Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Feb. 20 2020.
“Wow, I can’t believe I’m in a real taxi,” the girl in my backseat slurs, her words as boozey as her breath. “I didn’t think taxis even existed anymore.”
“Oh, there’s still a few of us around,” I respond absently, wondering how anyone could fail to notice the numerous multi-colored vehicles circling The City all day and night. I resist the urge to point them out as we head down Mission towards Bernal Heights from South of Market.
There’s one… There’s another one… And another…
“So why did you guys flag me?” I ask.
Originally, a guy was with her, but after she turned down his offer to keep the party going, he handed me a $20 bill, told me to drive her home and jumped out at the light to take an Uber instead.
“Getting a cab is just so…” her voice trails off. “Aggressive. We had to yell and wave to get your attention.”
“Well, I wasn’t really expecting to see anyone in front of Moscone at 1 a.m.,” I say in my defense.
Prior to speeding down Fourth Street, I had been working the Dark Star Orchestra show at the Warfield. After taking a fare to Russian Hill and a second to the Inner Richmond, I went back for a triple dip, but only a few deadheads remained, zonked out on hippie crack. A couple so high on mushrooms they couldn’t figure out how to get to the Hampton Inn around the corner wanted a ride though. Since the hotel was just a meter drop away, I declined payment, in cash or psychedelics, decided to call it a night and headed towards the bridge.
I ask the girl again why they took a taxi.
“That fellow who got in with me, Conrad, is the sweetest man,” she tells me. “He’s been in love with me for over a year. And I’ve treated him horribly.”
Her voice quivers and she begins to cry.
“I take it you aren’t in love with him,” I surmise.
Not only are her feelings for him strictly platonic, she dated his best friend and confidante for six months.
“I just found out tonight that while Conrad was pining away for me,” she adds tearfully, “Nick would tell him all about our relationship.”
“Did Nick know how Conrad felt about you?”
“Yes!” she bawls. “He knew everything.”
She met them both at the same time, apparently. And even though Conrad was head over heels and divulged his feelings to his friend, Nick still pursued her.
“I was very attracted to Nick, but knew it couldn’t last forever. He was so much older than me. And we wanted different things in life. Oh, I’m such a rotten person!”
“Why? You didn’t do anything wrong,” I point out. “The only person who acted with any questionable morals is Nick. He shouldn’t have gone after the girl his friend was in love with, regardless of whether or not he had a chance.”
Instead, he was relentless. Things eventually got serious. And every step of the way, Conrad was kept in the loop.
“That must have been torture for him,” I observe.
“He didn’t deserve to be treated like that. But he’s the type who wouldn’t stand in the way of someone else’s happiness, even though it made him miserable.”
“I’m absolutely wretched!”
“No, you’re not,” I say firmly. “Don’t say that.”
As I continue listening to her confession and offer reassuring observations, she seems to have moved past the novelty of riding in a taxi and probably assumes, in her inebriated state, that she’s in a Lyft.
By the time I pull up to her place, the tears have dried up and the meter reads $17.80.
She thanks me and says good night.
Fortunately the $20 from Conrad is sitting in my cup holder, so I don’t have to bother her about payment. She either remembers him giving me the money or assumes the ride is taken care of through an app, because she makes no attempt to pay for it.
I wait until she’s inside before pulling away. I head down Cortland to Bayshore and then take the freeway to the bridge.
Originally published by S.F. Examiner.
[Image from the San Francisco Postcard Collection – Street Scenes from Behind the Wheel.]