“Welcome to summer in San Francisco,” I tell the two girls from Long Island in the backseat of my cab as we roll across the Golden Gate Bridge, shrouded in a thick blanket of fog. “I swear, there’s a bridge in here somewhere.”
Twenty minutes earlier, when I picked them up on Market Street across from the Hyatt Regency, the sun was shining. It was 6:45 p.m., and I was feverishly trying to make my nut while there were still hands in the air.
As a gate and gas driver, once Aziz hands me the medallion and key to 182 at the National office, I’m on lockdown until I earn enough money to cover my expenses. The gate for Thursday is $101. But when I factor in $12 to $15 for gas and $10 in cashier tips, I need to make about $126 before I begin to see a profit.
Ideally, I like to have my nut by 8 or 9 p.m. But that’s not always possible. Trying to keep a warm body in the backseat while dealing with potential mishaps, severe traffic congestion and intense competition is a nerve-racking process. Which is why, when these girls ask me to take them to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, I’m somewhat apprehensive that a ride so far away from the metro area will throw my rhythm off and force me to dead head back to where the action is.
Still, I turn onto Drumm and ask them what sights they’ve seen so far, figuring if I turn the trip into a mini-tour, it’ll be entertaining and possibly lead to a decent tip.
Since they’ve already done The Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf, I take Broadway and point out some of the landmarks along the way — the former punk club Mabuhay Gardens and City Lights. I talk about the First Amendment trial over Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” One of the girls is familiar with the Beats and asks for more details, which I happily provide.
This is where I shine: discussing what makes San Francisco so unique and reveling in the cultural significance of The City.
Instead of heading through the tunnel and getting stuck in traffic, I stay on Broadway and barrel up Russian Hill. They’ve seen Lombard Street, so I hop on Larkin to take the Francisco Street curve for a panorama of the Bay and, presumably, the bridge. But our destination is hidden behind San Francisco’s famous fog.
“We call it Karl,” I tell the girls, much to their amusement.
I provide commentary about how hard the bridge was to build and that numerous engineers refused to even try to construct what has become one of the Wonders of the Modern World and a celebrated tourist attraction.
“Even if it isn’t always visible,” I add with a chuckle.
On Bay Street, I point out the former military barracks in Fort Mason and, in the distance, the verdant traces of the Presidio. As we pass the Palace of Fine Arts, I’m hoping the bridge will eventually emerge from Karl’s billowy embrace.
At the exit for the welcome center, there is still no trace of the bridge. I offer to drive them across, suggesting we might see something while we’re on the span.
Again, wishful thinking. The first tower doesn’t come into view until we’re right under it.
Fortunately, the girls are good sports. They pull their phones out to record the whiteness.
“And this is the Golden Gate Bridge,” they joke.
On the Marin side, I pull into the Vista Point and park. Here, the sun penetrates the brume, adding more humor to the situation, since the bridge and The City are still completely bleached out.
We get out to take in the limited view, which is still spectacular. Horseshoe Bay glistens in the light below. Behind us, mist pours over a ridge like the stage at an Iron Maiden concert.
The girls take selfies and insist I join them in a group shot.
Back in the Marina, they want to find a cafe and chill.
Since they expressed interest, I drop them off at the restaurant on Fillmore, where “Howl” — the poem — was first read in public, back in 1955, when the space was called Six Gallery.
They pay me $40 and thank me effusively for the tour.
It’s only 7:30 p.m., and I’m more than halfway toward my nut. I head towards the Financial, where I hope the sun is shining and the Hyatt Regency cabstand is still moving.