Mr. Billy and I are indulging in crepes at our favorite local creperie on Haight. I'm considering making a pig of myself with a dessert crepe (chocolate and salty butter - nothing comes close), when Mr. Billy stands up and heads for the door. The counter girl is next to him, pointing at a black Mercedes parked in front of the shop. Something is leaking at an alarming rate from the back of the car.
Mr. Billy gets closer to investigate. He puts his hand in the stream then stands up. "Yep," he says, "Gasoline." The counter girl and I watch as the gallons pour out onto the street while Mr. Billy disappears into the bathroom to wash his hands.
"We should call the cops," I say. It occurs to all of us at the same time that anyone walking by with a cigarette could touch off a fire, a Very Bad Fire.
The counter girl picks up the phone. "Um, fire?" she says.
"How fast is it leaking?" she asks nobody in particular.
"About a gallon a minute," Mr. Billy says.
Another customer has come in, and he's shaking his head. "Think of how much money is just running out onto the street," he says.
The counter girl hangs up the phone. "They said don't let anyone get near it."
I order a cup of tea while we wait for the firemen. A guy wearing an orange vest with a cigarette hanging from his mouth is sweeping the street. He gets close to the Merc.
"Stay away from that car, it's leaking gas," I say. Three of us point at the stream, still going strong.
He nods and says thanks, and keeps sweeping in the gutter, right up to the car. I realize the cig isn't lit.
"Get away from it now," says Mr. Billy.
"No, I'm okay," the man says, but he moves away.
"Do you see that cigarette butt lying right under the car, ominously?" asks the cook. She had been about to take her smoke break when she noticed the smell.
We look at the butt, at the growing lake of gasoline, running down the gutter to the Ashbury corner. Then we hear a siren.
It's been less than five minutes, and here are the firemen. They inspect the car, ask if the owner is around.
"Nope. She parked and went off."
Two guys open the gas tank cover, while a couple of others pour kitty litter - or something like it - into the gutter.
"Gas cap wasn't screwed on tight."
The fireman tightens down the gas cap, and the leak stops. Just like that. The firemen soak up all the gas, get back in their truck, and disappear.
"The owner of the car - she may never know what happened," I say as we walk toward the bus. I look back down the street where no fire started today, and I take Mr. Billy's hand.