Friday, October 1, 2010

Called Strike Three!

Shift #83

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 24 – Jones/Leavenworth to Bush/Powell -- $6.25

I sat on the sofa between my wife and daughter, all of us holding hands during the last two innings until Brian Wilson, finally, on a three-and-two pitch, corkscrewed a game-ending knee-level backdoor slider that froze Philadelphia slugger Ryan Howard -- called strike three! -- and transformed a tense Bay Area Saturday night into a maelstrom of astonished shrieks from homes and bars, with a background melody line of happy car horns.

One of my favorite books -- maybe top ten, but top twenty without a doubt -- is Goodnight, Nebraska. The elastic, cantankerous characters hatched by author Tom McNeal (an alum of Stanford University’s writing program) are specific to a tiny, dying, fictional town in the American Midwest, but the themes McNeal explores are universal.

In the final moments of a gladiatorial Friday night high school football game, during which Goodnight’s perennially weak team has somehow managed to hang with a strong and fearsome rival, the opposing quarterback launches a long perfect spiral toward a wide-open receiver down near the Goodnight goal line. As the ball rockets through the air, certain to once again crush the locals’ ill-advised hopes, McNeal describes the mood of the Goodnight townfolk. But I think he might also be describing you and, absolutely for sure, me:

“They (were) mesmerized… They knew what it meant. They could already sense the unfair diminishment in self-respect that was on its way. In their farmers’ bones, in their shopkeepers’ bones, they had expected it. It was what living on small farms and in a small town taught them to expect. They would lose. They would walk away, muttering or maybe working up a joke, beginning to pretend it didn’t matter. But it did. Not in any way they could adequately define or defend, but still it did. It mattered.”

“CAN YOU BELIEVE IT!” Just about every fare who climbs into my cab this morning has the same greeting. Many of them are reacting to my orange cap, black-and-orange scarf, and orange tee-shirt. Many of them are wearing Giants gear of their own. All of them are grinning from ear to ear -- even the three separate fares from Texas, whose Rangers will be facing the Giants in Game One of the World Series on Wednesday evening, weather permitting.

Throughout the entire region, where suddenly everyone is a Giants fan, this most unexpected development is widely regarded as a miracle -- at the beginning of this season no one was counting on a trip to the World Series. Nope -- we all were pretty darned sure we’d wake up on the first day of the playoffs to realize, once again, that we were still solid, hangdog citizens of the greater Goodnight metropolitan area.

Instead, my morning-after shift quickly takes on the feel of an All-Rides-Free day -- great rollicking ribaldry -- and I do give away more than one ride: there’s the woman from Scott Street going to work at Betelnut who high-fives me across the backseat; and the man from Fell Street who is hungry for Series tickets and who, due to a rainy day dispatching snafu, arrives at Shanghai Kelly’s saloon an hour later than he’d intended; but the one I’m choosing to write about wouldn’t know Buster Posey from Bengie Molina:

She’s a young Asian woman who at first blink strikes me as demure, but shortly after we’ve pulled away from her Vallejo Street apartment shows a playful side. “Are you excited about last night's game?” she asks, a twinkle in her voice.

I tip my baseball cab an inch off my head: “A little.” We both laugh, and I ask: “Did you watch it?”

“No. I’m really not a sports fan, but I heard all the shouting at the end.”

I find other people’s sports fanaticism off-putting, ridiculous, often obnoxious, and I do my best to keep mine from spilling onto the un-infected. “What’s your work?” I ask her.

She: “I work at Genentech .”

“What’s your function?”

She: “I do research.”

“Have you been there a while?”

She: “Just since May. I graduated in May.”

“Congratulations on winding up with such a crackerjack company.”

She: “Thank you.”

“Where’d you go to school?”

She: “Northwestern.” A top-notch school in Chicago.

“So…where were you the night Obama was elected?”

There is a long pause. Then, playful again, self-deprecating: “I was in the LI-brary… study-ing...”

I think: My god! She and I are two completely different beasts. I say, “Was it noisy in there?”

“No, I pretty much had the place to myself. Everyone else was in Grant Park.” She laughs again -- at herself: “I felt funny about it -- but I did great on that mid-term I was studying for!

Me: “And all those people who went off to Grant Park are probably still looking for jobs.”

She: “Could be!”


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