This Cab’s on Fire

sun-ra-christian-lewis

I Drive SF column published in the S.F. Examiner on April 25, 2019.

I never really wanted to drive a car. I was happy enough being the passenger, riding under glass, watching the stars come out of the sky and seeing the city’s ripped backsides.

Even growing up in the 80s in LA, the Mecca of car culture, I was perfectly content to stroll through my neighborhood, always mindful not to break my mother’s back. And if the destination was beyond the sneaker superhighway, there was always the RTD. If I had some pocket change.

At 15 years old, I moved to a small town in Alabama that didn’t have sidewalks. Just ditches on either side of the road. This presented a challenge, but I quickly sought out friends with automobiles.

Later, right before I started college at a university thirty miles way, my foster mother forced me to get a driver’s license and gave me her beat up Tercel.

I resisted at first, but soon realized the freedom that came with owning a car.

For the next four years, my friend Jody and I explored every inch of asphalt in Calhoun County. Most of the dirt roads too. There wasn’t much else to do in the sticks except cruise the backroads while blasting punk and thrash metal. We eventually got bored of our home turf and began branched out to Tennessee, Georgia and into the Smoky Mountains. It seemed like there was no place we couldn’t go as long as we had wheels underneath us.

After college, I packed all my things into the Tercel and drove to New Orleans. Slowly but surely, the car fell to pieces on the pothole-riddled streets. So I got a beach cruiser with a cup holder on the handlebars.

That summer I traveled across the country via Greyhound, Amtrak and thumb. My destination was San Francisco, with its vibrant atmosphere and expansive public transportation system. For eight months, I spent my days wandering through The City, too broke to afford the bus, unless I found a discarded transfer on the ground.

Back in LA, I was a personal assistant for eight years. My job unusually entailed driving from one side of town to the next in peak rush hour traffic. Because that’s the kind of grunt work you pay someone else to do if you can afford to pay people to do your grunt work. It was tedious and demoralizing. Especially in summer. During those incalculable hours stuck in gridlock, I would dream about returning to San Francisco and becoming a passenger again.

Ironically, when I did make it back to The City, I ended up driving for hire.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

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