the woman the University of San Francisco, and for each of them canvassing is a summer job. They’ve been at it for about four weeks, moving around town from intersection to intersection each day. Today they’ll be spending approximately four hours trying to educate (and to encourage donations from) pedestrians near the intersection of Union and Laguna. They tell me that the organized, clipboard-toting canvassers visible in the Bay Area’s busier neighborhoods, those bright young people raising awareness of (and soliciting funds for) a smorgasbord of different causes, all have the same basic job descriptions and all earn about the same amount of money.

Me: “Have you gotten to where, when you see someone coming down the sidewalk, you can predict how your interaction with them will go?”

The woman: “You can usually tell who’s going to stop and talk to you, but you can’t really predict where it’ll go from there.”

The man: “Even in the middle of a conversation, it’s hard to tell if someone’s going to donate or not. But if they don’t even stop…”

Me: “Have you had any experiences out there that you’ll remember for the rest of your lives?”

They ponder this one for a couple of moments, and then the man says: “I did talk to a woman who once had lunch with Martin Luther King. That was pretty cool.”

AT UNION AND LAGUNA, I tell them that I hope the free ride I give away each day will get their shift off to a good start. They thank me and climb out, and just before my rear door snaps shut I catch the happy little yelp that the young woman has aimed in the direction of the young man.


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