I was dispatched to an apartment building at Jones and Clay. The building had a circular driveway with a roof so you can drive right up to the door, like at some hotels. When I drove up to the door, the doorman walked towards my car. I rolled down the passenger side window and said “Hi. I'm here for #703.” The doorman said okay and went inside. When he came back, he told me that he had just moved his family from “South City to Moraga.” I assumed he meant that he had moved his family from South San Francisco to Moraga Avenue in the Sunset District of San Francisco. But I wasn't sure.
After a while a man came out of the building. He was carrying a duffel bag. I opened the trunk and put the duffel bag inside. As he got into the car, he said “I'm going to SFO, American Airlines.” He was over 50, possibly over 60, wearing glasses, slightly overweight. He struck me as the kind of person who has worked very hard all of his life and was pretty wealthy, had put several kids through college, was a member of a country club, and golfed or sailed on the weekends. When that kind of a man gets into my cab, I tense up. The reason is that that I assume he expects nothing but excellence from himself and everybody else. Mistakes are not tolerated.
The first thing that alarmed me was that I didn't immediately know which freeway entrance would be closest. I thought Shit! I certainly don't want to pick the WRONG freeway entrance, not with this person in my car. I'm not allowed to make any mistakes here. In trying to save my ass and hide my ignorance, I asked
“Do you have a preferred freeway entrance?”
“Nah, you can just go straight down 6th Street.”
6th Street, yes. There was a freeway entrance at 6th Street and Brannan. Didn't know that was the closest one, but okay. 6th Street it was. Immediately I started getting uncomfortable again. 6th Street was on the OTHER side of Market. That meant that we had to cross Market Street. And how do you cross Market at 6th Street? Taylor turns into 6th Street at Market, but Taylor is a one-way street going the WRONG way. So that was not an option. And most other streets don't allow you to cross and, much less, make a left on Market. Instead they force you to make a right, and next thing you know you're looking at a rainbow flag in the Castro. Market Street is pretty much a Bermuda Triangle for people trying to cross it.
We were coming from Jones and Clay and were now going South on Jones, towards the Bermuda Triangle. I was pretty sure I remembered from two or so years ago--when I had attempted to start figuring out which streets do go across Market and which ones don't—that Jones is not one of the good ones, that when you take Jones, Market swallows you whole.
Taylor was the next street east from Jones and was lined up with 6th but I knew it was a one way street. Next was Mason, and I thought that maybe I'd take Mason and somehow make my way over to 5th Street that way. But how? I didn't know. I prayed that I would find a way without my passenger getting mad at me.
My passenger was on the phone with whom I presumed to be his wife, talking about her parents, his parents, and various travel plans. I looked all the way down Jones towards Market and it really did not look like you could cross Market on Jones. It really didn't. So I made a left on O'Farrell. Then I made a right on Mason. I looked all the way down Mason towards Market and again, more of the same. It did not look like Mason was one of the good streets either. It looked evil, in fact. It looked like where Mason hits Market, there are actual buildings obstructing the passage.
This is when I started panicking. I did not know what to do. I wanted to ask the guy something, like “HOW AM I GOING TO GET TO SIXTH STREET FROM HERE?” or “DO YOU KNOW IF YOU CAN CROSS MARKET ON MASON?” or “WHAT DID YOU MEAN WHEN YOU SAID GO STRAIGHT DOWN SIXTH STREET?” or “CAN YOU HELP ME, PLEASE? I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO.” I didn't know what to do. But the guy was still chatting away on his phone. And I knew that interrupting his conversation would have been a definite MISTAKE. I could not make any mistakes.
So I was on my own in figuring this out. Since Mason didn't look like it was going to save us from the Bermuda Triangle, I made another left, on Eddy. And right after doing that, there was our savior, the very short street of Cyril Magnin. Several wide lanes, all going straight across Market, which then turn into 5th Street. I happily made a right on Cyril Magnin, and next thing I knew I was on 5th Street on the other side of Market. Whew! That had been close. After several blocks I made a right on Brannan, and there it was—the freeway entrance at 6th and Brannan. Miraculously, I had found a way there.
This was when my passenger got off his phone. He said to me “How are you doing? Which way are you going anyway?” I swallowed hard and stopped breathing for a second. Had I made a mistake after all? I started breathing again and said
“Um, this is 6th Street right here, the freeway entrance?”
“Yeah, but you could have just taken Jones all the way down.”
“You can use Jones to cross Market?”
“Oh, I did not know that. Thanks for telling me. I thought I remembered that you can't cross Market on Jones.”
“Well, at the end you make a left on Golden Gate. And then you make a quick right and you cross Market right there at 6th Street.”
Ahhhh. “GOLDEN GATE!” I said in the same way that Jerry Seinfeld has once or twice said “NEWMAN!”
We didn't talk at all the rest of the way to the airport. I was still stunned that he had only seemed mildly annoyed by my blunder, and he just looked out the window. When we arrived at the airport, he gave me a surprisingly generous tip. I said “Thanks so much. And thanks again for the tip about Jones and Golden Gate.” That seemed to please him because he quickly glanced at me in surprise one more time, nodded and smiled.