Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Spiritual Center of the Earth

Shift #74

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 12 -- Seventh/Mission to California/Laurel -- $10.30

via, and less than three minutes later she’s in my backseat, singing the praises of

“Just now I decided I needed a cab, I looked on the cabulous map and saw you three blocks away… I touched my finger to the little icon for your cab… Fifteen seconds later my phone rings and I’m talking to you… On my screen I followed you coming down Mission Street… Three blocks away…two blocks away…and here you are -- it’s brilliant...! This is just my second time using it. The first time was last night -- Saturday night. We were in the Castro, calling and calling (another cab company) because they have so many cabs, but for the longest time they wouldn’t even pick up the phone. And finally, when they did answer, they never came -- they said they’d come but they never came. So we started looking around online and we discovered cabulous, and ten minutes later we were in a cab. It really is brilliant!”

She’s about twenty years old and has lived in San Francisco for a year, studying at the Art Institute: “I’m hoping to become a designer.” I would guess that the Art Institute is not her first expensive school. She has maybe the slightest trace of a foreign accent, but my sense is that she has been speaking English forever. When I ask Where did you grow up? I’m not terribly surprised to hear, “I’m from Dubai.”

Me: “You moved from permanent summer to permanent winter.”

She laughs: “I’ve loved everything about San Francisco but the weather. New York is too big for me -- for me, I think San Francisco is the perfect fit. I don’t know anywhere like it.”

Right ahead of us is a city bus with a billboard showing a young man wearing a goofy smile, a skirt and, on his head, what looks like a birthday cake with lit candles. I point to it and read aloud the caption: “San Francisco is full of characters…

My fare laughs: “I love that spirit here. People seem so creative.”

Me: “Years ago, I met a man in India who told me that the spiritual center of the earth shifts from time to time. He said it used to be India, and it’s been some other places too, but now it’s San Francisco. I asked him, ‘And what exactly IS the spiritual center of the earth?’ and he said, ‘Oh, that’s easy -- it’s simply the place on earth where new ideas meet the least amount of resistance.’”

She: “Oh, please, would you say that again!"

I say it again -- The place on earth where new ideas meet the least amount of resistance -- she murmurs it twice to herself, and then I toss in some bonus commentary: “If you can’t be who you want to be in San Francisco, you really don’t have a chance anywhere else.”

We’re two blocks from the end of the ride now.

I ask: “Are you Muslim?”

I hear a quick inhalation from the backseat. And indeed, even to me, the question does seem to come out of nowhere: she wears no headscarf, I have detected no over-pious sensibility. Still, I hadn’t pondered or rehearsed my question -- her Dubai must have mingled in my mind with all the recent reflections in the media (yesterday was September 11) and, with the ride’s end approaching, it has just popped out. Are you Muslim?

She, after her audible inhale: “I am.”

“How has it been for you lately?”

She: “Interesting. And a little weird.”

“Has anyone been mean to you?”

Quickly: “No.”

Me: “I’m glad.”

“I keep my distance from all that. I just keep my distance. In no way does it dominate my life. I just keep it all at a distance.”

We’re at her cafĂ© now -- for me, too soon. I anticipate that my free ride announcement will meet some resistance, and it does: “But it’s too much money,” she says. $10.30. Still, her face and her widened eyes tell me she likes the idea.

“Please,” I say. “Every shift for the last fifteen or twenty years I have given away one free ride. Please give me the gift of allowing me to give you this ride for free.”

She accepts with a gracious smile, a thank you, an extended hand, and: “My name is Zina -- what’s yours?”


1 comment:

  1. This is so awesome! Brad, and the whole Green Cab team, are amazing. Posted about this blog at: