Sometimes, a ride just speaks for itself. Meet Chocolate Nam…
It’s mid-day and I’m cruisin’ Haight-Ashbury. The sun is high and it is yet another perfect, beautiful San Francisco day. (Yawn.) The street is bustling with thrift store shoppers, retail workers and mid-western tourists congregating for snaps of themselves flashing peace signs below the famous intersecting street signage that marks this infamous corner. Post-selfie, it’s on to gawk at all the 60’s memorabilia glowing in black lights, as bongs and tie-dye emanate psychedelic from a multitude of head shops. And with leashed cats on their shoulders and unleashed pit-bulls at their sides, dirty-colorful neo-hippie runaways hawk pot vivacious to all that pass.
I drive past… and am immediately struck by the vision of an older black man at the peak of fashion, as he hobbles into the street to flag me with his black and silver-gilt cane on high.
We find this well-groomed gentleman of indeterminate years dressed to the nines from toe to head, in mirror-polished embroidered black cowboy boots – embellished with silver tips, a GIANT silver buckle – so ornate as to make the world championship belt blush, and adorned by modish mock military dress with black shoulder-patched jacket and matching black slacks. As we move up above the copious gold rings and thick platinum chain, to the side of a tightly-trimmed goatee, we find his bling rests complete in a single very large diamond stud earring. Toward my approaching taxi the ensemble hobbles, wrinkle-less and proud under the respectable crest of one sharp black fedora – garnished with a peacock feather.
I pull to a stop… And Chocolate works his bum leg in back.
The gentleman speaks,
“Hey baby, why donch u take me owt tah da V.A. hospital. Ye-ah, man. Fuckin’ bus drivah wouldn’ stop fer me. 33 look me rite in da eye ‘n pass me by. I don understand dat. He cood see I wuz hand-i-cap! I can’ walk! U see how dey be treetin’ vetrins? Man, I bled fer dis contry. I serv in Vi-et Nam!”
Chocolate Nam hands me up two tens.
“U kin jus’ tern off dat meet-ah, little brotha. We good.”
Little Brotha, “Cool… (L.B. foregoes the meter. It’d be about $20, anyway. And I can show a little thanks for this man’s service.) Yeah, my kid gets snubbed by MUNI sometimes, too. Actually, I had to pay for a cab for him just yesterday when the 43 passed him by. I guess it’s just a MUNI thing.”
Chocolate Nam, “Ain’ no MUNI thang. He jus’ ah ass-hole! He gaht bitches behin’ ’em. ‘N I kin see he talkin’ shit ’bout me. I red ‘iz lips. I kin reed lipz cuz I us’d tah be def!”
Chocolate Nam (continuing), “Ya kno, mutha-fukahs be tellin’ me, ‘Thank u fer ur service.’ Ain’ no thank u fer ur service! U kno what, little brotha? Let me tell u. Dats ah in-sult tah me. Cuz in my day, we dint have no choice. U either gaht draff, or u vol-un-teer! I vol-un-teer cuz I gaht twins ahn dah way. ‘N i gaht ta take care ah bidness! Iz sevun-teen ‘n gaht no otha way. Cudn’t git no job aht sev-un-teen! So I vol-un-teer.”
Little Brotha, “Wait. You gotta be eighteen to join the service. How’d you get in?”
Chocolate Nam, “I had ta git my sistah ta sign me up! Teecha sed I ain’t goin’ ta Vi-et Nam cuz I ain’ eight-teen. Buht dats ah fuckin’ lie! I git in da Marines ‘n make Lance Corporal rite off! So, I go in ‘n had allotment ‘n such, rite? Sign ah con-trac. I gaht ah guar-un-tee dey pay all my med-i-cal ‘n den-tal. Dey suppos’d ta be takin’ care ah shit. Buht I git owt n’ dos mutha-fukahs won’ take care ah my med-i-cal! Won’ take care ah my den-tal!”
Little Brotha, “Wow! That sucks! I’m sorry to hear that. I had heard the V.A. in San Francisco was pretty good. Well, once you actually get into the system, anyway.”
Chocolate Nam, “Nah! Dey ain’ shit! Let me tell u little brotha, u lookin’ aht me rite here! Look aht my cahrd… (I turn back to look at C.N.’s medical card. And while distracted, I quickly swerve to just miss sideswiping an Audi.) Nevah-min, man. U jus’ drive, little brotha. U see how fuk’d uhp I am whin I git owt!”
Chocolate Nam (continuing), “So, dey gaht me rated 40%. Ain’ no 40%! Look aht me! I shood be ah 100%! Den I be sittin’ pretty. Damn. Dey doo dat so dey don’ have tah pay me frum 1971 up ta now. Fuckin’ ass-hos! Dey don’ kno me frum ah can ah paint! MAN, DEY STICKIN’ DERE DICKS IN ME WIDOWT DA GREASE! Evr’y time I go in dere, dey lookin’ aht me like Iz homless ‘r sumthin’! Man, I BLED FER DID CONTRY! U see how dey be treetin vetrins?? ‘N wait, here’s da bitch slap! I cum back frum Vi-et Nam, ‘n dem hippies be throwin’ shit ahn my BES’ BLUES!”
Little Brotha, “Wow! Really? I hear things back and forth on NPR about how much that really happened. They threw shit on you??”
Chocolate Nam, “U GAHD-DAM RITE! Let me tell u, little brotha. Dey don’ tell u ev’rythin’ ’bout dem hippies. I unce saw ah shoot-owt be’tween dah Hare’ Krishnas ‘n da Hell’s Angels! ‘N u NEVAH guess who WUN!”
Little Brotha, “NO WAY! THE HARE KRISHNAS??”
Chocolate Nam, “U GAHD DAM RITE! Dis ah org-an -i-zatshun dey don talk ah-bout! U nevah heer ’bout it! Buht da Hare Krishnas wuz really wit da Gray Panthas. ‘N dey all be Korean vets come back frum dah war ‘n turn hippie. Buht dey hippies wit GUNS! ‘N dey don’ take NO shit, man! Dah Hell’s Angels fuk wit dem ahn Haight Street wun day, call dem all ass-holes. ‘N da Hare Krishnas pull owt dere guns ‘n start shootin’ alll da Hell’s Angles uhp! Fuuck ’em ALLL uhp! Kick dere ass’s TOO! I’m tellin’ ya man, Haight-Ashbury wuz a place u cood alwayss git in trouble! Cuz dem Hare Krishnas wuz reely… tha UNDER-GROUN’ RAIL-ROAD! It wuz reely ta git dem white boyz owta da mid-west ‘n Okla-homa n’ Nebraska ‘n such, so dey cood git ta San Francisco ‘n hop da Green Tortoise uhp ta Van-couvah… ta escap da draff! U see, da Hare Krishnas wuz tha firs, uh, firs… re-lig-on ta git ah ‘conshe-en-shus objec-shun’. I’m tellin’ u little brotha, dem hippies ain’ wha dey seem!”
Chocolate Nam (segueing), “Maaan, I wunce boght weed frum Ger-ry Gar-c-iah. Every’wun so strung owt ahn Ger-ry Gar-c-iah. Dat mutha-fuckah weerin’ ah Uncle Sam hat wit da flag? Dat mutha-fucka ain’ serve! Shiiitt. Wunce saw ah sho aht da Haight Street Theeter… iz now da Goodwill dere. ‘N dey all be booin’ da Ded… Rite off da stage, man! Da Ded suck! People be wantin’ dere monee back! Buht den Car-los San-tan-ah gaht uhp ahn stage ‘n save Bill Grah-am’s ass! Shiiit. Bill Gra-ham sign San-tana rite den ‘n dere! Almos’ ha ri-ot! Man, let me tell u. Da Haight Street Theeter had ’em all! Muddy Wahters, dah Air-plane, Taj Mahal, n’… n’.. dem bruthas… uh, dah Wintuhs… bruthahs… uhh…”
Little Brotha, “Johnny and Edgar Winters?”
Chocolate Nam, “Ye-ah! Dats dem! Aneeway, ye-ah. Dem hippies ain’ wha dey seem. Ain’ nuthin’ wha it seem! Like bak in Vi-et Nam, we waz reely fihtin’ da Chi-nese! Wher u think dey gaht all dem AK-47’s frum? Huh?? Dats ah Ch-i-nese weepon, man! ‘N why affa we leff u think dey call it ‘Ho Chi Minh City’?? Huh?? Dats ah Ch-i-nese name! Dats rite, little brutha! Dats wher I gaht all shot uhp! Wit ah AK-47!”
Little Brotha and Chocolate Nam roll up on the San Francisco V.A. – 42nd & Clement, with the meter off and both taken in by this majestic view overlooking the Pacific.
And as Chocolate Nam works his way out of the cab, he drives it home…
“U see me strugglin’ ta git owt! Shiiit. Buht little brotha, let me tell u. Iz ok. U kno why? Ain’ NO colah owt he-ah, man! I met sum com-rads in ahms… ‘N we allll blood! Cuz dey teech us ta be souljahz. ‘N look owt fer one anotha! Whin dey say, ‘COVAH MY SIX!’? ‘U GAHT ALPHA! COVAH-ME BRAVO!!’”
“Hey, Chocolate! Thank you for yo, er… THANKS FOR THE HISTORY LESSON!”