I’m dropping a nondescript fare at the Kasier medical building on Geary… 2238 Geary, to be specific.
This is a destination to which I will ride at least once a day. And at least once a day, my passenger will invariably get confused about exactly which building they are headed to within this sprawling complex of UCSF and Kaiser hospitals and medical offices. With furled brows betrayed via the rear view and the anxious shuffling of papers, I always assure them that they are headed to 2238 Geary. (For THIS is a taxi man’s job. To give the passenger one less thing to worry about – as if this lot didn’t have enough to, already.)
Post-remittance, as Septuagenarian Joe begins grunting and caning his way out of the back, an older black woman, thin and tastefully dressed – in a navy pants suit and purple paisley shawl, meanders up to my slightly cracked shotgun window with the help of her rhinestone studded cane. And with shifting eyes, seemingly careful to avoid contact, she mumbles all incoherent under her breath, between coughing fits.
And I roll down the window full, to hear Ophelia.
“Umm, uhhh, (Cough!) maybe the bus… Uhhh, should I… Maybe I could, uhhh… (Cough!) But, Paratransit could… Hmm… (Cough!)”
Driver, “Ma’am, do you need a ride?”
And with a steadfast averting of the eyes, Ophelia speaks louder, as she leans into my now open shotgun.
“Uhhh, I usually do Cabulous. (Cough!) Do you take Paratransit? Maybe, (Cough!) uhhh…”
Driver, “Well, I do both. You could hail me from your phone, through Cabulous. Or, I do take Paratransit, if you prefer. Whatever works for you. But if you’re asking me, I’d rather do Paratransit. Cabulous takes a 13.2% bite out of us cabbies.”
Continuing to mumble incoherently, coughing, and looking around confused, Ophelia seems now sold, as she opens the rear door of Citizen’s Cab #26, and settles in (Cough!) back.
A hack LOVES these back to back rides. They really keep the day moving, and the rent paid.
Driver eagerly props his clipboard/waybill up on the steering wheel, and with pen at the ready to mark the ride, he broaches, “Where to, ma’am?”
Ophelia, “Oh, umm… (Cough!) I guess, 6th & Clement.”
Driver, marking his waybill and repeating back, “6th & Clement, it is!”
And we roll.
And Ophelia explains.
“You must (Cough!) forgive me, driver. You see, they have been doing (Cough!) work around my house. And the digging has kicked up the dust, everywhere! (Cough!) The doctor says I have this Aspergillus. (Cough!) They say, it is due to the mold in the dust. And the spores are (Cough!) in my lungs. If it isn’t the darndest thing. (Cough!)”
Man! I feel for Ophelia. But, it always puts a cab driver a bit more at ease to know their patien, er… coughing passenger is bacterial, NOT viral!
And Ophelia and I move on to more pleasant converse. We turn to talk of the many feral cats living in her back yard.
Ophelia, “Driver, I may want to stop at the butcher’s, first. (Cough!) Mr. Chen often gives me bones with scraps, to feed the cats in my backyard. They come from all around the neighborhood. (Cough!) They must number about thirty, now.”
Driver, “Wow! THIRTY cats!? That’s WONDERFUL that you look out for them! No doubt, you are doing God’s work.”
Ophelia, “Oh, yes! God’s children! (Cough!) All of them! I LOVE my cats! SOMEONE has to look out for them. It is the strangest thing, though. Sometimes, (Cough!) a few of them go missing for one or two days. Then, they return with their ears clipped. I believe it is (Cough!) Animal Control who comes to take them away (Cough!) to spay and neuter them, and also give them their shots. Then, they return them to me. I understand that they clip the ears to identify them (Cough!) as having been treated. And, I am very grateful for this.”
Driver, “Oh! I have two cats. Char, a little black brindle who my kids and I named after rescuing her from our neighbor’s abandoned, burned out flat. And Tiger, a grey-stripe who we also rescued from them. We knew that the neighbors had named Tiger prior to the fire. But, Char was a kitten at the time. And we don’t think she had a name. None that we knew of, at least.
Anyway, it’s nice that Animal Control looks out for your cats. But, clipping their ears seems kind of barbaric! Don’t you think, ma’am?”
Ophelia, “Well, (Cough!) they only clip the one ear, at the top. I am sure that they are asleep when the procedure is done. (Cough!)”
Driver, “Well, I hope they don’t declaw them!”
Ophelia, “Oh, no! (Cough!) They do NOT do THAT. That would not be right. Especially, for strays. (Cough!)”
Ophelia, continuing, “There is this one little black cat, that comes inside (Cough!) and rubs around my legs. He had an eye infection, I believe. And also, fleas and worms. Many of my cats do. Anyhow, I would take a cloth to the puss coming from his eyes. (Cough!)
He did recently go missing, however. Then, two days later, he reappeared in the yard with his eyes healed. And NO fleas or worms. And wouldn’t you know it? He had his one ear clipped. (Cough!) It always seems such a mystery to me. But, Animal Control really does do the Lord’s bidding.”
Driver, “That’s great! But, I’m curious. Have you named all thirty cats?”
Ophelia, “Oh, no! Just the little black one. (Cough!) I named him after a very nice cab driver, who once took me home. (Cough!) Sharif.”
And as we roll up on Ophelia’s Chinese butcher, also on 6th, just down the street from her home on this Inner Richmond block lined with single family Victorians, Ophelia suddenly gets all starry eyed. And, as she hands me up her Paratransit card to swipe (for the $7.80 government subsidized fare, plus fixed 10% tip) Ophelia expounds.
“I think (Cough!) it is those RACCOONS that give them the fleas, and eat the scraps meant for my strays. (Cough!) I am forever chasing them off! And the POSSUMS, too! Out from the yard! (Cough!) I do wonder if anything can be done… (Cough!)”
And on this note, I hand Ophelia back her Paratransit receipt, as she opens her door, poised for Mr. Chen, and his bones and meat scraps. But before fully exiting 26, with one leg on the ground, and her rhinestone studded cane planted firmly in the drive, Ophelia stops.
And for the first time, she looks me dead in the eyes…
And Ophelia blesses me.
“God bless you, my son. Continue on with the Lord’s work, with YOUR cats. Have a blessed and beautiful day. (Cough!) Have a blessed and beautiful LIFE! (Cough!)”
And you as well, Ophelia.
You, as well.
Photo by Alex SacK