Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Shift #1

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 6 -– 5:52 a.m. -– Mission/Third Street to California/Kearny -- $4.90

I HAVE SPENT THE PAST HOUR inching my cab to the front of the cab line in front of the Westin-Market Street. For a while, I did some stretching out on the sidewalk, but it’s cold out there, so I’m behind the wheel, reading The Power of Now, and now my first fare of the year walks out of the hotel and says she’s going to 101 California Street, about ten blocks away.

She’s from Connecticut -- she’s in the insurance business -– she had good holidays -– she’s glad to see 2009 behind her, behind all of us. She loves coming to San Francisco, especially in the winter, because it’s so warm here compared to Connecticut… And barely three minutes later, here we are, pulling to the curb in front of 101 Cal.

“You are my first ride of the year,” I tell her, “and I’m going to start off my year with a free ride, if that’s all right with you -- and I hope it is.”

A smile creeps across her face. “Well,” she says. “That’s very sweet. Thank you.”


AAA Membership

Shift #2

FRIDAY, JANUARY 8 -– 7:50 AM –- 24th / Mission to Van Ness / Fell

“DO YOU THINK we can get to 100 Van Ness by eight o’clock?” she asks me.

I glance down at the clock on the dash: 7:50. “Sure.”

She works for AAA of California, the automobile club, in the building where she’s headed.

Me: “You work for me then."

“Do you use your AAA card much?”

“Hardly at all. Only when I need a jump. Or a flat changed.”

“You know,” she says, “a lot of people aren’t aware of all the discounts you can get from using your card. Lots of restaurants and stores and hotels will give you five or ten or fifteen percent off your bill. I don’t work in that department, but the people there tell me that many people easily save $200-300 a year that way.”

I say, “More than the price of the membership...”

She ticks off a list of discount-giving stores and restaurants, none of which I use, except for Target, where once or twice a year I buy a dozen pairs of reading glasses at $4/pair.

Halfway through the ride I notice I’ve forgotten to turn on the meter. This is often a factor in my free ride decision –- if I don’t know how much a ride costs, and if I haven’t already given away that day's free ride, it makes it easy to just do it now. Plus, it’s still early in the shift, and often I find myself doing it early, while I’m fresh, getting the day off to a fun start and clearing it from my mind. Also, this fare is simply nice, a pleasant person. All these things add up.

It’s 7:57 AM when I drop her at her door.



Shift #3

SUNDAY, JANUARY 10 -- 10:33 a.m. -– Sutter/Octovia (Queen Anne Hotel) to Bush/Powell -- $6.70

A COUPLE FROM ITALY, heading to pick up a rental car at 750 Bush Street. Today they’re driving to Death Valley -- they don’t have a place to stay yet, but they’re confident. Tomorrow they drive to Las Vegas, then in a few days they fly from LA to Hawaii. They are on a three-week honeymoon. Every detail of at their wedding (first marriage for either of them) came off perfectly, one week ago today, in their hometown, Genoa.

I tell them I remember Genoa very fondly.

“You have been?” They are surprised.

“In 1974, when I was 22, and my hair was down to here…” -- I torque my right arm around to touch a spot on my back, just a few inches above my waist -- “I was driving a Volkswagen bus from Morocco to Greece when, just outside Genoa, the motor started to skip. I was scared because I had so little money and I’d heard so much about how Italians can be… well, you know, Mafia…”

They laugh. “Yes, yes, we know…”

"But in Genoa I pulled in to the first garage and the owner came out and looked at us -- I was with two friends who were just as hairy as I was -- and he called all of the mechanics to come out and look. They laughed and laughed and laughed and asked how long did it take to grow our hair that long and they said they wished they could be hippies, too, and they wished they could go to Greece with us and chase Greek women around on the beaches and then they fixed our engine in about ten minutes and I can’t remember if they actually charged us anything or not -- if they did, it was very very little -- and then they pumped our hands and took our photos and they laughed and laughed and laughed some more... So,” I tell my fares, “I have a warm memory of Genoa.”

Their English isn’t perfect, and they undoubtedly have had a little trouble understanding my story, but they've caught the gist and seem to have liked it very much. I unload their luggage, and we’re standing beside my cab when I ask them, “Een Italian-o, how do you say ‘free ride?’”

Both their heads tip back. The man has pulled his wallet from a back pocket, but now he smiles and tucks it away again. “San Francisco,” he says. “Our honeymoon. Always we will remember this.”

The woman slides up beside me, and her smiling new husband snaps a photo of his smiling new wife and the smiling San Francisco cab driver with their arms slipped around each other’s waists.


It's their anniversary

Shift #4

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 13 -- Mid-morning -- Octavia and Lombard, to 24th/Guerrero -- $13.00

has its theme, it seems. It could be that four people pay with $50 bills. Or three different people need a ride to St. Mary’s Hospital. Or three people are carrying cats in small cages home from the vet.

But it also seems that weeks can have themes, or months can have themes, etc. And while it's way too early in the year to make any sort of definitive projection, who knows, maybe I have spotted an emerging theme of honeymooners and newlyweds?

AT THE MARINA INN, Just a few blocks from the Bay, I pick up a young couple -- neither of them can be more than 25 years old. They live in San Diego, where the guy was born, but the woman grew up on Guam. They met in San Deigo when she came to the States for college. “Guam is only 30 miles long, and five miles wide,” she says. “I had relatives in the States, and I’d visited as a kid, and I always knew I wanted to come to California to live.” We talk music much of the way, and we talk about the trip the two of them made to Guam a couple of years ago -- they told her family that he, the guy she’d brought home with her, was “just a friend” interested in seeing Guam. Today, which is their first wedding anniversary, I ask if they think anyone believed them, and they both laugh: Nah... Who would fall for something like that!



Shift #5

FRIDAY, JANUARY 15 -- Third/Howard to California/Sansome -- $5.35

of getting to my notebook (or computer) as quickly as possible. Sixty-some hours have passed since Friday’s shift, and now I’m staring at my waybill, which shows that on Friday I had a total of seven rides. Six of them went to or from San Francisco International Airport (my way bill is scattered with “SFO” notations). The other ride was my free ride, and for the life of me I can’t remember it. The waybill shows that at 7:50 AM I picked up a single passenger at the Hotel W and at 7:53 AM deposited him or her at the corner of California and Sansome. Next to my notation of the meter reading -- $5.35 -- I have scrawled “Free.” And other than that, I’m simply drawing a blank.

Like all of my thousands of “regular” rides, my free rides do tend to blur together in my mind. I’ve maintained this practice for more than fifteen years. At least one hundred free rides per year. Average fare of, let’s say, ten bucks... At those conservative figures, I’ve given away at least 1,500 rides, with an approximate value of at least $15,000. Cheap, considering all the fun I’ve had along the way, and also considering that the practice has given me a whole new way to relate to the biggest, baddest boogeyman in all of Boogeydom: Money...!


“Smells nice...”

Shift #6

SUNDAY, JANUARY 16 -- 8:39 a.m. -- Eddy/Van Ness to 18th/Castro -- (Forgot meter)

IT’S PARTICULARLY SLOW this drizzly morning. I stamp my waybill in the time clock at 6:11 A.M., but it isn’t until 8:21 A.M. that I find my first ride, a radio call, a young man from Presidio Heights going to meet a friend at Four-Barrel Coffee, the hot new roastery over on Valencia Street -- $11.65, plus a nice $3.35 tip. But just five minutes later, here’s my second ride -- two young guys flagging me at Eddy and Van Ness. As they settle in, I’m hit by a big reek of strong pot.

I think: When I was twenty-three, there were mornings I smelled that very same way at 8:39 A.M. I say: “Smells nice...”

They both chuckle. They tell me they’re heading over to the Castro District.

I ask, “So what does the rest of your day hold?”

One of them is a bit older than the other, maybe thirty, and he says, “Oh, a little of this, a little of that.”

The younger one: “Mostly that.”

The younger one, I soon learn, is twenty-three. He arrived here as a refugee from Russia when he was just five years old. He’s never been back, but he remembers lots of things about Russia. He tells the story of how his father, a doctor, managed to scrape together the money and arrange the visas to allow the family to leave Russia, and he perks up when I tell him I rode the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Beijing to Berlin a couple of years before he was born...

“You like to travel?” he asks.

At least once a day in my cab I find myself boasting that, “I have visited all fifty of the United States, and have circled the world with my backpack four times...”

He whistles. “I want to do that. I want to go EVV-er-ee-where...”

As we’re rolling up Market Street, and just as we’ve come within sight of the enormous Castro District rainbow flag (it’s limp this morning, perhaps exhausted by an over-exuberant Saturday night), I notice that I have forgotten to turn on the meter. In a perfect world there would be no meters. We would each simply do whatever it is we do to benefit the human race and/or the planet. We would not look for a return, for a reward, for payment. I like to imagine a Man 100 Miles Up, looking down on all of us, just observing. From that distance he couldn’t see money. He would merely discern people moving around, doing stuff to help others.

I scan my body, and Body issues a quick verdict: Free Ride.



Shift #7

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 20 -- 2:30 p.m. -- (Bus zone)

in the shift and if I haven’t yet given away a free ride, I sometimes have to take matters into my own hands. I don’t actually have to -- no one’s keeping score, this practice is entirely my own creation -- but if I’m going to say I give away a free ride every day, well, hey, shouldn’t I actually do it?

At 2:10 PM I drop a passenger at SFO and head back to town. Today I have to pick my daughter up at the Rockbridge BART station in Oakland at 4:15 PM, so quitting time for me is around 3:45. Before I clock out, I have to gas up and vacuum out the cab for the next driver, so I’ve got about an hour left.

Returning from the airport I can sometimes catch a lucky radio order out near the city limits, but today’s dispatcher, David, is absolutely silent. I take the Army Street exit and thread my way over to Potrero Avenue. I scan the bus zone at 24th Street, but it’s crowded. I have found that it’s awkward to slide into a crowded bus zone and single out one or two people for a free ride (my pretty little Prius holds a maximum of four). A person considering a weird proposal from a cabdriver doesn’t really need the added complication of an eavesdropping crowd around him or her.

At the 21st Street bus stop I see two young men talking. They have happy expressions on their faces and I’m just about to swing over when they both raise lit cigarettes to their mouths…

But at the 16th Street bus stop, there he is, my free ride for the day, standing all by himself. “Well, sure,” he says. “Thank you very much.” He’s headed over to Market and Church. He works for the federal Food and Drug Administration. His job is to determine the “admissibility” of foreign container shipments coming into the Port of Oakland. “This time of year most everything comes from Asia. It’s like a fast-flowing river -- lots of things get in that probably shouldn’t, but you can’t catch everything.”

He does not own a car. Mostly he takes the bus, but every now and then he finds himself in a cab. “I love riding cabs, but they are an indulgence. I prefer to save my money for my only real vices, my television and my iPhone. I have a 40-inch HDTV.”

Me: “My family has a small, 20-year-old television at home, but when we visit friends, we see some jaw-dropping setups.”

“Mine is so worth it to me,” he says. “Once you get used to this new world, you just can’t go back. My cable/internet bill every month is $160, but it’s worth it to me. And my iPhone -- that’s a whole new world, too. I pay $130 a month for that, and it’s so worth it. Altogether I’m paying $290 a month for communications and entertainment. If I don’t go out to dinner ever again, that’s fine with me, but I’m not giving up my TV or my iPhone.”


Cameras in Cabs

Shift #8

CASUAL FRIDAY, JANUARY 22 -- 12:32 p.m. -- Beale/Folsom to Montgomery/Pine -- $5.35

(an apartment tower at 400 Beale Street, just a few blocks from the Giants baseball stadium) carrying a complicated folder/clipboard-looking sort of thing and a Blackberry. He’s wearing a goatee and Dockers and a checked, long-sleeve, “Casual Friday” dress/sport shirt. Like me, he is white and middle-aged, but I imagine that he still thinks of himself (especially on Casual Friday) as a young guy. I gave that up a while back.

He’s going to 473 Pine, right in the heart of the Financial District. Mentally I plot my route -- a quick U-turn, a right onto Folsom, a left onto Main and then another onto Market, a right at Pine and four and a half-blocks up...easy. Coming out of my U-turn I start to ask him “What’s your day hold?” -- but a quick glance in the rearview shows him tapping away, grinning down at his Blackberry...

On NPR a professor from the University of Texas is talking about the proliferation of cameras in public life. People in the big cities of Britian and the United States are now photographed approximately 40 times per day. Recent advances in both digital photography and facial-recognition software have allowed for the creation of huge databases enabling authorities to scan train stations, streets, shopping areas, airports -- any place a camera might be mounted -- and to identify anyone who is in the database and also within view. Many states now take digital photographs for drivers licenses and share those images with other states. Already, people passing through Customs in Australia step in front of a machine that scans their facial features and compares them to the digital photos in their passports.

Is all of this good, bad, a combination? I’m not sure. But...

IN 1994, AS THE HEAD of a group of (barely) organized San Francisco cab drivers (United Taxicab Workers), I saw all of the San Francisco Police Department reports involving cab drivers. That year, there were approximately 100 robberies of cab drivers, which was a pretty typical year back then.

Cab robberies used to come in waves: some punk would get it in his head that he could make a little easy money just by flagging a cab -- and usually he was right. One serial robber would reach around from the backseat and snap a chokehold on the driver: “Give it up, motherfucker.” A police artist sketch of The Choker’s face appeared on the front page of every paper, but, somehow, cab drivers still kept picking him up. In the space of six weeks he robbed he managed to knock off about thirty of us. But the police do have their ways, and they soon figured out exactly which lowlife was causing all the mayhem, and one night when The Choker was in the city they tailed him. When he caught on, The Choker tried to jump a BART train out of the city, and that’s when the police moved in. I think he’s still in jail.

Finally, in 2002, after a years-long debate about driver safety, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors decreed that every cab in the city would be equipped with an onboard camera. And now, whenever the door of a San Francisco taxi is opened or closed, an in-cab camera with a fish-eye lens snaps a photo of the entire interior. (It also snaps photos under certain other circumstances, but those details are highly-guarded information, and if I revealed them to you I would have to... well, I would have to at least snap a chokehold on you and make you swear not to tell.)

About a month after their installation, one of the cameras snapped a photo of two young punks sitting in the backseat of a cab; one of them is holding a great big handgun and aiming it at the driver, whose face, in the photo, shows unmistakable terror. The two punks are sporting smug, confident grins. The cops who downloaded the images said, “Hey! We know those guys.” They rolled by the punks’ houses and picked up both of them. When word got around, the number of cab driver robberies plummeted, almost overnight, from approximately 100 per year to approximately fifteen per year, a number which has held steady ever since.

“It’s just here!” There is alarm in my passenger’s voice.

“Ooops…!” Lost in my head, I’ve almost driven past 473 Pine. “I forgot you were back there,” I tell him, and pull over.

He laughs, and extends his credit card toward me.

I punch off the meter, turn around, look him in the eye, and say, “Every day I give away one free ride, and I’d like this to be my free ride today.”

“Really?” His face contorts with two waves of confusion -- one wave cascades from top to bottom, the other rips from side to side -- and then settles into a tentative smile.

“Yes,” I say. “If that’s all right with you.”

“That’s just great,” he says. “Thank you.”



Shift #9

SUNDAY, JANUARY 24 -– 9:35 a.m. –- Post/Larkin to 16th/Bryant -- $7.15

of a three-story apartment building, a Petco employee badge dangling from a shoelace that encircles her neck. She says she’s been working at Petco for five years, and, yes, Petco has held its own through the downturn. “San Francisco has more pets per person than any other city,” she says. “More pets per person than kids.”

Me: “Do you have a pet?”

She: “No. I have a whole store full of them.”

Me: “We had a goldfish that died just last week. It was about ten years old -- is that any sort of record?”

She: “That’s unheard of!”

Me: “My daughter is thirteen now, but we think she was three when she came home from a birthday party with a goldfish in a plastic baggie. The birthday kid’s mom told all the parents, ‘Don’t worry, they usually don’t live very long…’ Well, thanks a lot, lady! But she was right -- that fish was dead on arrival by the time my daughter got home. She was so upset that my wife quickly went out and bought another one. And a bowl. And fish food. And rocks…”

My fare: “It was probably a koi that didn’t make the cut. And then they grow to their environment.”

Me: “This one grew about as big as the bowl would allow.”

“Probably a koi.”

Me: “And then about…six-seven years ago…my daughter told us she would like to have a dog. She’s always been an easy, very reasonable kid. Hardly ever asks for anything. We said, ‘Well, we’ll have to think about that. Not now, but maybe some day…’ So for the next couple of years, she would every now and then remind us. And then one day when the three of us are driving somewhere -- she’s behind us in her car seat, and her mouth is quivering and she’s trying not to cry -- she says, ‘We’ve been talking about getting a dog…for a long time. I think we should either stop talking about it…or we should get a dog.’”

My fare: “Uh-oh…”

Me: “We got a dog almost immediately.”

In front of the store, when I tell my fare that her ride is free, she says, “We’ve been remodeling and we’re having a grand re-opening on Super Bowl Sunday. None of the guys are very happy about it, but it’ll be fun. You should come by.”


* * Play with me! * *

Shift #10

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 27 -- 1:45 p.m. -- Fremont/Mission to Pine/Baker -- $10.30

with my afternoon mug of vanilla/hazelnut coffee in one hand and a Noah’s “Heavenly Chocolate Chip Cookie” in the other when I see her standing at the curb, just ten feet from my cab, a daypack-on-wheels at her feet, her hand in the air, scanning down Fremont Street.

“Need a cab? Mine’s right there behind you…”

She grew up in India and has been in the States for five years. In June she will graduate from Heald College with a “medical assistant” degree, and today’s classes have left her “very tired.” The States have been great for her, invigorating and exciting, but she’s been back to visit India several times and she finds that, “People there are more relaxed, not so busy as they are here.”

I tell her I found people in India remarkably ready-and-willing to play, ready to drop whatever they were doing and simply play with, or listen, or talk to you.

She says, “People in India have time for each other. Here we all have so much we have to do. We’re always late for something. Always tired. But I do love it here. It’s so different.”

I tell her: “For a while my closest friend was an Indian man -- from Calcutta -- who told me that when he went home to visit he would always spend the first week asking his parents, ‘Why can’t we keep this place clean? Look at all the trash in our yard, in the street in front of our house, in our neighborhood…’ But when he’d been home a week he didn’t even see the trash anymore, it stopped registering with him. He said he ‘became Indian’ again.”

My fare laughs. “Yes,” she says. “I know. It’s very dirty there. India will never change.”

I tell her I’ve been there twice. She asks what places, and I tick them off: “Bombay, Goa, Calcutta, Darjeeling, Varanasi, Dehli, Udaipur, Srinigar, Ahmedabad…”

She says, “Ahmedabad! -- I am from Ahmedabad...”

I say, “My favorite Indian story is from Ahmedabad… May I tell you?”


“My wife and I missed our train connection or this would have never happened. We arrived at the station in Ahmedabad at midnight, and we didn’t realize that the connecting train would leave in, literally, 60 seconds…”

“Oh, yes,” she says. “I know that one. There is no time to waste on that one.”

“The next train was twenty-four hours later, so we found a place to spend the night, and the next morning we started walking around the town. We came to the river, very wide, but it was the dry season, and there was no water. In the middle of the riverbed, poor people had built shanties. A slum. Houses of cardboard and scrap wood and burlap. I told my wife, ‘Let’s just go out there and see what it’s like.’ She didn’t want to go, but I talked her into it.

“We started walking out there and were immediately surrounded by about thirty or forty kids: ‘Ball pen! Candy! Baksheesh!’ And I noticed this one boy who was dragging a snake, as fat as a firehose, and about six feet long. He had a rope tied around it, and was dragging it through the gravel and dust. I fixed him with a look I thought would scare him, but as soon as I turned my back that snake came flying through the air from behind -- perfect throw -- and it wrapped around my neck -- whump-whump-whump -- three times. I clawed it off, threw it down, chased the boy, but he outran me. And there I am, standing in a riverbed in India at mid-day, with a fat dead snake at my feet, surrounded by laughing kids, and I am very very very very upset…”

She: “Oh, I can imagine...”

“And I’m looking at my wife, and we’re thinking, ‘Now what!’ and then I see this young man -- he’s about fifteen, tall, dressed all in white linens -- and he’s walking across the riverbed right toward me. He’s about a hundred yards away, but I can tell he’s coming right for me. The air is shimmering -- it’s like he’s a mirage, maybe. But he’s real, and when he reaches me he does this little bow and hands me this piece of paper. I take it. It’s a letter: ‘Dear Sir, I saw you and your wife walk past my shop just now, and I was reminded of the many happy days I spent in your country. Won’t you please follow my boy and have tea with me…’ So we go. And the man is an absolute delight. Gives us tea. Tells us stories of his wonderful days in America. We are sitting on carpets in the backroom of his carpet store, but he doesn’t even once try to sell us anything. He apologizes for the snake. After tea he takes us to a restaurant and treats us to the best lunch we had the whole time we were in India. And then he gives us a ride on the back of his motorcycle, back to our room...

“And what was so amazing was that those two experiences, so different, happened exactly back-to-back.”

“That’s India,” my fare says.

We have a little tussle when I tell her about this being my free ride for the day. “No, no, no,” she says. “I insist.”

I tell her she’ll be doing me a favor if she will accept my gift. She has spent time with me, listened to my story, a story from her own home town. She has “played” with me...

We are both smiling when she gets out of my cab.



Shift #11

FRIDAY, JANUARY 29 -- A street flag -- 16th/Market to Club Fugazi in North Beach -- 11:30 a.m. -- $13.00

calls her “big, blonde, and beautiful” -- and indeed she has rolled through the local cabaret scene like a bowling ball. I’ve not heard of her before, but this morning there she is on Market Street in the Castro with her hand in the air; and halfway through our ride, after I’ve peppered her with many questions, she allows that she won last year’s (2009) San Francisco Cabaret Showcase.

“So,” I ask her, “what’s a cabaret singer do after winning that?”

“I think I’ve done everything there is for me to do in San Francisco,” she says. “I pretty much need to go to New York now.”

This morning she’s headed to a practice session with an accompanyist at Club Fugazi. She answers all my questions without -- it seems to me -- holding anything back. She and her story are as entertaining a fare as I’ve had in a long time, and I find her personality a refreshment. But don’t take my word for it -- check her out:

Carly Ozard's website:




Inner Reservoirs

Shift #12

SUNDAY, JANUARY 31 -- 7:30 AM -- Union/Hyde to Chestnut/Divisadero -- never turned on meter, but probably $6.25

EARLY SUNDAY MORNING -- the absolute deadest period of the entire cab week. I haven’t seen a single person on the streets in half an hour.

But as I’m climbing through a thick fog slathered on the flanks of Russian Hill, I see two young women standiing side-by-side in the bus zone at Union and Hyde. They look jarringly fresh and alert -- the word clear comes to mind. They’re chatting, trading smiles with each other, and I’m struck by how smooth their faces look. An Oakland police officer, a friend of mine, once told me that his favorite thing about his job was that it gave him an excuse -- and also the means -- to approach and talk to anyone who looked interesting. At the next intersection, Union and Leavenworth, I do a U-turn.

When they see me pull to the curb, the two women’s smiles fade but don't disappear. I notice that one has white, perfect teeth. Their clothes are sensible, not flashy, and they both appear lean and fit. I imagine them as semi-serious runners. I further imagine inner reservoirs of contentment pooled within them, even when they’re surprised, as they are now, by this Green Cab pulling to a stop right in front of them and the driver sliding down his passenger window. One of them shakes her head at me, but there’s no rebuke, just information being conveyed.

“Every day I give away one free ride,” I call to them. “I haven’t given away a free ride today, and I would very much like to offer the two of you a free ride.”

They look away from me and back toward each other. Their eyebrows lift, and their cheeks, too.

One of them was born in Michigan and the other is from Holland. They are in San Francisco to train with a yoga teacher over on Chestnut Street. In a few days they will be heading down to San Diego, where they will both be leading yoga courses. Yoga came into each of their lives “five or six years ago” and now, yes, they both agree, yoga is indeed the “number one thing” in their lives.

The ride takes almost no time at all, as there is virtually no traffic, and the lights on Lombard are timed. I would have preferred more time with them, but life and my cab roll on.


* * SPECIAL BONUS: Ride of the Year? * *

(NOTE: This fare transpired during mid-afternoon on SUNDAY, JANUARY 24, and I include it here because I just love it when this happens...)

FROM THEIR HOME on a quiet street in the Mission District, a couple in their late twenties is heading across the Golden Gate Bridge to Cavallo Point, the Bay Area’s newest resort, where they will unpack their two small suitcases and spend a couple of days celebrating their third wedding anniversary.

Halfway through the ride, as we’re driving down Fulton, skirting the groves of looming Douglas Firs along the edge of Golden Gate Park, the woman (I will soon learn that her name is Desiree and her husband’s name is Frank) says to me: “About ten years ago I read a book written by a cab driver who took a trip around the world, and in the Philippines he met a rice farmer and invited him to America. I forget the name of the book. Do you know it?”

I say, “Take Me With You.”

That’s it!” she says. “Have you read it?”

“I wrote it.”

A ripple of shock runs through the cab’s cozy interior. I feel my face go flush. When Take Me With You was published, in the year 2000, I believed it had a very legitimate shot at becoming a bestseller, and that it just might transform and wildly enrich not just my own life but, by extension, also the life of my Filipino friend, Tony. But ten years later, my life, although quite rich indeed, is still very much the same as it was before. Ninety-eight percent of my income comes from cab driving. I need this job. Depend on it. Love it, too… But whenever someone in my cab mentions my book -- and this happens only every other year or so -- I am immediately flooded by a flash recollection of my fifteen minutes of book-tour-national-media fame. It’s a dislocating rush, a weird combination of pride and embarrassment, and then I’m back in my real life, back behind the wheel of my cab again…

Desiree is from the Philippines, and shortly after Take Me With You was published she read the hardcover version. She remembers lots of it, in detail, and now she lists her favorite parts. But only the paperback version, published a year after the hardcover, contains the punchline: the story of my longest fare, a sixteen-day, cross-country journey in a taxi loaned to me -- for free! -- by my old friend Jamie Maddox, who at the time owned a small San Francisco cab company, Service! Taxi (yes, the exclamation mark is intentional)...

Desiree has not heard any of this, does not know that Tony and I cruised from the Golden Gate Bridge all the way to the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC, to which we had been summoned a few minutes after the Philippine ambassador read about us on the front page of his newspaper one morning. Just for fun, Tony and I kept the meter running the whole way, even while we slept, and by the time I clicked it off (in the driveway of my mother’s house in Alexandria, Virginia, with a reporter from NPR’s All Things Considered in attendance) it had registered $20,644.90.

On Park Presidio Drive, a red light stops Desiree, Frank, and me. I slip the cab into Park, jump out, go around back, open the hatch, and rummage through my Prius’ tiny trunk to fetch my emergency paperback copy of Take Me With You. Desiree is delighted with the gift, says she can’t wait to read it.

“For years,” she tells me, “I would ask cab drivers if they knew you, or if they’d heard of the book, but no one had. So I quit asking a long time ago. Until now.”

Frank, a chef who is thinking of starting his own bakery -- maybe in San Francisco, maybe on Maui -- has never heard of my book, and understandably seems a bit mystified by the sudden sea change in the tenor of his anniversary celebration. At Cavallo Point, while the doorman whisks their bags away, Frank hands me a wad of bills. On my way back to the Bridge I sort and count them: Fifty-five dollars, including a twenty-dollar tip, my biggest of the year so far...