Author Archives: piltdownlad

About piltdownlad

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

An Argument for Meter and a Half

taximeter-yellow-taxi

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner
on August 22, 2019.

Among cab drivers, there are always rumors making the rounds in taxi yards, cabstands and holding lots across The City. They’re rarely good. By now, all but the truly delusional have come to expect any change to include a kick in the crotch.

The latest scuttlebutt is about the SFMTA eliminating meter and a half, the policy that allows drivers to charge an additional 50 percent of the metered rate on rides that go 15 miles beyond the county line.

It’s always uncomfortable explaining meter and a half to customers. Naturally, many balk at the prospect of paying more than the normal rate.

Even though I’m not a stickler for meter and a half, there are times when it’s necessary.

Like that ride from UCSF Parnassus to San Jose two weeks ago. During peak rush hour, it took over three hours to complete. Fortunately, the guy had a voucher and I didn’t have to explain meter and a half.

Then last Friday, I drove a woman from SFO to Santa Clara. At 4:20 p.m. Before taking off, I quoted her $150, the amount listed on the rate sheet. She agreed to the fare. Forty-five minutes later, when we pulled up to the McAfee building, I only charged her $120, since traffic wasn’t that horrible. But it still took me an hour to get back to The City. All told, including my original wait time, I spent almost four hours on the ride. So it’s not like I made out like a bandit.

Of course, meter and a half only exists if you bring it up.

Read the rest here.


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 


 

 

A Vacation at the Airport

SFO-Taxi-Line-Douglas-OConnor-web

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner
on July 18, 2019.

In San Francisco, it’s always open season on taxicabs. Sometimes it boggles my mind how driving a taxi can inspire so much scorn from the general public. But then, on any given day, Bay Area drivers seem to be in direct competition with each other, racing towards the next red light for the grand prize of absolutely nothing.

Except maybe new brakes.

So when a professional driver enters the equation, with access to transit-only lanes, plenty of road experience and a deep knowledge of how to maneuver the lights, it must frustrate all the speed demons to get owned by a taxi.

Last week, I’m heading south on Potrero in the red carpet lane. At 24th, where it ends, I merge into the flow of traffic. Since letting any car in front of you is akin to slander, a beat up Mazda almost causes a multiple car pileup changing lanes to cut me back off. Which I let him do when he finally speeds up. It’s not like I’m trying to drive like a jerk. There’s a paying customer in my backseat with a meter running. I’m just doing my job, getting passengers where they need to go as efficiently as possible.

And yeah, I know a taxi driver complaining about traffic is totally cliché, but when you spend as much time driving as we do, it transcends a mere occupational annoyance and rises to the level of an existential grievance.

Normally, I just accept my fate and deal with the constant abuse from other drivers. But last Thursday afternoon, after spending 20 minutes on Townsend, trying to reach the Caltrain cabstand, only to find it filled with unmarked sedans, it occurs to me that there’s an alternative to the hassle of working the streets.

When the train pulls in, I get a fare going to Glen Park, but instead of subjecting myself to congestion in the Mission on the way downtown, I get on the freeway… SFO bound.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 


 

 

 

Talking San Francisco Blues

flywheel-taxis-city-hall-green-san-francisco

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner
on May 30, 2019.

Venturing into Fisherman’s Wharf while the sun’s still out is a fool’s errand. But once the cold winds start to blow and the fog comes rolling in so fast it chills you to the bone, all the tourists dressed in t-shirts, shorts and miniskirts rush the Pier 39 cabstand to escape the chill.

Mostly to step between the taxis lined up and reach their Ubers and Lyfts. But when it’s busy, there are enough folks taking cabs to justify the hassle of dealing with the traffic quagmire.

Besides a battalion of unmarked sedans, tour buses and shuttles compete with pedicabs and taxis for space along the curb that stretches from the Aquarium to The Embarcadero. Their frustrated honking sounds like foghorns.

In the melee, backloading is rampant. But when people dressed for May weather in Texas and Florida open your back door seeking sanctuary and transport, do you tell them to go to the front of the line? No, you take the fare and fight your way out of the congestion.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 


 

 

The Dude in the Driver Seat

sf-taxi-driver-trevor-johnson-web

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner
on September 5, 2019.

People are strange, but tourists are stranger. Visitors tend to show up in San Francisco with all sorts of crazy notions.

Like the other night, while taking two guys from SFO to the Aloft hotel in Millbrae, one asks the other, “Do you think those trees are real?”

“Maybe,” he responds.

I’m not exactly sure why they’d assume the copse of poplars next to the 101 south on-ramp were fake, but don’t correct them. After all, they’re not talking to me.

I’m just the cab driver. What do I know?

Even though questioning the validity of timber is definitely odd, it’s more peculiar that passengers will wonder aloud about the unknown world and not include me in the conversation.

They can tell from our initial greeting that I’m American and speak the language. So what gives? Are they just talking to hear themselves talk? Do they really want to know the answers to their questions? Perhaps they’re shy. Or maybe I really am chopped liver…

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 


 

 

We Were Promised Gridlock

Scores Of Travelers Depart For Long Holiday Weekend

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on September 11, 2019.

While everyone was focused on a potential carmageddon during the Metallica concerts at Chase Center last weekend, an actual transportation quagmire was brewing in the south.

Down at SFO, they were closing one of the three runways for 20 days to make repairs.

For travelers, this means delayed flights, redirected flights and canceled flights. What impact this will have on taxi driving was a mystery at first, but the prognosis wasn’t positive.

At least we have Chase Center…

Read the rest here.


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 

When It’s Time for a Change in the Game

taxi-sfo-donut-lot-douglas-oconnor-web

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on July 24, 2019.

Well, my transition into an airport player is almost complete. As much as I’d rather just work The City, it isn’t worth the hassle most of the time.

I used to loathe the idea of waiting almost two hours or more for a fare, but over the past few weeks, the SFO holding lots have become a sanctuary from the madness of the streets.

It’s not just the infinite stream of unmarked sedans, infringing every traffic law on the books, as if they were merely suggestions. Which they seem to be, since you rarely see any enforcement. Unless there’s a fatal accident. Then they assign an officer to that block 24/7, while every other street remains a free-for-all.

It’s also the perpetual construction projects. The ripped up asphalt, strafed with potholes. Along with mercurial signals that are never on your side. Rude, aggressive drivers, looking for any reason to unleash pent-up road rage. Jaywalkers. Cantankerous seagulls. The detritus of excess and endless despair.

Even if there were a hundred flags on every street downtown, you’d spend more time fighting traffic to reach them than you would with the meter running.

So when I start my shift on Thursday, I ask for a P medallion, to avoid a longer wait at the airport. But they only have a couple Ks.

I take the key to 1274 and head over Potrero to Caltrain.

That evening, listening to Jon Miller’s play-by-play on KNBR 680, I make a beeline to the ballpark after the seventh inning stretch. As the game goes into extra innings, I return to Second and King seven more times, until the Giants finally take the lead in the 16th.

After dropping my last fare out of the ballpark in the Marina, I check out the Deerhunter show at the Fillmore. Get a ride to Bernal Heights. Since I’m close to the freeway and there are plenty of delayed flights, I head to SFO.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 

Awkward Casual Encounters

yellow-cab-driver-vintage

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on October 1, 2019.

I used to think nothing was more awkward than pulling up to someone standing on the curb with their arm in the air, only to realize they aren’t actually looking for a taxi, just waving down their Uber/Lyft driver.

The humiliation of feeling wanted one second and then rejected the next seemed to be the epitome of embarrassment.

That is, until I tried casual carpool and discovered a whole new spectrum of dejection.

Casual carpool works like this: passengers who need rides into The City wait at designated spots next to freeway ramps until drivers who need riders to access the carpool lane on the bridge stop to pick them up.

Even though I’ve known about casual carpool for a while, it never occurred to me to use the service until last week. I was running super late, trying to get out the door and into The City. It was almost 9 a.m. and I was looking at spending over an hour crossing the bridge. Most of the backup, as usual, was at the toll plaza.

Faced with such grim prospects, I suddenly remembered casual carpool and practically congratulated myself.

Read the rest here.


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.