#metoo (but not that one time)

March 15th, 2018

With all the #metoo stories out there now, I’ve been reflecting on my own experiences over a lifetime of being a female. The catcalls, the overly pushy paramours, the romantic sociopaths, the bosses without boundaries. The stories I could tell… but then again, you’ve already heard them from other women. The names change; the details persist.

I’ve also thought a lot about guys as creatures. It’s been so easy to start having existential questions about half the human race. Like, are they capable of goodness? Can they even be decent? Who will be the next man to be revealed as a creep this whole entire time? (Please don’t let it be Bruce Springsteen.)

This is a hysterical reaction, of course. I know so many men with excellent boundaries and true-blue values. My own husband is a stellar example. It’s very difficult to imagine him making a woman uncomfortable; he’s just not that kinda guy. And I can list a hundred other guys in my inner circle who are not the sort to generate #metoo moments.

But recently when I was thinking about this whole #metoo thing, a memory came up that made me feel quite warm and fuzzy inside about the “woke” capabilities of absolute strangers who happen to be men.

When I was in my early twenties I moved across the country to live with my boyfriend, who was finishing up his undergrad degree at the California College of Arts and Crafts. We lived in a fourth-floor walkup in an eccentric and beautiful neighborhood in Oakland, right off Lake Merritt. For a while, we shared a crappy old Audi, but then it broke down, and we had no car. My best friend from back east, Karen, had also moved to the Bay Area around the same time, but she lived in San Francisco in a sweet little place called Russian Hill.

One rainy afternoon, I took public transportation to hang out with her. That entailed walking many blocks into gritty downtown Oakland, getting on the BART to go under the Bay (I would pray against earthquakes the whole way through), getting off the BART in downtown San Francisco, then taking a bus up and over the hills to Russian Hill, on the north end of the city. Devotion, right? It took hours.

That day, I left Karen’s house after dark, with intentions of reversing the tedious pub-trans commute. I walked the blocks to the nearest bus stop, and as I stood there shivering in the rain, realized I had no cash left. The bus pulled up almost instantly, and I stood there helplessly as it pulled away. The next bus was not for another half hour, I didn’t have enough money in the bank to take out even $20, and I was cold, wet, and by now, definitely crying.

That’s when a taxi pulled up. If you lived in San Francisco pre-Uber you probably know how incredible it is to get a cab at all, never mind one you didn’t call or hail. I was dumbfounded as the passenger door opened and a voice from within ordered me to get in.

“Oh I don’t have any money,” I said. “I’m waiting for the bus.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Just get in.”

I am not going to speak for all women in their early 20s, but I can tell you that I was not a great decision-maker. Yes, I lived 3,000 miles away from my hometown in a somewhat perilous part of town, but I was not exactly worldly wise. Today, given the same opportunity, there’s no way I would get in that cab. In the years since, I’ve actually had some pretty creepy experiences in cabs, including the time another San Francisco cabbie tried to make out with me on New Year’s Eve while he was driving.

But I was 22, and I was cold, and wet, and upset, and I got in.

He drove me up and over Russian Hill and straight to the last BART station at the edge of the city. I told him again that I couldn’t pay him. He waved it off. When I got out of his car, he handed me his card. “Next time you’re in trouble,” he said, “don’t forget to call me.” And he drove away.

For years I kept his card in my wallet. I had no intention of ever calling him for help, but I loved to know that he was out there, just a nice person doing a girl a favor when she really needed it—out of kindness, pity, or boredom, I’ll never know, but certainly nothing more.  

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