It’s Tuesday and I'm tired. I took off the previous Monday but I’d worked sixteen days in a row before that, driving the pedicab, catering front and back of the house and doing store demos for my friend and great chocolatier Dennis at www.CocoDelice.com. Some long days, some short, some double shifts, all part of what I now see was an exorcism, a chance to put a stake in my blood-borne vampire’s heart.
Ten years into my infection I was thrilled to still be healthy, lucky to have never had any opportunistic infections or other maladies while others fare so poorly.
Stunned by my good fortune I was determined not to ‘blow it.’ I determined that the best way to stay alive was to avoid most risk (emotional not viral), take life as it happens, keeping my head low to the ground.
I’m not sure what my dreams were. Since I figured I’d be dead by forty I never thought about dreams, never reached for the brass ring. Of course this is a first world problem, but when I wonder how I ended up driving a taxicab thirty years after I did it the first time, it helps to see this surrender.
Despite a job that bored me, I turned down others I really wanted because I would have had to move or travel too much. Good positions with PowerBar, Smucker’s Quality Beverages Santa Cruz Organic and other brands) and a couple of grocers that would have led me to a very different career and financial path in life.
My focus was elsewhere, my intent on keeping my T-cells strong and virus weak, focused on not tipping the infected apple cart or putting too many straws on my diseased camel’s back. And one way or another, whether with luck and grace and perhaps good choices, too, I succeeded very well. And while that intent continues it’s no longer unilateral. Living to not die served its purpose. Now it’s time for something new.
Windy Tuesday on my mind
Not many other pedicabs are on the road, but business is especially slow. The wind is fierce, gusting 25-30 mph, even worse than the previous Saturday, which I was told made riding miserable and passengers scarce. Many took today off with Saturday on their mind.
Yet that day I wasn’t in a pedicab. I was catering instead. It was a gig I accepted because I love the manager and she really needed me to drive the truck. I would have preferred to pedicab because the money was better (or I thought it would be) but opted for loyalty over cash. Yet leaving my apartment for the catering shop that morning the wind was so wild I was glad I wasn’t on the road.
I'm normally a gear grinder, riding in 3rd gear. But this Tuesday most of my fares plunge me face on into headwind so it’s granny gears today. Approaching the flags of Pier 39, with four passengers traveling to Fisherman’s (Wharf) my motion seems stunned, slapped back by wind. My passengers groan in unison and offer me support and ask how do I manage?
Just three hours into my shift tired, cranky and cursing, suddenly I flash upon an image of myself as an updated Don Quixote or a character like Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea.
I smile and between my heavy breaths I tell my passengers that whenever the headwind’s this strong I think of myself in literary terms like Quixote or something out of Hemingway even though I just thought of it moments before. We all laugh as I wonder if I should reach for my asthma inhaler less a tool for more oxygen, rather a tool to get a bigger tip. Instead I stand up pushing harder on the pedals while crouched low on the handle bars minimizing my resistance to the wind. Hauling tourists towards their destiny of chowder in a sourdough bread bowl inspires me as I wonder how my t-cells are reacting to the cursed winds.
Even while I wonder how long I can do this job or better yet how long I’ll have to, even though I wish I was planning my trip to Europe rather than trying to make as much as I can during the busy April to October season I feel blessed rather than embarrassed to have to do this job.
I’ve earned the nickname 'old man hustle.' A couple of days later the guy who coined the nickname checked in with me, asked if I was okay with it. I told him that I was and unless he calls “old man geezer that smells like he peed in his pants” he had free reign to vary my moniker any way he liked.
I’m not going to work sixteen days in a row anytime soon. But late March I realized if I worked hard I could pay my rent and pay off my credit card, too, something that underemployed me hasn’t been able to do in a long, long time. Of course the fact that my social life is somewhat lacking and my closest companions these days are the remote control and my bong, didn’t hurt going that distance either. But I feel lucky that at least for now, and unlike so many, I can make good money these days, and unlike the last few years feel empowered by a job that makes both my body and my spirit stronger.
Last week I was asked if I wanted to do a three-hour tour with a dozen other drivers. I said no. Turned out the tour was for executives from Kroger, America’s largest supermarket chain. The irony was potent. I’m a laid-off food and beverage analyst. Who knows what would have happened had I had taken the gig hauling big wigs in my field of work on a tour? A resume sent, a job offered?
Maybe. But I’m not fretting about lost opportunities. Instead I’m looking wondering where to put the LED lights on my cab and getting some bungee cords for my wireless USB speaker.
Who needs a ride?