Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Shift #71

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 3 -- Turk/Leavenworth to Haight/Belvedere -- $11.20

HER BLACK, SPAGHETTI-STRAPPED PARTY DRESS looks a little out of place at 7:30 on a Friday morning, even here in the Tenderloin. She gives a quick hug-and-kiss to a young man who’s been waiting with her at the curb, and then she climbs into my cab.

“I’m going over to Haight Street, just one or two blocks past Divisadero -- I think... I parked my car somewhere over near there last night... I did the responsible thing.”

Me: “Oh, good for you!” One of the vital functions of the cab industry is to provide a handy transportation option to people who’ve been drinking.

“I live in South San Francisco, and I really think I could have driven without any problem, but I just didn’t want to make some huge mistake.”

Me: “You did the right thing -- it’s just not worth it.” To me, she seems pretty happy and not visibly hung over. “What did you drink last night?”

She: “Just beer -- I don’t really drink hard liquor. But, you know, I didn’t want to do something I’d regret for the rest of my life. It’s going to cost me a few extra dollars, and now I have to hurry so I won’t be late to work, but in the end I think I’m a lot better off…”

Me: “A while ago I picked up a forklift driver at a lumber yard over near Potrero Hill. He was about my age, actually a little older, maybe 65, and we got to talking, and he said that during Vietnam he’d been a welder in the Army. He’d almost completed twenty years and was just a little bit shy of getting his retirement, and then on the way home from work on a Friday night he stopped and had two beers with some friends. He told me that he even left a little bit…” -- I show her my thumb and forefinger, spread about an inch apart -- “in the bottom of each glass…”

She: “Um-huh...”

Me: “He was driving home on a two-lane highway in the countryside in Texas. He said he didn’t feel impaired in the slightest. There was a tow truck driving in front of him and he couldn’t see around it, and suddenly, without any warning, not even a brake light or anything, the tow truck driver veered off onto the right shoulder, and there, right in front of my guy, a red Volkswagen bug was stopped in the road. He hit the brakes but couldn’t stop in time and he ran right into it. The Volkswagen exploded into flames and the driver was killed.”

She: “Oh no…!

Me: “Yep. He told me that at his trial, the Texas Ranger who handled the case testified that excessive speed had definitely not been involved -- he actually specified ‘lack of speed’ as a factor. The blood alcohol level for drunk driving had just been lowered from point-one (0.1%) to point-oh-eight (0.08%), and this guy was point-oh-nine (0.09%). He said the judge, and the whole system, were looking to make an example out of someone to publicize the rule change. The judge could have been more lenient -- he had less severe options -- but he said, ‘You’re a soldier, you should have known better,’ and he gave the guy six years in prison. He spent three years in prison and three on parole, and he never got his retirement.”

She: “That’s a horrible story.”

Me: “It’s a horrible story, it's a great story.”

She: “That’s right…”

“I asked the guy if he came away with any wisdom from the whole experience, and he said the one thing he came away with was that, ‘You can kill someone real, real easy, and not even mean it.’

My fare graduated from UC-Santa Cruz six years ago with a degree in biology. She works for (and owns a tiny piece of) a bio-tech firm down the Peninsula. They’ve got a cancer drug in the final stages of trials, and she’s hoping it’s a winner. At the end of the ride she tells me she is very glad for our exchange. And she seems to take it as a sign -- a good sign, a welcomed sign, and validation of her decision last night -- when I tell her that we need not exchange any money today.


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