I picked up Raven on 4th Street in San Rafael at 7:00 Sunday morning. She stumbled disheveled into my cab. Her vintage clothes a smelly jumbled mess of black veils. We began a conversation.
She tells me she tended bar all night and was tired waiting for the pick up from her boyfriend. When I ask her why her kinky blond hair is all wet she says it was from a lawn sprinkler. I’d guess she’d fallen asleep on someone’s lawn. So I turn up the heat in the cab. What identifies her are her tats, especially the blue-black spiral running down from her mouth.
“Have we met before”, I ask. I’m convinced I met Raven back in 2004, when I’d started my column of portraits of people called ‘Bay Folk’ for the San Francisco Chronicle. “Did you work at Vesuvio bar in North Beach? You had black hair back then,” I ask again.
“Yes, for a moment. Mostly I worked in a traveling circus,” she answers.
“You showed me how you served up Fernet Blanc and ginger ale for the other bartenders, getting off their shifts.”
“Nope that wasn’t me, but there’s this chick that’s copying my look,” she says. Who's memory is failing?
Just then her boyfriend calls and yells at her for not being where I picked her up. “I fuckin’ waited two hours for you!” she yells back into the cell.
By now, I’m a bit confused and cautious. Life and time has laid heavy on this woman. She’s worn out and she's wet. I have a fondness for the people I draw and I never forget them. But this chick is bad news. We're at her destination, in front of her apartment building above a bar in Larkspur.
“Get some sleep,” I suggest.
She shakes my hand. Her’s is cold. I notice the scrolls drawn into the flesh of her wrist, her beaded wristband and torn sleeve. I’d love to draw her again. But while I try not to judge people, I have the sense I should keep a distance...somethig toxic there, perhaps.
Gathering her clothes and bag, she stubbles back out into the street and wishes me ‘love and peace’.
I realized the other day that, while I only drive a cab Saturday and Sunday, I'm doing what every suburban parent is doing out there on weekends, they're driving their kids everywhere. The only difference is that when I'm shuffling people around, I get paid for it.
My son just turned 16 years of age and is now entitled to a learner's permit for his official drivers liscense, which I know he will use extensively. It will set me free of my sixteen years of weekend driving obligations to his swim meets, soccer games, birthday parties which have more then occupied the Saturdays and Sundays of his entire life. We parents meet these obligations gladly, in order to keep our children busy, active, social and safe.
There's no meter running for these services. Ultimately, it will get passed forward and they will drive their own kids. That's the payback. Enjoy the drive Liam.
I decided to drive despite the fact that I was still getting over a cold. The drug combination of Comtrex (for head and sinus), Dayquil and Tussin (for the cough and sore throat) and Mucinex (an expectorant for the phlegm) had me slightly wired. The haze in my head seemed to be manifesting in my pick-ups. Is it the Buddhists who say you perceive what you feel?
My first fare that morning was the aged couple I took to the Marin Airporter at Larkspur Landing after a stay with their daughter. He’s moaning from some pain and she’s attempting to console him. “How’s your back, dear” and “You can sleep on the plane, honey.” How am I doing?, I wonder. I needed to check in on myself. $10.
The second run of the day was a regular client. She was going to work as a nurse’s aid despite having her wisdom teeth removed the day before. “I took 2 Vicodin. I’m fine.” She was a real trooper. $16.
Fare #3 was a dude I took from the Marin County Jail back to his Range Rover next to the club he got kicked out of in Sausalito the night before. “I wasn’t even driving when they arrested me,” he says. “They came over when I was looking for the hide-a-key under the radiator. They must of thought I was breaking into the car. They hauled my ass in when I resisted.” I have to wonder if the red wine stains and bloody elbows on his torn shirt is migrating to the back seat cushions. $51.
The fourth run was from the Travelodge Motel to the liquor store around the corner. The sad little man I drove was slumped and moving slowly. He had to be self-medicating his pain with the booze. He and his co-dependent girlfriend each must have had 4 bottles each in the bags they carried out, clanging. $10.
The fifth fare of the day was the wild-eyed bag woman I picked up at the Color My World Store. She couldn’t have purchased paint there since I drove her back to the motel where she lived. As we drove past the bus terminal, she tells me, “Crazy people hangaround my motel room.” She goes on talking for the rest of the ride but I tuned it out. I was done and it took all my brainpower to focus on the road. As she fumbles with her change for the fee, she tells me, “I do massage therapy…. $25 for an hour.” She’s as nutty and in pain as the rest of them today. “That’s nice,” I say back. “Have a nice day.” $6.25
After I dropped her, I called it quits. I didn't quite make my 'nut’…given the nuts I was hauling around. I needed to clear my head. How was your day?
What is it about the all the rants and radiation that’s getting released these days? The reactor core of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant in Japan couldn’t be kept cool due to Tsunami-related damage and may cause a meltdown and the release of deadly radiation. The plant’s technology and backup systems may prove to be inadequate. Charlie Sheen’s firing from his television show, Two and a Half Men and subsequent rants displaying his hypomania, were the result of drug and alcohol abuse. Viewers can't stop digesting this freak show. New and old media are tailor made to deliver these events, but I can choose to watch out of concern or prurient interest till my own tolerance level is threatened.
From my cab on Sunday, I noticed a small table being set up by two young guys on a Sausalito street corner. They wanted to talk to people about Lyndon LaRouch, the wacho Presidential candidate and topnotch ranter. Attached to the table was a poster they doctored of Barak Obama with crossed eyes and a Hitler mustache. I got out and asked them, “What the fuck do you guys think you’re doing?” I vented. “I’m not fucking with anyone,” he answered. He wasn’t, I suppose, but I realized their toxic message got ‘under my skin’. This was their (hateful) way to have people think about the 25th amendment for Presidential impeachment . The Supreme Court recently affirmed anti-gay protesters the right to protest at a soldier’s funeral. Free speech no matter how virulent or how freakish, as in this case, is protected speech. I didn’t stop the LaRouche dude, but I regret allowing his message to get to me.
I have a choice whether or not to take in the spewing that's being displayed in the current culture. So for now, I’m turning off the tube and choosing not to react. While I’m heartbroken over the death and destruction from the earthquake and tsunami, this last performance by Charlie Sheen is of no consequence. These choices seem right and necessary for me now as the news and other messages in the media (and in the street) get more omnipresent. No meltdown for me.
I watch the cab driver ahead of me in line at the taxi stand as he furtively crams this guy’s bicycle and some other grimy items including a rusty toolbox, a backpack and a three-foot length of 4-inch PVC pipe, containing fishing poles and reels. It amazes me that he can fit it all in his taxi trunk. Thankfully, the bike is collapsible. The trunk is closed and in they go into the cab. It seems like they’re ready to go, but out pops the cabbie. He looks disconcerted and lights up a cigarette. The shit box he calls a taxi isn’t starting. He ponders the situation. Now he’s going down the line asking me and others behind me for cables and a jump. The taxi line can be a competitive, unsympathetic place. He’s getting no help from us so he’s on the phone with his dispatcher calling for assistance. After 5 minutes another of the company’s cabs arrives and all that crap gets moved and crammed into it’s trunk and off they go. Yet another company cab arrives to pick up the driver, leaving the cabbie’s derelict vehicle forward of the line having been pushed there. I roll up my window, turn up NPR, take a sip my Earl Gray tea and break open the New York Times. I’m not having his day.