The Thin Checkered Line – eBook Version Now Available

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Piltdownlad #11

Behind the Wheel 4: The Thin Checkered Line

PDF & ePub Digital Download

Includes a PDF of the zine, so you can see the layout and artwork that accompanied the stories, as well as an .epub file to view on your favorite eBook reader. The PDF is a printable version of the print zine. It’s 64 pages long, illustrated. The ePub file does not include any images besides the cover.

Get it here.


“The Thin Checkered Line” is the fourth installment in the Behind the Wheel series – a week in the life of a San Francisco taxi driver living in Oakland, a newly minted father and newspaper columnist who’s always on the prowl for a good ride and an even better story …Over the course of these five narrative essays, I document the gritty details of the 12-hour taxi shift while exploring the rapidly changing landscape of present day San Francisco; .

As I attempt to explain how the taxi system works, I answer the eternal question: why I drive a taxi, and describe what it’s like driving a taxi in the age of Uber and Lyft …

Along the way, I also speculate on the future of transportation and wonder where the hell we’re going, and whether or not the destination is meter and a half …

The Loneliness of the Late Night Taxi Driver

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My weekly column for the S.F. Examiner published on March 14, 2019:

In the small hours, Howard Street can be the loneliest stretch of asphalt in The City.

Driving through the quiet streets of SoMa after midnight is like starting into an abyss. Behind you are the glass high rises of downtown and straight ahead, the rowdy clubs on 11th Street. Beyond that, the hustle and bustle of the Mission.

Between those two points, there isn’t much activity and I tend to drift into despair. Especially when it’s my last chance to redeem another pilfered shift.

With only eleven hours to make gate and gas, I spend the first half of the night in the red. Once I have my nut, then it’s my turn to earn a little scratch.

But one false move and I’m chasing the shadows of fares until I have to turn in my cab.

Maintaining a positive outlook isn’t easy when there’s so much at stake.

Even though the clubs are all hopping and partygoers are spilling out onto the sidewalk and into traffic, scoring a live one is tricky. And despite the doom and gloom that can overtake you on nights like these, you still have to be ready to force a smile once someone does flag you down. Because no one likes a party pooper.

So you just keep circling and hoping for the best …

After popping and locking up Valencia, followed by a creepy crawl down Mission, I cross myself at 13th and drive-by Monarch at Sixth. I circle the block in case the signs of life aren’t just my imagination, then head towards 11th. From there, I do the Folsom Street shuffle.

At Eighth, a line of cabs is wrapped around the Cat Club and F8 like a birthday gift that no one wants to open. Outside 1015 Folsom, the doormen point flashlights at the drivers who try to stage.

At Fifth, I take a right and cruise Blow Buddies on Harrison, where there’s always at least one cab posted up. I investigate the End-Up and consider whether to circle back to Union Square or head to the Mission.

Waiting for the light, I gauge my level of desperation and decide whether it’s worth the effort to troll Polk Street.


Read the rest here.

AND

while I have your attention…

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If you dig these short rides, why not consider going for a long haul and buying a zine?

Or two?

Or four?

Each issue of Behind the Wheel is jam packed with ribald tales, cheap thrills and personal insight from the manic streets of San Francisco, illustrated with city scenes, maps and retro graphics. Also, stickers!

Help keep print media alive and support your local word-slinging cab driver!

Click here to order.


[photo by Christian Lewis]

When Uber Drivers Attack

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From my weekly column for the S.F. Examiner published on March 7, 2019:

Well, it happened again.

Seems like no matter how hard I try to avoid choleric interactions with Uber/Lyft drivers, the odds are always against me.

On the streets of San Francisco, their numbers alone are reason enough to steer clear, but also why getting tangled up with one of these inexperienced drivers for hire is almost inevitable …

Last Friday night, with Hamilton back in town for a second run, I head towards the Orpheum around 9:45 p.m.

Right as I pull up on Hyde, the theater breaks. Insta-load. Two ladies going to Parc 55. Along the way, they ask to stop at the Walgreen’s on Powell.

Racing down O’Farrell on the red carpet, dodging potholes and double-parkers, their conversation comes and goes like a bad signal from a talk radio station. On the sidewalks, dark figures huddle and conspire in the shadows.

“I was here 10 years ago,” one tells the other. “And never hesitated to walk through Union Square. Now…”

“I know what you mean…”

They discuss the virtues of Denver and Phoenix as we hit a bit of congestion.

Outside the Hilton, I surreptitiously eyeball a streetwalker prowling the cold, wet night in a flimsy miniskirt.

When I pull up across the street from the drugstore, they ask me to wait. I’m not surprised.

“Just keep the meter running.”

“Uh, sure.” As long as they’re fast, I’ll still have time to hit Golden Gate

Theater in ten minutes. “I’ll either be here or…”

Just then, a space opens up in front of Walgreen’s.

“… over there.”

Once the coast is clear, I flip a U, which becomes a three-point turn due to the horrible turning radius on the Fusion.

As I attempt to straighten up, a Camry pulls in behind me, seemingly out of nowhere, and prevents me from fully accessing the space. In my rearview, I notice the U symbol on their windshield.

Oh, great.


Read the rest here.

Stuck Inside a Taxi with the Wintertime Blues Again

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This is my 200th column for the S.F. Examiner, published on Feb. 28, 2019.

February is a bust.

I only worked three shifts this month. Which is the longest I’ve gone without driving a cab since getting my a-card four years ago.

Even when my daughter was born I skipped just two weeks. Of course, back then, with one source of income, we needed the money. And driving a taxi was still viable in 2017. Somehow. Despite the long, cold winter.

Two years later, in the midst of another long, cold winter, that’s no longer the case. Now you’re barely making minimum wage on an eleven-hour shift.

That’s why, when Irina landed a big project a few weeks ago paying five times what I make behind the wheel, it was a no-brainer who would be on toddler wrangling duty.

Instead of chasing fares on the streets of San Francisco, I’m chasing a naked two-year-old around the apartment, pleading with her to take a nap, as she screeches at the cat in the litter box, “Kitty go poo poo, Dada! Kitty go poo poo!!”

So it’s not much different from driving a cab in The City, really. Except the late night crowd tends to be messier and more demanding.

Read the rest here.

The Taxicab Hustle

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“I Drive S.F.” column published in the S.F. Examiner on Feb. 21, 2019.

Last Thursday was my first taxi shift in two weeks. After failing to come up with my share of February’s rent, the powers that be, i.e., my wife, issued an official proclamation, stating that taxi driving shall no longer be considered a real job, and shall be referred to henceforth as my “hobby.” According to this decree, I’m only allowed to “goof off in the cab” when it doesn’t interfere with Irina’s workload. Fair enough. Who am I to contest the will of the people? All I can do is hope business picks up when baseball season starts and the tourists return.

In the meantime, there’s the occasional convention. On Thursday, the IMB Think conference hosted a special event at Pier 39. 10,000 people were supposed to have attended. On top of which, Yellow had an exclusive arrangement to provide transportation for the employees staying out of town, issuing 1800 vouchers for rides to hotels in the Peninsula and East Bay that only Yellow drivers could accept. Since the prospects seemed decent, Irina granted me a temporary furlough to “work” that night.

Like almost every day this month, it rains. Traffic is a nightmare. Despite a late start, I scour the wet streets for rides.

Around 9:30, my dispatch tablet starts blowing up.

“CABS NEEDED PIER 39!”

“PIER 39 NEEDS CABS!!”

From SoMa, I deadhead to the Wharf. The sky is pissing rain. With the wipers slapping the windshield like a dominatrix on meth, I try to navigate the congestion of shuttles and buses among the hordes of Uber/Lyft ninnies doing their best to muck things up.

People are running everywhere, trying to find their drivers or take shelter.

On Powell, a guy with a lanyard bangs on my window. “Are you free?”

I lock the doors. Confused, he walks away. Another guy takes his place. I ignore him until he leaves.

Across the street, in the Yellow designated staging area, people in orange safety vests are yelling at me, “Yellow, over here!”

As more desperate conventioneers approach my cab, I pretend my English is too limited to understand them.

Do I feel sorry for turning down these bullshit fares? Not at all. Because no one is looking out for me. And if I don’t take care of number one, who will? I have a family. A child. But more importantly, a pissed off spouse. If there’s anything in this world that takes precedence over everything else, it’s pissed off spouses.

Read the rest here.

Secret Lives of Taximeters

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“I Drive S.F.” column published in the S.F. Examiner on Feb. 14, 2019.

“Just so you know,” says the guy in the back of my taxi. “This isn’t what you think…”

Driving a taxi can be dreadfully dull at times. During the day, most of the radio business involves transporting folks from their homes to shopping centers or doctor appointments around The City, and vice versa. A big part of the job is also listening to what passengers had for lunch, the graphic details of their illnesses, or just itemized descriptions of the sale items they scored at Ross Dress for Less.

Still, when a guy with two Pomeranians flags me at Haight and Stanyan, looking for a round trip to Golden Gate and Leavenworth, my curiosity doesn’t exactly go wild.

Nights can be just as predictable.

This isn’t the first time I’ve driven someone to Pill Hill who’s drenched in sweat, despite the brisk evening air. It’s not even the first time I’ve taken someone on what appears to be a drug run while they’re supposedly walking the dogs.

But my current fare does catch me off guard by questioning these kinds of assumptions.

“It’s not?” I reply, more curious to find out what he thinks I’m thinking than what’s really going on.

“Well, I suppose you do see a lot of shit driving a cab.”

Before responding, I flash back to a ride earlier that afternoon with a man going from the Potrero Center to Duboce Triangle who spent the entire time talking about the great deal he got on a package of briefs. “Yeah, but I try not to judge.”

It’s hard to tell if we’re still on the same subject, though, once he starts ranting about health insurance, nurses with vendettas, the stigma of permanent medical records and how single payer will be the end of doctor/patient confidentiality.

“I could have a bullet hole in my chest the size of Arkansas but they wouldn’t give me anything stronger than Advil because my chart says I’ve been to rehab.”

What that has to do with the matter at hand is beyond any hypothesis I care to fathom. I just let him do all the talking.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Review of Behind the Wheel 3: From Uber/Lyft to Taxi

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The Urban Suburban Girl blog reviewed the third issue of Behind the Wheel. Can’t ask for better praise than this:

“A must read, especially for San Francisco residents. It brought back the San Francisco edge in my mind’s eye, the edge that has been disappearing slowly as gentrification has been taking over. It will encourage you to join the resistance.”

Check it out here.

Lots of other good stuff on this blog as well, with a focus on SF and the Bay Area.

Get your copy of Behind the Wheel 3: From Uber/Lyft to Taxi here.


[image via]