On Thursday night, after dropping off in Bernal Heights, I circle through the Mission looking for signs of life. I cruise past the Alamo Drafthouse as a movie lets out. I pull over and watch the crowd dissipate until I’m single and lonely. Then, I investigate Valencia Street. For once, I’m the only taxi around with an illuminated toplight. But it doesn’t seem to matter.
I head to SoMa.
At 14th Street, a guy flags me. He’s older, bespectacled, dressed in jeans and a V-neck sweater. Has the air of a successful middle manager.
“Where ya heading?” I ask.
“Can you take me to …” He trails off and rests his forehead in his hand. Seems to fall asleep.
“Take you where?”
He looks up. “Yeah, I need to go to …” Again, he leans forward like “The Thinker.”
Goddamn it. Not again.
I roust him from his contemplation. “Are you OK?”
“It’s been a rough night.” He chuckles.
“You going home?”
“Can you at least tell me which neighborhood you live in?”
“It’s … uh, you know … it’s … you know!”
“No. I don’t!” I begin to list neighborhoods in The City.
“It’s near Coit Tower,” he says, finally.
OK. I start driving toward North Beach.
“So … what kind of drugs did you take?” I inquire.
“No drugs. Just weed.”
“Just weed?” I ask, like a dubious parent.
“Strong weed!” He laughs and then goes quiet.
As I head down Mission Street, I think about the possibility of getting so high on marijuana I forgot where I lived …
It hardly seems probable, although there was that one time in college when I smoked a joint with a co-worker and ended up in bed, swaddled in my duvet, rocking back and forth and chanting, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me.”
Must be nice, though, to forget everything. Personal and financial problems, the constant tragedies in the world and the possibility of a future overrun with technology straight out of a dystopian movie.
But it seems impossible to escape, what with Facebook and Twitter. My phone is like a needle I use to mainline the distorted fire and brimstone of the 24-hour news cycle into my brain — a speedball of conflicting narratives — until I can’t turn away from the strobe light of information
I’d love to forget all that. Even for just 10 minutes …
Halfway up Kearney, the guy in back leans forward.
“OK, I know where I am now,” he says.
I realize I’ve been holding my breath and sigh with relief.
After we cross Broadway, he directs me into the Bank of America parking lot on Green.
“What are we doing here?” I ask.
“We’re going to smoke this joint.”
“No, we’re not!” I state, adamantly.
“Cause I’m driving! What’s wrong with you?”
“C’mon. Let’s get high.” He hands me a conical plastic container with a joint inside. The label reads “Coated J.”
“There’s no way I’m smoking this.”
“Huh?” He looks at me confused.
“You can’t even remember where you live, and I have to drive a taxi!”
“But we have to!”
“No, we don’t,” I say. “I’m taking you home, and you’re going to pay me.”
“Alright. How much do I owe you?”
The meter reads $14.50.
“OK. I’ll be back.” He opens the back door.
“Wait a minute!”
“It’s fine. I won’t screw you over. Here.” He gives me his phone and walks toward the alley at the end of the parking lot.
“Where are you going?”
“I’ll be right back.” He disappears into a random door that could easily be a utility closet.
As I sit there, I’m not sure how worried I should be. I have his phone, so he has to come back, right? It’s an iPhone 7. The SIM card is missing. That’s not a good sign. Nice case, though.
I hold the joint up to the light. It’s covered in crystals and what I assume is some kind of wax or tar. No wonder he’s stoned out of his gourd.
Five minutes go by. Just as I’m about to investigate the door he ran into, the guy returns, all smiles. Walks up to my window and hands me a credit card.
“You going to be OK?” I ask, handing over his stuff.
“Sure!” He holds up the joint like the Olympic torch, giggles and runs off into the night.