Ride of the Infidel

Infidel (2)

Tuesday

6:25am:
I slept in. In the days between Christmas and New Year’s, who doesn’t? Accordingly, it’s quiet out. REAL quiet. I’m just hoping I make gate today on ‘ol Citizen’s Cab 137.

Cresting the Fillmore hill at Broadway, with its majestic view of the Golden Gate and The Bay, I spot the first of the season’s discarded Christmas trees strewn at the curb. (Out with the old, in with the new, eh?) More than usual, today will be a time for taking stock. Sizing up my existence. As 2015 begins to fade fast in the rear view.

And like the prospect of not ending up owing for gate, I just hope that 2016 and the new year brings… well, hope.

NPR: “If you’re traveling in the North Bay, you should avoid Highway 37 at Sears Point in Sonoma. There are reports of a 900 pound elephant seal still trying to make his way across the highway, from the creek towards the sea. Onlookers, news crews and rescue workers have all but blocked the highway.

You can make it, George. I’m prayin’ for ya, man!

 

Noon:
I’m rolling a desolate Financial District east up Market, when,

“Cha-ching! – 425 Market. Margaret. iPhone.”

Weird, getting a Cabulous mobile-to-mobile hail in the deep Financial. Hailing a cab without an app down here is ordinarily not a problem. Usually, a driver is pinged out in residential areas to bring a fare down TO this district, to work. But hell yeah, I ‘Accept’!

And I roll just a block up almost missing Margaret, who is standing at a MUNI bus island in the middle of the two lanes here on Market, and not actually in front of 425. I know it’s her, as this frail middle-aged office worker in pressed khaki pants, bleach-damaged shoulder length hair, and sporting a simple gold chain over a simple black sweater is gently waving her phone at me. Call me Sherlock.

I pull over at the bus island. Margaret nervously jumps in back.

And Margaret speaks, meekly, “Thanks for coming driver. If you could possibly wait, I am going to 555 Mission Rock, to pick something up. And then I hope to return to 425 Market. I’ll be very fast. Do you think you could wait?”

Amenable Cabbie, “Why sure. Not a problem.”

Sweet!

Margaret, “Oh! Thank you SO much! There was a mistake. I am just now picking up some charitable gift cards in the names of my co-workers, for their Christmas presents. Even still, very few made it into the office today.

As we drive, I relate by relaying to Margaret how I do the same for my family at Christmas each year! However, last year, I gave my cop-in-training nephew a donation to the NRA, while simultaneously giving his Deadhead, peacenik mother a like donation the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Anyway, I find Margaret’s humility endearing. She exudes empathy and warmth. No doubt, she’s a good Christian. Yes, Margaret shall surely inherit the earth.

On topic, Margaret broaches, gently, “If I may ask, what do you think of guns?”

You’ve come to the right place, lady.

Cabbie on Pedestal, “Well, the facts are the facts. America has by far the highest rates of gun violence as matched by the highest volume of guns. And I find the argument that the states with the strictest gun control laws still have high rates of gun violence pretty disingenuous. I mean, Chicago with its strict gun control laws is right on the border of guns-for-all Indiana! California is right on the border of Nevada and Arizona, which both have lax gun laws. France is on the border of Belgium, with Belgium by far having the most lax gun control laws in all of Europe!

All we have to do is look to Australia. Like the U.S., Australia is a very pro-gun culture country that USED to have mass shootings, until they passed some pretty restrictive measures. And this, despite some serious pro-gun lobbying during the fight! Well, look who’s on THEIR border! Yeah, we need some federal intervention here.

I mean, all these 2nd Amendment advocates seem to conveniently leave out the “well regulated” part. And I’m not so sure that Cousin Earl really constitutes a “militia” either, as much as he may feel the need to ward off Obama’s black helicopters! And if you need an assault rifle with a high-capacity clip to bag a deer, maybe hunting is not the right hobby for you.

Anyway, it’s all a media game. Made for FOX News. After Paris and San Bernardino, look how quickly we forget the gun issue and focus only on a minority (wrongfully) purporting to do violence in the name of Islam. I mean, was the mass shooter of that Planned Parenthood really a Christian? Was the white supremacist mass shooter of that church in South Carolina a Christian? That’s not the Bible I read. And that’s not the Koran a fifth of the world’s population is reading. Hell, the mass shooting in Oregon at that Community College was a white supremacist who was later found out to be anti-religion! Yeah, we need to keep our eye on the ball. Guns! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we should outlaw guns outright. But some sensible regulation is definitely in order here. It’s the guns that are the issue. Not a vocal minority who hijack a religion, WHATEVER religion!”

A meek voice wafts, almost under her breath, from the back seat.

“I have been thinking lately. I’ve been trying hard to figure out a way for moderate voices to rise. I agree that there is too much extremism. I do NOT like Donald Trump… But, I do appreciate how he has given voice to people who were repressed before, too afraid to speak their minds before due to political correctness. I’m just not sure how to get that moderate voice out there. Yeah, I don’t like Trump. But, maybe there IS something to keeping the Muslims out of the country. Just until we can figure out what’s going on. I mean, Muslim is not a REAL religion, anyway. We need to protect ourselves first, I think. Do you have any thoughts on how we can promote moderate ideas?”

Note to Self: Someone should really alert the 1.4 billion citizens of the Earth that practice “Muslim” that they are not one of the world’s three major religions, and all stemming from Abraham.

Yup. Margaret, and her moderate view, will surely inherit the Earth… post-Crusade.

Careful Cabbie, “Uh, I don’t know… The idea of keeping Muslims out of the country might not be the best idea… I mean, strategically speaking, of course. A lot of military experts say we need them to help fight the extremists. And give tips on potential attacks. They say a lot of attacks have actually been thwarted with the help of the American Muslim community. They also say keeping Muslims out of the country would help recruit more radicals to ISIS and their lot. I think, again, that a lot of this just makes for good TV.

I long ago learned, as a cab driver on these streets, that there are no good or bad cabbies, pedestrians or cyclists. There are only individuals. And some are having a good day. And some are having a bad day. And, as humans, some just make mistakes. I know that I am not immune to this, as much as I’d like to think so!”

Margaret snickers softly in back.

Now Confident Cabbie, “Yeah, I think that Trump is making the U.S. a pariah in the world. He’s just exploiting fear. Back when Ebola was all in the news, I actually had a couple passengers who were educated people going to good jobs, who were REALLY worried that they would catch Ebola out in public! In San Francisco! It was all totally irrational when looking at the facts. It was just exotic and sexy for the news cycle, and ratings. Jeez. My passengers should have been WAY more worried about making it to work alive in my cab!”

Doh!

Margaret and I ride in silence for a bit, as palpably, we both ponder our friendly discussion.

Margaret presents as rational, thought-out, calm. I do not smell fear in her. But what else could this be about? It’s a generalizing and stereotyping of the unknown. A dangerous parroting of some caricature of “the other”. Her concerns, however meekly presented, dehumanize whole populations, denigrate them as cockroaches, rats and vermin. There is a reason fascists do this. And there is a reason that, despite an historic aversion to making the comparison, Trump has been widely compared to Hitler. Yes, this whole thing reeks of Ebola.

Wise Cabbie, trying another tact, “May I ask? What do you think about the Japanese-American internment camps? Historically, this was seen as a dark period in American culture…”

Margaret, “Well. We’ve apologized for it. But they probably did save us from some attacks.”

Thwarted Cabbie, nervously, “(Heh, heh.) Well, I guess you can’t prove a negative.”

Okay. Scratch that “Margaret presents as rational” thing.

We arrive at 555 Mission Rock, where Margaret is to go up for her charitable gift cards. She adds that they are to help the elderly. And I wait out in front with the meter running at the 55 cent/minute “idling” rate.

Within three minutes, Margaret is back in the cab and we’re off! Back towards 425 Market…

On the return, I still find Margaret sweet and humble, with not an ounce of vitriol, as she twice more refers to “Muslim” as not a “real religion”. Ah, well.

But, do not be fooled. Margaret is NOT crazy. She’s totally normal. Totally American! And she represents, increasingly so, what it means to be American. For this is how the shifting discourse on values goes: One person suggests banning all Muslims. Those versed in the Constitution (and aware of the founding of our country by those escaping religious persecution) doth protest. Then, the “reasonable” acquiesce in the hopes of keeping the peace. And they all work to reach a “compromise”. Well, maybe we should must ban SOME Muslims. And thus, the needle moves…

We pull up on 425 Market. And despite the fare, and pre-set tip, being covered through the Cabulous app that Margaret hailed me with, she seems a bit flustered. And yet, also energized by our conversation.

Margaret, warmly, “Here! I’m not sure what the tip is set to. But take this, too. And thank you SO much for the wonderful conversation!”

Margaret throws me up an extra ten in cash.

Sweet!

And Infidel Cabbie yells after a rushing Margaret, “Happy new year! And God bless!”

My thoughts turn now, to George the Elephant Seal. Has he made it across the road? Has George made it home to the sea? I’ll have to check NPR.

But this cabbie has high hopes he’ll make it…

 


Photo by Christian Lewis
www.AlexSacK.com
Check out Alex’s Books 1 – San Francisco TAXI: A 1st Week in the ZEN Life…
& 2 – San Francisco TAXI: Life in the Merge Lane…
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Alex Sack

Alex Sack, born 1970, is a taxi driver who grew up in the Washington D.C. suburbs of Maryland. He attended several different colleges and universities around the D.C./Baltimore region as a music major for 4 & 1/2 years before quitting - pre-diploma - to the horror of his father. He tried his hand as a professional musician/songwriter seeing him through travels domiciled in New York City’s East Village, Los Angeles (where he scored a few songs on The Disney Channel's 'Even Stevens') and San Francisco - where he's ultimately put down roots. Alex is a single dad to two boys, currently ages 15 and 17. His post-natal fallback occupation as Operations Assistant at a start-up clean-tech engineering consultancy came to a sudden end with the one-two punch of the owner’s fatal skiing accident in Tahoe and the subsequent downturn in the economy.This - and an acquired nervous twitch to cubicle work - has led to his latest job...

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