TW: discussion of suicide.
People are hungry. It awakens after midnight and gnaws at them. Masks come off. Those insatiable needs drive them like voracious sheep.
I dropped a guy at SFO to catch the red-eye. He told me, ‘All cities are the same.’ He’d traveled the world and said they are interchangeable. Indistinguishable. That’s a lot of baby birds wanting food.
Everyone seeks a friend. Whatever your personal definition of ‘friendship’ might be.
At that hour, people wander the streets, stripped of dignity, clothes, pretense... Everything bared.
The pregnant woman I dropped at the hospital didn’t tip me. That’s okay. She had other things on her mind. No chatting about the Giants. Just ‘get me to Frisco General.’ Nothing mysterious there.
Most of the obvious appetites cover a deeper, unnamed hunger. Getting real ain’t pretty. The sun sets and the invisible pours forth. Guys from out of town wave money in my face. They want me to ferry them to a fantasy land which meets their every need.
Good luck with that. I’m a cab driver, not their personal Genie. I don’t grant wishes. I deliver them to a geographical location. What their imaginations conjure is of no interest to me. Conversation is optional.
What does Katie do to fill that void? She’s a regular. Calls me at closing to pick her up, most nights. She works at a massage parlor. She’s young. Pretty. Doesn’t talk. Tips well. Bet she knows about insatiable hunger though. Have to ask her some night.
My girlfriend, Linda, is an ER nurse. Nights are busy. I won’t tell you the stuff she’s seen. I took this job so our schedules would match. Some nights she works a double. Others, she gets off early. You never know. It works for us, for now.
One night I brought some of the drivers to our apartment to play Risk. I was about to conquer Australia when Linda burst from the bedroom and ripped everyone a new one. She’d an early night and wanted to sleep. I’m supposed to know? Anyway, a short game. She and I laughed our heads off at the guys’ expressions when she flew out of the bedroom like a banshee. She’s cool.
I live on tips and save my paychecks to return to school. Awaiting inspiration. Cabbing isn’t my dream job, but it is an education.
Tips are okay. But people will stiff you. Another driver, Jake, dropped a fare at SFO. Airport runs are gravy. People like getting there on time. The fare came to $19.80. The guy tossed him a twenty and said, ‘keep the change.’ My friend got out and threw the twenty cents at the guy. Everyone ducked. Jake followed up with his double-barreled opinion on how his cheap suit matched his measly character.
Picked up my last fare of the night. He directs me to the Golden Gate and rides in silence. I can’t get a read on him. He’s jumpy. Local or tourist? Homeless? Can’t tell. Why does anyone go to the Golden Gate Bridge at 2am?
He starts up. “So you’re a pool ball. You and your fourteen closest friends fill the rack. Men, women, solids and stripes. Life knocks you around. You bump into someone. Get close. Things happen. There’s distance. Might never see them again. One by one, they drop off. ‘Til you’re alone.”
I’m wondering, what’s his angle? Anyone still play pool? Did he lose someone?
He taps my shoulder, and grinning lopsided, shows me this eight ball he carries. Lifted off some table.
“This is me. Need a tattoo. Less baggage.”
“What about the cue ball? Or the cue? Or the one taking aim?”
“Whatever. No difference. Endless, non-stop pain. Sooner or later, everyone ends up in a pocket. Game over.”
I pointed at the bridge and slowed.
He said, “Keep driving.”
We shoot through the tolls and onto the bridge. Traffic is heavy but steady.
“Yeah, beautiful.” Distracted.
Half-way point, he tapped my shoulder. “What do I owe you? Pull over. I want to get out.”
“No can do. Illegal.”
He started yelling. “I’m paying you to stop, man. I want out. Now!” He fiddled with the door handle. But he’s bluffing. I kept with the flow. He punched the seat back. “Stop the car! I’ll pay the stupid fine. I want out.”
“Chill man. I’ll drop you on the far side. Easy walk. Pain’s almost over.”
Seething, he slumped into the seat.
I said, “A weird little fact, you know this is the world’s most popular suicide site?”
“A lot of dead romantics. I forget how many, but averaging one per week, for ninety years.”
“Takes about four seconds to hit the water – at about 85.”
“Hmm, that’s fast.”
“Like running into freeway traffic.”
“The Grand Prix, into the curve.”
“Got hit by a car once. Not fun.” He stayed silent. “How many times you think a jumper changes their mind in those four seconds?”
“Your pause lasted about four seconds.”
“It might seem like a good idea at the time. But once they’re airborne… They struggle into a position they hope allows a chance to survive.” He looked out the window. “It’s only water, right? But at that speed, they might as well be hitting the sidewalk.” I made it personal. “If you stay conscious, and you’re not paralyzed, you might out-swim the currents and sharks and get to the bridge. Hope someone finds you.” He shifted. “I heard about one guy who survived. Beat the odds and landed exactly right.”
“Never thought about that.”
“Very pretty on the way down, but landing could be painful.”
“Drowning’s scary too.”
We approached the end of the bridge.
“Been to Sausalito?”
“Little marina town. Tourist trap. Should be an open coffee shop… Or in Mill Valley.”
“Didn’t Kerouac mention Sausalito?”
“Yeah. It’s changed. Been there?”
“Never crossed the bridge.”
“There’s a whole world out there. Frisco is one painted lady who needs a facelift.”
“Never knew where to go.”
“Marin is beautiful, man. I work in the city, but my free time’s in Marin. Seen Muir Woods?”
“A piece of heaven. The trees are beyond beautiful. Whole new perspective. Some want something to end. But changing it might work better.”
“How do I get there?”
“You take me?”
I checked the time. My shift was over. Sun would be up soon.
“How much it worth to you?”
He threw thirty dollars on the seat. “All I got.”
“They’re closed ‘til morning. Just you and the banana slugs.”
“They don’t scare me. Like it quiet.”
I turned the meter off and scooped up the money. “This more than covers your fare. I’m off the clock. I’ll get you there. One way.”
“How do I get back?”
I gave him his change. “Who knows? After seeing the Woods, you’ll want to stay.”
We made a pit stop. I bought gas before heading up the mountain to the park. He slept. I pulled into the deserted lot and texted Linda my location and ETA. She’s cool.
At that time of day, there is an immense silence as the light creeps up. He awoke with the birds, stepped out and stretched. His shoes grinding the dirt were the only sound, but for chirping.
“This is it?”
“Take your time. Clear your head. Reboot.”
“I’ll nap a bit. You want to ride back, catch me before ten.”
He nodded and wandered off. I adjusted the seat and snoozed.
I awoke to his tapping on my window. The lot was full. We grabbed coffees.
“Can you drop me in Mill Valley? I heard there’s jobs. I need a reboot.”
He didn’t talk about the park. I could tell he’d changed. Found some peace.
I got home, showered and changed before taking Linda to our favorite dinner spot. Needed catching up. Desperately need a break. Time up in the forest.
I dropped her at the hospital and hit the road in time to feed that midnight hunger.