Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Mario Andretti of Mass Transit

When I worked processing the words of fools at a big fascist law firm in San Francisco in the mid- and late 1980s, I actually resided in Santa Rosa, around 52 miles to the north, and commuted to work on Golden Gate Transit buses, on which I spent around three hours daily because the traffic on Highway 101 slowed to a crawl in southern Novato, and stayed that way all the way into The City  Boarding the southbound bus on Mendocino Avenue at 6:20 each morning, I made it a habit to say to the driver, “San Francisco, please,” as though it were a taxicab he was driving. This, of course, was hilarious, at first because how could anyone mistake a bus for a taxicab, and then, later, because I said it every morning without fail, whereupon the humor of the situation became — stand back! — conceptual. Sometimes, you see, there is nothing funnier than repeating something not-funny so relentlessly that the repetition itself become a laff riot.

But that was only half the fun! Do you imagine I didn’t do something equally hilarious on the homeward commute, after a day of processing the words mostly of smug little twerps who’d just emerged from law school and imagined themselves to be F. Lee fucking Bailey? On the corner of Sansome and Sacramento, if memory serves (hors d’oeuvres)  I would board a  bus driven by a small man with a moustache whom I  teasingly called The Dawdler. “Oh, no,” I would say, winking, as I boarded, “not The Dawdler again!” in view of his seeming to imagine himself the Mario Andretti of mass transit, this too was hilarious!

Or maybe I should say Niki Lauda, in recognition of his appearance in the AIDS verse of my song The Beat Years of Our Lives. And now we find it’s suicide to love as fast as Nike Lauda drives/ For love, they tell me, it stops for no pit stops in the best years of our lives. Bobby Unser was obviously as good a metrical fit, but I went with the more exotic driver in my customary ill-fated attempt to appear with-it, arty, and cultured.

Later, after my first marriage collapsed and I moved down San Francisco’s Nob Hill to spare myself all those hours on Golden Gate Transit buses, I either walked to work, or rode the cable car, and conspired  briefly to become a standup comedian in my own right. I  devised a persona for myself — the Rev. Billy Pulpit (a play on Theodore Roosevelt’s description of the presidency as a bully pulpit ), and performed at enough open-mic nites (three, I think) to get the impression the Rev. Billy Pulpit wasn’t going to be a huge audience favorite. After the second performance, my girlfriend the zookeeper marvelled, “You’re so…angry!” Well, yes. But my most memorable experience was at a Sunday afternoon show to which my four-year-old daughter Brigitte accompanied me. Once having seen Daddy bring the house down (or, perhaps more accurately, evoke a smattering of applause) Brigitte decided that she too wanted to perform, which ambition I communicated to the afternoon’s MC, whom I knew from comedy traffic school. He was amused by the idea, and the next thing anyone knew, Brigitte was on stage musing, “Hey, what’s up with Asian drivers never remembering to put the toilet seat back down?” No, I’m kidding. She said nothing about Asian drivers or toilet seats, but instead wondered aloud why the turtle had crossed the road.

“Why?” the audience dutifully moaned.

“To get to the Shell station.”


Her material might have been a little stale, but her remarkably self-assured delivery delighted the audience, and I knew at that moment she could, if she wanted, become one of the English-speaking world’s  most gifted comediennes.