One of my favorite parts of taxi school was our field trip to the airport where the teacher piled all of us students into a taxi van and drove us down to the San Francisco Airport to show us the "underbelly of the world of taxis", as my friend Philo likes to call it. There are several different lots of waiting taxis, several different booths you have to pass and lots of rules and regulations. It's complicated at the airport when you're a taxi trying to get a fare.
That's why it took me over a year of driving to dare descend into the underbelly. But today I did. After I had dropped off my first fare of the day at the airport, I followed another taxi through the airport turnaround and into the overflow lot. I wasn't sure if I was going to stay but when I saw a Green Cab way ahead of me in line, I knew that I was.
The taxi in front of me was a yellow and green National cab, number 2976. I appreciated this because 2/9/76 is the birthday of a dear friend of mine. A friendly driver milling about reminded me to turn off my engine.
Philo had been encouraging me to do the airport thing for weeks. He said that being there makes you feel a sort of solidarity because there are cabs everywhere, all in one place, all the different ones, together as one. And he was right. There were cabs everywhere, blue cabs, yellow cabs, beige cabs, black cabs, green cabs. Since I love driving a cab, being down there and looking around at all the cars and their drivers filled me with love.
When I got to the sunny second lot, I got out of my cab and walked towards the cab in front me. The driver eyed me in his side mirror. I was afraid that he was going to be unfriendly and said "Hi." He said "Hi, how are you doing" and smiled. He wasn't unfriendly at all. I said "Good!" He said "You look good!" and smiled even more. I said "Thanks!" I was feeling great that day. I asked "We're going to be here for a while, right?" He said something about waiting and lines and turns and moving, and I said "I was going to use the bathroom." He pointed to where they were, then got out of his car and said "Here, I'll go with you."
As we were walking, he held out his hand and said
"I'm Vera. Byron. Is that B-Y-R-O-N?"
"Cool. I'm reading a book right now by a woman named Byron."
"A woman named Byron!"
After I used the bathroom, Byron told me a lot more about airport procedures. He also said "Just follow me."
When it was our turn to move again, we had to drive by the attendant and pay four dollars. Byron, as he was driving in front of me, held his hand out of the window with the parking stub and four dollars in it to show me what I needed for the next step. I thought that was the sweetest thing.
We were now in the third lot. I looked for the Green Cab everywhere but couldn't find it. I wanted to talk to the driver because I want to become a Green Cab driver too.
The row that Byron filed into was full by the time I got there, so Byron pointed to the row next to his, out of which cars were just leaving. When I got towards the end, Byron was out of his car and hurrying towards me. I said "Stop at the front, right?" He said "Yes, stop." I guessed correctly that if I had piled out of the row with the cars in front of me, the others rows of cars would have gotten angry at me because it wasn't my turn yet. Byron said "Stay here until you see me leave, and then follow me."
When it was our turn again, I followed Byron past another attendant. The attendant handed me a piece of paper indicating which terminal to go to. I had seen that Byron had received the same color paper so I followed Byron to Terminal 3 I think it was. There were about eight cars ahead of me. Byron got out of his car and stood next to my window.
"So tell me about this Byron book," he said.
"It's about living in the moment. It's about accepting reality exactly as it is and not arguing with it or trying to change it."
"Yeah. Because if you resist it, you're just going to be unhappy."
Shortly after that it was my turn to receive a passenger. He had to go to Castro between 20th and 21st. And that's the story of my first fare from the airport.
Later that day I saw cab 2976 one more time at Oak and Divisadero. I think Byron was still in it, and it made me smile. I was taking a nice man from the Haight to Union Square and knew that I was at the right place at the right time.