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Tyler resigned himself to renting a car for the weekend. His conked out Friday night, so Saturday morning he began phoning.
There are approximately nine domestic car rental companies that are countrywide, although two of those are branded under the same corporate logo. He got out his list and began dialing toll free numbers.
“I’m not at the airport, I’m in San Francisco. I am over 25, I have a major credit card and am a member of triple A if a discount is available. Please quote me the least expensive vehicle you have. I will need it for two, maybe three days. I’ll pick it up today.”
A self satisfied voice on the other end of a bad connection said, “Ah, you know all the questions.”
“What city am I calling? Bombay?”
Tyler’s own vehicle blew a coolant hose. He dared not drive it, was having it towed to the shop Monday morning. He hoped to get it back by Tuesday at the latest.
The rental price dropped with successive phone calls from $65 a day to $25. The best deal was for a compact car that came from an agency with offices under the Cathedral Hill Hotel on Van Ness at Geary.
“Oh, yah,” Tyler said to a man who quoted him the rate and introduced himself as Franco, “The old Jack Tar. I know exactly where you are.”
Franco said, “It’ll be waiting for you. Only thing is, we close at 3:00 on Saturday.”
Tyler checked the time on his microwave. “It’s two o’clock now, so I have one hour. I’ll be there,” he said and hung up.
Should he call a cab? It was six of one, half dozen of the other. The bus stop was five doors from his apartment. He decided to catch a bus because a cab might take an hour or longer just to get there. He grabbed his coat, locked the front door, walked briskly in the afternoon sunlight down to the red zone in front of the Peruvian restaurant that had just opened.
A 14 Mission Ferries showed up within a minute. It took all the other passengers, but Tyler held back. He wanted a few seconds to confer with the driver. As he fed the bill into the slot and dropped two quarters into the top of the fare box, he explained he was trying to get to the Cathedral Hill Hotel. “I should transfer at Van Ness. Right? But onto which bus?”
She handed him a transfer, but did not immediately drive away and left the doors open. “If you take the 48 it’ll drop you off right in front on Geary.”
“When does that come?” he asked.
“It’s right behind me.”
He looked down Mission Street toward Cortland and, sure enough, several blocks up the hill he saw an electric trolley weave in and around traffic coming in his direction. He had already given her the money so he took the transfer she proffered and said, “Use this?” The driver nodded. Tyler stepped back onto the sidewalk.
Another small group of passengers arrived and waited the few minutes with him for the second trolley. As it hove into view he read the line. It was also a 14. He waited until he was again the last to board, stood on the first step which prevented the driver from immediately taking off.
“I’m really trying to catch a 48. Know when a 48 will be here?”
The driver thumbed his right hand over his shoulder. “That’s it behind me.”
Tyler stepped back to the sidewalk, the driver closed the doors and the sound of compressed air hissed at him for the second time.
The third trolley bus took a few minutes to arrive, but it, too, turned out to be a 14. Tyler considered taking it to Van Ness and transferring, but he saw a fourth bus coming down Mission from the crest above Cortland, asked the driver if he knew what the bus in back of him was.
Tyler was skeptical and said, “You sure?”
“Yah, I’m sure. You want on or off?”
Tyler retreated to the sidewalk. He did not have a watch, but was certain he had lost at least 15 minutes. He watched as the fourth bus approached and made his decision even as he read the numbers one and four on its brow. He allowed all the other passengers to board, made his way up the three steps with the transfer in plain sight, but he did not hand it to the driver. Instead he said as the doors closed and the bus took off, “I really want a 48, but you’re the fourth fourteen in a row. Got any idea what bus that is behind you?”
“Right behind me? That’s a 48.”
Tyler knew better than to believe the driver without proof. The trolley at the rear was closing in on them as the fourth 14 glided away and headed toward downtown with him on it. They pulled out and the bus behind dove into their former spot at the curb; Tyler was able to read the route on its brow. It was, at last, a 48.
Tyler nodded to the driver who said, “Now you believe me?”
One block later, Tyler leaped off at Fair. Almost immediately, the 48 pulled in and he boarded. There were few riders and he had his choice of seats. He took one in the middle facing the businesses on the east side of Mission. The blocks began to pass and he settled in, looked around the interior. He recognized a man who worked in the neighborhood supermarket sitting near the rear exit; Tyler did not know anyone else.
A Latin man of small stature with two children, a boy and a girl who laughingly spoke fluent Spanish to each other, sat three seat sets over. Tyler did not understand a word.