Friday, October 1, 2010

Rabbit, Rabbit

Shift #79

FRIDAY, OCT 1 – Third/Mission to Third/Howard -- $5.80

I’m sitting in front of the Westin-Market Street, hoping, of course, for an airport fare. The first sunrise of October is still a short ways off. A woman with no luggage walks down the sidewalk toward my cab. She seems be be a bit uncertain. She stops at my window and I roll it down.

She: “Can you take me to the convention center?”


She: “That’s it -- Moscone!

“Sure, but first I think I should point out that it’s only a block and a half back that way.”

She: “I know it’s right around here somewhere, but I’ve been walking around for about fifteen minutes now…”

“Hop on in!”

She: “I’m sorry…”

“Oh, no… this is what cabs are for.”

As we loop around several blocks of Financial District one-way streets, I promise her that this is not the “scenic route” -- the traffic patterns give me no other choice.

“Not to worry,” she says. “I’m just glad to be in your cab. It’s been years and years since I’ve been to San Francisco, and everything seems out of place to me.” She’s a pediatrician, from Manhattan, here with thousands of other pediatricians here to attend a national convention, starting today.

Me: “I’m not sure I knew what the word pediatrician meant until I became a father thirteen years ago.”

She laughs. “Parents find that we come in pretty handy sometimes. Like cab drivers.”

We talk childcare for a bit, and then, approaching Moscone, I ask her, “Do any of your patients play the 'Rabbit, Rabbit' game?”

She: “No. What’s that?”

Me: “I learned this little bit of nonsense from my ex-wife about thirty-five years ago, and now I’ve passed it along to my daughter: If when you wake up on the first day of the month you say the words 'Rabbit, Rabbit' before you say anything else, you will have a good month!”

She, a little dubious, but chuckling: “That’s news to me.”

Me: “Well, my daughter and I try to say it every month. So far we haven’t missed one all this year. I said it before I left the house this morning, but she was still asleep. When I drop you off I’ll have to give her a call and see…”

She: “Sounds sweet.”

In front of Moscone, I hit the meter, and tell a little, white, resistance-forestalling lie: “I also have another little tradition -- my first ride of every month is free, and this is my first ride of October. I absolutely can not accept money for this ride.”

She, with no resistance at all: “I am not lost any more. I must certainly be in San Francisco.”



Shift #80

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 8 -- Union/Buchanan to California/Front -- $9.85

who wave me down while they are in possession of a suitcase will often issue a hurried, introductory apology: “I’m sorry I’m not going to the airport...”

Over the years, I have customized a response: Oh, don’t worry -- at the Academy, they drill us and drill us and drill us on not getting overly-excited whenever we see luggage…

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to use my (always well-received) line, but when I see a young woman standing on the curb near the Cow Hollow Starbucks, a suitcase-on-wheels at her feet and her hand in the air, I get ready to blow the dust off of it just in case.

She doesn’t apologize (nor do I think she should), just tells me she’s going downtown (to her job at a real estate firm). She remarks enthusiastically on the absolutely wonderful fall day that has presented itself to us, and for a minute or two I play along, but then I get right down to business: “Are you a baseball fan?”

She: “Oh yes I am -- and I was at the game last night!

Me: “So was I!”

And we’re off and running…

Last night, in his very first postseason game, the Giants’ freaky young pitcher, Tim Lincecum (he’s 26), struck out 14 Atlanta Braves. The game’s only run was scored by the Giants’ kid catcher with the Hollywood name, Buster Posey (he’s 23), and now the Giants have a 1-0 lead in the opening round of the playoffs. At the other (imaginery) academy -- the All Sports Fools Academy -- they drill and they drill and they drill us sports idiots about not getting overly-excited about the unlikely possibility of our favorite teams winning the World Series, but no matter. All this week the city’s populace has been swaggering around in Giants orange-and-black. At night, City Hall and Coit Tower have been bathed in orange lighting. And the playoffs have brushed aside the weather as the number one topic of conversation. If our Giants win just ten more games, they’ll be world champs!

“The park is always great,” my fare tells me. “But last night -- all that energy was just phenomenal…”

Nearly 44,000 of us packed into our little jewel of a ballpark-by-the-Bay (the Giants’ stadium is the only major league sports stadium in the country built without taxpayer money -- the Giants raised $300 million and built it themselves), and all night long, strikeout after strikeout, we waved our silly orange rally rags and screamed our sports fool heads off.

In advanced coursework at the Taxicab Academy, we drivers are further trained to have an opinion on everything sports- or politics-related, and at least on this topic -- the San Francisco Giants’ chances of winning their first World Series championship -- I in fact do have a strong opinion, and whether my fare wants it or not, I give it to her:

“I think it would take some sort of miracle. I really like this team, but it just doesn’t ‘feel’ like a World Series winner to me. The World Series always seems to go to one powerhouse team who just blows everyone else away, or sometimes there are two pretty strong teams who fight it out. But then, every once in a while, some unlikely bunch of overachievers will catch a rogue wave and ride it all the way to shore -- and I’m going to leave the door wide open for the Giants to be that bunch this year. There does seem to be something really good and pure about this group -- maybe it just seems that way because prickly old Barry Bonds and his big old bag of steroids are all gone, but whatever, it’s been a fun year.…”

I’m on my sports fool roll: “Still, for the Giants to win it all, they’re going to have to forget everything they think they know and surrender themselves to the baseball gods, allow themselves to be infused with that special… I hate to use the word magic...”

My fare: “Hey -- there’s nothing wrong with magic. I’ve never seen a World Series game. I’m ready. I’m willing. I’ll take magic any day…”

In our short ride, my fare and I have unmistakably created a feeling, and baby, you know what that means: Free Ride!

She squeals: “Oh, you have made my day -- you’ve made my whole weekend!”

Play ball!




SUNDAY, OCTOBER 10 -- Mission/Cortland to Twenty-Second/Valencia -- Ice Cream

I’m returning empty from the airport, headed toward the gas station and then back to the cab lot. The annual eardrum-crushing performance of the jet fighters of the Blue Angels is terrorizing the skies above me, distracting me from the Giants-Braves playoffs on the radio. The series is tied one game apiece, and right now, in the sixth inning of Game 3, the Giants are ahead 1-0 -- and get this, Jonathan Sanchez is working on a no-hitter...

Suddenly, as I’m cruising past Candlestick Park, where the 49ers will be taking on the Philadelphia Eagles in a 6 pm football game, I remember: I haven’t given one away yet! I veer off onto 280, take the Alemany exit and then slip over to Mission Street via my secret Genebern Way shortcut. A few blocks later I spot a young, pretty woman sitting on a bus stop bench in the late afternoon fall sunshine; scooched up on either side of her are two picture-perfect, three-year old twins, a boy and a girl.

When I pull to a stop in front of them, the mom smiles at me, but shakes her head: No thanks. But when I roll down my window and call over May I offer you a free ride? her smile loses its formality. “Really?” she says.

As they’re climbing in, the boy pauses. He stands on the floor of the cab, steadying himself with one hand on the backseat, takes a moment to make sure that I’m looking him right in his big brown eyes, gulps a deep breath and then, in an exceedingly serious tone of voice and with an exceedingly confidential facial expression, he confides: “My daddy just loves taxis.”

Within the past hour, the mom and the dad (I imagine him at home, watching the game) have returned from a two-day trip to Florida to attend a wedding. Mom and kids are very, very happy to see each other again. “It’s such a beautiful afternoon,” she tells me, “and we’re going out for a special treat. I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M.”

Me, wide-eyed, turning around: “You’re going out for broccoli!”

The kids don’t laugh, but mom does. “Steamed broccoli,” she says.

The girl (soon I’ll learn that her name is pronounced Ee-Lisa and her brother’s name is Cass) says her first words of our ride, exceedingly dry and serious words : “Ice cream...”

They’re headed to Yotopia on 22nd Street, an eight or ten block ride, and just one block off my route back to the cab lot.

“This is so perfect,” the mom tells me in front of Yotopia. “We all love riding in taxis.” She gives Elisa a couple of dollars to hand to me as a tip, but I fight them off. Elisa doesn't mind: “I’ll put them in my piggy-bank,” she assures me.

I’m three blocks from the lot when Jonathan Sanchez gives up his first hit, a clean single to right. But still, as I pull through the gate the Giants are clinging to their 1-0 lead. No matter that Air Force jets are shrieking above me -- as I drive down South Van Ness toward Sixteenth Street, hope is definitely still alive...



Shift #82

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2010 -- Folsom/Main to Battery/Vallejo -- $8.05

is reeling this morning, trying to recover from having its collective breath sucked right out of its sprawling body -- temporarily, I predict -- by last night’s 4-2 Philadelphia Phillies victory over our 2010 San Francisco Giants.

The forty-four thousand of us packed into the stadium, plus millions watching on t.v., were prepared for a wild celebration, were prepared to see the Giants make it three straight wins in three straight nights against the Phillies -- and bring a World Series to San Francisco next week. But during the third inning our guys played sloppy baseball for about a minute and a half -- they blinked -- and the Phillies put up three cheap runs -- gifts! -- against Tim Lincecum. The series still stands at three games-to-two, Giants’ favor, and we go back to Philadelphia to play one more. Or possibly two...

ONLY ABOUT ELEVEN HOURS HAVE PASSED since my wife and daughter and I shuffled out of the ballpark with thousands of other dejected, deflated fans and made our way back home to Oakland. Now I’m in front of the Courtyard Hotel, first-up in the cab line. From here I can see the brick façade and the light towers of the stadium, a five-block shot down Second Street.

I’m up on the sidewalk next to my cab, with my right foot propped on the trunk to stretch out my hamstring. Over near the hotel entrance I notice two middle-aged guys wearing Giants gear and smoking cigarettes.

I call over, “Sad night at the ballpark…”

One of them calls back, “We’ll get ‘em tomorrow.”

And then, behind the smokers, I see a striking couple wheeling suitcases through the hotel’s front door. They’re both young enough to be my offspring, and they look so handsome and so well put together that they could be clipped from a magazine ad. The man has short, sandy blond hair and a short, short beard. The woman is tall and has long, straight brown hair. The man catches my eye and nods. I’m thinking: Airport.

Before the Courtyard’s distracted doorman can spot them and steer them into one of the nearby pirate limos, I jump behind the wheel and pull my cab into the covered driveway -- it’s drizzling this morning, and the portico will keep them dry. I am (or at least I once was) six-feet-two, and as I’m relieving the man of his suitcase I note that he’s taller than I am. When we’re settled in, the first thing that happens is that he quickly places a twenty-dollar-bill on the console between the two front seats, and says, “The ballpark, please.”

Earlier today I heard on the radio that the Giants are meeting at the stadium this morning to catch a bus to the airport. “You’re a ballplayer?” I tuck the bill under my clipboard on the passenger seat.

“Yes,” he says.

Me: “Oh, great -- what’s your name?”

“Chris Ray.”

Me: “Well, you’ve had a great year!”

Chris Ray: “Thanks.”

I’d not heard of Chris Ray until July 1, when the Giants acquired him in a trade and then, two days later, went off on a 22-6 roll. I recall hearing Giants announcer Mike Krukow pinpoint Chris Ray as a huge factor in that equation and speculate that Ray was throwing the ball as well as any reliever in the National League. In August Ray strained a rib muscle and had to go onto the disabled list. He rejoined the team in September and finished strong.

Me: “You came in with a bang. All of a sudden everyone was saying, ‘Well, who’s this guy?’”

He chuckles.

Me: “How was the mood in the locker room after last night’s game?”

He, sober, confident: “Fine.” No problems here. “If it wasn’t tough, it wouldn’t be any fun.” He says this not with a macho, but a philosophical tone.

As we’re talking, it occurs to me that I haven’t noticed Chris Ray’s name mentioned in the papers or on the radio for a while, and I wonder if the Giants found that they didn’t have room for him on the playoff roster -- but I keep this thought to myself.

I ask: “Where were you playing last year?”

“Baltimore. In the off season I was traded to Texas, and then in July I was traded to the Giants.”

Me: “Oh, you were part of the Bengie trade?”

He: “Yes.”

On July 1, the Giants traded popular-but-slumping veteran catcher Bengie Molina to the Rangers in exchange for Ray, plus a minor league pitcher and some cash. The Giants turned their catcher’s job over to twenty-three-year-old phenom Buster Posey, and now, as we’re riding to the park this morning, both Buster’s and Bengie’s teams (the Giants and the Texas Rangers) are one win away from a matchup in the World Series.

I tell Chris Ray and his quieter companion that my thirteen-year-old daughter and I have been to a dozen or maybe fifteen games together this year, which makes the season a total win for me no matter what happens from here on out.

“That’s great,” he says, and he seems genuinely pleased to hear this.

I catch the woman’s eye in the rearview. “What do you do to stay calm through it all?”

She, too, seems nice. She smiles at me and says, “I think I’m pretty used to it by now…”

And then we’re pulling through the players’ gate, out behind the left field wall, the bleachers section, the giant Coke bottle, and the giant baseball mitt. I stop the cab next to two large coach buses parked there and turn to face the back seat. “Every day for the last fifteen or twenty years I’ve given away one free ride…” -- I extend Chris Ray's twenty-dollar-bill back toward him -- “and I would really, really like it if you’ll let this be my free ride for today…”

One of the Giants’ logistics folks has opened the rear passenger door: “Chris Ray…! How you doing, Chris?”

But Chris Ray is momentarily preoccupied with the adoring-fan-cab-driver situation. He’s looking directly at me, he’s smiling -- he gets it. “Oh, thank you,” he says, “but I want you to have that. Really. But thanks…”

A second Giants employee, happy, smiling, is at Chris’s door now: “Chris Ray… Great to see you, Chris…” And the moment passes.

The woman and I both step out on the left side of the cab at the same time. I think: Is she taller than me, too? I unload their suitcases, both of them thank me and say good-bye, and then they’re swept into the warm arms of the Giants family, off to Philadelphia…

SEVEN BLOCKS LATER I’m flagged by a woman who moved to San Francisco from Seattle thirteen years ago and has had her own architectural/graphic design firm for the last “eleven or twelve” years. Yes, she says, she certainly is a Giants fan. No, she wasn’t at the game last night, but she watched the whole thing on t.v. “What a heartbreaker!”

Me: “I’ve been to all the playoff games so far, and last night’s was by far the toughest to take. I’ve been telling myself that this team’s already gone farther than I ever thought it would, but now… Now I’ve got my hopes up, and last night hurt…”

She: “Around the office we’ve all been asking, ‘Who in the world has tickets?’ You’re the first person I’ve met, or even heard of, who actually has any -- how’d you get them?”

Me: “I got lucky. Back in March I pulled out my credit card and bought season tickets, and now I have tickets to all the playoff games and, if we get there, to the World Series. But I have to admit, I’m relieved there’s no game today -- I’m exhausted! It’s a lot of work being a baseball fan!”

At the end of the ride, I tell her, “The last person to sit in your seat was Giants relief pitcher Chris Ray.”

She: “No way!”

Me: “Yep. And I told him that every day for fifteen or twenty years I’ve given away one free ride -- and I tried to give today’s ride to him, but he insisted on paying me -- he probably makes five million dollars a year. So, if you’ll allow it, I’d like this to be my free ride today...”

“Oh, I would be so happy to allow that -- are you kidding! Thank you so much!” She’s got a major league smile. “You know,” she adds, “I don’t make five million a year...”

(NOTE: After work I do an online search: Chris Ray is six-three, weighs two hundred and ten pounds, played baseball at the College of William and Mary, was drafted in 2003, has been in the big leagues since 2005, had Tommy John surgery in 2007, is 28 years old, and in 2010 earned a salary of $975,000. Not five million, but still... I am, however, saddened to see that Ray has in fact not been included on the Giants postseason roster, but I think it’s a wonderful thing, and right in line with the current ownership’s class-act reputation, that Ray and his pal are nonetheless going to Philadelphia with the team.)


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!”



Shift #84

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 29 -- Oh my goodness!

ON JANUARY 9, 1982
, after several increasingly-seductive, exploratory visits, I arrived in San Francisco and started calling it my home. I spent my first few nights with my friends Nancy and Bob whose Cow Hollow flat had a wide-angle view out over the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

I was not a football fan when I arrived, but on the day after my arrival I sat on the living room sofa with Bob and Nancy and several of their friends and watched a San Francisco 49ers football game. The 49ers were having a completely unexpected run: two seasons prior, the team had won just two games and lost fourteen and had watched the playoffs from the comfort of their own sofas. But this year they had reached the second-to-last round of the playoffs. In the final moments of this, my first 49ers game, an incredibly tense game against the feared and loathed Dallas Cowboys, 49ers’ quarterback Joe Montana floated a high pass toward the back of the end zone. Lanky 49ers receiver Dwight Clark leapt for it and latched onto the ball with all ten of his fingers -- this play is immortalized as “The Catch” -- and when Clark’s feet touched down onto the grass of the end zone, just in bounds, the City and the entire Bay Area region erupted in a wave of all-hands-on-deck euphoria, the likes of which would not be seen for another twenty-six years…

IF YOU DROVE AROUND SAN FRANCISCO on the night of November 4, 2008, the night Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, you saw smiling lunatics jumping up and down on every corner, in every neighborhood. Four years earlier, almost no one in the country had ever heard of Obama -- he was a newcomer to politics, a member of the Illinois state legislature, but then he’d given a rockin’ speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, and suddenly everyone knew him. In November 2004, he was elected to the US Senate. In February 2007 he announced his candidacy for President, and in 2008, well, you know...

In San Francisco, Obama-mania burned intensely for about two weeks, flared again during the period surrounding his inauguration (and the departure of the -- boo-hiss -- George W. Bush administration), and then started to fade as it came to be understood that Obama (oh my god!) was actually a human being. (In contrast, “Catch” euphoria lasted about a decade, during which four Super Bowl trophies were delivered to San Francisco, where Joe Montana and Dwight Clark are still considered immortals). San Franciscans began looking for some other odds-defying development to blow us away, and hoping that its arrival wouldn’t require another twenty-six year wait…

IT DIDN’T... Last night, not even two years since the night of Obama’s election, and twenty-eight years after The Catch, the San Francisco Giants beat the Texas Rangers 9-0. The Giants now lead the best-of-seven World Series two-games-to-none, having beaten the Texas Rangers 11-7 in Game One, and again in last night’s Game Two shocker. Nine-zip! (To see a Game One closeup of my daughter and I sitting in “our skybox” -- also known as “the last two seats in the stadium,” click here, and then zoom in to the top two seats in the upper left part of the ballpark. You’ll see the two of us wearing orange, right in front of the Fox cameraman and a photographer from Major League Baseball.)

THIS MORNING the whole town is floating, doing our damnedest not to gloat. We’re two wins away from the first-ever World Series championship in San Francisco history, and we’re nearly out of our collective skin. By 1 P.M. I’ve given away four free rides.

My very first fare is a fellow from Argentina who knows absolutely nothing about baseball: What the heck -- Free ride! A couple from Anaheim is celebrating their fifth anniversary with a weekend in San Francisco: Free ride! Another fare, who has just arrived from New York with an overstuffed suitcase, goes from one Union Square Hotel to another just a few blocks away (one of my cab driver brethren had dropped him at the wrong hotel): Hey, free ride! Another man is going from Second and Market to an office across the street from the ballpark to deliver a bottle of whiskey to a client who had secured World Series tickets for him: Free ride...!

Almost everyone is euphoric, some are talking sweep, but I’m not buying it. The Rangers could so easily win four straight. I’m glad for the season we’ve had. I’m hoping for more. Still, I’m taking nothing for granted. Sure, I’m sky-high along with the rest of this city, which I long ago began calling “God’s favorite city.” I hope that’s not too much gloating -- I hope I don’t jinx anything.

Go Giants!


Bad omen / good omen

Shift #85

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 31 -- Halloween Day -- Union/Van Ness to Union/Fillmore

upon waking is, “Why in the world didn’t (Giants manager Bruce) Bochy put Eli Whiteside at catcher last night, with Buster Posey at first base, Aubrey Huff at DH, Travis Ishikawa in right, and Cody Ross in left? Pat Burrell was a ghost last night -- he should get at least one night off, and my god, shouldn’t we send Pablo Sandoval home for the winter and let him get his head straight…?”

I look over at the alarm clock: 3:45 A.M.

SHORTLY AFTER 8 AM I’m rolling north on Van Ness, empty -- nobody’s up yet. I’m thinking I might get lucky and find a flag over in Cow Hollow, or maybe over in the Marina I’ll catch another airport off the radio. I’ve already caught one there earlier today.

I swing left onto Union Street and immediately spot a woman standing in the bus zone at Union and Van Ness. She’s dressed mostly in black, but I see a smudge of orange on the bill of her baseball cap and my cab swoops right in on her -- all by itself, it seems. Even before I can get my window rolled down she breaks into a great big smile and starts stomping her right foot up and down on the sidewalk -- she’s seen all my orange Giants gear and the pennant flying from the cab’s roof. My free ride pitch is not even half-finished when she shrieks, “I love it! Yes-yes, I love it!”

She’s only going seven blocks, so we have to talk fast. She’s about my own age and has been to twenty-six Giants games this year, but no playoff games (I’ve been to the ballpark maybe twenty times, including five times during the playoffs). One of her friends serves as a sort of extra-ticket clearinghouse for several Giants season ticket holders, so my fare often winds up with cheap tickets as a result. This morning she’s on fire. She wants to see the Giants win a World Series as much as I do, which is as much as any fan in the Bay Area does. She’ll accept last night’s loss (so will I), but we can NOT allow another one tonight.

She: “Texas is too good for us to let up -- we have to go all out tonight. Lots of idiots are saying, ‘Oh, I hope the Giants lose two in Texas so we can win it in San Francisco...' but that’s sheer stupidity. We need to win tonight, and we need to win tomorrow night... But tonight, especially, is a must-win.

I share with her the fully formed thought-chain that woke me up this morning.

She: “Oh, absolutely! Bochy can NOT let Pablo DH again tonight!”

At the end of the ride we sit in my cab for three or four or five minutes, talking about the unbelievable parts of the Series -- Timmy Lincecum’s heart-stopping “brain fart” in Game One; the ball that bounced off the top of the center field fence -- bounced backwards! -- and wound up in Andres Torres’ glove, a mere double for Texas instead of a game-changing homer; and simply everything about Juan OOO-ree-bay... And we agree that even if she and I had all day to talk to each other, we couldn’t even scratch the surface of Brian Wilson!

In Games One and Two, it seemed that every break went the Giants’ way, but Game Three started with a scary, even sickening, omen. In Row One, right behind the catcher, best seat in the Rangers’ house, there was the surly, bantam rooster face of George W. Bush, oozing a self-righteous surliness into just about every camera shot...

Me: “We Giants fans think we know something about torture -- but Bush knows more about torture than we’ll ever know -- and, for me, seeing him there all night -- that was pure torture!”

My fare laughs. “If that man had a speck of decency he’d stay out of sight forever. Just seeing him probably threw Jonathan Sanchez off his game.”

Me: “And didn’t Nolan Ryan (two seats to the right of Bush) start to look more and more like Dick Cheney the longer the game went on?”

She: “Oh, you said it! We just have to win tonight!”

As she’s walking away from my cab, I roll down my window again and call over: “Don’t worry -- I think I saw a good omen about an hour and a half ago. I was on my way to the airport just before dawn, the sky was still black and filled with clouds, but there was one crack down near the horizon, and you know what color was coming through?”

She: “Yes -- I love it -- Giants orange!”

Me: “Bingo! Giants orange.”

She: “I love it! Yes…!”

During the entire rest of my shift, I don’t meet a single person who isn’t planning to be in front of a t.v. by first pitch -- at 5:20 pm.