Sunday, August 1, 2010

Plan C

Shift #69

FRIDAY, AUGUST 27 – 4th Ave/Irving to Steuart/Mission -- $15.25

after a sobering and seemingly endless stretch of cold and fog, an incredible and most-welcomed “three-day summer” passed through the Bay Area. On Monday, the first day in recent memory that the populace has awakened to blue skies, the temperature in San Francisco soared to 86 degrees. On Tuesday we hit an even 100, and on Wednesday we were again in the comfortable 80s.

This miracle-seeming stretch could not have been more perfectly timed for me and my daughter. These were her last few days before the start of school, and together we tried to “do it all” -- a Santa Cruz beach/boardwalk excursion, a trip to Pier 39, a Giants baseball game…

By yesterday -- Thursday, my daughter’s first day back in school --it was all over. The high was a chilly 63 degrees (a two-day drop of nearly 40 degrees!), and the fog had snuck back in -- not quite as thick as a week ago, but thicker then we want it to be. Hey, this is August! “Breach of contract!”

THE “EXPECTED HIGH” for today -- Friday -- is 59 degrees. My first fare takes me out “into the Avenues,” out toward fog-saturated Ocean Beach. After I drop and begin heading back downtown, empty, I theorize that if I follow the N-Judah trolley route, the appearance of my cab might challenge the fiscal resolve of some poor shivering commuter. And, at Fourth Avenue and Irving, Bingo!

“I’ve been waiting out there for twenty minutes, and I’m absolutely freezing!” she tells me. “I’m so glad it’s warm in here.”

For the past nine years my fare has worked for an agency that supports Jewish philanthropies, and that’s long enough to have earned her a one-month “sabbatical.” She is taking the entire month of September off, with pay, and without being charged for any vacation days: “I’m going to a music festival in Austin, and then to a friend’s wedding on Maui.”

Me: “A sabbatical? Sounds like a pretty good place to work.”

She: “It’s great. The agency will also pay for any of its employees to take a trip to Israel. That’s a trip I want to take, but not just yet. I want to go when things aren’t so tense over there.”

Me: “Are you Jewish?”

She: “No. A lot of the employees aren’t, but it doesn’t matter -- the agency just wants us to understand the Middle East. And I want to understand it myself -- but it always seems so dangerous.”

Me: “Twenty years ago, during the first intifada, I spent a total of three weeks in Egypt and Israel. Before my arrival, the news was full of frightening stuff, but while I was there someone blew up a trash can in downtown Jerusalem, and a kid with a scarf over his face threw a rock that hit a car I was riding in -- other than that, things were fine.”

She: “I can’t figure out the Middle East.”

“I went there thinking, Okay, I’ll go have a look at the place and see who’s right, and who’s wrong, and I’ll figure out just how they should fix everything. And I left three weeks later with my head spinning, thinking, ‘I’m just glad I don’t have to live here!’”

She: “The more I learn and the more I read, the more hopeless it seems. Did you go only to Israel and Egypt?”

Me: “No, those came during the middle of a hundred-day, round-the-world backpack trip.”

She: “Now that’s a sabbatical! Was it just for fun?”

And soon I’m telling her about my trip’s premise -- to find a stranger to invite to America -- and the book I wrote about the whole experience.

She: “I want to read that book.”

For the past several shifts I’ve left home without remembering to bring along a copy. “I’ll write down the name,” I tell her. “You can find it on amazon for about a buck.”

When I pull over at Mission and Steuart my fare hands me a credit card. But when I swipe it, my meter ($15.25) can’t read it. She hands me a different card but, again, no response.

This happens from time to time, and I’m prepared with a Plan B. I pull out my “knuckle buster” (during the past year these things have come to feel like Stone Age relics), but I see that the slot in the glove box where I usually keep credit card slips is empty.

Fortunately, I’ve also got a foolproof Plan C. “You know,” I tell her, “everyday I give away one free ride. Let’s just make this my free ride for today.”

She protests, digs a few small bills from her purse and holds them toward me -- “This is all I have!” -- but I fight them off.

Me: “Here’s how you can pay me: On your sabbatical, just read my book...”

She: “Ahh… Now that’s a deal!”


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