Sunday, August 1, 2010

* * How To Pick Up Women * *

Shift #67

FRIDAY, AUGUST 13 – California/Hyde to California/Drumm -- $5.80

COMING OF AGE, I had no small talk. Even around my boy pals I could barely croak out a word, much less float an opinion or spin a joke or a tale. I was particularly flustered around girls, and girls, most sensibly, created a fairly impenetrable no-fly zone around me. I never read one of those “How To Pick Up Women” books, but I used to puzzle over the advertisements for them and wonder…

I loosened up as I got older, of course, but I never exactly became easy around women until I started driving a cab. Cab driving quickly got me to believing I could talk with just about anyone about just about anything. And certainly one of the great, overlooked, undervalued, but very real perks of my job is that it allows me (in truth, it almost forces me) to hang out with pretty young women in whose company I would never otherwise find myself. How to pick up women? I could write a book…

SHE IS STANDING at the corner of California and Leavenworth, waiting for a cab to take her to her office twelve blocks down California Street. She could easily have jumped onto a cable car -- the California Line runs the whole length of her commute -- but the old trolleys rumble along slowly, stop at nearly every corner, and would add ten full minutes to her trip. A few bucks for a cab is, as the kids say, a no-brainer.

She’s young (twenty-three I will learn), blond, pretty without seeming to be aware of or concerned about that, and I immediately sense a warmth from her. She isn’t displaying the early-morning grumpies, she’s not punching at an iphone, she doesn’t stiffarm my complaints about the weather.For the past few weeks, whenever I step from my cab I have the irrational sense that if I stand fully upright I might bump my head on the psychological low ceiling. As we reach the crest of Nob Hill, I point out how the top three-quarters of Grace Cathedral are lost, smothered in fog -- only the base is visible. My fare allows that all the cloudiness has bothered her too, but she doesn’t seem so annoyed by it as I am. She misses the sunshine, but it’ll be back, she says. It’ll all work out…

As we glide past the cluster of Nob Hill icons -- The Huntington Hotel, the Pacific Union Club, the Fairmont and the Mark Hopkins hotels -- we can barely glimpse the Bay Bridge. It’s straight ahead of us and usually presents a dramatic view, but today we have to strain our eyes to make out cars and trucks creeping along the upper and lower decks -- the bridge’s towers are invisible, swathed in cotton candy.

We drop steeply down California Street for six blocks, through Chinatown, past the red bricks of old St. Mary’s Church, past the fifty-story Bank of America tower, and roll onto the flat, six-block run through the Financial District. My fare says that for nearly two years she has been working in the Latin America and Caribbean division of workforce-dot-com. No, she hasn’t visited those parts of the world yet, but she certainly wants to -- as soon as she can find the time… Every day she is thankful for having been able to find a job right out of college, and for not having been laid off, as has happened to several of her friends.

The warmth I felt earlier has infused my whole gut. It’s more than my free ride feeling, but not exactly a sexual feeling -- I don’t think. It’s just a fifty-eight-year old man’s gratitude for being allowed to bask for a few minutes in the effortless glow of youth. Then again, how does one distinguish between the various warmths one feels? I’ve come to regard my own warmths as awarenesses of various possibilities. My free ride feeling is, in essence, an awareness of the possibility of a world where money isn’t such a tyrannical bully. And tinglings of attraction -- aren’t those just awareness of the possible lives that might result from our acting on our physical impulses?

In front of 101 California, I pull into an open parking spot, turn around, and inform my fare that her ride is free today. She gives me a pleasant, easy smile. She thanks me and offers her name, asks mine, extends her hand, and again thanks me with a warmth that seems genuine, heartfelt.

I drive off examining that word heartfelt. I spot heart and felt rather quickly, and then I spot he trying to hide in plain sight. And finally I spot art, thrown in as a kind of bonus.


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