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Worst Kept Bay Area Secrets

Trip length: 18 minutes. Trip distance: 4.4 miles.
Fare: $16.78  Year: 2018.
Song of the trip: “Rain Street” by The Pogues

So I told you that last story to tell you this one. Normally on Saint Paddy's Day, I turn on my phone to a playlist of Irish music that I like (The Pogues, Black-47, The Chieftains, Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys, etc.) and I'm stuck ferrying people who are so blisteringly drunk they have trouble finding the door handle to get out of the car. I figured I'd get at least one good story to tell you, but this wasn't the one I was expecting. There were loads of drunks, but they weren't the most entertaining fare I had on St. Drunkard's Day.

One of the most common things that happens when people get in the car is they want to hear a story. "Tell me about the craziest thing that's ever happened in here." "Have you ever been threatened?" "Has someone thrown up in your car?" "Has anyone tried to have sex back here?" "Have you ever had to call the cops?" People wonder about the strange things we drivers have to put up with it, and usually, I'm happy to spin one of the tales I've got at the ready. But this one, well, let's just say it surprised me.

I found myself on or around Stanford's campus for a good part of the holiday, as students were coming and going from their dorms in various states of inebriation. I got a call from a hall on campus and the name requesting was Hubert. Now, because of the story I just told you, the combination of old-timey name and location makes me think maybe I'm in for The Return of The Escorts.

(As an aside, Celeste's card got cleaned out from my car during a carwash, to my dismay, and I never did work up the stomach to get an appointment before that happened.)

It's lightly raining when I pull up in front of the hall, and there are three men in suits and one woman in an evening dress standing in front, but the call is for a Pool ride, and when I arrive, I see I'm only picking up one passenger. You can imagine I'm a little surprised when one of the three men breaks from the pack and walks over to the car. He opens the back door and slides in, closing the door behind him. "For Hubert, right? You're Billy?"

"Yeah, that's me," I sigh. "Your parents named you Hubert?"

"It's an old family name. I've learned to live with it. Why?"

Over the next few minutes, I told him the story I told you, about the odd names and the unbearably attractive women, and he laughs harder and harder the more details I get into, but finally he asks a question I wasn't expecting. "Which hotel was it? Was it the Rosewood Sandhill?"

I cock my head to one side. "How did you know?"

"Oh man!" he cackles. "I work in the hotel business and that hotel has got a reputation! Did you know that place has Cougar Night on Thursdays?"

"Whatnow?" After so many years of doing this, I'm rarely caught off guard, but this one makes me do a double take. "I mean, that surely can't be on the calendar there."

"Oh no, but it's one of the worst kept secrets in the Bay Area. There was a Vanity Fair article about it years ago, so it died down for a little bit, but the last couple of years, it's surged back up. So it doesn't surprise me that there's lot of people over there calling for hookers."

"C'mon man," I chide, "they prefer to be called escorts, and who are we to judge?"

He raises his hands defensively. "No judgement here, bro. I have nothing against escorts. We get a number of them over at my hotel too."

"Which hotel is that?"

"One of the ritzy ones close to Stanford, although I might end up leaving to go work down in Mountain View. Palo Alto's getting too expensive to live in."

"Getting?" I snort. "Try past."

"Yeah, I guess," he says as the phone chirps, redirecting us to a pick up just within East Palo Alto. For those of you not familiar with the Bay Area, East Palo Alto has been, for a long time, pretty slummy. In fact, a quarter of a century ago, it was the Murder Capital of the US. In 1992, there were 42 murders, which is pretty terrifying considering it only boasted a population of 24,000. But since then, with the rise of the Silicon Valley and a concerted effort to transform, it's mostly just gentrification on speed that's shifting it. More and more people are being bought out for insane amounts of money, and old homes are being torn down to make way for more of the super rich. But there's still plenty of holdouts.

We pull up in front of a slightly rundown apartment building, and we're picking up two passengers under the name, I can't make this up, D Money. Two guys are standing in front of the building, and they finish their beers, toss the bottles into a trash can, then walk over to the car. They're in basketball jerseys and shorts, despite the fact that the rain has picked up.

"Mr. Money?" I say, as one of the fellas climbs into the front seat.

"That's me, man," he says, holding out his fist for me to bump, which it would be impolite to decline, so I tap his fist with my own. "I'm Dwayne." When he says it, he separates the first letter from the rest of it - D Wayne. He gestures to the back door. "Tha's Scuzzy."

Scuzzy hops in the back on the other side from Hubert. "S'up." Scuzzy, it seems, is a man of few words.

"It been crazy tonight?" Dwayne asks, as we start to head over to 101 South.

"Not yet, but it's early. Was telling our other passenger about the time I was picking up Stanford girls moonlighting as escorts."

"And I was telling him about Cougar Night."

"Ah man, Thursdays at the Rosewood Sandhill," Dwayne says. "I used to work over there, and when the boss told me about that shit when I started, I thought he was jokin', but sure enough, Thursday roll around and there it is."

"I'll be damned," I laugh. "The cougars ever hit on you?"

"Nah, man, but I walked in on an orgy once."

No one can figure out what their first question is going to be, but I give it a go anyway.

"You what?" I say, as Hubert is slapping his own knee in laughter.

"I used to work in room service over there, and I brought this food up to an orgy once. Four dudes, like seven or eight bitches." (His language, not mine.) "They invited me to join in, so I called down to my boss and said I wanted to take my lunch break, and he said I ain't allowed to party with customers, so I missed out. Part of the reason I quit."

"What was the other?"

"Got caught sellin' weed to someone."

"Man, fuck'em," Scuzzy says, and we all start laughing again.

The rest of the trip is just a bunch of working class folks talking shop about how surreal rich people are, and lamenting the fact that we weren't able to dismiss money so casually. All three of them get dropped off at a bar down off San Antonio, and who knows, maybe they became best friends.

I would call it The Ballers And The Business Suit.


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