Driving for Lyft put me in contact with a fair amount of furry, feathered, and scaled friends. Given how much I love animals, it was a true delight to have them as passengers.
Even when no creatures were present, the excitement of fellow animal loving riders rubbed off on me. One time a woman from Guatamala taught me about the mystical properties of quetzal birds, for instance. Another time a guy from Toronto described his work environment at a pet food company, where cats freely roamed the office.
One 20-something female passenger touted the perseverant spirits that are common amongst runts of litters (which contribute to making them some of the best pets).
“They try a little harder and it’s pretty adorable,” she commented admiringly.
Another passenger and I talked about the phrase “pet owner” and how it should be changed to “pet caretaker, ” both of us (somewhat jokingly, but also serious) finding the idea of owning a living creature displeasurable.
For ease of reading, these stories will be divided into two parts. In Part 1 today, learn about Guatemalan quetzals, ride with a chill chihuahua, behold a big jungle cat crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, and confront a coyote with me on my hike through the parched hills of Antioch. In Part 2 on Monday, read about parakeet passengers and a cat-loving man’s thoughts on the psychology of crazy cat ladies.
#Passengers Speak Spanish: El Rey del Cielo Guatemalteco (“The Guatemalan God of the sky”)
“Los Mayas, las Toltecas y las Aztecas reverenciaron a este tipo de pájaro. Los dieron el nombre ‘el dios del aire.’ Tienen colas con plumas que miden una yarda. Se las utilizaron en vestidos ceremoniales, capas, y arte. Sus plumas fueron mas valiosas que el oro y el jade.”
/ “The Aztecs, Toltecs, and Mayas revere this type of bird. They called it the God of the air. They have tails with yard-long feathers. They would use those tail feathers to make royal clothing and art. Its feathers were more valuable than gold and jade.”
—Female passenger who was an immigrant from Guatemala, showing me a picture of the Quetzal on her phone once the ride is over. She also taught me that quetzals are so valuable that people can be charged with the death penalty if they are caught trying to hunt one of them.
I looked up more information on this birds after our ride, and was moved by this description I found of them:
Skutch (1944) described the male Resplendent Quetzal as “a supremely lovely bird; the most beautiful, all things considered, that I have ever seen. He owes his beauty to the intensity and arresting contrast of his coloration, the resplendent sheen and glitter of his plumage, the elegance of his ornamentation, the symmetry of his form, and the noble dignity of his carriage.”
I was also very saddened to hear that they are nearly extinct. You can learn more about the Save the Quetzal Project here: http://savethequetzal.org
The chillest chihuahua I’ve ever met
I’m not immediately aware of the chihuahua’s presence in the car; it’s only minutes into the young woman passenger’s story that it becomes apparent to me.
As she’s telling me about having lived all over the world because her mom was a gypsy, I sense movement in the duffel bag on the passenger seat to my right. Seconds later, a small tan-colored head pops out from it.
“He’s such a calm chihuahua!” I comment, after getting over my initial surprise.
Seated with his head on his paws—an obedient little passenger if there ever was one—he looks back at me with big brown eyes, filling the car with his chill chihuahua aura.
“I swear that dog understands English,” the girl’s boyfriend remarks from the backseat.
Passenger Shayna* recounts that when she’d first adopted him, initially to socialize her pitbulls (“I wanted them to get along with other dogs”), he was even smaller than his current size. “He used to be able to fit in the cupholder of my car. He would take naps in there,” she fondly recalls.
I drop the throuple off at the theater, where they are about to see Baby Driver. Shayna explains that Jack (the chihuahua) has become a regular here.
After our ride, I reflect more generally on all the shit that small dogs put up with.
I think back to a few years ago when a friend and I sat near a chihuahua at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in SF’s Golden Gate Park. As the messy fruit we ate dribbled juice onto our hands, my friend spotted the chihuahua and said she wanted to “use that little dog as a napkin.”
The indignity he must have felt after overhearing a comment like that has only now become apparent to me. Sorry, little guy.
Rides like the one I had with Jack tonight make me want to do better. I credit him at least in part for the paradigm shift that led to this modification of my behavior. From now on I’ll call out comments like the one my friend made years ago, telling whoever makes them to just use the grass to wipe up their fruit juice dribble— or better, maybe even their own shirt.
Big Cat Crossing
“Oh that was wild,” the passenger, who I picked up near the Presidio, said in response to this headline we’d both just read in a November 2017 SF Chronicle publication:
“Unnerving discovery of a mountain lion lurking around the mansions in the Presidio and Sea Cliff. Experts say the big cat either found its way to the Presidio from the wildland areas on the Peninsula, swam across the bay, or sauntered over the Golden Gate Bridge in the middle of the night.”
Woman crosses paths with coyote
Walking up a hill that’s covered in parched dead grass— shaggy and yellow, it looks like the fur of a freshly blow-dried Polish lowland sheepdog—I spot a dog in the not so far distance and think, Aw.
Next I wonder where his owner is. When did he lose his collar? Or did he ever even have one? I wonder if…wait, is that even a dog?
No. No it’s not.
The fear that immediately rushes through me doesn’t entirely drown out the affection I still feel for the creature. Yet even as I continue finding him adorable, my guard goes up.
I wonder if the coyote’s open-mouthed, cheerful, smiley expression will suddenly harden into an attacking snarl. Are we were far enough apart for me to escape intact if he does decide to go after me?
Another voice tells me I’ll be fine— that maybe if I approached and tried to take a selfie with him, then yes he would eat my face off, but if I just continued calmly on my way, I would be okay.
Lesson of the day: Stay calm while in the presence of a coyote, keep your distance, and save your selfies for the docile cows at Briones.
*Check back on Monday (International Cat Day!) for more animal stories. Follow our IG @lyft_tales