It’s Monday, San Francisco overcast and quiet. I’m pulled over in Citizen’s Cab #1015 at the side of the road on Haight, at Ashbury. It’s after the morning rush hour, but The Haight is still to wake. As of yet, there are no mid-western tourists here under this famous hippie 60’s iconic street signage flashing peace signs for selfies – with duck face.
I pulled my taxi over on account of a Divine inspiration for a tweet in line with my brand as “failed rock star, non-practicing Buddhist turned (frustrated) cabbie author.”
Just as I hit “Tweet,” I sense a presence, meekly approaching my shotgun window, prostrating.
Hey! It’s Amma! The cute Thai owner woman of the Love of Ganesha Himalayan store across the street – selling all things incense, beads, crystals, Nehru jacket and… well, you get the picture.
Amma, blinking sheepishly and beaming Universal Love, “Are you… free?”
Startled Driver, jumping to stow his iPhone and unlock the doors, “Uh, yeah! Sure! Get in!”
Cool! I’ve been buying incense from Love of Ganesha since 1998, when I lived on the same block of Haight down the street, at quieter Central. About a year ago, all the ground floor retail spaces (below the rent controlled flats) had their rent tripled out of the blue, because… well, because San Francisco.
Somehow, as the dry cleaners went out of business, Amma actually moved her store up Haight Street into the thick of the strip and a larger space, and for not much more rent than she had been paying. I attribute this transmutation of a negative into a score to Amma’s unshakable positivity and exceedingly good karma – due to her giving nature.
Note: Anytime I’ve just bought a couple bucks worth of Opium or White Musk incense, Amma is all gushing like a Jewish mother and offering me lemonade, or an apple. And she always throws in another pack of a new incense to try, for free!
To meet Amma, she truly is a saint. All glowing ‘n stuff. She has a real soothing way, looking you deep in the eyes, and leaving you coming away feeling warmed. All this said, I’ve never really had a proper exchange with her, as I’m usually running in without paying the parking meter. So, actually DRIVING Amma and playing host in my cab is a real prospect!
Amma, “Can you take me to 447 Sutter, in Union Square? Please?”
Odd. I didn’t figure Amma for a haute couture shopper. Well, there are a couple medical buildings mixed in amongst the Dior and Tiffany’s.
As we roll down Oak alongside the Panhandle, with its pungent Eucalyptus anointing the taxi, I ask my passenger how she likes her new spot on Haight.
In cute, broken English, Amma replies, “The rent is more. But we are busy. Many more people. Sadly some steal, though, crystals and jewelry. It is sometimes… challenging. The Outside Lands concert brought in many people not from town to sell, um, hard drugs, to the concert goers. Not only marijuana. The dealers come from Sacramento and San Jose, and do not respect. Or, they steal for their addictions. I know they have the stone of love in their heart, but we lose money. I cook for them And I feed the homeless on Haight Street, as well.”
Wow! She cooks for and feeds people stealing from her!
Note: It should be noted Amma is a follower of India’s Hugging Saint, a motherly guru who tours the world transmitting love and wisdom through her hugs. (One billion and counting.)
Driver, “That’s so wonderful you look out for people like that! I like driving a taxi, too, because of all the social service that comes with it that people don’t think about. Driving the elderly, and even the homeless. People who wouldn’t otherwise get a ride to their doctor’s, or court, or whatnot.”
Driver digressing, “Hey! I actually used to live in a flat two doors up from your old location on Haight, back from ’98 to 2000. I lived in a four bedroom flat, one of the rooms which was rented out by a guy named Dave. Do you know Dave, by chance? I see him as I drive up Haight a lot. He’s STILL living there!”
I check Amma in the rear view to witness her jaw drop suddenly, and her radiant olive face turn sheet white. She leans forward in her seat.
“You LIVED with DAVE!? Oh, MY!! HOW did… you LIVE with DAVE!? He is… an ASSHOLE!”
Then, she catches herself and settles back. (Though, jaw still agape.)
Did this glowing spiritual deity, peace and love incarnate, just call Dave an ASSHOLE???
Driver, “Did you just call Dave an asshole?”
Amma, “(Heh, heh.) Oh, no! I would NOT do that! You must have misheard me. Dave is a child of God… like each of us. (Heh, heh.)”
Hmm. It must have been Amma’s thick Thai accent. Still, what DID she say? Anyway, Dave actually IS a complete and total asshole.
Driver, “Yeah, he was pretty miserable to live with. The landlord, a gay guy named Daryl who lives down in the Castro, had each of the four rooms under separate leases on account of Dave. Cause he kept fighting with everyone who came through there, and ultimately scared them all off. At one point, over a period when we were fighting off and on, he threatened to petition Daryl for ‘Master Tenant‘ status, which would give Dave the right to run the flat, and pursue evictions – should he want. But, because we all had separate leases, that wasn’t a legal option. Not that Daryl would have agreed, anyway!
I knew something was off with Dave my first day there. Aside from the screaming match with the pretty black woman living in the room adjacent mine – and gone two days later, I had the luck of sharing one of the flat’s two bathrooms with Dave. After I had set up my toiletries, he called me into the bathroom to alert me that he had moved my soap from the soap dish inside the shower, to behind the mirror over the sink. Dave explained that the water from the shower would erode my soap if left in the dish, and was hence, inefficient.”
Amma chuckles giddily, covering her mouth, adding her own run-ins with Dave.
“(Heh, heh.) He would come into the shop, many times, to offer… advice. On where to keep our mops, and buckets. And other items. He comes still, to the new store. All the workers know of him. We just smile, and thank him. I do not believe that Dave is, um, at peace.”
Driver, “Well, not at peace is an understatement! The guy was on meth when I was living there! And he had his girlfriend-”
Amma jumps to interject, “JANET!”
Then, she catches herself and settles back, again.
Driver, continuing, “Yeah, Janet. She wasn’t supposed to be living there, something to do with a bad history with Daryl, but she did live with Dave. And she had a cat. I also had a cat. And we kept the communal litter box and food by the back stairs behind the kitchen. But, every day when I came home from my job waiting tables, I’d find someone had shut my cat (a large calico named Squeak) in my room without access to food, water or the litter box! Of course, there’d invariably be a steaming pile of shit waiting for me each day. I told Janet to stop shutting my door after I left, but she kept doing it, saying her cat didn’t get along with mine!
She wasn’t even supposed to be LIVING there!!
So, to deal with the issue, I engineered a six inch piece of metal, with hinged padlock brackets on each end, one for the door jamb and one for the door. After that, I was able to lock my door open with a fixed six inch gap. And thus, The Lock was born! The first day I came home from work, I could see The Lock had been pounded on, and mangled. But it remained intact! Dave was pretty conscious of the law, and what. He knew that since we each had separate leases, had they broken The Lock, it would have been breaking and entering.
Anyway, yeah. Dave’s a control freak, is the short of it. But man, it’s hard to blame him. He’s had a hard life. Do you know his history?”
Amma, looking curious, “No. What happened? To make Dave this way?”
Driver, “Well… apparently, his father was some kind of fugitive from the Feds and living in a shack somewhere in the woods. Dave made it sound like his dad was the Unabomber. Dave, himself, got a dishonorable discharge from the Army. (Something about being raped by his sergeant.) And when he was in his teens, he was shot by his brother, with a shotgun! But that brother is NOW his SISTER! And a PROSTITUTE! And Dave’s mother is her PIMP!
I met his mother and (now) sister, once. After they drove up from Vegas one time, to surprise visit Dave. They had brought him up a flea ridden kitten they found behind a gas station somewhere along the way. The kitten was a surprise gift. (That was my Squeak. Dave wanted to get rid of the kitten, because of how it came to him. But after a lot of begging and playing to his control issues, he let me have her. She had the cutest little ‘squeak’ for a meow.) Anyway, his sister was trying to get me to pay for sex with her one time, flirting at my door. And it was the weirdest thing, Dave’s mom was standing behind her smiling, winking and nodding.
Dave can actually be a really good guy. He’s just badly, badly damaged. It’s really not his fault. Still, living with him was a nightmare!”
Amma, “Oh, MY!”
Driver, “You know, I find as you conquer the stresses and obstacles, your own created dramas in life, the next rounds get tougher and tougher. Like you’ve made it to the next level of Donkey Kong, or something. And I’ll tell you, cab driving is the master class!
Ram Dass calls those challenges, whether they be people or situations, Upa Gurus. And from these, we learn and grow. Dave was definitely one of the biggest Upa Gurus in my life. And it sounds like the drug dealers and homeless who steal from your store may be some of yours, eh?
We pull up in trendy Union Square, and to the curb alongside 447 Sutter and… the Philippine Consulate? Hmm. I KNOW Amma is Thai.
Glowing, Amma first ignores the $14.50 meter to dive into her large colorful Tibetan bag for, something. And in short order, she plops down a black beaded, magnetic hematite bracelet on the center arm rest, adamant.
“Here. You take this. For protection!”
Driver, “Oh! That’s so sweet of you! I’ll keep it in the cab. Thanks!” Adding, “I have to say, though. Lately, what I’ve really been working on, on THIS level of Donkey Kong, is watching my breath. And letting go of stress, and focusing.”
Amma AGAIN dives excitedly into her Tibetan bag. And she pulls out a mustard yellow, mandala-adorned, softball-sized draw-string bag. And from the look and heft of it, there’s a huge geode, or crystal, inside. She hands the bag up to me.
Amma, “Take this, too! It will help you with focus! And attention to breath!”
I note the bag smells like temple incense, and it relaxes me immediately.
With all of my gifts in hand, Amma now takes my hand and shoves a folded up wad of bills into it, which I hadn’t even noticed her extracting from her bag. And Amma folds my fingers over the wad, as looking deep into my eyes, with a goddess-like warmth, and an unconditional love,
“You LIVED with DAVE!?”
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Photo by Alex SacK
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