A Friday Night Blowout

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This column was originally published in the S.F. Examiner on October 11, 2018.


 

The streets of San Francisco are ribbed for your car’s pleasure. And the massive potholes, some of which could easily qualify as ditches, are there to make sure you’re paying attention.

Out-of-town drivers, unfamiliar with the wretched condition of The City’s thoroughfares, probably think I’m just another reckless cabbie, based on my serpentine trajectory on streets like Mission, O’Farrell or California. Until, that is, they end up testing the limits of their shock absorbers on the trenches I’m trying to avoid.

It’s impossible to keep track of all the potholes. Even if you are able to memorize the egregious ones, and remember to swerve accordingly, new cavities emerge all the time.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

The End of Mr. Judy

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When it comes to certain passengers, no matter how much they pay you, it’s never enough …

This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about an unfortunate aspect of driving a taxi: the unwanted regular.

It’s all fun and games until you realize you’ve been listening to the same passenger moan and complain in the backseat of your taxi for the last… uhhh… two years.

At $2.75 a mile and 55 cents a minute, that may seem like a pretty good load, but what’s the going rate for being a pain sponge?

“It’s never enough,” Late Night Larry tells me. “When it comes to certain passengers, no matter how much they pay you, it’s never enough.”

Outside the Orpheum on Hyde Street, waiting for Miss Saigon to break, I’m leaning against Larry’s cab, complaining about my predicament with a deep-pocketed regular who has become more trouble than he’s worth.

“Did I ever tell you about the Cash Cow?” Larry asks.

The Cash Cow used to call him three to five times a night. The rides were usually long and profitable. But they could also be problematic.

“One night, I’m driving the Cash Cow and his girlfriend up Van Ness. At a red light, they see somebody on the sidewalk and the woman screams, ‘There he is!’ She jumps out of the cab, walks up to the guy and starts pummeling him. Soon, people are gathering around. Somebody calls the cops. Meanwhile, I’m thinking to myself… This just isn’t worth it.”

Later that night, I’m griping to Colin. He mentions the Little Shit, one of his old regulars. This guy just wanted to hang out in the backseat of his cab doing whippets while Colin drove around.

“The Little Shit always called when it was busy, which made it difficult to deal with my other regulars. Even though he paid me whatever I asked for, he wasn’t worth the hassle.”

While it’s comforting to know I’m not the only cab driver to end up with an unwanted regular, I still have to figure out how to get rid of mine: Mr. Judy.

Read the rest here.

From One Soma to the Next

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This is the full-length version of the I Drive S.F. column prior to the hatchet job that was published in the S.F. Examiner on October 4, 2018 about driving a taxi during the week of Folsom Street Fair and the Dreamforce convention. 


 

Everything is a blur …

This morning, when I wake up to the sound of rain, the week before is a distant memory, even though just 24 hours have passed since I walked from the National yard to the 24th Street BART station and boarded an Antioch train. As we sped from one stop to the next and then barreled east through the Transbay Tube, I forced myself not to fall asleep. It wasn’t easy.

From MacArthur, I stumbled down Telegraph under an overcast sky. The coming storm was manifest in the tepid breeze that threatened to knock me down.

Five long days of cab driving had taken their toll on my body. I was exhausted, almost tempted to let the wind take me – just surrender to the current and drift like a broadside through the streets and avenues of Oakland, hoping not to get stuck in a tree, or impaled on the finials of the wrought iron fence around the Harmony Baptist Church.

In the distance, the sound of heavy machinery from a construction site brings me back to reality, and I continue moving forward. Only seven more blocks to go, I tell myself. Seven more blocks and then sleep …

After taking BART to 24th Street, I jump in a cab, but the driver refuses to take me to the Bayview. So I walk, with the sun directly overhead, peeling off layers along the way.

Once I’m behind the wheel of Veterans 233, I head over Potrero Hill into SoMa, to hunt for Dreamforce conventioneers, easily identifiable by the lanyards around their necks, and the gray backpacks over their shoulders.

I drive up Third Street, glancing at the people standing on the curb, holding
out their phones out like Geiger counters and looking forlornly in the direction of oncoming traffic.

Taxi, anyone?

At Market, I take a right and go down New Montgomery. On Howard, a guy yells into his phone, “I’m on the left side of the street, in a blue shirt. Do you see me? No? Where are you?”

Slowly, I meander up Kearney, then down Clay Street into the Financial. Around Battery, a man runs towards me, flailing his arms.

“Oh, I’m so glad I found you!” he tells me. “I couldn’t find a cab anywhere!”

“Yeah, it’s been really busy,” I say. “Dreamforce and all…”

“I’m going to a place called Absinthe on Hayes Street. It looks like you should probably take Washington to – ”

“We’ll take Sacramento,” I say, cutting him off. “There’s a taxi lane.”

“Taxi lane?”

“Yeah. Taxi lane.”

While the guy FaceTimes with his wife and kids, I charge up the hill, weaving between the two lanes to circumvent buses, cars turning right and numerous potholes.

“This place is amazing! Check it out,” he tells his wife while pointing the phone at the street. “We’re practically at a 45 degree angle.”

After fighting traffic down Gough and Laguna, I finally pull up to the restaurant. The meter reads $15.60.

“Make it… $42.” He hands me an Amex.

“That’s too much,” I say.

“You act like it’s my money.”

“Fair enough.”

I run his card for $42.

That night, Metallica and Janet Jackson play a concert in Civic Center. On Thursday night, there are Salesforce related events all over Soma. I race from one venue to the next, usually with a passenger in the back.

Once Dreamforce is over, lanyards and business casual give way to leather jockstraps and bondage gear …

On Friday evening, I’m taking a regular to the Rumpus Room on Sixth, cutting down Stevenson to avoid Market. After driving past a guy sticking a needle in some girl’s foot, we encounter a long line of people at the corner. As we get closer, I notice several men have their butts exposed. Which can only mean one thing: Folsom Street Fair has begun.

From that point on, things get blurry. All I really remember are the butts. So many butts. Butts on Friday. Butts on Saturday. And butts on Sunday.

Around 2:30 a.m., I start working 1015 Folsom and Audio. I never wait very long. Once I’ve delivered my fares to their location, I head back to the SoMa clubs.

Eventually, the day begins. The streets downtown become congested with buses, cars and bikes. Bondage gear and leather jockstraps give way to jeans, hoodies, uniforms and suits.

“Sure looks like rain,” people say.

“Sure does…”

It’s Monday morning. As most people head to work under cloudy skies, I make the long trek home.


Originally appeared in a truncated version in the S.F. Examiner on October 4, 2018.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

Listen: Crashing the Tech Industry on the Two Paychecks Podcast

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A few months ago I was a guest on the Two Paychecks Podcast, an anarchist podcast out of the Pacific Northwest.

We talk about my gonzo adventures documenting the Uber/Lyft experience before going pro as a bonafide taxi driver. From recording the vapid attitudes of the new urbanites to going full-on Jerry Springer on a panel at a tech conference, this rambling exchange covers a lot of ground.

Check it out on SoundCloud or listen below:

The Two Paychecks Podcast is also available on iTunes.


 

Middle-Aged Life in the Fast Lane

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This I Drive S.F. column published in the S.F. Examiner on September 27, 2018 is about driving a taxi during a Journey concert at AT&T Park:

You never have to wonder if someone works in the entertainment industry. They usually tell you right away. Like the guy I picked up at the Hyatt Regency. He works for Journey as a sound guy. Or a video guy … Some kind of guy.

“I’ve been touring with rock stars for 25 years,” he tells me.

“That’s cool,” I respond. “So uhm … where ya heading?”

Last Thursday and Friday nights, AT&T was flashback central for the soft rock set, with the Eagles and Doobie Brothers playing the first night, and Journey, Foreigner and Def Leppard on the second.

While Mr. Journey tells me about the lineup, the only positive comment I can muster is, “I liked Def Leppard as a kid. That Pyromania album was pretty good.”

“I can get you free tickets to the concert,” he says. “Just say the word. I’ll put you on the list.”

“That’s cool, man, but I gotta work.”

“Take the night off!”

“I have a kid.”

“You have two days to come up with a plan,” he counters.

Uhhh…

The kid thing is usually a clincher. I try to think of another excuse besides, No thanks, I absolutely hate that kind of music.

Sure, I bought the “Pyromania” tape when it came out in 1983. They were still a metal band. But their sound changed and so did my musical preferences. Def Leppard soon became a symbol of a style I’d abandoned by age 15. I’ll never forget being hospitalized in Birmingham, Alabama, and how my mother came to visit me from Los Angeles and promised to buy me a tape. I was all about punk at that point and asked for the Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind the Bollocks.” But she brought me “Hysteria” by Def Leppard instead. I couldn’t even hide my severe disappointment. “I thought you liked that band!” my mother said, exasperated with my lack of gratitude. Yeah, like two years ago …

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Casualties of Halloween

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As last call draws near, the lost souls of Halloween wander drunkenly through the late night/early morning fog, in tattered costumes and feeble disguises. And even though my top light is bright enough to guide them out of the thick gloom, nobody extends a hand in my direction.

So I keep driving.

After hunting for fares in the Haight, I cruise up Fillmore. At Geary, a sexy nurse holds onto the side of a building, as if she were taking its pulse.

A few blocks away, on Post, Luke Skywalker tries to use the Force to retrieve his broken phone from the sidewalk.

In the distance, a park ranger chases after a grizzly bear, whose companion is a cheese head.

At Gough, I contemplate venturing onward to Polk Street, and the inevitable shit show. But alas, I don’t have the guts.

Instead, I head towards the Mission, and the usual Friday night haunts.

Read the rest here.

A Very Strange Reaction

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“Hey, cabbie! Can you turn up the music?”

“Oh, sure,” I grumble and twist the volume knob to the right. At least the hip-hop is drowning out the chuckle fest between the guy and girl. I don’t even want to imagine what they’re doing back there. I just keep my eyes on the road and the side view mirrors, grateful it’s a short ride.

“Hey, cabbie! Take Grove!”

“That was the plan,” I say under my breath.

The guy has been shouting directions in my ear all the way from the Travelodge on Valencia and Market, as if there were more than one way to get to Civic Center.

“Hey, cabbie! Stop here!”

I slam on the brakes in front of the library.

“Keep the change, cabbie!” The guy hands me $6 on $5.90.

“Oh, thanks.”

“I always like to support you real cabbies. I don’t fuck with Uber, man.”

“That’s cool.”

It takes a few minutes for them to extricate themselves and all their possessions from the cab. Once they’re clear, I speed away and take McAllister to Polk. I’m still grumbling to myself when the dispatch radio crackles to life.

“Drivers, the opera is breaking. They need cabs on the Grove Street side.”

“Sweet!” I make a beeline to Van Ness and catch the light. Before I can pull into the driveway, where a line of people are waiting for rides, two elderly men in matching black tuxes flag me down on the corner.

As they open the backdoor and the dome light comes on, I look over my shoulder and gasp. The seat is speckled with white powder.

“Ahhhh…” I stammer and try to think of a way to deal with the situation. Do I just say something?

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]