Well, what to say? It’s been a smoky week hacking these San Francisco streets. Real fire and brimstone stuff. Having avidly watched all of the news prior, the relentless reports on the onslaught of hurricanes, floods, mass shootings, Katrina Part II, Iran, North Korea, the NFL and well, him, I figured that California was SURELY cued up for ‘The Big One.’ And that I would soon be famous, via some iconic footage of one Citizen’s Cab #1015 as it careens and flies off of a collapsing deck on the Bay Bridge and into The Bay, in a 9.3.
Alas, The Four Horsemen are just warming up now, with a little hellfire an hour north in wine country. Stories of tragedy and loss, of communities coming together, first responder heroism, and a criminally negligent government decision to withhold mass alerts in Sonoma. (Followed by continued inadequate communications with potential evacuees, vis-à-vis the rapidly moving fires, their newest trajectories, and updated info on the open roads to safety.)
Also buried in the chaos, obscured behind the rubble of ‘Peanuts’ creator Charles Schulz’ Santa Rosa home with the scorched personal memorabilia of all things Snoopy – not safe in the museum, is an under-reported disaster that your driver would like to bring to your attention.
I would ask you to pray for the pot farmer.
You see, the blaze has hit at peak harvest season right in the heart of one of the nation’s largest production zones for cannabis. A $21 billion economy in California. And one not eligible for relief via crop and fire insurance, or FEMA aid. They say that even the plants which have not burned (yet) will be ruined by disease, mold and mildew, from exposure to ash. (Who knew?)
All the above said, how is YOUR apocalypse experience progressing?
(If you’re reading this cab report, I’ll assume you at least still have internet.)
I’m headed west on Market, currently stopped at a red in the inside bus/taxi-lane just before Van Ness. I’m rockin’ it with the windows all down, trying to ignore day five in the fishbowl of wood fire-smoke and ash that is now San Francisco. (This, between welcome shifts in the wind, however sparse, which temporarily clears the air.) I’ve been getting passengers all week throwing me some not so subtle cues, rolling up their window and then reaching across the back seat to roll up the other one. (As if this accomplishes anything with both of the front windows down.) Yeah, yeah. It is advised to close all of the windows in the taxi, and set the air to “recycle” to mitigate the smoke. But, it makes me claustrophobic.
Oh. Did I mention? There’s a Yellow cab adjacent me in the outside lane. And a woman flagging from across Van Ness. We await the green.
But, this isn’t one of those “ZOOM!” “SWERVE!!” “SCREECH!!!” cabbie moments. No. Yellow was ahead of me on the run, he’s positioned for the kill, and I’m in a high road kinda mood. (Something in the smoke?)
The light turns. And a forty-something Janet begins bouncing on the tippy-toes of her fashionable pink Nike’s, as waving her hand high, vehemently, her brown pony tail swishing fierce and ample belly jiggling wildly in a way too-tight black leotard. Janet is punctuating her look today, with bright hot pink lipstick and BIG pink rhinestone-studded sunglasses.
I slow, to trail behind Yellow, in the event he plays this fish catch and release. And…
He DOES!! Yellow slows, then drives PAST Janet! Dissing her!
Well, one man gathers what another man spills.
I ZOOM!, SWERVE!! and SCREECH!!! over to the corner to secure Janet, lest some other Yellow bitch fly in out of nowhere and steal my dinner.
And an exuberant Janet, sweet, soft disposition, pops in back and in a cutesy voice thanks me for stopping.
Janet, “Thank you SO much for stopping! I’m SO happy right now!!”
Jeez. It’s just a cab ride, lady.
Janet, directing, “473 Alvarado in Noe Valley, please.”
Driver marks his waybill and merges back onto Market, as Janet gets chatty.
Janet, “YES! I just got out of jury duty for the next YEAR, driver! I told them that I need to take care of my mother, full time. She has Alzheimer’s. But, I COULD have used another excuse, if it came to it. You see, I have chronic pain all over my body, from getting beat up a bunch of times in The City.”
Suddenly, unprompted, as fixated on working the lights, I find myself confronted with a hideous, badly mangled hand RIGHT IN MY FACE, doing its best impression of a bonsai tree, with broken fingers healed at contorted 90 degree angles, off in every which direction.
Janet, sitting forward in her seat, her hand staying the course, waving in my face as I drive, “I’ve torn ligaments, broken ribs, shattered my pelvis, broken all of my fingers. Had several bad concussions. And I STILL get dizzy spells. I could have NEVER done jury duty. My condition makes it impossible for me to sit down for any period of time. And it’s all from getting beaten up so many times around town.”
Huh?? How does a person never sit???
Wait. What’s with all of the beatings?!?
Driver, “Uh, maybe you should consider moving to another city?”
Janet, “Actually, I HAVE been thinking about it.”
I check the rear view, to catch a contemplative Janet.
Driver, “So, uh, exactly WHERE do you keep getting beat up? And why??”
Janet, “Oh. Well, the FIRST time was at 28th & Church.”
Driver, “Uh, that’s kind of an odd spot to get beat up. Noe Valley?? There’s no crime there. What happened??”
Aside: Noe Valley (where Janet is currently headed, by the way) where she was “FIRST” beat up is white bread central. Techies turned forty, now at that stage in life where they’ve risen into management down at Apple, and cashed-in enough stock to buy that multi-million dollar Victorian the insides of which they’ve renovated with glass, steel, and concrete to a sterile hip-chic. A Victorian accessorized with a girl-next-door beautiful stay at home mom, currently pregnant with baby number two, and aided by the Mexican nanny with baby number one and walks to the neighborhood Whole Foods.
Janet, “Well, I was just walking down Church. I’d just gotten my nails done. And they said I disrespected them. Because I didn’t talk to them. And then, they jumped me. They punched me to the ground, and then started kicking me and stomping on me. Broke my ribs. Broke my fingers. Gave me a concussion.”
Driver, “JEEZ! Didn’t anybody help??”
Janet, nonchalant, “Oh, yeah. The women from the nail salon came out and pulled them off of me.”
Driver, “Wow! That’s crazy! Uh, well, what about the other times you got beat up??”
I check the rear view. Janet suddenly gets serious, sits up and leans forward, and with her demented paw grabs the headrest of the shotgun seat to brace herself.
Janet, “Well, driver. You MAY not recognize me. But, I am famous. You’ve VERY LIKELY heard of me, though! I am the one they named the law after that made gay conversion therapy illegal! I was the one who stopped the monsters from trying to CURE people of being homosexual!!”
Janet, continuing, grave, “For years I gave talks, traveling the world, enlightening people to the evils of conversion therapy. I was famous. People asked for my autograph. And one day, a man at one of my talks approached me afterwards and engaged me. I thought he was just a fan, at first. A groupie. We became romantically involved.
But after a while, Dr. Frank started to play with my mind. And things got crazy from there. It turned out he had been stalking me, and he had attended many of my talks. And once he got his hooks in, he began GROOMING me. Dr. Frank had secret plans to convert me into a LESBIAN!! I have a high IQ, though. And my mind is strong. He could NEVER convert me!
As the relationship grew, however, I ended up going on the road as an aid to Dr. Frank! But he was giving talks to promote, and performing therapy for, the conversion of HETEROSEXUALS into GAY!!!
Dr. Frank was a VERY confident and compelling man. He had fanatical followers. And was VERY controlling. But, he could NOT convert ME!!”
Like a switch, Janet flips back into original easy-going Janet, as she digs out her cell phone, with, “Hey! You want to see a picture of him?? He was a big man, wore women’s clothes most of the time, a BIG Tina Turner wig, pearls, miniskirt, stilettos. I’ve got a picture of him right here!”
Driver, one eye on the road, the other glancing at Janet’s cell pic of Dr. Frank, “Wait. That’s REALLY a thing?? Gays trying to convert HETEROs? I thought that was just some right wing nut bag Christian conservative boogeyman myth meant to scare people.
I mean, I’ve seen that viral video of that gay Christian therapist dude showing off his methods for curing the gay, by curling up in another man’s lap getting hugged, and whacking the shit out of an ottoman with a tennis racket while screaming ‘MOMMY! MOMMY!! WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME, MOMMY!!!‘ at the top of his lungs.
Really, there’s people out there promoting conversions of hetero to gay???”
Janet, “YES!! It’s been going on since the ’80’s! It’s still conversion therapy. But, straight to gay is NOT illegal!! But, I have seen to it that trying to convert gays to straight is. My boyfriend, Dr. Frank, was one of the TOP people in the field. He’s been doing it since 1987.
So, like I was saying, Dr. Frank liked to dress in women’s clothing, dresses, wigs, makeup, everything! And to try and turn me lesbian, he would play mind tricks with me. he would get his followers to dress up like him, and try and tell me that they WERE Dr. Frank! But, they would be WOMEN!!! And when I would go to bed with Dr. Frank at night, and we would be laying in bed going to sleep, he would have someone else come into the bedroom in the middle of the night, dressed as HIM! And he would switch places in bed, to try and TRICK me! Into SEX!! With a WOMAN!!! But, I always KNEW it wasn’t Dr. Frank!
He was VERY smart. But like I said, I ALSO have a high IQ! But, also like I said, Dr. Frank was VERY controlling. He would fly into a rage at times, as a means of psychological control. And he would try to get me wrapped around the idea that I BELONGED to him. He would tell me often that my… my… GENITALS BELONGED TO HIM! ‘That pussy is MINE!’ he’d say, all the time.
Once, when we were in Golden Gate Park, though. I jokingly went to get away from him. He was VERY rich. But, for some reason he wanted to camp in the park. We slept in his car a lot, too. Anyway, JUST joking, I took two steps back from him. And he PICKED me up OVER HIS HEAD and BODY-SLAMMED me to the GROUND!!!
I broke more ribs, another concussion, that’s when I shattered my hip. I spent WEEKS in the hospital. I almost DIED!!”
Driver, “Well, how DID you finally get away from Dr. Frank!”
Janet, “That was it! He had to go on the road for another conversion therapy tour. And I was laid up in the hospital. THAT was my escape!
After all of the trauma I experienced at the hands of Dr. Frank, I have to try and not be homophobic now. I DO think people have a right to love whoever they want.”
And with this, we pull up on Janet’s nicely kempt three-story Victorian (that her Alzheimer’s mother likely owns?) on quiet Alvarado Street in well-to-do Noe Valley. And with a warm smile, Janet notes the $10.65 meter and hands me up $12.
As I turn to accept the payment, our eyes meet, there’s a sparkle, and Janet all at once BURSTS!
“Hey!! Is your name Mike??? Mike was another boyfriend of mine! OH MY GOD!! You sound JUST like MIKE!!!”
Not-Mike, definitely NOT MIKE, “Uh, no… My name is Alex.”
Janet, blushing, as she opens her door to exit, “Oh! Just a coincidence, I guess. Okay.” She beams, “Have a good day!”
I take a deep breath, to process this ride. I feel somehow, lightheaded. And as the smoke clears my mind, I shrug and throw up my hands… and strategize. Hmm.
A straight shot up the hill and then just a quick jaunt down, into the thick of Janet’s fire, the heavily foot-trafficked Castro district. What my kid calls, “Gaytown.”
Please SHARE if so inclined, folks!
Photo by Alex SacK
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