'Here Is a Man Who Stood Up'
By Gary Singh
WITH CINEQUEST officially upon us, everybody will be talking about movies for the next 11 days, so allow me to channel one of the most delightfully screwed-up characters in film history: Travis Bickle from the movie Taxi Driver. In my humble opinion, Robert De Niro's portrayal of a pathological cab man raging against the scum of society is right up there with the best of 'em.
That movie is on my mind due to a recent incident in a downtown bar in which a young female acquaintance of mine asked me for a favor. The womanwe'll call her Irishad accidentally left her personal journal as well as her passport in a taxi the night beforehand. The driver had found her number on the inside cover of the journal and called her. It turned out the scumbag was cold-bloodedly trying to extort 20 bucks out of her before returning the goods. She had agreed to meet him in front of the Fairmont at midnight and she asked me to accompany her for protection. She was visibly distraught at the situation and I was visibly enraged that this lowlife would try and bilk $20 out of a young woman. I wanted to "take on" the scum of society. I felt like I was transplanted into Taxi Driver, where Travis Bickle tries to rescue a pubescent Jodie Foster from the dregs of prostitution. It was my duty to help Iris get her stuff back. So I went with her to meet the lowlife bastard.
We approached the Fairmont, only to have a strange, lanky African American man suddenly appear from nowhere. This was midnight on a Monday, so the area was pretty much deserted. He walked up and said that he had an empty room up in the hoteland that Iris and I could use it if we wanted. He kept mentioning that "his girls" weren't around. I tried to ignore him, but he persisted, insisting that we use the room. I gestured for him to go away and we continued toward the other side of the Fairmontthe intersection of Paseo de San Antonio, right near the Grill on the Alley. The man continued to yell at us as we left.
I eventually would up lurking at the outdoor railing of the Grill on the Alley while Iris met up with the cab driver at the street. He appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent. He held up her journal and said, "Is this yours?" She said yes and he handed it to her. Then he held up the passport and waved it in the air, taunting her, but she grabbed it out of his hands. I jumped into the fray, intentionally overdramatized the situation, exploded in his face and verbally assaulted him at high volume. "You're done!" I yelled. "She's not going to give you any money. That's it. You're done." I never gave him a chance to respond and I kept saying, "This is finished. She's not paying you any money. Forget it." He kept trying to ask for the 20 bucks, but I never let him get a word in edgewise.
Eventually he gave up. "This is bullshit," he finally said, in a whimpering sort of tone, knowing he had lost and we had won. I motioned for Iris to get on her bike and leave, which she did. I then told the guy to go sit in his cab in front of the hotel like he was supposed to do. And he did. I felt a crazed sense of accomplishment.
I tried to search out the lanky African American man to explain that I wasn't a pimp and that I was just trying to help the lovely Iris get her stuff back. But he was nowhere to be found.
Afterward, I met Iris back at the bar to make sure she was OK. Over at the Fairmont, the row of taxis sat empty as the desolation of downtown San Jose at 1am on a Monday began to set in. but it didn't matter. I had rescued Iris from this mess and Travis Bickle would have been proud.
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