After starting trade school at Heald College, I joined the ranks of the early risers hopping the Golden Gate Transit (GGT) bus for school in San Francisco. It was during these daily rides that I met one of the drivers, I’ll call him, Fred, because I would not want to risk his pension by revealing his actual name. Fred often drove the same buses I took so we got to know each other and found fun ways to pass the time. We would never get away with this stuff now.
Fred was a great driver and had an amazing sense of humor. If you were awake and in a playful mood, he would let the good times roll!
I was reading Don Quixote for my fun reading those days and we made lots of jousting jokes with the other passengers. He’d tell us bus driver stories and make smart remarks to ours and a great time was had by all. I even became one of his stories without really thinking about it.
It was Friday afternoon after a long week of study. I was exhausted, but was very glad to see Fred behind the wheel as he stopped to let us board. There would be some good laughs to pass the time.
I had started standing up in the front of the bus to talk with Fred. There was a hand rail right there and I stood in the stair well to joke with him. There was some kind of policy against this, but Fred didn’t pay much attention to it so I was often right there, greeting him, catching up on the daily load of laughs.
Often, I would take a seat near the front, stash my books and sit until the bus got full. Then I’d offer my seat to a lady so I could move up with Fred in the front.
Normally, the last available seats were taken by those loading in front of Alan’s Flower Shop on north Van Ness. Alan himself frequently dressed up in all kinds of outfits and stood about a block before the store to attract business.
One day, Fred had me laughing about something well before we got to the flower shop. I was standing in the stairwell already and was always interested to see what new stunts Alan was pulling that day because we would always make fun of him. To my amazement, today he was in a loud clown outfit, standing in a parking spot, trying to tap (or bless (?)) each car with a large bouquet of flowers. I could tell that Fred was already winding up with a smart remark. With a whole block between us and the bus stop, we were moving at full speed when an audacious idea struck me.
“Fred – quick, open the door!” He immediately pushed the rod that folded the door open so I could reach out and grab Alan’s bouquet of flowers. Fred immediately closed the door and the deed was done. It all happened so quickly! One moment, we were laughing as normal and the next I had commandeered a GGT bus to steal some guy’s flowers at high speed. Because so much wind came with the door being opened, most everyone from the front of the bus saw our stunt and were now laughing about it.
Fred, pulled into the bus stop as normal in front of the store and reopened the door through tears of laughter. Many of those who were waiting to board had seen it too and I worried that this might not have been such a good idea. So, hoping to salvage some of my claim to freedom from a jail cell, I stepped off and called back to Alan that he could have his flowers back and that I was only joking. But he too was laughing and managed to squeak out that I had been brave enough to grab them that I could keep them. I stepped back up into the bus and Fred was doubled over with laughter. What to do now? I didn’t really want the flowers, so I handed them to some guy who just boarded and asked him to give a flower to all the women on the bus. This nicely moved him into the spotlight so I could safely step out.
So, Alan’s Flower Shop was firmly established as a place where weird things happened.
On another day, a large number of folks boarded from in front of the flower shop. I already knew how many seats were left so I knew when I stood to offer my seat to a woman that she would not otherwise have one. I thought I was doing her a kindness, but somehow I miss judged the situation and instead of a smile and word of thanks – she slapped me – hard across the face and said something that I would not have recalled even at the moment.
The bus went silent. Assaults like this were never seen on the GGT fleet of buses.
I was shocked and quickly tried to understand: What had I done to deserve that? I could feel Fred watching via his passenger rear view mirror as I concluded that I did not deserve it and decided not to apologize for something that was only in her head and did something much more story worthy.
I glared at her to validate that she was of sound-enough mind to understand what was about to happen – and she was glaring back with an I-dare-you expression. Good, I thought and slapped her back with what I felt was approximately equal energy and knocked that expression of hers about six seats away, leaving her looking as shocked as I must have looked just seconds earlier. A few of the otherwise silent passengers uttered short sounds of surprise.
Next, I grabbed both her arms to make sure she was disarmed for a few seconds and told her, loudly for everyone to hear, “If you’re lady enough to slap a man for offering you a seat, then I’m man enough to slap you back for it. Now sit down and stay put!” I forced her into the seat and spun around and walked slowly up to my stair well – fuming.
Within three steps, I realized the back of the bus was cheering for me. In those short seconds, everyone figured out what had happened and had returned their judgements. I had won in the court of public opinion.
Fortunately, Fred had not pulled away from the curb yet and had seen and hear it all. When I turned to face him for whatever he needed to say or do, I noticed that he was bent over the steering wheel utterly failing at trying to laugh quietly.
When he did speak, it was through tears of laughter. I had not yet calmed down and he was already joking about “the look on her face when you slapped her back,” and “you know, I may have to give a fare back to the poor guy you left her sitting next to. She is sure to take it out on him.”
Okay, that did make me grin but my face still stun as the cheers from the back were dying down.
Fred, was ready with a good distraction to get me laughing again. “Okay big fella, let’s get you out of town before anything else happens.”
If anyone ever found out what her issue was, they did not tell me. I only suspected she was an early follower of the woman’s equality movement and somehow offering her a seat was an insult. I did get several muted high-fives from folks who got off before me but no useful information. Fred had me laughing about it for weeks and we never saw her again.
Overall, the city was kind to me and I relaxed as life went back to normal – until it switched on me again. This time, I was on a cable car with a Petaluma gal I had had a crush on years ago, but never mustered the courage to talk to her. But, now, I was all grown up and discovered that she was working in San Francisco and still very charming. Thus a wonderful romance began. Since many of you would know her, I’ll just call her, Alice.
Our dating pattern was simple. I finished classes before she got off work so had time to make my way over to the financial district and meet her as she exited her office. We would then take the cable car to her neighborhood and walk to her flat. There, she turned into a tyrant and forced me to finish my homework before we considering doing any of the fun options her neighborhood presented.
Every other afternoon, that cable car ride was just a necessary commute but one afternoon, some jerk interrupted our otherwise uneventful ride.
The cable cars normally ran both ways and passed pretty close to each other. This day, both the car Alice and I were on and the one coming towards us from up one of San Francisco’s famous hills, were loaded. There were no seats when we boarded and folks were already standing and holding the rails on the sides of both cars. I stood Alice between two rails where she could hold on while I stood behind her, hanging out over the street –which was fairly common and never an issue.
I glanced forward at the approaching car, trying to make sure there was enough space for us to pass without smashing into each other – and suddenly could not believe my eyes! On the car coming at us, hanging from the side we need to squeeze past was some young idiot meeting my glance. As I watched, he let go with one arm and folded his fist into his stomach leaving his elbow pointed at me.
Who is this clown, I thought? Do I know him – no – never seen him before. Was he really going to joust me from a cable car? I couldn’t let go with either hand without putting us both at risk, but as we got closer, he showed only a malicious savoring of the coming impact. There was no way to stop him.
“Hold on tight Alice!” I told her, and tightened my own grip on the rails.
“Why? What’s wrong?” She could not see what I saw and I had no time to explain.
In the final seconds before the impact I decided that I couldn’t drop away from the car. It would leave her exposed so that idea was a no-go. All I had was a remedy for afterwards.
The cars began their pass and I held out hope that he was only messing with me, but – “Ooof!” He nailed my rib cage at full cable car speed times two.
With the wind knocked out of me, I lashed out with my foot, as hard and as high as I could and felt a solid impact. Gasping, I maintained grip on both rails to protect Alice and spun my head around to validate that I had kicked the right guy. I saw spectacular success in the form of a body wrapped in his distinctive shirt tumbling down the asphalt between the two cars.
I watched as the cable car terrorist stopped rolling and lay still in the middle of the street. “Oh God, please let him get up.” His death would ruin our whole evening. “Yikes! I’m glad that delivery van swerved in time…”
Thankfully, as we crested the hill ourselves and moved out of sight, I did see him weakly rise and limp out of the street. Again, I never found out what was behind this assault, but I doubt that this guy ever tried this again. For now, Don Quixote was ready to hang it up for the day.