Sunday, August 1, 2010

La Migra!

Shift #66

SUNDAY, AUGUST 8 -- Sixteenth/Mission to Twenty-Fourth/Noe

MY FIRST EIGHT PASSENGERS ARE CITIZENS OF: Morocco, Israel, Ukraine, Noe Valley, Tunisia, Canada, Ecuador, and Mexico. Five of the eight complain with great gusto about the weather:

-- The man from Morocco says the fog has ruined his two-week vacation. Where is California’s famous sunshine? its surfers? its bikinis? He wishes he could apply for a refund, but where?

-- The woman from Israel says she could have gone to a resort on the Red Sea -- would have saved a lot of money, too.

-- The man from Tunisia is wearing a brand new heavy sweatshirt with San Francisco emblazoned across the chest. He speculates that our number one local summertime industry has got to be the sweatshirt industry.

-- The woman from Noe Valley says that she recently relocated from the Marina District because she had heard, and had even experienced, that Noe Valley was consistently the sunniest, warmest neighborhood in San Francisco. But not this summer -- there’s been nothing remotely warm and nothing vaguely sunny about this summer -- not even in Noe Valley!

-- The woman from Ukraine hasn’t seen the sun since she arrived a week ago. She drove up the coast from Los Angeles expecting that throughout the fabled Big Sur region she would be inspired by vistas of steep green oak-studded hillsides dropping with great drama down to an endless blue ocean. She imagined herself passing occasionally through stretches of gigantic, soaring redwoods spiked with arrows of golden light. Instead she only remembers being focused, for one-hundred miles, on the center-line of a twisting, two-lane, RV-choked highway. Instead of the great feelings of expansiveness she had anticipated feeling in California, she had experienced troubling hallucinations in which she had been shrunken down to a tiny size, and had been trapped in an air bubble inside a batch of suds. “Like in washing machine!” And whenever she did encounter a forest, she saw only the trunks of trees; “Never tree topes! Tree topes are always heed-en up een-side fog...” (I commiserate by telling her, exaggerating only slightly, that my wife and daughter and I went camping near Half Moon Bay earlier this week and nearly froze to death -- and we never saw the sun either!)

On the other hand:

-- The Ecuadorian man moved to San Francisco six months ago, swears he loves every last little thing about the place, and says, “Hell will freeze over before I complain about a little fog.”

-- The man from Canada says, “You want to see some really crappy weather? You come visit Nova Scotia.”

-- And the man from Mexico never mentions the weather at all: He tells me he arrived in San Francisco three years ago from the state of Quintana Roo, looking for work. He quickly found a job busing tables at a restaurant in the Financial District, a job he is hanging onto for dear life and for as long as he can…

At least I think that’s what he’s saying. Soon after he gets in, we switch to Spanish, which seems to go smoother. He asks where I learned my Spanish, and I tell him high school and college, and then later, in Switzerland, where I spent two months washing dishes at a train station restaurant where all my co-workers were guest workers from Spain. Also, I’d spent the year 1990 living in the little town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. But, I tell him, my Spanish has grown very rusty, so I really appreciate being able to practice with people in my cab.

He says I don’t need any practice, but I assure him that if I listen to two native speakers yakking away, or if I listen to a Spanish radio station, I catch only about one word out of twenty. If my Spanish sounds half-decent, it’s only because, in my cab, I’ve said all these very same things I’m saying right now about a thousand times already. I can get you where you’re going, I can sometimes keep up my end of a very simple conversation, but only when people speak very slowly.

Apparently he doesn’t understand or doesn’t believe me, as he begins speaking in a rapid-fire staccato which quickly gathers speed. The gist:

He says that San Francisco is a good place, because people without papers (“personas sin papeles”) are treated pretty well here. In San Francisco personas sin papeles do not worry so much about the Immigration and Naturalization Service (“La Migra”) knocking on their doors. But my fare has amigos who’ve been to other American cities, like Albuquerque and Phoenix, and they report that La Migra is a constant worry. It used to be that if La Migra sent you back home, it wasn’t too big a deal (no importa nada). But now my fare won’t even consider attempting a visit to his wife and kids (esposa y ninos) because getting back to San Francisco is much more difficult and much more dangerous (peligroso) than it used to be, and much more expensive (muy muy cara) -- these days los coyotes are charging five thousand dollares to sneak one person across the border. O possible mas! My fare has a friend who paid five thousand dollares to one of those damned coyotes and then La Migra got him anyway -- two days after the friend arrived in Tucson, La Migra sent him not just back across the border, but all the way back to Ciudad Mexico (Mexico City)!

When I tell my fare that I give (yo doy) one free ride every day (un viaje gratis cada dia), his smile (sonrisa) is so sweet (dulce) that no translation is needed.


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