“San Francisco is always changing. So are we.”
While I’m idling in gridlocked traffic on Third Street, trying to get my fare to the St. Francis, I read the advertisement on the wooden barricades shielding the construction at Moscone Center. The statement feels more like a threat than the typical “pardon our dust as we make improvements” disclaimer.
It’s hard not to feel uptight when “change” is used in the same sentence as “San Francisco.”
And yet, you can almost watch The City change before your very eyes — like the weather, when the fog rolls in on a sunny day and wraps itself around the top of the Pyramid like King Kong, and the wind blows so cold down Howard Street you can’t even remember the warmth of the sun.
If you want to live in San Francisco, you have to accept the flux. And those city dwellers who want the urban life and end up displaced by all this change should just accept inevitability and move along, right?
That’s what an advertisement like the one at Moscone Center seems to be saying. Or at least that’s how it feels in a cab yard, after a long shift, when we’re standing around a dormant barbeque grill trying to make sense of what’s become of the taxi industry.
“I still believe things will turn around,” Colin says.
“This bubble has to burst eventually,” Juneaux points out.
“Ah, we’re all doomed,” Jesse decrees as he tosses his cigarette and returns to the office.
“It does feel rather hopeless,” I admit.
“Speaking of hope,” says Late Night Larry. “Have I told you guys the one about the male hooker and the missing $100 bill?”
No one turns down a story from Larry …
“It’s 3:30 a.m. I’m at Sixth and Mission. The place is deserted. The wind is blowing, and trash is flying all over the place. It looks like the end of the world. As I head north on Sixth, I see a tall black man standing in the middle of Market Street screaming his head off. When I get closer, I notice he’s wearing a pink wig.
“Two cops in a squad car roll by, give him the once over, shake their heads and just keep driving.
“As soon as he sees my cab, he waves me down. I think to myself, ‘No one else is around. This is my only chance at a fare. There’s no telling where this ride will take me, but you know, hope is better than nothing at all.’
“‘What’s wrong with you?’ I ask him.
“‘Twenty-two cabs wouldn’t pick me up!’
“‘Well, look at you! You’re screaming like a lunatic. Get in the cab. Where are you heading?’
“‘Take me to Hunter’s Point!’
“I stick out my hand. ‘Gimme $20!’
“He hands over a $20 bill. All right. I think everything’s cool and start driving.
“‘But wait …’ the guy says. ‘I need to get some drugs first.’
“I shake my head. ‘Gimme 10 more bucks!’
“He hands over another bill and asks for $10 back.
“I put the second $20 with the first one in my lap and hand the guy his change. And away we go, off to Ellis and Jones, which, as you all know, at that hour, is a post-apocalyptic nightmare straight out of some dystopian movie: shadowy characters lurking in the shadows, drugged out ghouls wandering around aimlessly, the gutters filled with trash and excrement …
“I stop in the middle of the street. No point pulling over since there’s no traffic. Several people approach my cab. The guy exchanges money with a dealer who hands him a couple rocks.
“‘Where’s the rest?’ my pink-haired passenger asks.
“‘What are you talking about?’ The dealer shrugs.
“‘Where is the rest?’ He exits the cab and points a knife at the dealer. ‘Where’s the rest of my shit?’
“The dealer pulls out a gun.
“As they start screaming at each other, the crowd moves in closer, and I just slowly …. roll … away … Like I’m melting from the scene. “Once I’m clear, I gun it and the back door closes from the momentum.
“Ten minutes later or so, I’m in SoMa. I look at the two $20s between my legs. One is actually a $100 bill!
“If there’s one thing this job has taught me, you never know what’s going to happen.”