Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Oh, my!

Shift #55

FRIDAY, JUNE 4 -- Mission/Appleton/ to Northpoint/Taylor -- $18.40


For the past couple of weeks I’ve been working my tail off to organize a “Slash Oil” event on June 26. I want a huge crowd to come to Ocean Beach to encourage our nation’s leaders to start to -- not just to talk about, but to actually take the first painful steps of required to start to -- wrench our economy and country and world off our addiction to oil.

The Park Service has verbally agreed to grant me a “First Amendment Free Speech” permit. This type of permit is a lot less hassle than the “special event” permits they issued for my Beach Imeach events in 2007. Also, and very importantly, the Free Speech permit is indeed actually free, which saves me about a thousand dollars.

In my permit application I requested approval for one thousand participants, but ever since the Park Service nodded its o.k. I have been thinking I should have specified two thousand. The Impeach-Bush-and-Cheney events were far more controversial, but still drew 1,000 to 1,500 each time, so wouldn’t it seem logical -- with millions of gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf even as I write this, and with the whole world horrified -- that there would be at least 2,000 people who’d want to come to an anti-oil, pro-renewable energy event?

But I’ve been reluctant to ask for too much. In the past the Park Service personnel have been very even with me, but they’ve also been cautious. Their job is to protect public resources, such as Ocean Beach, and I completely support that. Are two thousand people a good thing for the beach? Well, who knows? Anyway, the permit and a million other details (helicopter rental, media coverage, and How in the world do I attract a crowd?) are what’s been distracting me these past couple of weeks…

DURING THE EARLY PARTS OF THIS YEAR nearly all of my creative energy has gone into keeping this journal, into writing about and thinking about my free ride practice. But during these past couple of weeks my creative energies have shifted over to Slash Oil. My free ride per day has almost come to seem like a distraction, even an annoyance. This morning I haven’t even really thought about it.

At Mission and Appleton a young man sees me coming and throws his hand high -- he seems motivated. His English is spotty, so we immediately switch over to Spanish. He tells me he’s overslept and now needs to be at his job at a Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant by 9 a.m. Now he’ll make it on time. He has a Fast Pass that allows him to ride for “free” on any bus in the city for sixty dollars per month, but to cross town on a bus this morning would take an hour. This fare’s going to be almost twenty bucks. Expensive or not, he tells me, he needs to be on time. And I promise that he will be.

Sometimes I find talking in Spanish exhilarating, but at other times -- this time, for instance -- it can seem laborious. I learn that my fare grew up in Mexico City and has been in San Francisco for three years, and then I leave him to his thoughts and retreat into my own. These days, hanging out with my own mind is not so comforting. As we proceed down Mission, then down Guerrero, down Market, and up Franklin, a jumbled checklist of Slash Oil details scrolls through my brain. Twenty-two days to go. I think I can pull this thing off, but, my god, planning one of these events is always stressful -- capital S. My family hates the way I grow distant during the runups, and I don’t blame them…

And now, as my fare and I begin to drop down the front side of Pacific Heights, Free Ride? begins to distract me from the distractions of Slash Oil. Ever since Body took me to the woodshed a few days ago, I have surrendered to it -- not particularly cleanly, but more like a petulant teenager. Whatever, I tell it. You figure it out, let me know, I’ll be here. Big fat twenty buck fare, no problem. You the man.

As we pull up to my fare’s destination Body swivels toward the backseat and says, “Cada dia doy un viaje gratis…” Every day I give away one ride for free... Etc.

My fare has his hands up, with his money out, but now his arms go boneless and his hands drop to his lap. “Hombre...,” he says. “Seguro?” Man... are you sure?

Body: “Si, seguro.”

He: “Hombre… Come te llamas?”

Body: “Brad. Y tu?”

He: “Roya.” I’m not sure how he spells it, but he pronounces it Roy-uh.

Roya’s body language, loosely translated, tells me that I have made his day.

It’s almost nine AM now. The Park Service office is three minutes away. My contact, James Sword, doesn’t even flinch when I ask him if I can change my request from one thousand people to two thousand. “Sure,” he says, fifteen seconds after I’ve walked in his door. “We can do that.”



Shift # 56

FRIDAY, JUNE 11th -- The bus zone at Sacramento/Fillmore to Church/Market Safeway -- maybe $8.05

YESTERDAY the Park Service sent me an email to inform me that my Slash Oil permit has officially been approved. And today, with just an hour to go in my shift, I drop by the Park Service office hoping to pick it up. The door is locked, and after I knock three times, with increasing vigor each time, I retreat toward my cab. As I’m about to climb in, I hear the office door open behind me and a woman’s voice call out, “Is that Brad who I see during commercials while I’m watching my Giants games?”

I haven’t seen Noemi Margaret for three years, and back then, before she was promoted to head of the Events Department, she was the Park Service functionary who issued my Beach Impeach permits. Body says it’s very good to see Ms. Margaret. Three years ago our relationship was a bit adversarial -- in the end I always got my permit, but it always required a struggle. Back then I definitely got the clear impression that nearly all the Park Service personnel were personally rooting for the Beach Impeach events (it’s hard to find too many people in the Bay Area who would argue that Bush and Cheney and a whole roster of other Bush administration officials don’t belong in prison), but they were always cautious about letting me know.

Whenever I went down to Ocean Beach to stretch my three hundred-foot tape measure across the sand and make my pre-event calculations, I was always approached by Park Service employees who, early on, would say, “Excuse me, can you please tell me what you’re doing?” But as the months went by, and as the Beach Impeach series acquired its dignified but ballsy reputation, these approaches warmed considerably: “Oh, cool -- another Impeach deal? Great!” On the morning of Beach Impeach #Two, one ranger asked me in a conspiratiorial tone if it would be ok for him to call his wife and tell her to come and join in. “Man, we both hate this administration -- I have to keep my mouth shut, but she doesn’t!”

Officially the Park Service employees were always neutral, always proper and officious -- as they should be. They were charged with protecting the common resource, and here I was, not only wanting to bring thousands of people to that resource, but also advocating for the impeachment and imprisonment of the Park Service’s ultimate bosses: President Bush and his boss, Vice President Cheney. How could these Park Service personnel openly embrace these events? But if I jumped through all the hoops, they couldn’t very easily deny me, either. So I jumped each and every time, even if it hurt. At Beach Impeach #3, at Crissy Field, I was required to pay three thousand dollars for several acres of parking for two hours. Fewer than fifty Beach Impeach participants wound up parking there. That one still hurts.

But all of that was during a different era. Bush and Cheney are not in prison, where they belong, but at least they’ve gone back behind the curtain. Today Ms. Margaret and I talk about our kids and about my Toyota commercial but mostly we talk about the Catastrophe in the Gulf and at length about Oil. We discuss the future of renewable energy and how we hope that we can get to that future before we completely poision the planet. I tell her how proud I am of getting 45 mpg from my Prius, but she’s way ahead of me. She points to her desk, where the book-sized battery of her electric bicycle sits atop a stack of papers. The bike itself is out back. Not only does Ms. Margaret use zero gas per mile on her daily commute, but at home she has a solar panel that recharges the battery.

As I’m leaving, I thank her for approving my “First Amendment Free Speech” permit -- I know she personally is the one behind this decision, which has saved me a thousand dollars and has also made my organizing job much simpler. She responds with something that turns my insides to mush: “I’m sorry,” she says, “that it took us so long to get it right.”

IT'S TIME to head back to the yard now. I haven’t yet given away a free ride today, but in the bus zone in front of the Noah’s Bagels on Fillmore I spot a likely-looking young man (I will soon learn that his name is John) reading a copy of the Bay Guardian which he has just pulled from the free rack. He quickly understands my offer and is very happy to accept. He’s headed to the Safeway at Church and Market, and the whole way there we talk about the one thing that’s on everyone’s mind these days: The Catastrophe in the Gulf.



Shift #57

SUNDAY, JUNE 13 – 16th/Mission to Powell/Market -- $7.15

TODAY I’VE GOT three big extracurricular items on my calendar. And since I’m leaving town for a week tomorrow morning, I want to get them all cleaned up:

-- I’m three days behind on this journal, and if I head out to the airport cab lot early this morning I’ll probably have at least an hour wait during which I can write.

-- At 11:30 I’ve got an appointment with my videographer friend Stefan Ruenzel, who is going to meet me at Ocean Beach and shoot a two-minute film of me standing in front of my Green Cab and telling President Obama about the Slash Oil event. I actually hope (and I do believe that my hopes are not as un-realistic as you might think) that President Obama will personally set his eyeballs on this video after Stefan posts it to Youtube. The idea came to me just yesterday, born perhaps of desperation: I’m looking to attract a crowd of 2,000, and when I left the house this morning only 104 had registered so far.

-- And right after work I’m meeting with two organizers from Hands Across the Sand. The sudden appearance of this group (it started in Florida in January, but I became aware of it just three days ago) is to me nothing short of miraculous -- it feels almost life-saving. On the very same day as Slash Oil, these folks are organizing a global series of beach events, including one right at Ocean Beach at almost the exact same hour as Slash Oil. The Hands Across the Sand organizers and I are talking about combining energies and I think this just simply must happen.

WITH ALL THESE DISTRACTIONS crowding my head, I leave the yard intending to wrap up my free ride as soon as possible. And right away, there she is, Margarita, standing at Sixteenth and Mission, late for work.

She asks me to drop her off right across from the Powell and Market cable car turnaround. She works as a dispatcher for an association of businesses in the Union Square and South of Market areas which have “taxed” themselves to fund a patrol unit which includes casually-dressed “neighborhood ambassadors.” The ambassadors’ duties include: keeping the area litter-free; summoning the “cleaning unit” to move in and address a heavy duty garbage situation or, Margarita says, a “vomit accident”; and providing assistance to tourists and, perhaps, occasional gentle “guidance” (her word) to the area’s many street people. “Sixth and Stevenson is the toughest spot,” she says. Whenever things “escalate” beyond what the ambassadors can deal with, they call Margarita, who calls in the program’s uniformed private security guards, and then, if needed, the city’s uniformed police officers.

Margarita is in her early twenties and grew up in San Francisco. She asks where I’m from.

“I grew up near Washington D.C. But I’ve been here for nearly thirty years now, and I’m home for good.”

She: “How’d you pick San Francisco?”

“I traveled. I visited all fifty states and circled the world four times with my backpack. And then I picked the place that screamed to me the loudest.”

She: “That’s amazing. What made you decide to do that?”

Me: “In college two friends and I challenged each other: ‘Who can get to all fifty states the first?

She: “I love that! And you won?”

Me: “I came in second. About six or seven years after we graduated, we were each stuck at about forty-five or forty-six states. And then one guy went off on a hitchhiking trip through all the states he hadn’t gotten and then he called the other two of us to tell us we were now playing for second place.”

“What was your last one?”

“Michigan. I was traveling across the country by train about twenty-five years ago, and I had a five-hour layover in Chicago. A friend picked me up at the train station and drove me along the edge of Lake Michigan for about an hour. When we crossed the border between Illinois and Michigan, we took the first exit and ate breakfast in a little diner in New Buffalo, Michigan. And then he drove me back to the train station.”

We’re almost to Mararita’s destination. “I bet you’ve got some stories, mister.”

“Everyone has a few."

“I’ve never been anywhere yet. I want to go to Europe.”

“When I was your age, I’d hardly been anywhere. You’re young. You can do anything you want to do. I’m not kidding.”

“You think so -- really? It seems so hard...”

Me: “Pretty much anything. I really believe that...”

We stop across from the cable car turnaround at Market and Powell.

Me: “I give away one free ride every day, and today this, my first ride, is my free ride.”

“Oh, man! You’re kidding! Really! You are just too much!

The instant she closes her door, my first thought is: “Twelve days until Slash Oil... How in the hell am I gonna do this! Who do I think I’m kidding?”



Cab Shift #58

Friday, June 25 – Here, there, everywhere…-- $ ??.??

I COME WIDE AWAKE at 3:40 A.M., and there’s no way I can kid myself that I’m going to get back to sleep. Too much on my mind. The helicopter...the photographer...will the walkie-talkies work? Is anyone coming?

By 4:20 I’m pulling my car through the gates of the Green Cab lot at Sixteenth and South Van Ness. This is my first day back at work after a twelve-day absence. I spent last week in Minnesota with my family, and this week I’ve been frantically trying to pull together this helter-skelter event -- "Slash Oil" -- that’s taking place, geez, tomorrow!

At the side of the lot I see two of my Green Cab buddies talking together. One has been a cab driver for thirty years (five years longer than me) and the other is still a youngster who hasn’t quite yet finished his first year. I walk over and slide into the conversation. The veteran is assuring the rookie that Gay Pride Weekend is going to be great -- the money’s going to be fantastic, and hell no, you don’t have to worry about all those out-of-town gay people hitting on you. You can have fun with that, bro!

I can do a faux-hillbilly accent that comes in handy sometimes, and now I look the rookie in the eye and drawl, “You shore are a good-lookin’ man, Mister Cab Driver…”

It works. Suddenly I can see the backs of both drivers’s necks, as they're both bent over now, heads down around their knees, helpless with a double-case of the guffaws.

My god, it’s good to be back here, back in this pool of yellow light cast by the streetlamps at 4:30 A.M., catty-corner from the all-night gas station, one block from the all-night melodramas outside the BART station, in this gritty neighborhood that’s starting to somehow feel like home.

BY 5:04 AM I’m trolling slowly along Market Street, which is totally empty except for one guy jogging along toward Ninth Street. He’s no athlete -- he’s a middle-aged Chinese man wearing loafers and a v-neck sweater -- and I wonder why he’s jogging at this hour. And then a Muni bus overtakes and passes us. The jogger accelerates into a near-sprint, and I see that he’s hoping to catch the bus, which brakes to a stop up ahead at Ninth and Market. He’s giving it all he’s got, he’s closing the gap, he’s at the rear of the bus, it looks like he’s going to make it.... But the signal flips to green and the bus quickly jumps forward, gone... The jogger’s shoulders slump, his whole body goes almost boneless...

And then I pull up alongside him and call through the passenger side window, “Hey, come on. I’ll catch your bus for you for free. Hop in.”

He’s only going four blocks, but he’s late for work. He’s very happy when I drop him at his destination. The bus-zone-hero opportunity only presents itself a few times a year, but it’s always satisfying -- and today it gets me off to an outside-the-box start.

FOR THE NEXT HOUR AND A HALF I’m unsatisfyingly empty. At 6:35 I note an attractive young woman in a bus zone at Haight and Masonic, on the opposite side of the street from me. I cruise a block and a half to where I can make a legal U-turn and then pull back around. Now she’s standing ten feet from the curb, looking past me toward where that darn bus should be coming from. I stop right next to her and roll down my window. “Every day I give away one free ride. Would you like to be my free ride today?”

She smiles. “I would like that very much.”

She’s a nurse up at UCSF Medical Center. She grew up in Boston, has been a nurse for four years, and she’s happy to have a stable profession: health care. She’s not been a big soccer fan until recently, but just yesterday morning her soccer fan-ness, like my own soccer fan-ness, took a huge needle jump when Landon Donavan’s goal put the USA into the World Cup’s round of sixteen. She tries to pass some money over the backseat -- “It’s about what I’d have paid for the bus,” she says -- but I refuse. A deal’s a deal. A free ride is a free ride.

A PORTION of my day is taken up by attending to details for tomorrow’s event. I stop by the Park Service office and get a copy of the event permit that I’ve misplaced. At the Fillmore Street Kinko’s I fax out about ten final press releases. I call Channel 7 (they’ve put up their own helicopter for two of my events in the past) and bend their ears a bit. At the Chestnut Street Apple store I send a confirmation email to our helicopter pilot. I check the sign-up site -- six new people have registered, but it still looks like it’s gonna be a bust. I stop by the house of our photographer, John Montgomery, to review strategy for tomorrow. I stop at Safeway for some last minute supplies.

For much of the day, the weather has been thick and kind of ugly, but what can you do about the weather? I feel resigned to whatever tomorrow is going to bring. In fact I find myself feeling a bit more relaxed than I remember feeling one day before any other event I’ve ever organized, which means I’m only about three-quarters-psycho instead of full-psycho. About five p.m. yesterday evening I realized that yesterday -- a day which I’d spent chasing after agonizing organizing details -- was in fact my fifteenth wedding anniversary! “We can celebrate another night,” my sweet wife told me, as I was headed out the door.

BY MID-AFTERNOON I’M COOKED, but heading back to the yard I am flagged at Fourteenth and Dolores by a man whose name I will soon learn is Sam. I pull over and tell him, “I’m at the end of my shift. Where are you headed?”

Sam’s headed to a place just a few blocks past the yard, and that works perfectly for me.

“How,” Sam asks me, “did this ugly day suddenly turn so beautiful?” The sky above the Mission District has transformed into pure blue silk; back toward the beach we can still see looming white fog.

“I’m planning a big outdoor event tomorrow,” I tell him. “I’m hoping for this stuff instead of that stuff.”

He: “That thing out at Ocean Beach?”

I hold up a flyer that’s lying on my front seat. He glances at it and says, “I’m going to that! You organized it?”

I’m as flabbergasted as Sam is. “How’d you hear of it?”

He: “My sister. We’re bringing a bunch of people. And I don’t even know how she heard of it.”

We talk Oil for a while, and then Sam’s got lots of questions about the event, mostly about money. I tell him I’ve put up about three thousand dollars to make it all happen. I tell him that during the second, third, and fourth Beach Impeach events a friend volunteered to pass a donation bucket. “Those three events cost me almost exactly twelve thousand dollars altogether,” I tell him, “and in the end the donations came to almost exactly twelve thousand dollars altogether.”

Sam is impressed, just as I was. He says, “Man, if everyone just put in five bucks, it ought to work out.”

“Either way,” I say. “I feel like I’m loaded into the barrel of a cannon, the fuse is lit, and now I’m just hoping to enjoy the ride and survive.”

Sam’s auspicious appearance in my backseat...my last ride before the event...how do I know...maybe three thousand people will show up tomorrow. This ride has given me more than hope, it’s given me goosebumps. At ride’s end, I vaporize the numbers on the meter ($7.60) and turn toward Same, but he beats me to the punch -- he’s holding a twenty right under my nose. “This is for the donation bucket.”

What can I say? Only Thank you!

Sam and I promise to look for each other tomorrow.


Pride Weekend

Shift #59

Sunday, June 27 -- Haight/Masonic to Post/Taylor -- $9.85

WHEN I WAS A BOY, eight or nine or maybe ten years old, I surmised that girls had it made easy -- for life. Boys (and their eventual byproducts: men) were a dime a dozen, but girls were priceless. Any man would always want a girl around, especially a pretty girl. I imagined that if I were a girl, I would have no problems in life ever. And if I were a particularly pretty girl, almost any man would do whatever it took to keep me around, just to be able to bask in the miracle of my beauty and the honor of my presence. He would gladly spend his whole life working even the most grueling, most stressful job as long and hard as necessary; he would without hesitation beat up as many other men as required. I didn’t think of this as unfair. This was, obviously, just the way it was.

But I wasn’t a ten-year old boy for all that long. One need not be terribly mature or brilliant to observe that every life has huge challenges, or to come to understand that even a pretty woman can find her lot in life exasperating. And even those particularly striking women who walk among us sometimes appear to have grown particularly weary, even particularly angry, from the effort of transporting their beauty from Point A to Point B, from having to endure along the way the relentless scrutiny of the male gaze -- plus the jealous scrutiny of the female gaze. Anyone can see that, at least for some women, being beautiful can be burdensome, and sometimes it’s apparently nothing but a great big friggin’ hassle.

I’M FIRST-UP IN FRONT OF THE W HOTEL, engrossed in Depak Chopra’s Freedom, Power, and Grace. Mobs of rollicking people are streaming down the sidewalks, applying sunscreen and maneuvering themselves toward prime viewing spots for today’s Gay Pride Parade, which starts in another couple of hours. This clear, warm, blue-sky morning is exactly what I was hoping to have for yesterday’s “Slash Oil” event. Instead we had foggy, breezy, chilly weather. Four hundred and fifty people showed up. In spite of the disappointing numbers, we managed a couple of great photos, as always we honestly had a fantastic time (it’s hard to not enjoy a day at the beach with four hundred and fifty friends and a helicopter), and I came within a thousand dollars of breaking even... Suddenly a young woman opens my rear door and slips inside so quickly that it seems she has simply materialized in my backseat. I haven’t even closed my book yet.

Her abrupt entrance has precluded my giving her the customary, pre-ride, full-body scan, but in a fraction-of-a-second glance across the seatback I register her clear hazel eyes shining at me like twin miniature flashlights. Her face, just three or four feet from my own, seems perfectly proportioned, as though an architect graphed it out with the most specialized tools of the trade. And within the past hour either this woman or some attendant has washed and pampered and precisely-feathered her dark blond hair.

“Haight and Masonic,” she says. No salutation. No hint of warmth. Just the three words.

It’s a twenty-five block ride, and as we’re sitting through two early red lights, I float some innoucuous cab driver pleasantries, same as I do with any fare -- gorgeous, ugly, crippled, ancient, or you-name-it. This young woman bats each of them away with clipped, one-word parries: “Boston.” “Business.” “Software.” She may have queued up for a second helping in the Gorgeous line, but did that require her to forfeit her spot over in Civility?

I’m not leering. I’m not eye-balling her in the rearview. I’m a fifty-eight-year-old, happily-married cab driver, father of a thirteen-year-old daughter who in another decade or so will be about the same age as my fare is now. I like to think I’m non-threatening, like to think that spending a few minutes with me is not the world’s most oppressive proposition. But I immediately sense -- and this is a sense I get only very rarely in life -- that this woman regards me as though I’m some gross, slobbering, nineteen-year-old who has brashly plopped down onto the next barstool and belched up a “Whoa, mama!”

I let her stew in her beauty for a couple of silent blocks, and then as we’re crossing Market Street I try again. Has she ever been in San Francisco during Pride Weekend before? “No.” Is she planning to catch some of today’s Parade? “No.”

Nobody is required to talk to me in my cab. It’s easy to say, “You know, I’ve got a lot on my mind and I just don’t feel like talking today, thank you.” People do say that to me every now and then, and it’s like a straight-up gift. I mean, who doesn’t understand that? Who hasn’t been there? But to get into the back of my cab and simmer angrily for ten minutes, to rage against even the most benign small talk… Jesus Christ! Ugly people don’t act like this. It’s an affliction specific to the ravishing ones -- but certainly not all of them. During the height of her Olympic notoriety, the stunning, three-gold medal swimmer Summer Sanders sat in my backseat and could not have been more pleasant: she seemed tickled by her own beauty, her own fame, as though they were gifts she’d been handed with instructions to share un-begrudgingly with the world.

I feel like telling this youngster in my backseat, “Hey, next time, take the fucking bus.” But I, of course, don’t. I steer my mind over in the direction of, Well, everyone has a bad day. Or maybe she’s had a bad night. Maybe she’s regretting some Saturday night mistake -- maybe she actually did hook up with some slobberer from the next barstool.

After another extended silence, as we are waiting through another red at Fell and Gough, I give it one final try: “Have you been watching any of the soccer matches?” Just yesterday Ghana brought the USA’s World Cup adventure to a halt, winning 2-1 in overtime.

It’s like she’s been poised right behind me with a tennis racket. A zinging No! volleys past my right ear at about 140 miles an hour.

We ride the last fifteen blocks in a wordless cocoon.

At Haight and Masonic I guide the cab toward an open spot at the curb. A gay man in his mid-thirties is standing right there, and we glide to a stop directly in front of him. A huge smile spreads across his face. His hands float up from his thighs and extend outwards, palms up. A taxicab… pulling over to drop a passenger just exactly when I need one, exactly where I need one… I can’t believe my good luck!

One-Word-Answers pays me, turns away from me without speaking, opens the rear door, and steps out toward the gay man. As she raises herself up off my backseat, I notice that her bottom-side is trim and smooth and exquisitely curved and it is sheathed this morning in a sleek skirt/shorts outfit -- fire-engine red. Her legs, which are the work of a meticulous sculptor, are lashed tightly (all the way up her perfectly-tanned calves) by the long leather thongs of a pair of Old Testament sandals. The gay man is standing in her path, eagerly looking her up and down and up and down again, and I want to get out and hug him, maybe even kiss him, when I hear him trill, “Well hell-oh, darlin’!” I can’t swear it, but I believe I hear an irritated whoosh of air escape Little Miss Smoking Hot -- “Oooofff!” -- but maybe it’s just the hydraulic brakes of some nearby bus...


“I was in the Army for nine years, five months, twenty-four days. I’ve been out for six months now... I came directly to San Francisco... Today I’m meeting a couple of friends down near the parade. This is my first Pride weekend...

“Six months ago I was in Iraq… Yep, saw it all -- I sure did… No, I wasn’t out on patrol every day, but often enough. I was an information specialist. I had trained the twenty-five people who maintained all of our division’s communications -- all our phones, computers, radios, cell phones. My commander knew he couldn’t afford to lose me, and every time I went ‘outside the wire’ I had to get his personal permission. So I wasn’t out very often, but I wanted to experience everything there was to experience over there. And I didn’t want other people thinking I was hiding. I wanted them to know I’d been out, that I knew what the things they were going through were like. If they had some problem, I wanted to know exactly how it showed up for them in actual situations. But even inside the wire, we lived with the reality of mortar attacks. One could happen at any time -- and that changes the way you look at everything…”

Me: “Are you gay?”

He: “I am.”

Me: “How do you handle Don’t ask, Don’t tell?"

Don’t ask, Don’t tell! -- I hadn’t even come out to myself until I’d been in for a few years. But after my first Iraq tour I was home on leave and I realized that even though I may have been acting all brave and manly and soldierly over there, it was ridiculous for me to try to trick myself into believing I wasn’t gay. So when I went back I stopped pretending. I didn’t make a big deal of it to my superiors or even to my peer. It really had nothing to do with my job, with whether or not I could do the work that needed to be done. But I stopped hiding it. And it’s been so much better this way.”

I try not to take money from active military folks or from those who’ve been recently discharged, especially those who’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan. And today, Pride Parade day, well, what’s a boy to do? Free ride!