I’m heading inbound on Market, trying to prevent a Yellow cab in the right lane from getting the jump on me, when a guy flags me at the Seventh Street Muni island stop. He opens my front door, and I quickly grab my bag and stow it under my seat. He asks how much to Ocean Beach. I tell him around $20.
“Let’s do it,” he says.
I turn right on Sixth and start driving west.
His name is Hugh. He’s from Sydney, in San Francisco working on some project for a tech firm. Spent the past two weeks sequestered in an incubator in the Mission. This is the first time he’s been free to venture out and explore The City.
“So what have you been up to?” I ask.
“Well, I just lost $300 trying to buy weed.”
“Why’d you think you could buy pot around here?” I ask, more nonplussed than he seems to be. They only sell crack and heroin in mid-Market. Some pot dealers hang out by Jones Street, but they usually close up shop early.
Hugh shrugs. “I just wanted to celebrate turning in the first part of my project this morning.”
He gave $150 to one guy who told him to wait. After 15 minutes, he asked the other guys standing around if they knew when their mate was returning. They laughed, told him, “That’s not our mate.” A second guy offered to help him out, and Hugh handed over another $150. Of course, that guy never returned either.
As we’re rolling over the hills on Fell Street, I say, “You should have just gone to Haight Street.”
“You’ve never heard of Haight-Ashbury? Where all the ’60s rock bands used to hang out? The hippie movement? Summer of Love? Flower Power?”
None of this rings a bell with my young fare.
“If you go up to Haight Street and walk around, someone is going to try to sell you weed. It’ll be decent stuff and won’t cost $150. More like $60.”
To commiserate with him about getting snookered so badly, I tell Hugh about the time I got ripped off trying to score weed at night in mid-Market back in 1994, when I was the resident concierge of vice at the Green Tortoise hostel in North Beach.
One night around midnight, someone asked me to get him a bag. Flashed a handful of cash. Even though I knew all the dealers I trusted on Haight Street would be off duty at that hour, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to make a quick buck.
I went down to the UN Plaza, where the dealers used to hit you up when you get off BART. I didn’t see many people around but eventually caught the eye of a guy sitting on a bench.
I told him what I wanted, but all he had was crack. I said no thanks but I guess he had a “you ask, you buy” policy because he insisted I take what he was selling.
I started walking away. Fast.
“Hey, come back here, motherfucker!” he shouted.
I heard his footsteps behind me as I ran toward Civic Center BART. I went down the broken escalator three stairs at a time. At the bottom, as I tried to figure out which hallway led to the trains, I hesitated for a few seconds.
That’s all it took.
I didn’t even see it coming. Next thing I knew, I was sliding across the tiles. The guy lifted me up by my jacket with one hand and hit me in the jaw with the other.
“Give me back my shit!” he yelled, slamming me into the ground and socking me a second time.
I saw a lady on a pay phone a few yards away. I tried screaming for help, but I took another blow.
I knew what he wanted so I finally handed over the $20 bill to get him off me …
“And I didn’t even get the crack!” I tell Hugh as we reach Ocean Beach.
I pull into the lot and park the cab. We walk out onto the sand and smoke cigarettes, listening to the waves crash on the shore as a bonfire rages in the distance.
“Haight Street, you say?” Hugh asks as we head back downtown.
“Yeah, catch the 6 or the 7 bus on Market. Get off at Masonic and just start walking around.”