“…Tell us about a time when it was impossible not to overhear a conversation between people who didn’t know you were there. What was the conversation about? How did it make you feel?”
—Daily Prompt: Talking in Your Sleep
I was working a 3 PM—11 PM Swing shift at the Golden Gate Bridge on Labor Day in 1999. I had been employed by the District for 5 months at the time and there was no Automated Electronic Toll system in place—yet. Looking back at it, it was Old School Technology—there were 11 manned lanes, a patron pulled up to the Toll booth, handed the Collector $3.00 for the fare and continued on their way.
It was around 9 PM when the phone in the Electric Shop rang and the Duty Sergeant informed me that Jeannie, the collector in Lane #11, needed a new roll of Receipt Printer paper. I grabbed a shoulder bag and put 3 rolls of paper inside—just in case someone else was getting low.
I left the shop and headed out into the plaza, playing a real-time game of Frogger, as I crossed 10 active lanes of traffic on my way to help Jeannie in the outermost lane. We exchanged greetings and I quickly installed a fresh roll of paper in her locked printer. I opened the gate arm in the lane and signaled for a green light overhead, to indicate to the drivers that the lane was now open.
Some people call it “Frisco”
“It’s San Francisco. Old San Francisco. It looks its best—very old—in the rain, when gray ghosts flit across the wet sidewalks, leaving no shadow. Not Frisco but San Francisco. Caress each Spanish syllable, salute our Italian saint. Don’t say Frisco and don’t say San-Fran-Cis-Co. That’s the way Easterners, like Larry King, pronounce it. It’s more like SanfrnSISco, all one word minus a syllable.” —Herb Caen, “Don’t Call it Frisco”
The first patrons were on two motorcycles and the drivers wore vests that sported the Hells Angels patch over a Frisco rocker on the back. The lead biker had a female passenger on the seat behind him. For a fleeting moment I wanted to leave, but I felt compelled to stay. The Angel was very polite and gracious with Jeannie as he turned off his engine and put his kick-stand down. He stood up to straddle his bike and reached for his back pocket to retrieve a trucker’s wallet on a chain that was secured to his belt.
“How are you on this fine night, Ma’am?” I heard him say. “I would like to pay the toll for both of us, if I may.” He smiled and glanced back at the beauty sitting behind him. “You won’t charge me extra for my passenger, will you now? She’s put on a pound or two this last month.”
They both broke into a chuckle as Jeannie said, “If SHE counts as extra weight, I am going to go broke crossing bridges around here!”
And then it happened
It was impossible for me not to overhear, and enjoy, this conversation taking place not ten feet away from me. That is until the patron in the Beemer showed up.
He was driving a sweet twenty year-old BMW 2002 Tii, beautifully maintained and looking like it was fresh from the showroom floor. He wasn’t privy to the entire conversation—arriving just as Jeannie was speaking—and he didn’t seem like the type of person who was very interested in others, except when they were in his way and needed to move out of it.
Just as Jeannie finished talking, “Jim Beemer” tapped his horn, one time—BEEP! The first Angel smiled at Jeannie and handed her the $6.00 toll and slowly, methodically, put his wallet back into his rear pocket.
Treat us good, we’ll treat you better. Treat us bad, we’ll treat you worse.
One Heavenly Angel, Two Hells Angels, Jeannie and I all turned to look at this new arrival. Angel #2 snapped his kick-stand down and leaned his bike onto it. Both Angels swung their legs over their bikes and pirouetted in a half-circle, facing Jim Beemer.
“WHAT?!” Angel One said as he walked to the front of the BMW.
“NO DAMN MANNERS!” Angel Two said as he walked to the rear of the car.
Jim Beemer was frantically rolling up the front windows of his car. A new situational awareness had set in and Life, as he knew it, was about to get real.
Angel One spoke first, a word at a time, “Don’t … you … ever … sound … your … horn … at … a … biker … again.” Between each spoken word Angel One pushed down on the hood of the car and as the rear of the car sprung up, Angel Two pushed down on the trunk of the car. In no time at all the car was rocking up-and-down, nose-to-tail in a rhythmic beat and the driver was bouncing forwards and backwards between the steering wheel and the headrest of the front seat.
When the momentum could be sustained by Angel One alone, Angel Two moved to the passenger side of the car and began rocking it from side-to-side, adding a new dimension of terror on the cross-axis.
“ARE YOU GONNA HONK THAT HORN ANYMORE?” Angel Two inquired.
“ARE YOU?” Angel One asked.
“Nnnoo,” Jim Beemer said as he bounced off of the steering wheel, the headrest, the driver’s side window, and the passenger space toward Angel Two.
“WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”
“NO. NO. I won’t do it again!”
Angel One turned around to return to his bike and stopped at the door to Jeannie’s booth. “I’m sorry about that, Ma’am, but I can’t stand rude people.”
Angel Two walked toward his motorcycle and said, “My apologies too, Miss. I also have issues with poor manners.”
Jeannie said, “Not a problem, guys. I do believe your lesson will stick.”
The Hells Angels rode off and the driver of the BMW pulled up to pay his toll. He slowly rolled down his window, handed Jeannie three one dollar bills and asked for a receipt. As Jeannie hit the “Print” button the patron behind Jim Beemer honked their horn, BEEP!
Jeannie looked back at me and I locked eyes on her. We both started to smile when suddenly Jim floored the accelerator of his Beemer and sped off into the night. Our smiles turned into uncontrolled laughter as she took the money from the new driver and handed him Jim’s receipt.
“I didn’t ask for this,” the new driver said.
“No, but you were destined to have it,” Jeannie said.
Related Link: Why Do Some Hate the Nickname “Frisco”?