Monday, November 1, 2010

Eight Hundred Hours

Shift # 87

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 7 -- Post/Powell to Broadway/Gough -- $8.50

specify that in order for me to keep my permit -- the infamous “medallion” that gives me (or any other permit holder) the right to put one cab on the streets -- I must personally operate my cab for at least eight hundred hours each year.

This works out to roughly two ten-hour shifts per week, which I do not consider to be an onerous requirement. During the first few months of each year I usually work three shifts-per-week, then at the beginning of the summer I drop back to two shifts-per-week. Sometime around Thanksgiving I knock off for the year, and then I start back up again in early January. When I’m not behind the wheel, Green Cab rents out “my cab” (Green Cab #914) to drivers who are not medallion holders (every medallion holder has roughy this same arrangement with the cab company of his or her choice). For the use of my permit, Green Cab pays me about $2,000 per month, twelve months a year.

I hear you thinking: Pretty sweet deal! And I reply, “You too can have this very same deal -- all you have to do is spend approximately fifteen years (or maybe, as in my case, twenty years) in a job that pays about $15/hour and has precisely zero benefits -- no vacation, no sick pay, no 401-K, nothing -- and then if you’re lucky, you might wind up with a medallion...” (But that’s another story.)

In late October, just as the Giants were going gonzo, I surpassed the eight hundred-hour mark for this year. Each year, just to be on the safe side with the regulators, I usually work about eight hundred and fifty or nine hundred hours, and now the end of my 2010 driving year is looming. Whenever I see it coming at me, I always get a little melancholy. On a day like today -- a Sunday that has been hopping from the very first moments -- there are, honest to god, few things I’d rather do than drive a cab around San Francisco and meet strangers.

For years I’ve believed that I could craft an entire book around any single shift (and perhaps around any single ride), and sometimes I find myself doing darned near exactly that, and all the typing involved has been taking a repetitive-stress toll on my body. My mind is not yet ready to call it quits on this year, but my shoulders-arms-hands are ready for a break. Today’s entry is going to be a short, first-draft deal.

IF THE CONVERSATIONS I’M HEARING ARE REPRESENTATIVE, the city is full of several thousand audio engineers who have taken over Moscone Center to celebrate the return of vinyl records to the music industry. The city’s residents are still agog over the Giants’ astounding run-the-table postseason. The hills around the Bay are nicely greened-up from a right-on-schedule, first-of-November drenching earlier this week. This annual greening, which seems to happen virtually overnight, always seems like a trick, a marvel -- and today’s sky is bright and filled with fluffy, snow-white clumps of cartoon clouds.

With about an hour to go in my shift I pull to the curb in Pacific Heights to deposit two middle-aged folks and their adult daughter. For decades they lived right here in San Francisco, but seven or eight years ago they “moved back” to the town in Italy from which one set of grandparents had emigrated. During the whole ride we’ve been yacking away, with them listing all the things they miss about the City and singing about how wonderful it is to be back, and isn’t it great that the Giants -- finally! -- won the whole darned thing?

As I’m pulling to the curb I find myself hating to see this ride, like this year, come to an end, and as I pause the meter I suddenly remember... And then, while quickly informing my fares about my free ride tradition, I keep on punching buttons until the numbers clear from the screen.

The man is protesting but his wife is telling him to “Hush up, just say thank you, and get out of the cab, dammit,” but he keeps on protesting until I reach back and yank the handle and swing the door open and say “I ain’t taking your money -- geddouddamycab!” and the next thing I know I’m glancing back in the rearview -- they’re standing on the sidewalk, watching me drive away, all three of them looking at each other and flapping their hands and shaking their heads and laughing laughing laughing. As I roll down Gough Street, straight out ahead and down below me I can see a couple dozen boats with full white sails scooting across the bay in full glorious California sunshine.


1 comment:

  1. Brad...You are definitely one of my favorite experiences in 52 years! Thanks for your stories! I'm all smiles! Take some aspirin and keep typing please! Have a great Holiday Season!