Author Archives: piltdownlad

About piltdownlad

S.F. Examiner columnist, author, zine maker, LA native exiled in Oakland, aspiring luddite, proud papa.

The Golden Age of the Passenger

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Dec. 6, 2018 …

In a city where over 50 percent of the population relies on some form of public transportation, having wheels can make you rather popular. Especially among friends eager to avoid Muni and BART, those who get off work after midnight and ones who are just lazy.

It seems like someone is always looking for a ride. Naturally, as a taxi driver, I’m used to carting people around. Even on my days off, I often give rides in my Jetta. Free, of course. Since there’s not a taximeter mounted on the dash. And I’m not an Uber or Lyft. On that latter point, I tend to be a bit touchy.

Back when I first started driving for Lyft, it annoyed me when passengers wouldn’t sit up front. Dudes in particular. After switching to Uber, everyone rode in back and I quickly began to feel like a servant — or an underpaid taxi driver. That was one of the main reasons I decided to go to taxi school.

If you’re going to be treated like a taxi driver, I figured, you might as well get paid like one.

In the normal way of the world, the protocol for riding in someone’s personal car is to sit up front. Before the advent of Uber and Lyft, the idea of sitting behind the driver when the front seat is readily available was absurd. Anyone who did that would have been considered a total douchebag. Like, who do you think you are, the King of England?

Not that long ago, riding shotgun was the next best thing to being at the wheel. In high school, a typical after class ritual was to race to your friend’s car in order to get dibs on the front seat, otherwise you’d be relegated to the back, usually reserved for fast food wrappers and empty soda cans.

Now that we’re in the golden age of the passenger, the traditional methods of riding in cars are all topsy-turvy. These days, it’s perfectly normal to see two grown men squeezed together in the back of an unmarked Kia while the front seat remains empty.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

Wherever the Taxi Winds May Blow

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Nov. 29, 2018 …

Not all rides are equal. Even if they start at the same point, destinations vary

so drastically — and financially — that entire shifts can hang in the balance of one arbitrary decision.

In my early days of driving a taxi, I approached each intersection with a quandary: What’ll happen if I turn right? Will I hit pay dirt by taking a left instead? Or does my fortune lie straight ahead?

After a while, I realized there’s nothing certain about taxi driving, every move is a gamble and the only way to avoid going insane is by letting fate determine your trajectory.

Nowadays, when I leave the National yard, my usual thought is, So… where are the taxi winds going to take me tonight?

Even though getting Zen about cab driving may lead to warm and fuzzy feelings, there are hundreds of taxi drivers on the streets, who are all in direct competition with each other and couldn’t care less about your inner serenity.

It’s only a matter of time before your phlegm is put to the test.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Driving into the Apocalypse

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Nov. 22, 2018 …

My day begins under an apocalyptic sky. Due to the deadly Camp fire up north, the atmosphere in Oakland is polluted with tragedy and a thick haze of smoke.

It’s been 10 days since we’ve had a breath of fresh air. The lack of oxygen is really bothering me. As much as I’d like to just stay home, my taxi is parked outside. So I say goodbye to the wife and kid, jumpstart Veterans 233 and begin the long slog across the Bay into a blood red sunset.

On the bridge, visibility is poor. Yerba Buena Island is just a blur and the skyline is blotted out by smog.

I take the Fifth Street exit. At the light, one of the panhandlers has a sign that reads, “Need $ for an N-95.”

Downtown, the streets are practically deserted. Although most people seem to have heeded the authority’s advice to stay indoors, the majority of folks who decided to brave the elements are wearing respirators or surgical masks.

After driving down Market, I turn onto New Montgomery and cruise past The Palace, where Local 2 has been on strike for over a month. Some picketers attempt to make a commotion, clanging on buckets and other percussive instruments, while trying to stay warm as the evening temperature drops rapidly.

Even before the fire, there was a heavy dystopian vibe in San Francisco, as if we’re living a sci-fi novel set in a universe divided by massive income disparity, where crime and violence run rampant and evil corporations develop tools that allow a totalitarian regime to assume control of the government.

While those who’ve read the “Big Three,” along with Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut and Anthony Burgess, might have an idea how this story will end, it seems as though the people developing technology these days are too blinded by hubris and greed to realize they’re bringing us closer to the end of times.

Now that we have the worst air quality in the world, it feels even more like the future is here. And it’s just as terrifying as Orwell and Huxley predicted. But as long as we have enough gadgets to desensitize us to the consequences, there’s no reason to freak out …

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

An Ambassador on Wheels

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Nov. 15, 2018 …

Outside the Hyatt Regency, an Amtrak Thruway Coach idles in the bus stop, leaving just enough room for me to pull into the cabstand. A few seconds later, an elderly man approaches my cab.

“We need a taxi,” he tells me. “Can you drive us?”

In the side mirror, I notice suitcases. With a Thruway Coach on the scene, though, it’s unlikely they’re going to the airport.

While stowing the luggage, I ask for their destination.

“Travelodge. 1707 Market.”

The husband and wife are from a small town in New Jersey and plan to spend a week in San Francisco. To see the sights. But mostly to shop.

As we roll down Market Street, they stare out of the windows, marveling at the grandeur of The City. I go into tour guide mode.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

NEW ZINE: Behind the Wheel 4: The Thin Checkered Line

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“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, erstwhile Angeleno living in Oakland, newly minted father and newspaper columnist who’s always on the prowl for a good ride and an even better story …

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Pt. 1 – The Way of the Taxi

Pt. 2 – A Story with Wheels

Pt. 3 – Navigating the Uber Effect

Pt. 4 – The Death of Cab Culture

Pt. 5 – San Francisco Ain’t Never Been What It Used to Be

Over the course of these five narrative essays, I document the rides that were too risqué for The Examinerand chronicle the gritty details of four 12-hour taxi shifts while exploring the rapidly changing landscape of San Francisco during the latest tech boom.

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 going to be meter and a half …

This half-sized, staple-bound zine features a wraparound cover and sixty-four pages of text, illustrated with b&w images of San Francisco street scenes from behind the wheel. Also includes a “taxi driving is not a crime” bumper sticker.”  

taxi-driving-not-crime

The price is $7.00 postpaid in the US. 


ORDER HERE:

Behind the Wheel 4: The Thin Checkered Line

“The Thin Checkered Line” is the fourth installment in the Behind the Wheel series – a week in the life of a San Francisco taxi drive. This half-sized, staple-bound zine features a wraparound cover and sixty-four pages of text, illustrated with b&w images of San Francisco street scenes from behind the wheel. Includes a "taxi driving is not a crime" bumper sticker. The price is $7.00 postpaid in the US.

$7.00


Also available from the Piltdownlad Etsy store.

 

“So… How Long Have You Been Part of the Problem?”

Bay-Bridge-Moon-Trevor-Johnson-web

“In the end, everyone in San Francisco will get evicted.”

The guy in the back of my taxi is in the middle of an epic rant.

“Regardless of how many generations deep you are, how much money you got, where you work, whether you’re famous or living in a tent – none of that matters. When you die, they’ll box you up and relocate you down to Colma. Or dump your remains in the Bay. Or whatever. Because nobody gets to stay in The City forever.”

Stuck on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, in traffic moving like a funeral procession, it’s hard not to think about death. Especially as this guy’s negative comments rack up faster than the clicks on the taximeter.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I mumble.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

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]