Quigley was in town for the weekend again. More cabs. We rode like royalty through the streets, Laotian cabbie laughing amiably at everything we said. He was 20 minutes from the end of his shift and dropping us off in the posh section of town; his day was winding up neatly.
We took Q on a stairway walk, peering into people's backyards, dizzy views on both sides. To the left, rows of houses leading out to the ocean; surf's up, Mr. Billy's wishing we were out there, watching the surfers. To the right, the rows are jumbled and lost entirely, the park a vast green pelt below us, downtown further to the right, the pyramid, the Bay Bridge.
We're climbing down some new tile steps, on the first landing we pause and direct Quigley to look up. The risers make a mosaic, a sun, brilliant yellows, oranges, reds, mirrored shards sparkling along its rays.
At the next landing, we look up again. A moon against a deep lapis blue. A little girl hops up the steps to the top, hangs on the handrail. "It makes a picture," she says, "it has names on it!"
Names of the people who contributed, in one way or another. Chuck and Celia. Gomes. Hu. Jackson. Painted inside the stars. A doctor's name on a bat, flying across the bottom of the sky.
At the next landing, the blue narrows between two mountains. Sky and earth. Birds and animals carrying names. The landing below that, a river; below that, the river empties into the ocean.
At the bottom, we would like to stand and admire, but there are three women gathered there, two elderly and one middle-aged. The first, and youngest, in a loud voice: "I mean, sure, the stairs are great, but the traffic, people slowing down to look, and the bus. I told them, sure, they could do it, but just paint a red curb here, but did they listen? I mean, this is a narrow street, and you can't believe how noisy the bus is..."
We move away from her, a bus going by.
Quigley has a way of drawing out strangers, asking questions in a completely open manner, irresistible. Our Pakistani cabbie at the end of the night has been in San Francisco for three years, driving a cab since he arrived. Q wants to know about his worst experiences, the scariest. Our cabbie shows his eyes in the rearview mirror. "Nothing all that scary," he says. We press him, Really? we want to know, "No, really. Some interesting people, yes, at Castro & Market, but this is a friendly city." He goes on to tell us that he married a woman from here. You see, Quigley, it isn't just us, just a visitor's experience. It's the city.