Author Archives: piltdownlad

About piltdownlad

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

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]

A Ride for Everyone

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I Drive S.F. column published in the Examiner on February 7, 2019.

In a Yellow cab, you really stand out. Besides the distinctive, universally recognized color scheme, there are seven giant ‘3s’ plastered along each set of doors, along with an assortment of official decals. But it’s the illuminated ad topper mounted on the roof that leaves no doubt what purpose the vehicles serves.

While a Veterans cab is also an obvious form of conveyance, when the toplight is off, they can almost pass for a regular car. Albeit one with an unusual paint job.

That’s not possible with Yellow cabs.

At night, the ad topper shines through the darkness like a klieg light. Even when I have a fare, people will flag me. Or just walk up and try to get inside. Whether I’m loaded or not …

Read the rest here.

New Terrain in Familiar Places

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I Drive S.F. column published in the Examiner on January 31, 2019

Deep in the cut, I play the radio hard. Taking one order after another. Mostly short rides, along with some no-go’s, that push me further into the outlying neighborhoods of The City.

Since my shift began earlier that afternoon, I’ve been loading shopping bags, folding carts and walkers into the trunk of my cab and letting passengers guide me to their destinations through the unfamiliar streets of Visitacion Valley, Ingleside, Crocker Amazon and Balboa Park. Places I know, but rarely worked before switching to Yellow.

So far, most folks are happy to give directions. Except for one lady, who, despite limited English, ribs me for asking her the quickest route from the Glen Park Bart station to the Foodsco in the Bayview.

“You’re supposed to know that!” she responds with a chortle, then leans forward and uses hand gestures to show me the way.

It’s not that I don’t know how to get around, but with a meter running, the stakes are too high for detours. And this being their home turf, wouldn’t they know the best shortcuts?

Plus, deciphering broken English and heavy accents can be even more challenging than navigating new terrain. Especially with streets named Cayuga, Farragut and Onondaga. Or even Jones.

Read the rest here.