Confessions in the Backseat


Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on June 26, 2019.

I’m rolling steady. One ride after another. For the past few weeks, the theaters have been breaking sequentially, making it easy to get more than a couple fares before the fury of “needs” becomes “possibles” and the crowded sidewalks outside the venues return to their usual configuration as campgrounds for the homeless.

First, the Jazz Center empties out, then the symphony, followed by the Orpheum. Shortly after 10 p.m., I’m taking a guy who works in the kitchen at the Opera House to Webster and Hermann. When I pull up to the intersection of Church and Market, someone on the corner flags me.

“I’ll jump out here so you can grab this dude,” the guy in back says.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.” He hands me $12 on $9.55. “Make that money.”

The second guy is going to Noe Valley. The signal is green and the streetcar is still loading and unloading, so while my new fare gives me directions to 26th and Sanchez, I bust a move into the turn lane and make the light onto Church.

“Or go that way, I guess.”

He doesn’t seem that drunk, but after a few blocks, he’s slurring his words, as if the booze didn’t kick in until he was in motion.

“I just saw my brother and… Man, things are really messed up.” His voice trails off.

“What’s going on?” I inquire.

“I love him, he’s my little brother and everything, but … he’s schizophrenic.

I don’t know what to do.” He starts to cry.

Some passengers bring more than a destination and the occasional suitcase into a taxicab. Oftentimes it’s like they’re continuing a conversation they had with their last driver, divulging the secrets they can only reveal to a stranger with whom they’re confined for a brief period of time. In the modern world, where religion is an anachronism, a dimly lit vehicle is the new confessional. And the compassionate driver, a captive audience.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

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