Sunday, October 25, 2015

I’m Going to Be a Little Late

Being in the hospital for a week had stressed me out. Sure there were the physical things, the could-have-died –from-sepsis nightmare and the accumulated bills and all the usual. But there was also the overwhelming financial panic of missing (another) full week of work. Rents in the Bay never cease to rise and ours had just gone up a stomach-clenching $200 a month. We pay crazy money for a shoebox one bedroom and count ourselves lucky to have it – wheelchair accessible* and pet friendly are rare attributes. (*When movers aren’t blocking the elevators which they were today. Both elevators. Both times I needed to make use of one this morning. Score an added 18 minutes of wait time.)

Last night I had trouble going to sleep. I was worried about my physical stamina to return to my commute, excited to be out in the world again, and looking forward to catching up with my work friends. The hospital marks are fading fast, a few yellowing bruises from failed vein sticks, a delight in flavorful food that also contains nutrition. But it never occurred to me to dread what really happened: a complete public transportation meltdown.

Having consulted a Sunday bus schedule I thought I had to be at my stop by 9:25 am to make the right bus to the right train – arriving on time after time away feels important to me. So I am hustling, walking the dog, taking my pills, packing some food, eating breakfast, all going well. I get to the bus stop at 9:21 – Sweet!! But then I check and find out my bus must have already started the route and passed me by, because the next one isn’t for 29 minutes. Crap.

Ok, let’s take advantage of this sudden time gap. I turn around and wheel back up the block to Grocery Outlet, grabbing some snacks for the week ahead at work, a frozen entrĂ©e or two, a large volume of healthy drinks to help me flush these poor kidneys of mine. It’s Sunday morning, still early, so there’s one line open and we’re all sprawled back towards the freezer case waiting to check out. My partner texts and offers me a ride, which I enthusiastically say yes to! Time in the car with my baby in the morning is a lovely way to get going and gives me a few more minutes with her in a work day that contains too few of them.

I wait by our car and then she loads my wheelchair in. At the last minute before she drops me at the Ashby BART I think to check on the state of the elevators – there’s a number to text to find out which elevators are out of service. This can prevent the heartache of being dropped off at a station that proves useless because I can’t get to the train platform! It is no guarantee that my arrival destination will indeed have working elevators, but it is a helpful guide. The response text informs me that Powell Station has BOTH elevators out – there will be no exiting at the closest station to work. I’ll have to go one station further than wheel uphill up four blocks. 

Going up hills usually means pushing myself in my wheelchair using my feet – going backwards. Obviously if a street is too crowded, or too crooked, or has uneven paving or too many signboards I can’t do this. But for a Sunday I don’t expect crowds and usually the City is a wee bit quiet as I arrive to start the day. Ok, first hurdle, and it’s one I can handle.

The train pulls in at Montgomery Station and I am psyched. I’ve texted with some friends, checked Facebook, listened to my book for almost forty minutes and I am in the zone. I am even smug about being a knowledgeable & experienced wheelchair commuter, able to choose the precise train car that puts me in the best place for the train transfer and then for the elevator once I arrive at my destination. Knowing the individual station layouts is key – some stations require me to push myself the full length of the platform, a full city block, to get from the platform elevator to the street elevator so I can conserve my energy for the push to work by making smart choices in advance. Plus I need a car with not too many bikes (they often block the doors and make it unsafe for me should I need to evacuate a car), no one else in a wheelchair in the designated spot (only one of us fits per open train car door), and general BART rider considerations like yelling people or super stench or sticky floors.

So I get off the train and turn to my left with only one car length to push before the elevator takes me up off the platform. I look up and see that the doors are open and waiting for me – awesome! But look, there’s something on the ground and it really looks like pee. I slow down just in time to avoid a rush of water cascading down the front of the open doors. I just keep watching, rather stunned, as it becomes clear that more liquid is pouring down through the elevator shaft, and there’s just too much of it to be someone taking a leak into the elevator door jam (which happens – often). I hit the button to call the Station Agent. One time, two times, third try someone picks up. I tell him about what I’m seeing and he says he’ll be right down to look. As I wait more drops come through the shaft in front of the now closed doors. There’s a puddle of water on the floor I’ll have to roll through and get all over my wheels to enter the elevator if he says it is safe. Plus there’s a steady sprinkle still falling, so mystery liquid will hit my head, shoulders, arms. I’m bracing as if I was about to get doused in the Thieves Downfall during a caper through Gringotts.

The station agent arrives, takes one look, and says “I’ve never seen anything like this before!” He looks up, staring into the darkness from which drops occasionally still splatter. The elevator doors open again, revealing another puddle, right next to a great big patch of piss. He shakes his head and says that he has to close the elevator. I say something like, “nothing personal, but BART sucks as a commuter.” He replies something like “And you know they have the money! They want to extend the lines down to San Jose and grab up all that tech money but they aren’t fixing the system at all! Then people get mad at us!” I told him that a friend who now drives trains for BART has told me hair-raising stories of her days as a station agent. We sit there for a second, he’s apologized for how rough this is on me, we moan about Powell being out. He suggests I get back on a train and go to Embarcadero but that means more than a half mile all up hill to get to work and that’s beyond my capabilities today.  We decide Civic Center is a better destination. Just as we break apart from our somehow uplifting moment of mutual humanity a man in an electric scooter gets off the train behind us and realizes he cannot use the elevator. He starts yelling, full throated yells, first at the BART employee and then at me, telling me to fuck off for not being angry at the guy. I said I was furious with BART but this man was not the focus, cause or scapegoat for my frustration. This sets irate white guy off even further and he sets off, following the agent down the platform. The agent turns around and looks me in the eye, and says something like “That made me mad, that he cursed at you.” I said “Me too.”

Irate guy in a power chair follows the agent all the way to the escalator. Then he comes back for me, where I sit alone on the platform. He comes right at me, and for a split second I had the terrifying thought that he meant to crash into me and send me & my chair down onto the tracks. He swerves just in time, yelling that I am a fucker and an asshole for not being angry. I assure him I am angry. His noise disappears off behind me, I can’t see where he is off to. So I nervously wait for the next train, relieved to get further away.

The train whisks me a few stops away to one I’ve never used before in a wheelchair. My anxiety level is really high about this – did I mention that my Clipper card said “See Agent” when I tried to enter, but there was no agent working at Ashby on a Sunday morning so I was technically turnstile jumping, having let myself in via the swinging emergency door. Was I going to have to explain all this to a possible pissed off BART agent to exit this station? I’ve been dressed down pretty intensely by BART agents unwilling to accept my stories of equipment failures, etc.

The door opens to the platform elevator and, you guessed it, it’s sporting a nice warm pee puddle. I know it’s warm cause I can feel some seep through the back of my biking gloves as my wheels turn through it. Lovely. But here we go, getting out of the underground where I have been trapped, that’s a good thing, right? After exiting I do a trim little circle, pee tracks glistening on the floors, and press the call button for the station agent. One time, 6 rings, no answer. Try again. Third try and a voice behind me says “What’s up?” I turn around to see a BART employee looking at me. I gesture to the pee (which I have since photographed during the wait to speak to someone). He mumbles an apology and has athe grace to look a little sheepish about it. I ask him for directions to the elevator that will take me to the street. It’s about a city block away, basically the length of the platform, and I groan at this news. But okay, getting close to fresh air and freedom! I have no idea where I will be on the city grid once that elevator brings me up into the sunshine, but it’s better to be up there problem-solving then be stuck down here in this urine soaked purgatory.

I put my back into it and push hard, rolling fast over the stone floors. Again the doors part just as I arrive – to reveal a woman bent down on the floor, scrambling at her multiple bags, some of which seem at the point of collapse or disintegration. She looks up and says “Sorry” as she continues to clock the entrance, then gets it all together and steps away.  There’s lots of trash on the floor but the only pee is a small puddle in the corner, I don’t have to roll in it – BONUS! The doors close and that’s when the scent of human feces whaps me in the face. I think it’s in (wrapped in? hidden under? the bulging newspaper on the floor, but I am not going to confirm or deny this guess. I try and hold my breath and the doors open and I breath the fresh air of…the farmer’s market. I’ve come above ground at Civic Center in the middle of the food vendor end of the market and it smells amazing. Dosas and crepes and all kinds of good smells wash over me as I wait for the station agent to pick up again (my own personal rules for riding the BART are simple: if there is a mess in the elevator I will report it, every time. And if I get pee on me during a ride I don’t pay for it. Seems fair to me.)
Now, where am I? I glance at the Muni map but it’s not much help. I’m right on Market Street and the sign for Seventh is at my back, so it’s a mostly downhill roll towards work at Third & Market-ish. Am I strong enough to make that push, just under half a mile? I‘m going to try. I slowly roll through the people picking pumpkins out at stalls, queuing up for treats and vegetables and all the things I wish I was perusing instead of going to work.

At the edge of the farmer’s market the crowd abruptly shifts. Now I’m in the midst of the San Francisco that Mayor Ed Lee is trying to eradicate before the national eye of the upcoming Super Bowl falls upon the homeless and the addicted in huge encampments all around the flush offices of Twitter and the like. People are moving slow, blinking in the morning sun and getting moving with no real direction. I weave through and as I head towards the intersection my foot catches the back of a guy’s heel. He takes a moment to scream “You’re in a wheelchair man – you stop and wait for me” in my face but I hide in the audio blanket of my headphones, still playing my book, and keep moving. Now it hits me I might be in some trouble. It’s not as downhill as I thought and I’m going to get a workout going almost half a mile. And I’m not in a safe place. And there are needles and feces and unidentifiable things that want to stick to my chair and oh god, I want to not be here and I am too tired. So I start looking for a place where a cab can pick me up. 

Yes I said cab, not Uber, not Lyft. They aren’t required to take passengers in wheelchairs; they consider themselves exempt from those legal requirements. I mean hey, they’re just an app, right? No employees, no rules! So I’ll use another app, Flywheel, to summon a proper licensed city cab that is legally required to take my ass. And my chair. And if they do it as effortlessly as they have in the past I will tip like a baller.

So one more block, to turn onto Golden Gate across from the theatre and find an empty curb spot where a cab can load me in, away from the bikes and trolleys and buses and confusion of Market Street. I worked as a driver in the city for one of the driving services I can’t use any more, so I know how to plan this. Proud of my resilience, I take out my phone, open the app, type in careful directions (“right side of curb, directly before stoplight, etc.”) and watch the app fairies summon my pumpkin coach. Who does not arrive. Who calls to say he can’t find me and is cancelling my ride.  Just as the second driver is making the exact same phone call, saying that he cannot see me even though the app says he is just down the block, it’s not worth it to him, he’s going to cancel too, I hear someone behind me scream. Now obviously I have already heard some screaming today, so perhaps this shouldn’t make me jump, but it’s a woman’s guttural voice, she’s behind me in my blind spot (no rearview mirrors on these things) and clearly running at me at high speed. Eyes wide I see her jump into the air and use a volleyball-spike type gesture to bat a startled pigeon out of the air. The bird lands on its side at my feet, just into the gutter, and looks up, feathers ruffled and now limping away.

I crack.

I pull out my phone and call my partner and as her phone rings (only twice, she knows I am having a below average adventure) I start crying. Not little sniffs either, sobs that would humiliate me at another time. I just can’t hold it together and I tell her all of it. I can hear her voice clench and I feel awful for scaring her, but I need the company, advice and reassurance. 

I look down at the ground and see wheel tracks in a stale pile of shit. Whew, not mine. I tell her where I am and that I don’t feel safe. I can’t think of three times I have ever said this, total, in my life. Not in New York, not in Oakland, not in Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Athens, Islamabad. Yes, that time in Karachi with the tear gas but rarely outside of that. She clocks where I am and tells me to get out of there. Promising to call her in two blocks of less, I hang up and roll. 

In two blocks I am in a different world. I can hear amplified music and some clapping and shouting, see some sort of stage erected at the edge of the Union Square area. I get closer and realize I am seeing a huge street installation celebrating MAC makeup, with heavily made up attendants of many genders pulling people into chairs for makeup tips and product demos.  I call my lover back to reassure her that I have survived. And then I keep rolling. 

Past the Flood Building where her good friend has the most gorgeous office that he careful decorates with fresh flowers every week, to create a vibrant space for therapy work with his clients. Past the open door of the Doc Marten’s store, which lets out the distinct smell of leather – I inhale deeply and think of better times. Each happy thing I text to my partner, determined to find my way back to the optimism that returned after leaving the hospital three days ago. A fierce femme punk poet passes me and we nod to each other. We were both in the same show once, or performing at the same event, I’m not sure, but that little nod makes me feel human and visible again. 

Now I am at the Powell Street elevator, closed for repairs for two days twelve days ago. Home stretch now, this is my usual route. Through the construction chute, sidewalk temporarily carved out by fences alongside the big dig, past the tourists stopping obliviously to stare down into the soil of the city while the rest of us scramble to get around them.  Quick decision – go backwards uphill one block and work out my legs? Or rest my creaky knee and go the longer route forwards using upper body power? I want to use my walker to practice standing later, so I go with the upper body workout. Now it’s really familiar territory, I know every cut & curb, every sign and tree root on these blocks. Cross the intersection diagonally, it’s an “all cross” even if the tourists don’t know that and give me funny looks. One more block up a slant, so this one is backwards, kicking hard with my legs and watching reflections in the shop windows to see behind me.  Final turn onto the sleepy high-end shopping street where my job resides – and I’m here. The heavy glass door to the building opens and as I ride the pee-free elevator up to the fifth floor I try not to think about how much work, energy and anxiety just went into getting me all the way across the Bay to answer phones. I try to think about having my rent handled and my sweetie grinning at me. That’s good enough.

I arrive at my desk, one hour late, and clock in. Nine hours later, we’ll try the reverse trip, but I am not going to waste a moment on worrying about that in advance. I’ve got this.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Things I'm Learning About My Poly Heart

  1. Per this excellent, multi-layered infographic of poly styles, especially including their overlap with BDSM I have determined that my primary style is "I'll arrange a gangbang for you and you'll LIKE it."  Thankfully there are plenty of people who will, indeed, like it.
  2. This rant/helpful list of things-not-to-do entitled "I DON’T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT HOW YOU FUCK: OR, YOUR HOT ASS MESS IS NOT MY REVOLUTION" got a lot of conversations going with my friends & lovers.  I've been really angry about personal stories told about butch misogyny, about practicing poly on an "it's alright for me but not ok for you to actually go sleep with someone else" kinda way.  And part of that anger needs to be pointed back at myself for all the times I fall into that trap mentally, listen to the old tapes, tense up about other butches in a way I do not tense up about non-butches.  There's such a scarcity dynamic at work in my head & my heart and sometimes it trips me up just when I'm trying to breathe into a bigger picture.  (To be fair there is a LOT of other stuff mentioned in that great piece, that's just the part I took home.)
  3. Sometimes it's not about the poly.  This past weekend I felt very anxious and focused on a poly situation in my world as the cause.  While there was some old poly PTSD that came up (do NOT get me started about music festivals) what I should have been focusing on was my financial worries exploding in the form of squealing brakes & the search for a new place to live.  All of which was compounded by working too damn much over the weekend and missing out on some social time with friends that I desperately needed.  This is not a recipe for extrovert success and I found myself dwelling on the poly part as the sharp bit that was getting to me.  Was I nervous about a new thing, maybe even a little insecure?  Sure.  But really I needed to breathe, cook myself a real meal, walk the dog and get some other voices in my head.  I was really proud of the way I was able to not go too far down that spiral.  I noticed pretty fast when I started focusing on the process: I should have asked for this, if I'd made this request it would have been better.  It's really never the process (even when sometimes it needs to be addressed).  When I'm focused there it's because I am too scared to just open up, admit my own fears, and take care of myself.
  4. And also, old poly PTSD awaits sometimes.  As gracious, loving & happy as I was to enjoy this adventure when the old stuff came up, sparked by things I could not have seen coming, I felt myself revert to an older version of myself where there was not, could not possibly be, enough.  Now I know I have to watch out vigilantly for that script to go off in my head because that is a tough neighborhood to spend time in my friends.  And the truth is there really is enough, it is different now, I'm learning how to be my own enough.
  5. Write it out.  Talk to people who know you well.  Don't be scared of being scared, sometimes that happens and it is okay.  Feelings are not facts.  And keep breathing.

And I'm back...

I got a little quiet there, more than a little overwhelmed.  Each night driving for Homobiles is an adventure, each night has lines or moments that could be spun into short stories or, ahem, blog posts.  And I'm a little awed by it and at the same time worrying about the practical end of things - driving all over San Francisco for hours on end is hard on your brakes.  And struts. And steering, etc etc.  I love the community service part of it, the connection with random and not-so-random people (I LOVE it when my friends book me!).  Sometimes crazy stuff happens and I think "Can I really write about that?  Will it get me in trouble?"  When telling the stories out loud I catch myself toning it down, sort of underplaying the bizarre carnival that happens in my car most nights.

Sure there's some self-preservation involved.  And not wanting people to be scared for me or worried too much (did THAT post already!).  I'm scrawling down notes as it unfolds and need to sit down and just write my balls off, some of it not intended for public consumption, other bits just needing some time to pass before sharing.  Also, I don't want to just write about Homobiles, even though it is the gateway drug I have been dying for.  It has uncorked me, made the need to write so apparent in my skin that it twitches, makes me hunger for the pen and the keyboard.  I moved to California with the intention of pushing myself to write, to get published, to use my real name or maybe not.  So thank you late night San Francisco for pushing me over the edge.

You want a few moments, a little taste?  Here's two:

Quote from the back seat "Do you mind if we do mushrooms in your car? They're in chocolate so it's not vegan."  The concern was palpably for the use dairy products more than the hallucinogens.  

Monday late night/early morning it is often just me out there and I was running late having mistaken 15th Street for 15th Avenue when agreeing to pick someone up from the ER - a fairly big difference in driving time.  I swing around Dolores Park in the dark, brakes squealing, and pull up to fetch two men and two small children on the way to the airport.  People on airport pickups really don't like to be late.  Nor should they have to be!  So I was very apologetic and just kind of tried to disappear in the traffic flow and music from the speakers.  The guy in the front seat started humming along to an old school Price jam.  We talked music a bit, what's good to listen to at dawn versus earlier in the shift, nice and easy chat.  We pull up at the terminal, they decide to pay with a credit card, I whip out my newly purchased iPhone plug-in for exactly that purpose and open the app, which displays my name across the top.  The guy sitting in my front seat pops out with "Hey, you're Holly Fogleboch, you went to Hampshire."  I stare at his face, shocked and trying to roll back 19 years, and guess wrong (totally embarrassing but not a bad guess, Michael I'll bump into you one night!). He tells me his name, and of course it clicks into place, we've actually been Facebook friends for a while, I just was not looking for him in the front seat of my own car.  He was the first person I saw do really subversive, mindbending drag and his Div III show (Hampshire for senior thesis) has always stayed in the back of my mind.  It was a delight to see him, so I hopped out of the car for a hug.  I look a little more carefully at each face now, presume connection when there might not be any but really, would it take even two degrees to find a link?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Homobiles Quote of the Night (So Far)

One guy standing outside The Stud: How old are you?
Young guy shrugs, twirls his hips, pouts, exhales smoke.
First guy:
I know, that's a hard one isn't it?

Monday, June 4, 2012

a comment on comments

Please do! This is a very personal blog so I've retained approval over comments but I read them all and post most. They mean a lot to me so please, chime in.

Thanks for reading! -Holly

Notes From a Full Moon: A Homobiles Adventure Story

Before the night really got started I received my warning.  I was driving towards Wicked Grounds to drop off some fliers for FetFest and then get rolling on my shift and I cut through an alley, really a small street.  At the end of the block the building met the sidewalk in such a way as to create a blind to my left and I got closer than I should have to a pedestrian.  I was going under the limit, wasn't texting, being careful and still scared her.  She walked behind the car, gave me the stink eye and then as I was rolling down the window to apologize for our (totally legal but still scary) near miss she whacked my car twice with the bag she was carrying.  It was apparently full of tin cans and small rocks from the noise it made.  I was speechless, not angry, but not happy about my car/livelihood/work space getting messed with while at the same time knowing she was reacting from fear.  I drove off, unsure about doing anything, feeling like there was nothing productive to say and just decided that it was my warning from the universe that tonight was going to be special and I needed to keep my head up & eyes clear. (Clear eyes, full heart, can't lose - right Coach?)

Boy howdy was that right.  After an hour of odd interactions, near misses & general chaotic behavior all around me it slowly sunk in - full moon.  Right after the first of the month.  So money to get loaded, buy favors, get extra wasted and the strong pull of the lunar bloom on our animal hearts & bodies - yes, San Francisco was flavorful last night.

There is no way to bottle & share the weird vibe out there last night so I'm going to give you some fortune cookie vignettes.  All quotes are as I remember them.  All stories are true and frankly have been toned down a little because I'm afraid you won't believe me.  But trust me, it was like that.

"And how did that crackhead Marion Barry get re-elected after getting busted?"

He's drunk, sitting on his bicycle, resting his front tire on my car and looking like he might fall off onto my hood at any moment.  I'm parked in front of a bar in the Tenderloin waiting for my passenger to emerge.  There's a sketchy van lurking ahead of me.  He picks up the sign that falls out of my window and waves off the dollar I offer in return.  He says he likes my smile & somehow tells me he's from Philly, I say I'm from DC and of course we're talking about Marion Barry.  My fare doesn't show up, dispatch asks me to go inside, my spidey sense tingling I reply that I'd rather not get out of the car just now.   He says "Good idea."  I concur, and he takes the dollar bills I hand him as I drive off to the next stop.

"It's like you're the sun and I'm the moon and they write songs about us."

He was drunk enough leaving the bar that he didn't quite understand what I was offering at first.  He opened the back door, squinted inside and said "Are you going to preach at me?" Reassuring the drunk Marine looking high & tight guy that I was not about to ex-gay minister to him, he got in & we set off towards his next destination.  After a moment of talking he busts out with "You are like the sun, your smile is so bright and your light is so strong.  I am like the moon, I am beautiful and mysterious and they love me.  But I am nothing without you, I need your light to glow."  Then he confesses that he was loaded (I'd figured that one out) and goes back to singing the praises of the Sun & the Moon.  At the end of the ride he asks how old I am, and it finally dawns on me that he's cruising me.  I tell him I'm 38 and he visibly starts.  Walking across the intersection he shakes his head and yells, "Keep doing whatever you're doing."  I will man, I will.

"Three black men robbed my building. If someone grabs me from the dark honk your horn and don't stop."

This is how he starts the ride.  I am speechless but keep the Jay-Z pumping from the stereo, a little discomfort is all I can offer against his racist blurting. When we get to his building he tells me to defend his honor with my blaring horn.  As he walks the ten steps into the lobby he really looks like he wants someone to jump out of the dark and make all of his fears come true.

"My eyes aren't blue." "I changed it to green." "My eyes aren't green."

You don't get full context on this one.  Only this: a couple taking about karaoke songs sung in each other's honor. And it made me like them a lot.

"Was it the guy with one feather earring or two feather earrings who hit you with the bottle?" "One earring and the hat like the guy from Digital Underground."

A convo outside the club between the door guy, a bar guy, and the one who got clocked. Told you it was intense out there. 

"I love you baby"

Mouthed frequently in a very wasted condition to me by the bartender making the surrounding patrons squint and stare at me.  The ones who read me as male have a very different reaction to the ones who read me as female.  I get out of there, smiling.

"P Street Beach in Washington, DC?"

We're talking about our trips to the East Coast last weekend, he was in DC, I was in North Carolina. He mentions growing up & coming out in DC.  We start talking pre-ball park DC, Nation's and the rest.  He said he was young & coming out as a teeneager in that scene.  I told him I had mc'ed Youth Pride - he mentions Cookie Buffet.  I tell him I mc'ed with Cookie, that I was the Reverend, and he squeals loudly enough that someone on the sidewalk turns their head.  He says he was a teenager with his bio & chosen queer family at those shows in the early 2000s and he cannot wait to tell them he met me.  Once again, moving to the Bay is like the queer family reunion I didn't know I needed.  Later I grab some of my old performance numbers off iTunes, dreaming about maybe dusting off the numbers.  

"Just one look at you, and the world's alright with me."

This one is Bill Withers singing "Lovely Day" and the sun is breaking through the clouds in a little crack of pink in the gray sky and we are flying across the Bay Bridge to SFO and everything is indeed alright.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Adrenaline Rush: An Update from the Cab

I am love love loving driving for Homobiles.  Learning the city by night, meeting all kinds of lovely beings, finding the 24 hour croissant shop, the perfect places to catch the sunrise, it's all been pretty amazing.  I started driving two weeks ago and already there are things that would have been headlines but are now, "oh yeah, that happened too."  Last night I put a dollar into a held-out cup and was greeted with "Nice panties." There was an incredibly drunk visiting sister bemoaning the fact that none of the gay boys at the bar wanted to kiss her, quite perceptive that one.  There were two cell phones left in my seat & reunited with owners,one via Twitter.  And I have plenty more stories to tell.  But there's only one I have to write, so I'm going to tell you that one.

 It has been on my mind lately that no one really knows where I am when I am out driving around the city.  Of course our dispatcher has a general sense of where I am & what I'm doing, and could help me out in some potentially hairy situations.  But I mean a little bigger than that, there is no one in my life who knows when I'm working or when to expect me home, no one to touch base with and say I'm safe after working as what a friend called, "the ferryman of San Francisco's queer nightlife, navigating those waters nightly."  And to be clear, I am a heads-up, paying attention, city-seasoned queer.  I lock my doors when I have the cab light on for paperwork, I keep my head up, I greet people so someone knows me the next time I swing through.  So when I tell you I got scared, really really scared, hear it through my voice as someone who does not scare easily, who trusts in my ability to handle many an intense situation and who does not live in a place of fear.

It was 3 am and the shift was about to change, leaving me the only Homobiles driver on the road for a few hours.  Also, I happened to be dispatching as well as driving for those hours, no one sitting in an office looking over my shoulder, just me, a couple of clipboards and the car.  And San Francisco is still so new for me, I don't recognize "bad neighborhoods," not a concept I put a lot of stock in but still, good to know when welcoming a stranger into your car in the middle of the night.  I didn't need to be told this place was troubled, my hackles went up as soon as I turned onto the block.  This place didn't feel good, that's a vast understatement, this block of houses felt bad, real bad.  It was late enough things were quiet but I had the sense there were folks around (there almost always are if you look closely enough, I'm finding).  The street had ended abruptly and dumped me in what was almost a cul de sac but I was pretty sure I could see an exit in front of me. But the lines of sight were all messed up and I had a little voice yelling at me the way you do when a character in a scary movie does something stupid.  So I locked the doors and texted my friend & fellow driver that something was setting my spidey sense off.  She was moving towards home in the East Bay but at least someone would know the address I was at if shit went down.

When I looked up to double-check the address I noticed the door.  It had very recently been taken the hell off its hinges, in the way that only cops or firefighters do.  It was battered & barely hung closed, someone had added big loops of spray paint to cover up the rawness exposed by the violent moment.  There was a mail slot in the door, the door to which hung bent and open. I was willing to give the client a chance.  We all have our moments and lord knows I could have walked out of a door that looked like that myself at various times in my life.  When a woman appeared who looked very much like a young baby dyke I let myself relax for a half a second, breathe.  But she was on her cell and didn't quite come all the way out of the house and I was on full alert, watching the door crack for signs that someone was waiting to come out unexpectedly. There was enough cash in the car after hours of driving that I was feeling very vulnerable to robbery, let alone the type of things people do to humans they don't consider human. Call this number and a homo shows up, even in San Francisco that can take some brave.

She came out, confirmed her name, slid into the back seat and said "he'll be right out." Oh, ok.  We often don't know how many people we are picking up.  She asked me a little about how Homobiles worked and I told her the same thing I tell everyone: we're a non-profit organization and all the drivers are volunteers committed to getting people home safely even if they can't pay, with a suggested donation of $1 a minute for the ride if you can afford it.  She was really relieved at the "no one turned away for lack of funds part" and said that was good, because the guy we were waiting for had just been released from jail & probably didn't have any money.  Ok then.  I'm on high alert but still nothing has happened to make me think that this is actually dangerous, not just a complicated night in someone's life where they reached out for some random help.  But I can feel the blood pumping in my ears.

And then he walks out the door, carrying what appears to be a dust buster it kind of looks like he just took off the wall and some other random stuff in his hands.  Behind him framed in the crooked door frame is a woman who would be listed in the movie credits as "Bad Landlord" or "Neighbor in Kimono."  She was on the phone with the girl already in my car at a distance of 6-7 feet away - what did they need to talk about that I could not hear?  Mitchell introduced himself, I gave the whole rap about Homobiles again as we pulled away, texting my friend to tell her it was ongoing and could she please stay in touch? At the end of the first block the girl said to stop here and got out of the car.  If I had to guess I think she was the queer cousin who knew about us as a way to get a free ride home and set it up herself afraid I wouldn't just take him.  He didn't read as gay at all.  But here he was, in my car, sitting directly behind me so I couldn't even look in his eyes.

So I started driving efficiently & swiftly towards the stated destination.  He had a lot of questions about Homobiles, which I answered, and he got really excited about it.  We were having a pretty cool conversation for two people who might otherwise never had a reason to talk to each other.  He told me about his band, about how he was supposed to go to Miami to perform in a show, then added he was a little scared cause he'd never been to Miami or really out of San Francisco much.  As this very easy and re-assuringly human conversation is happening he is messing with the odd assortment of things in his hands, then lays it all on the seat and starts taking off his belt - actually come to think of it he must have been putting it on post-police custody.  All I know is I heard a belt & a belt buckle and was sort of bracing for it to come over the seat and aim around my neck.  All as we are talking, talking.  I tell him there are multiple other drivers out tonight and we all keep in close touch, talk about where we're at.  (lies)  He says he'd like to drive for Homobiles, says he can "get us people" if I give him an hour.  I told him we're pretty booked tonight.  My blessed GPS is telling me we are closing in on his destination.  He starts telling me more about his band and then, out of nowhere, says "I've always wanted to sleep with a fat white girl."  This makes me laugh a lot, like a lot a lot, and then I don't want him to be insulted so I add "Mitchell, me too."  We pull up at the address and he gets out, then leans back in to hand me something.  It's his t-shirt, the one for his band, and he's literally giving me the shirt off his back as payment for the ride.  We smile at each other and I drive off, back towards SoMa, and the queer bars and the known un-safe, feeling the adrenaline release and this story start to compose itself in my head.