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The Sins of Our Passengers

[whitespace] By Mort Weinstein

San Francisco is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week live stage show, and driving a cab here is a lot like being part of the city's backstage crew. The passengers comprise the city's promoters, producers, directors, writers, cast, crew and audience.

I drive at night; my shift starts around 4:30pm and ends 10 hours later. Throughout the evening about 25 fares of one to five passengers make up the content of the show. These vignettes range from funny to tragic, strange to bizarre, charming to dangerous. Some are more memorable than others; you never know how things will evolve.

My first night driving in the city was quite an initiation. On a balmy, cloudless September night at about 11pm, while driving through North Beach, a very attractive couple in their early 30s flagged me down at Broadway and Montgomery. They were slightly intoxicated and obviously enamored with each other. I had KFOG on the radio, and the DJ had just cued up a Stevie Ray Vaughan tune.

The couple cuddled up in the back seat of my Ford Crown Victoria. The woman said, "Oh, God I love this song, driver, please turn it up." I obliged. They told me their destination, the ANA Hotel. As I headed toward the hotel, I looked in the rearview mirror just as the woman's head dropped from her companion's shoulder and sank out of view into his lap.

I heard a zipper open, and as I looked back in the mirror again, I saw the guy's head roll back, his eyes closed, and a low moaning sound permeated the cab. The sex show intensified to its, uh, climax just as I reached the hotel. They straightened up and paid me, including a generous tip.

One of the city's more uniquely colorful events every October is the Folsom Street Fair, the gay sadomasochistic community's version of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. This year, the event fell on the hottest Sunday in more than 25 years, with temperatures nearing 100 degrees.

My shift began with a fare from Pacific Heights to the airport. The taxi queue at SFO was moving fast, so I decided to stay and pick up a fare back into the city. As I pulled up in line at the United terminal, the starter loaded a family of tourists into the car.

The couple's nine-year-old, tow-headed, freckle-faced son wanted to sit up front with me so he could see the skyline as we entered the city. I asked the couple where they're from, and they told me that they just arrived from Kansas City.

These are the kind of folks whose itinerary is San Francisco for a day and then Disneyland, and that's California, end of story. They are booked into the Parc 55, and the best way to their hotel is to come into the city through SOMA. I realized that I was going to have to cross through the fair. As I reached Folsom Street, the light turned red and a parade of fair-goers began to cross in front of my cab. As the crosswalk jammed with revelers, right in front of us was a nude man with only the adornment of an in-use cock ring.

The little boy's chin dropped just south of his solar plexus as the mother's hands wrapped around his eyes, leaving both psychological and physical fingerprints on the kid's head. The mother then proceeded to go off on a tangent explaining that the reason California has floods, fires and earthquakes is because of all the sinners.

Over the last few months I have witnessed the visceral smorgasbord that is San Francisco. From contestants in Tuesday Tranny Night at the Stud, to band members playing at Chet Helm's Summer of Love Fest in the park, to the never-ending stream of business people and technogeeks, San Francisco constantly demonstrates its tolerance and invitation to let your freak flag fly, and I, for one, wouldn't have it any other way.

Well, I gotta go now. Tonight's show is about to begin ...

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From the March 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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