Renee Donovan, CA
Renée is a freelance writer, editor, and ballet teacher. She grew up in San Francisco and received a degree in Human Biology from Stanford University. Before joining Story Terrace, she worked for one year in book publishing, first interning at W.W. Norton & Co., Sterling Lord Literistic, and McSweeney’s, and later working at The Zoë Pagnamenta Agency. In her free time, she volunteers at Dance for PD, teaching dance to individuals suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and Garden for the Environment, an urban demonstration garden in San Francisco. She tells live stories at The Moth’s StorySLAMs, and she practices storytelling across different media through songwriting and choreography. She is currently at work on a children’s book.
As a Story Terrace writer, Renee interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know her better by reading her autobiographical anecdote below.
The 49 Van Ness – Mission curves a fishhook from Fort Mason to City College, covering an impressive swath of San Francisco. At Market Street, it empties, spilling passengers into the underground arteries of the N-Judah or the K-Ingleside. At 16th and Mission, it refills, swapping those crossing town with those crossing the Bay on BART. It putters through the Mission, stopping nearly every block, pausing at 24th, Cesar Chavez, then onto Crescent, Balboa Park, and Geneva.
The 49 is always packed, so I am surprised when I get on at the southwest corner of Van Ness and Vallejo to find the bus completely empty. I move toward the back of the bus out of habit, settle into a window seat and begin to pull out my book. The bus lurches forward, whining on its airborne electric track.
“Call me Bincent,” I hear from the driver’s seat. I look up and catch the driver’s eye in the rear-view mirror.
“Vincent?” I shout back over the rattle of wheels on potholes.
He smiles in the mirror, beckons me to the front of the bus with the hand that isn’t on the wheel, and motions for me to sit down in one of the seats reserved for seniors and persons with disabilities.
“Call me Bincent,” he repeats, still shouting even though I am now within earshot. “With a B.”
“Bincent,” I work my tongue around the unfamiliar name. “Nice to meet you. My name’s Renée.”
“No, no, Bincent ain’t my name. It’s my chauffeur name. So you only call me Bincent when you say chauffeur things, like, ‘Bincent, turn the coach around, would you?’ Or ‘that’ll do just fine, Bincent.’ Things like that.”
I chuckle, delighted at the emptiness of the bus, the December cold snap, and my new private chauffeur.
“First I wanted my chauffer name to be Alfred,” Bincent continues, “You know, like Batman. But you ain’t no ordinary superhero. You’re a special passenger, and you deserve a chauffeur with a special name.”
Bincent continues talking, mostly to himself, vaguely to me, for the rest of my ride. Whenever he senses me losing interest, thumbing at my book or turning towards the window, he makes some glib comment about how generous I’m being to share my private coach with the other passengers who board at Pine St., later at Eddy, or he asks me to explain to him my own Batwoman superpowers.
When I step out the back doors at 16th and Mission, by now my private coach packed with kids sitting two to a seat, whose knees don’t reach seat’s edge, burly men, lipstick women and everything San Francisco has to offer in between, Bincent calls out, surprising me.
“Don’t forget, Batlady, next time you need a ride across town, just give Bincent a call.”
He winks in his rear-view, the green light above the doors flashes, and I step down to open the doors.
Outside, a thin man rasps in Spanish into a microphone at the entrance to the BART station. I catch a few words, Dios, pecador, niños, his sermon replacing Bincent’s monologue in my ear. Within 15 yards, the shrill voice of a teenager arguing passionately with her first lover replaces the thin man’s sermon: “You don’t even know me!” Argument replaces sermon replaces monologue, the voices of 800,000 strangers becoming a metronome, swinging back and forth to some mysterious rhythm, making this city feel like home.
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