The Last Fare of the Night

IT'S A DEAD quiet weeknight, 2:30 a.m., and I'm cruising the Mission looking for one last fare. And then, at 23rd and Guerrero, I see a man standing in the middle of the road, about a block straight ahead of me, waving one arm. I drive toward him, blinking my headlights, snapping down my automatic door locks, and he stops waving. But he doesn't move from the middle of the street.

I stop several feet in front of him, and in my headlights he looks OK: clean-shaven, about 25 years old, short dark hair, white sport shirt. He strolls around to my passenger side window, and I slide it halfway down. "Where are you going?" I ask, foot poised on the accelerator.

He gives a Bernal Heights address - I picture the neat block, the well-kept neighborhood. But there's something amiss in his facial expression: he seems stunned.

"Are you all right?"

"I was robbed," he says.

Every cab driver meets "robbery victims" looking for free rides home.

"Are you hurt?" I ask.

"No," he says. "I'm all right."

"Do you have any money?"

Perhaps he misunderstands me. He throws one arm up in the air - awkwardly - and sighs as though I've needlessly accused him of something.

"I ain't got no weapon!" he cries.

Judgements are quick out here, and something tells me he's harmless.

Besides, I've been empty for half an hour. I flip up the door locks and watch across the seatback as he opens the rear door. And now I notice something I don't ever remember noticing about a passenger before: the whites of his pants pockets are sticking out like elephant ears. His pants are on inside out. And they are riding very, very low.

He's holding them up with one hand- that's why his one-arm-flinging gesture looked so strange. And I don't suppose there's a person in the world who wouldn't have noticed this detail: his entire pubic region is exposed. As he slumps down onto my back seat I catch a whiff of alcohol.

I'VE SEEN PLENTY of him already, but before we get started I say, "I'm going to have to see your money."

"I got money," he says. He starts grabbing at his right front pocket, and outlined inside the cloth I can see something that might in fact be a wad of bills. But, these pants being on inside out, he's having all sorts of trouble getting at it. While he's writhing around, I roll a couple of blocks and come to a stop in front of the police station on Valencia. I slip the cab into park and turn around to give the guy my full attention. He looks up from his backseat yoga session and notices all the police cruisers parked in front of the station. I see it register on his face - not as fright, just one more indignity to deal with. He starts scratching harder at his pocket.

"Why don't you stick your hand inside your pants?" - it occurs to me I've never before strung together these particular words.

"I got money," he says again, and now he grabs the whole inside-out pocket and starts to yank it right off the trousers. I hear stitches ripping loose.

"Hey!" I say. "You don't have to do that!"

"It's O.K....," he says, yanking even harder at the pocket, grimacing now, and I can hear more stitches shredding. Before the pocket gives up and comes off in his hand with a loud tearing sound; before he digs a ten-dollar bill out of the mutilated cloth and hands it to me; and before I drive him home, a huge smile on my face the whole way, he says something I've never heard from a passenger before, or from anybody, something I did not ask him to explain. Some stories you really don't want to hear.

He's still torturing his pocket, still grimacing, so the words come out strained, one at a time. "It's O.K.," he says. "These ... are ... not ... my ... pants."

San Francisco Chronicle, August 22, 2000

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