Saturday, June 5, 2010


HANDS ACROSS THE SAND -- Sat, Jun 26 -- Ocean Beach -- 10:30 a.m.

NOTE: I’m posting this to all four of my online outlets. If you recognize the first paragraph, you should stop. You’ve probably already read it.

Cab Shift #58 of the year

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 16th and South Van Ness. This is my first day back at work after a twelve-day absense. I spent last week in Minnesota with my family, and this week I’ve been organizing this helter-skelter event 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 30 years (five years longer than me) and the other is still a youngster who hasn’t finished his first year quite yet. It feels good to be back, good to see these guys again, and I 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 have 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 back of the rookie’s neck. Actually, I can see the backs of both drivers’ necks, as they’re both bent double now, heads down around their knees, helpless from a double-case of the guffaws.

My god, it’s good to be back here, back in this pool of yellow cast by the streetlights 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 a.m. I’m trolling slowly along Market Street, which is totally empty except for one guy jogging along toward 9th 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 us from behind and passes us. The jogger picks up his speed into a near-sprint, and I see that he’s hoping to catch the bus when it stops up ahead at 9th Street and Market. I think he’s going to make it. He’s almost there, he’s at the rear of the bus, but now the light goes green and the bus quickly jumps forward, gone, and the jogger’s shoulders slump and his whole body goes almost boneless, and then I pull up alongside him and say, “Hey, come on. I’ll catch your bus for you for free. Hop in.” He’s doesn’t resist at all. When I ask where he’s headed, he says he’s only going four blocks. He’s very happy when I drop him in front of his destination. I do love the bus zone hero move -- it only presents itself a few times a year, but it’s a great way to start a day.

I’M EMPTY FOR THE NEXT HOUR AND A HALF. At 6:35 I see an attractive young woman in a bus zone at Haight and Masonic. I’m on the opposite side of the street from her, and 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 along. I stop right next to her, roll down my window, and say, “Every day I give away one free ride. Would you like to be my free ride today?”

She smiles. She would in fact like that very much. She’s a nurse headed up to work at UCSF Medical Center. She grew up in Boston, she’s been a nurse for four years, she’s happy to have a stable profession: health care. She’s not been a big soccer fan until just 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 free ride is a free ride. She understands. With a smile.

A FAIR PORTION of my day is taken up by attending to details for tomorrow’s Hand’s Across the Sand / Slash Oil 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 -- four new people have registered for the event; two others have sent me emails saying that they are coming, but they’re not registering. I stop by the house of our photographer, John Montgomery, and we go over our 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 think I’m as ready as I’ve been for any event I’ve ever organized, which means I’m only about half-crazy instead of three-quarters crazy. About five p.m. yesterday evening I realized that yesterday -- a day full of agonizing organizing details -- was in fact my 15th wedding anniversary! “We can celebrate another night,” my sweet wife told me.

BY MID-AFTERNOON I’M COOKED, but heading back to the yard I am flagged at 14th 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 only going a few blocks past the yard, and that works perfectly for me.

“How,” he asks me, “did this ugly day suddenly turn so beautiful?” Here in the Mission, the overhead sky 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 that?”

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

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 he’s got a lot of questions about the event, mostly about money. I tell him I’ve put up about $3,000 to make it all happen. I tell him that during the second, third, and fourth Beach Impeach events someone passed a donation bucket around for me. “Those events cost me almost exactly $12,000 altogether,” I tell him, “and the donations came to almost exactly $12,000 altogether.”

He’s impressed, just as I was. I tell him about the address label buckets that’ll be on the beach tomorrow (for anyone who would like to receive a postcard), and how I’m hoping that people might put in something else, too. He says, “Man, if everyone just put in $5, it ought to work out.”

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

This has seemed an auspicious, ride -- my last ride before the event! It’s given me more than hope -- it’s given me goosebumps. I decide that I can’t let Sam pay, but at ride’s end, as I vaporize the numbers on the meter ($7.60) and turn to tell him, he beats me to the punch. “This is for the donation bucket,” he says, and hands me a twenty.

What can I say? Only Thank you! Sam and I promise to look for each other tomorrow.

And I’m hoping to see you, too, if you can make it!

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