Chapter 90

“Minds gone wild collide 
head on with the darker side
before light can shine.”

“It’s over, time’s up.”

“Uh, ran a little late…”

“Exact coin, no paper. Otherwise, no go…”

This was where the two-bits would have gotten me, if I’d had a quarter dollar—aboard an N Judah torpedo, free and clear. I’d legged over from the Hyatt Embarcadero, catching up with the outbound trolley at a First Street red light, determined to grab a quick coach out of downtown, trying to beat the rush hour clock, what with night falling in fast. Sliding aboard, nearly losing my camera bag to the closing accordion forward doors, I unwadded an inbound bus transfer, holding a finger strategically over its expiration time, trying to squeeze one last ride out of the thing. But while the stone-faced motorman looked straight ahead through his split-panel windshield, he still eagle-eyed my wangle, pulling his lanky power-forward legs up from his accelerator foot pedal. And there we sat, green light or no, streetcar swaying in place.

“Anybody got change?” I pulled out a dollar bill, waving it back toward the full cabin like a white flag, casting about for cooperative eyes.

“No, so haul your cheatin’ ass off the car,” came a shrill voice from the last of a row of single dark green pebbly seats. “Quit holdin’ us up!”

“Here you go,” a young woman in a Cal Berkeley sweatshirt, reached out from the other, two-seater side of the aisle to hand me a twenty-five cent piece from her macramed handbag.

“Thanks much,” I stepped over outstretched legs to accept her gesture, however reluctant I was to fork over my dollar in exchange. On the other hand, McDonald’s Bookstore aside, I felt fortunate just to be aboard. “Let me…”

“Not necessary,” she demurred, staring impatiently ahead toward the motorman, now unfolding his front doors once more. “Let’s just get moving again, I’ve got an appointment up at UCSF…”

I stuffed her quarter into the fare box, pulling a fresh transfer from the driver’s long, slender fingers; then we were off on the endless crosstown N Line, half speed ahead. Still, the load looked crabby, on edge, which made me all the more uneasy as I slipped into a suddenly vacated single front seat, wondering if it was just me. So Valerie only likes the humble and harmless, huh? Castrates her way to contentment and peace of mind. Comes on ’til you come back at her, and then she’s little Ms. Outraged. Twit, huh? Betch she doesn’t rag that way at Nolan…Nolan! Christ, what if she spills that whole scene to Nolan Anderle? What if she’s calling his Frickin’ ass right now?!

Then again, the whole downtown seemed to be jumpier than TGIFed at least from what I could see in this ancient, lumbering beast. Worker drones poured from PBT, Chevron, Hobart and Humboldt towers in evacuation mode. Stop by stop, the trolley wound up to speed and down again, alonga Market Street jammed with trucks, taxicabs and manifold traffic. This joyless ride down Market was like that fuzzy moviola film strip of a horse and buggy Slot pre-earthquake, a creaky streetcar passing the Monadnock Building and Lotta’s Fountain. Only it wasn’t buckboards and tin Lizzies cutting in front of the N Judah, but a Vega wagon and sneaky little Borgward Isabella.

“Change your buck, change your luck…”

“Huh?” I glanced across the aisle to the source of this oddly familiar voice.

“Do it soon or you’d better duck…” On this two seater one row back, that lyrical baritone chimed in under his black felt hat. At that instant, his gloved hand thrust upward, shaking a fistful of coins like bones at the crap table. “You gonna pay? I’ll make your day…”

“Yah, right,” I looked away, hoping he would do the same. About then, I recognized the broadly grinning face under that wide brim fedora: Beach Street’s Trinidad Troubadour and his island stickered guitar case, packing it in for the day. “No need now, thanks…”

I peered out the green torpedo’s pillbox side window, which offered little more glass area than a Brinks armored car. But it was enough to restoke images of the Western Union Moneygram stakeout, how that hellish Texas preacher did Brother Joe in, and was still there out front of the Emporium, bible thumping his bile. Wincing at the turntable chaos of Hallidie Plaza, I held tight on my camera bag as Fifth Street center islands swelled with les MUNI Miserables, many of them piling onto the streetcar, crawling all over earlier riders for any empty seats, lining up along overhead hand rails, squeezing in beside me, thigh to thigh, waist to eye.

“Whew, on my feet for hours,” an aging cosmetician sagged against a hand bar just ahead of me, leaning heavily against my shoulder with her day pack as the standing crowd pushed further down the center aisle. “Like to be killin’ lil’ ol’ me…”

“Yeah, pretty crowded,” I muttered, as she breathed down nicotine heavily, while noticing that there was no room left to move in the cabin, nowhere even left to stand.

“This MUNI, same ol’ lousy service,” she coughed, pressing tighter. “How ’bout more buses, a place to sit down already? I’m a hard working girl, I pay my taxes.”

“Sorry, I really don’t know enough to talk MUNI,” I stared straight ahead, lap holding firmly to my camera bag, determined to keep my seat.

“Really know how to sweep a gal off her feet, don’t you…” She leaned more sharply into my shoulder as the streetcar jerked forward again. “Mister Chivalry here…”

“New ERA, maam,” I had nothing better to say. “Don’t want to do anything insultingly sexist, Equal Rights Amendment, and all.”

A diverting glance through the crush once the trolley whirred off had me banking off Palace Billiards, back to the Palm Garden Grill’s rotting recesses, conjuring smokey images of that phone booth, spitting defiance across two time zones, haranguing Moon as though San Francisco actually had something promising in store. Where would I be without that phone booth? Christ, where would I be this ghastly minute without that call? By mid Market’s squalor, I was looking about the crammed cabin again, picturing those sweltering Chicago summer rides on Halsted Street, cranking and down-clicking slit windows, cranking vents, fanning away sweat transfer, perhaps in this very same retooled car. But the incessant lurches and slams, the cord hanking and buzzer bleating soon brought me back from that.

Seventh Street, Eighth, Tenth: The green and tan N Judah torpedoed past an inbound L Taraval trolley, pussy cat theaters, porn shops, surplus shoe outlets and seedy sterno bars: Jammed riders pissed and moaned in and out the folding doors, laying it all on the stone-faced motorman, who kept pushing control pedals and toggling dashboard switches, barely bothering to dispense transfers from his farebox pad. One joe did slip in through the rear exit at Fell Street, however, with a triumphant fist pump and grin, puffing up his Oilers’ windbreaker. Whipping out a day-old transfer he pocketed just as quickly, cleaving into a seat several rows ahead of the Trinidad Troubadour.

From Van Ness Avenue on, the jammed car began to thin some, downtown riders feeding off to Twin Peaks, Diamond or Pacific Heights routes. Filling their seats and straps was a demonstrable demographic shift to Mission commachos, then the Castro Street cotillion, on to hook-eared pirates and buckskinned Davy Alamos hankering to storm the Haight. Then boarded stumpy tambourine players, orange-haired, three nostril ringed bike messenger and a bejangled tribe of bayou creoles who called N’awlins too buttoned down. My gaze drifted off to a string of upper Market galleries and furniture stores, not that I could tell a Galle or Majorelle from a genuine Rohde. Although better those flashy Moderne-style designer show windows than the flickering gumdrop round ceiling lights inside this cabin, as the power pole bounced along the overhead wire. Much as I did on my stiff cheesecloth seat, springs popping and snapping like an economy mattress at the Desperation Inn as the torpedo swayed along, circular mid ceiling ventilator fan grinding in time.

“What’s with this Jonesville thing, anyway,”asked the shorter of two straphangers just ahead of us, in a sandy polyester suit and rug brown wide collar dress shirt, briefcase trapped between his knees.

“Jonestown, Hugh,” said the taller exec in buttoned down blue and pinstriped flannel, reading from a neatly twice-folded evening Examiner. “Says here that a Congressional party’s on their way down to Guyana to investigate the whole scene. Sounds like some kind of junket to me…”

“Investigating? Peoples Temple’s a religion, isn’t it? What about separating church and state?”

“Suuure, like Synanon’s a non-profit charity.”

“Anybody could see this coming.” The broader of two tote-bagged hardbodies headed for a Castro gym kibitzed, over his shoulder from the opposing said of the aisle. “It’s that Jim Jones snake. All he’s separating is poor folks from their valuables.”

“But he’s damn near bulletproof in City Hall, Jeffrey, all the votes he delivers. And that ain’t the half of it,” his muscle buff partner snickered, open pitted in a strapped violet body shirt. “Harvey was telling everybody at the baths how our beloved mayor’s diggin’ Reverend Jim’s sweetest sisters, that he’s really into the rough stuff.”

“Hm-mmm, lovin’ him that steamin’ hot cocoa,” Jeffrey replied, flexing his pecs and biceps against the hand rails.“Talk about political give ‘n’ take between strange bedfellows. Get me Herb Caen on the horn.”

The N Judah’s interior lights fluttered to a fare-thee-well when the streetcar turned tight right around a rock fortress topped by the current U.S. Mint, catching straphangers off guard, leaving them to swing like steer slabs on the hook as the car screeched and scraped onto Duboce Avenue. There, the trolley unloaded some at the Church Street stop, sparking another altered mood within the cabin. Downtown propriety gave way to hairy hashburners, Upper Terrace professionals to fuzzy-thinking inner Sunset activists and foggy-headed outer Sunset reactivists. The snickering gym rats strutted their Soloflex framesout the streetcar’s unfolding rear doors at Church Street, replaced by a couple of Peterbilt young flannel dykers from a windowless Duboce Triangle Toklas bar, taking forever to load/unload. Then boarded a neighborhood senior, step by slow, aching step, who had cane walked over breathless and cranky from Duboce Park. He demanded a front seat with a tap of his walking stick on an Everett Middle schoolgirl’s knee.

“Darned MUNI, been waiting out here for a coon’s age,” the pensioner griped, banging his cane tip on the metal floor.“Wasn’t like this when George Christopher was mayor…”

“Pipe down, you old coot,” said the Tex-ex freeloader in that powder blue Oiler’s jacket, one seat up from him. “Or you’ll be eatin’ shit on that stick.”

I was hardly more patient, wondering why the hell I’d decided to take another room out this way, mind going manic myself. Let’s go, for crissake, move it, I’ve got a phone call to make! Panic attack—I could hear it all now, Valerie yanking a pearl earring from her perfectly luscious lobe, wrapping that Vougish voice around Nolan’s libido, telling him I hit on her out of the blue, without probable cause or due process or slightest provocation, imploring him to nail my despicable pig hide to Prism’s wall of shame. That she’d suffered duress and mental anguish, and here his darlin’ was getting physically accosted and psychologically scarred by his own hand-picked hack. So what in the name of gallantry and fair, flowering maidenhood did he propose to do about? Hell, Nolan Anderle was probably cutting me off cold and filing briefs already, pressing charges before she could shake that cascading mane of hers over her mounding cheekbones. So let’s get rolling, this is emotional warfare—got to prepare my defense, plead my case!

The Duboce tunnel dog-legged slightly southward, burrowing its way beneath Buena Vista Park and Upper Ashbury Terrace. Some three-quarters of a mile long, the mole hole was showing its 52-plus years early on—damp, seepy, with cold and offshore gales boring through like Tijuana burritos through a Great Plains gringo. Still, it was the quickest, most direct track to Sunset District oblivion.

“East Portal,” the driver shouted, zagging his trolley rightward off Duboce at Noe Street, the cabin thickened with its fresh flood of haggard faces, pushing, shuffling rearward, irritating one another like their blisters and canker sores. “Cole Street next…”

So much for idle conversation across the aisle. Yet even such overloaded exchanges lost their impact as the aged streetcar gained speed. Floorboards bucked, windows rattled, its iron-clad sides thrummed worse than jumbo jet wingflaps on a short runway landing. The N Judah’s power motor wound banshee tight on the straight, steady incline, its stressful pitch howling off Sunset Tunnel’s dark, narrowly arching conduit. Straphangers listed like mid-bay channel markers as the torpedo bobbed and shifted along an oversettling, untrue roadbed. Bearing-worn trucks grumbled, spring-worn suspensions failed to hold steady: 30 mph felt upwards of 95. Ceiling bulbs flickered fiercely amid the vicious vibrations, synched eerily to the yellow jello smears of passing tunnel lights, the thunderous steel-on-steel scraping and clatter of wheel against rail. This heavy metal echo seemed to quicken beyond relief, until the slow, grinding gear wail ceased to be felt or heard.

“Hey, what goin’ down here,” Oiler spouted, standing up, looking the cabin fore and aft, what with the streetcar lights dying down, his pinball eyes opening wider and wider.

Pole’s down, contact shoes are worn, that’s all,” the driver shouted, heading out from the farebox, grabbing his transfers—an anti-theft measure, to be sure; given the circumstances, he carried along his coin tray like—headed out the front doors, which he closed from the outside. Picture of sole authority, he was, commendations pinned to his brown beret, down to the hashmarks on his orange and brown Eisenhower MUNI jacket and his gleaming Italian boots. “Hang tight a minute, we straight.”

“Oh, we’re goners for sure,” the old man bleated, rubbing his polished dome, preparing to parry with his cane once something banged harshly above us against the car’s sheet metal ceiling. “Godsakes alive, never saw this when Joe Alioto was running things.”

The entire carload grimaced as ceiling lights flickered to flat-out darkness. The Judah’s motor bearings stopped whining, its windows rattled even less—a lone vital sign of electro-mechanical life was a degenerating moan its motor made as the trolley coasted to a halt. The aroma of uncut Persian drifted through the cabin before it could even do so.

“Hey, I said, what it is?!” Oiler was growing more visibly agitated by the minute, snatching glimpses of the motorman out there behind the streetcar, sparks flying as he struggled to retrack his pole on the overhead wire.

“Fool drops his pole, we’s stuck in this hole,” the Trinidad Troubadour chortled, barrel chesting his white turtleneck with calm, collected wit at this calamity, selling it with a wink and smile, though pulling his guitar case closer for safe keeping.

No wonder the motorman clawed his way out of this deathtrap: just look at this crew, present company excepted, on second thought, better to not. Anxiety hounded me, in here with these vicious hippies and drug-running gypsies, two-bit babblers and three-piece embezzlers, these leather scrotum sacrificing, testicle cannibalizing cult worshippers, multi-racial mariachi freedom marchers after a long day storming the Federal building to catch themselves on the evening news. With no clue what any of them thought of me…

Dark as it had become, I could still spot the motorman through the trolley’s rear window. The only ticket out of this fix was chasing his beret well beyond the torpedo’s tail, winds having dispatched it like a pastry wrapper through the blotches of eclair light from dim, distantly spaced bulbs encased in metal-cased glass globes, strung along sidewalls at telephone pole intervals. Fogged with endless condensation, these running lights barely dented Sunset Tunnel’s darkness, exposing dull gray patches of failing concrete, reflecting slightly off bumpy twin railbeds, the subterranean drain pipe seepage from Buena Vista Hill’s gardens and more dubious excretions overhead.

Before long, persons unknown were bitching openly at MUNI in general, in particular this driver who had just lit up a cigarette in contemplation of a balky pole contact—and eventually at one another. No light for parlor games, no time for casual rejoinders: voices were rising over rustled newsprint, garrulous Panhandle bushmen, claustrophobic inner Sunset biddies, and the affected nasal lilt of lispy boyfriends. Disquiet setting in even more, I heard them all in these dank, creeping minutes, not least some not so totally unfamiliar voices of my own.

Still, no getting off here. Jesus, where does this tunnel begin, where does it end? Wait, that looks like something up there, half mile maybe, maybe more. Can’t make it out exactly, but—yeah, there’s a light flashing, from the other end? Hell, you could run that far. That is, if only you could pry open those doors…

A signal light blinked just brightly enough to outline Sunset Tunnel’s west portal archway. Green must have meant all clear outbound—no cattle, no Godzilla, no civil disruptions—no dice. Not when I was trapped with thesetragdolytes in this streetcar named misfire. Faceless shapes and forms skulked about the cabin like kodiaks past feeding timeup and down the aisle, over window to window, teetering the weak-springed torpedo into gyroscopic bobs and sways. This was no windfall for the motorman, again struggling to retrack his power pole in the face of a now relentless gale. All the creaking, the plaintive muttering, the suspended desperation seized me, provoking me toward that damp, gloomy between the streetcar and tunnel’s end. Suddenly ceiling lights flickered, wires sparked and sizzled as the motorman seemed to re-seat his pole’s corroded contact,light flashes reflecting off the car’s windshield panels, into my dilated eyes; on again, off again, then they doused once more.

S’cuse mecomin’ out, y’all,” Oiler pushed his way down the aisle.“Comin’ out, I said.”

“Beg pardon?” asked the Berkeley blonde, amid some shrouded commotion beside her.

“Oh my god,” the Russian woman cried, “dat man, he got blade!”

“No, excuse me,” I blurted, unexpectedly bowling over into the aisle, not knowing what the hell came over me at a time like this, except maybe I owed her one. SLLLIIICE…In any case, I rolled over into Oiler, who aimed to separate the Cal coed from her shouldered macrame handbag by slashing its strings.

“Hey, fool,” Oiler shouted, as her cut purse fell to the center aisle. “Get the fuck off me…else you be pushin’ up weeds!”

“Let it go,” I grunted, real adrenaline like, as we tumbled backward into the aisle, rolling over on one another like two fledgling frosh-soph wrestlers. “That bag is hers!”

That light at tunnel’s end proved to be an inbound streetcar, which now edged past us on the opposing track, its high center beam gradually brightening the cabin, key lighting a heinous seven-inch shiv as it swung down into the seat Oiler had just vacated, shearing the green covering, cotton padding and wood frame before striking the metal seatback and floorboard. There he froze momentarily, as if leveraging himself to twist out from under me.

“OH NNoooooooo,” the mortified blonde screamed, curling up against the torpedo’s sidepanel, Oiler’s knife still mere inches away from her, singularly shining here against the returning darkness. One piercing, horrific shriek: she reflexively pulled strands of her purse up close to her breast, eyes spot welded to the reality of that exposed blade. Meanwhile, riders were ducking and diving under and behind trolley seats up and down the aisle.

There we froze, oh so momentarily…though time enough for the Troubadour to hoist his decal pasted guitar case like a stand-up bass. He then pivoted rearward, so that its fret head end caught Oiler perfectly behind his neck. Troubadour instantly pressed his tramp steamer upper body into the heavy end of the leatherette case, ramming Oiler’s head forward as I rolled off him with the force, clamping his pimpled mug down tighter than a guillotine brace, against the steel hand-rail post and trolley floor. “Spade be he, what that make me? An ornery ol’ salt who’s battled the sea.”

“Hey, sucka, get this horseshit thing off’n my neck, damn,” Oiler sputtered, the floorboard’s diamond plate imprinting his jowl.

“Hold it a second there, you’re tangling up in my camera bag,” I wheezed, hurriedly tugging at its strap, the inbound trolley’s cast-off illumination fading to black, leaving our car to sway like an empty kayak in its wake. Could have kill the fucker myself, wrung his slimy faggin’ neck right then and there…

“Don’tchu be tellin’ me nuthin’, chump,” Oiler coughed and spit, trying to kick, crab-crawl his way free, everybody near us giving plenty of shadowy ground. The fidgeting only tightened Troubadour’s vise against his worm-veined neck, turkey rolled between the chrome tubing and guitar case.

Which only made Trinidad lean down harder yet to press his case. Oiler was barely half the jongleur’s size, and for an instant felt almost resigned to facing the music. But then his dusty energy level rose like angels to the great beyond, seconds later he was flying nearly that high. His fist clenched fitfully firmer around his shiv handle, flexing to pull it free of the seat cushion. The Berkeley blonde gasped and shrieked again as Oiler grimaced and head butted against the guitar case in fierce, motor-maniacal Phencyclidine thrusts. So violent were his purges, so irrational his bilious rantings, the Troubadour seemed to straddle atop the case for added force, as if to tie and brand him. Instead, he reached deep into his blue cardigan pocket, never once denting his smile, as I held on at the ankles as best I could.

“Sonavabitch nigga bastad!” Oiler kicked and convulsed, nearly lifting the man and his music with sheer psychotic spasms. “Dirty Tom slave muthasucka!”

The Troubadour silently blocked his full chest and shoulder down on the bucking guitar case, casually sliding something from his pocket onto his fret-strong fingers. Oiler moaned and howled, suddenly slumping his head and shoulders, releasing his grip, the shiv still stuck solidly in the seatback. Trinidad eased up a trifle, freeing his left hand to slip an elastic band over his fingers.

ZZZZZZZZZNAP…WHHIRRRRR. Just as suddenly, those spattering overhead sparks ended, the green torpedo’s generators resumed charging. Within seconds, the oleo interior lights flickered to life, which was when the murky grimness of the situation began to reveal itself.

“Hey, what’s goin’ down in here,” the motorman roared, leaping through his switched open accordian doors.“Damn, what the hell’s with…”

“Face…murda me,” Oiler cried chillingly, his nose gushing blood like pressurized hoses. Apparently, Trinidad had slit his nose, nearly as deep as Oiler had run through the upholstery. When that PCP rally had all but enabled Oiler to neck push away the guitar case, Trinidad reacted fast and hard as nails. Full power ceiling lights revealed two gleaming steel finger picks, sharpened and attached to a whale bone capo elastic strapped around his middle digits.

“Damn, man,” the driver wailed, unwinding his scarf, then sidestepping us altogether to toss it down to Oiler. “Here, wrap up that butt-ugly beak of yours…you messin’ all over my ve-hicle. And say, brother man, whatchu go doin’ him for?”

“Knucklehead was snatchin’ her purse with his knife,” Trinidad nodded, letting up only enough for a little breathing room. “Till I we caused him some serious strife…”

“Hell I was,” Oiler shouted, catching a second wind of his own. “I was just coolin’ it and tripped. Damn fools attacked me, man—tangled me all up.”

“That true lady,” asked the motorman as he jockeyed around my fanny to check out the still buried shiv.

“Tsk, I wouldn’t know,” the blonde winced, herself fixated on that knife handle. She uncoiled and remained oddly composed, given the strange blood splattered across her sweatshirt and bag. Either that, or she was acutely in shock. “Who am I to ascertain another person’s actions?”

Say what? Okay, fair enough, still got your purse, ain’t you,” the driver replied. “Now, why don’t you two let up on…”

“Yah, get your fat gorilla ass off…aghh!” Oiler surged to, his wild bug eyes spinning around onto the Troubadour, his face already swelling, lids closing like clam shells. “Rotten nigga scum… aaaghhh!!!”

“Oh, man, hell wichyu,” the motorman scowled, looking past our splayed tag team to his number one scarf, see red. He turned toward his farebox, the next outbound Judah’s headlight having just beamed through the east portal archway. He sat in behind his pedals and switches, grabbing for his interline phone. “Gotta get us outta this tunnel, your sorry redneck ass outta my car.”

We all stayed put as the torpedo lurched forward with increasing force, tossing me rearward while Trinidad held Oiler down tight. I righted myself, repositioning myself atop his legs, looking up with the expectation of renewed wrangling with him. Rather, I found that regathered Berkeley blonde, staring out the window to passing stream of colorful tunnel graffiti in comix form. “Uh, you okay?”

“Of course, why wouldn’t I be,” she replied sharply, holding firmly onto her bloodied purse.

“I don’t know,” I boosted myself up slightly to the ripped seat cushion with a little Steve Keller-Harry Callahan pose going, eyeing that shiv twisted into the seatback. “I mean, this is pretty bizarre and you’re being so silent, and all…” I pulled off some, Trinidad pinning Oiler to the rubber aisle runner for a ten-count all by himself, barely tipping the red and yellow plume in his leather-banded black fedora. “Important thing is, you’re okay and your purse is still basically in one piece, huh?”

“Look, I didn’t need any interference from you and your…accomplice there,” she glowered.

“Whoa, I was just trying to help, you know, in return for…”

“Just maybe that man would still have a decent nose,” she snapped, nodding toward Oiler, partially with sympathy, if not some lefthanded solidarity.

“Right on, sister,” Oiler muttered, face still down, blood drying over the diamond plate pattern engraved in his cheek.

“B-b-but this guy was ripping off your purse,” I gestured to his now reddish-brown powder blue windbreaker.

“How do you know that for sure,” she asked, with a nod toward Oiler. “Really, maybe he simply tripped, like he said…”

“Wait, I don’t get it,” I said afluster. “You’re blaming the ones who tried to aid you here?!”

“Enough with your John Wayne chauvinism,” she said, looking away to Oiler once again. His straggly beard was turning plasma red from tangling in the scarf and pulpy mashed nasal cartilage where his nose had been. “Somebody’s got to get this poor man to the U.C. Med Center, super fast…”

“Somebody who?” I winced at the very thought, not that again. “I…”

“Then somebody responsible,” she replied firmly. “Someone humane and caring, like…me…”

“Your motives are pure, missy—of that, there’s no doubt,” Trinidad looked up, still holding firmly to his guitar case, contorting the capo picks off his fingers, then pointing toward the Oiler. “But they come from your heart, and he’d sooner cut it on out.”

“Doctors aren’t the answer here, what we really need is the police,” the pensioner spouted.

“Think the cops be sweatin’ this small stuff?” the motorman asked, eyes fixed ahead on the rails, cigarette aburn. “And I got a schedule to make up.”

Whatever they were taking a match to, this N Judah’s ridership didn’t light up to that idea. But at least the streetcar had made some progress, the torpedo laboring upgrade to Sunset Tunnel’s west portal. Its headlight beamed through the molehole shadows in stutters and flutters, revealing the alien and graphically seditious tagging along the now curving tunnel side walls: sentiments not unlike those I was muttering under my breath. Christ, that’s a good one! How’d she put it? Maybe if I hadn’t bumbled into it, none of this would have happened. Please, not that rap again—it just can’t always be my bungle. I just can’t keep taking the rap for this crazy crap…

“Pay her no mind,” the cosmetician offered me, now seated three rows back. “I seen it all, had that scumbag pegged from the get-go. See, I’m a jacket and shoes person, first thing. Saw the Texas rag and his cowboy boots, figured that monkey for trouble right from the start. Somebody had to step up…”

The green torpedo bucked and shuttered up, out of Sunset Tunnel like a roller coaster gondola through its last, raking sidewalled curve. To the left, its headlight fired up a unicorn mural on a gay bar wall across Carl Street; the right jog lit up a billboard for desktop computer classes—whatever the hell that was—then stopping in front of a tidy cedar and calla lilied green parklette and Tibetan Orthodox vegetarian restaurant. The trolley’s lumbering trucks scraped and squealed as though the wheels were greased with rubbing compound. Only a barrage of buzzing stop cords was harder on the nerves.

The driver folded open his front doors, then scowled back at this face plant situation in his center aisle. “Now get your sorry asses out my car!”

“Hey, don’t pin this all on me,” I balked, rolling off in full defensive mode. I then dusted myself off to shuffle for the doors, away from those involved altogether, camera bag in tow, save for Trinidad. “Thanks for the hand, mister, maybe I’ll see you again by Aquatic Park, huh? Now take care of your guitar case there…”

“Sure, don’t worry, I’ll be back,” grinned the Troubadour, as he arm wrestled, raised Oiler up like a bag of penal ward laundry. “After I give this garbage the sack.”

“B-b-but UC emergency’s two more stops,” the coed cried, by now in denial about that seatback blade. “Who’s…”

“Aww, leave it be, honey, good riddance,” the pensioner groused with a sweep of his cane. “Still got your purse, don’t you? I’m telling you, Barbagelata shoulda won that damn Moscone recall vote going away!”

I jumped the streetcar’s two entrance steps down to Carl Street, to a post-revolutionary selling out his record collection from a sidewalk melon crate, Quicksilver to Country Joethen a faded flower hawking her summer wardrobe from coathangers hooked to a brown parklette wall, sign reading, ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’. Meantime that Cal Blonde deboarded the streetcar, coaxing the bloodied Oiler over to a 43 Masonic bus up to Parnassus and UC Med emergency, little mothersuccor that she apparently was.

At Cole Street, mad ironing board petitioners hustled signatures in front of the Other Cafe, on everything from gay rights to animal husbandry to forced reproduction to Palestinian rights—open ended issues no end. I negotiated them charily, rather nursing whatever bruises and lessons learned from that pretzelogical streetcar affair, deciding a hike up Parnassus to Millbury Union would be a good way to walk it off. Which was when I crossed paths with a couple of topical comedians, trolling for material from the Final Markets Examiner edition out the cafe doors. We all paused for the passing N-Judah streetcar, ringing and whirring away toward the Great Highway.

“That’s funny, this Peoples Temple bit? It’s just like with JFK,” said one, slapping the front page. Remember Kennedy?”

“Yeah, so what’s your punch line?” asked the other as he finished a take-out au lait, pulling a half-gone doob from his chamois patch pocket.

“We’re into November, aren’t we? Scorpio transiting into Sagittarius, all that rot…”

“ Another freakin’ November—don’t make me laugh.”

Care for more?

Chapter 91. Interests collide coast
to coast. Nearer connections are also made.
Then comes a ground floor heads-up
in Godfatherly company…