Author Archives: piltdownlad

About piltdownlad

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

You Can’t Go Home Again to San Francisco

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“Driving a taxi in San Francisco isn’t really about driving,” I tell the guy in the back of my cab, trying to sound like a sage cabbie. “It’s mostly about not hitting shit. Or getting hit.”

“I’m from The City originally,” he says. “Haven’t been back in over five years. It’s hard to believe how much things have changed.”

While stuck in traffic on Kearney, his bemused description of what he’s observed over the past three days quickly turns into an all too familiar rant.

At first, he compares the growing homeless population and shuttering of venerable businesses with the opulent new skyscrapers and the latest squeaky-clean transplants, then mourns the loss of familiar stomping grounds, the neighborhoods of his youth, overrun with crime and condos, before lamenting the privation of The City’s cultural relevance. It seems his homecoming isn’t anything to write home about.

“Before you stopped, two other cabs drove past me.”

“Their top lights were on?”

“Oh, sure. They slowed down, looked at me and took off.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“Whatever. It’s not a big deal. But that never happens to me in New York. I’m just a little surprised. Since when did everyone here become so angry and self-entitled? I mean, look at this guy.”

He points towards a man who recklessly darts across Kearney, forcing cars to slam on their brakes and lay on their horns.

“And what about this crap.”

At Bush, several vehicles are blocking the intersection. More honking ensues as cars struggle to change lanes.

“If the Sentra couldn’t get through the light, why did the Range Rover think they could make it?”

“That boggles my mind constantly,” I say.

“But you know, the worst part of coming home…” He pauses and softly chuckles. “The whole time I was gone, I kept telling people how San Francisco is awesome and everyone’s friendly and welcoming. But I come back and realize my hometown is…”

“Not so awesome?”

“Maybe it’s always been this way and I just never noticed before.”

“I don’t know, man… sometimes you have to love San Francisco in spite of the flaws.”

At Clay, I take a right and drive in silence for the next few blocks. What else can you say?


From the I Drive S.F. column published in the S.F. Examiner on January 10, 2019.

KALW Interview with Kelly Dessaint

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Last month, I went to the KALW studios and talked with Jenee Darden about the I Drive S.F. column, the Behind the Wheel zine series, how I ended up driving for Uber and Lyft, then switching to taxi and what it’s like dealing with all those things in a city like San Francisco.

The interview aired on January 30, 2019.

Check it out here.

kalw-microphone


 

Driving San Francisco, Again

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It’s all about the radio…

Back in the day, Veterans Cab was the premier radio company in San Francisco. Veterans drivers would pass up hundreds of street flags on their way to pick up one radio call. They had accounts throughout the Financial as well as most top-rated restaurants and bars across The City. If you wanted a cab to actually show up, you didn’t call Yellow. You called Veterans.

That’s all history now, though, of course. Over time, Veterans became Arrow Checker when National bought Veterans, then Arrow went under and the last of the Veterans accounts were either squandered or lost to Uber.

What little radio business National was able to hold onto had all but dissipated by the time the new owner decided to implement a Flywheel branded, app-based dispatch system.

When the two-way radios disappeared from all the National/Veterans cabs one day, hardly anyone noticed.

Ever since the idea of transitioning to soft meters was first suggested, I vehemently opposed it. I just want to drive a cab, I repeatedly told the manager at National, equipped with a traditional taximeter. Why fix what isn’t broken? Besides, the countless problems I’d had with the Flywheel phone vastly outnumbered my one incident with the taximeter.

Technology is wonderful, sure. When it works.

Without a radio, you end up just working hotel lines and prowling the streets for random fares, hoping for the occasional Flywheel request. As long as there aren’t any server issues, that is. This strategy can lead to some very boring, unprofitable shifts.

Even though I rarely play the airport, the SFMTA’s new policy determining which cabs get preferential treatment at SFO eliminates another source of fares.

So what’s a cab driver who just wants to serve the people of San Francisco supposed to do?


Read the rest here.

The Scourge of the Surge

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You can always tell when Uber and Lyft are surging: the cars bearing their trade dress begin racing through the streets and driving even more erratically than usual.

It’s all part of the process. As demand spikes and dynamic pricing kicks in, Uber/Lyft drivers are desperate to take advantage of the higher rates, as well as complete more rides to earn power bonuses and incentives.

Driving for Uber and Lyft is like playing a video game. The more rides you give, the more money you make. Obviously. But during peak times, rides are worth even more. Get enough of them and you can double your earnings.

During rush hour, though, you can only move so fast. So when last call rolls around, the empty streets provide a perfect opportunity for drivers to chase the surge. And that’s when things get out of control.


Read the rest here.

You Can’t Go Home Again

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After circumventing the 45 bus, the red carpet on Third Street is all mine. With an eye out for any interlopers who think they’re clever enough to access the transit lane, I scope out the W. and St. Regis for potential fares. At Mission, I see an outreached arm halfway down the block. I flash my high beams and go in for the kill.

“Clay and Battery,” the guy tells me, arranging a bunch of shopping bags on the backseat. “How’s your day going?”

Right as I’m about to respond, a van careens across three lanes of traffic, cuts me off and swervs towards Stevenson.

I hit the brakes and squeeze between the van’s rear bumper and the front end of the car next to me. “Ah, you know… Same old, same old.”

“Wow, that guy almost hit you!”

“Yeah.”

The real tragedy is missing the light at Market.

“Is traffic always this bad?” he asks.

“Eh. It gets worse.”


Read the rest here.

Breakfast of Champions

 

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Maybe it’s just my imagination. Or maybe I really do need to get my aura cleansed. 

That was Irina’s sardonic recommendation to cast away the various misfortunes that have been following me around lately like a personalized rain cloud. Or, in her more succinct evaluation: to become less of a schlimazel.

It definitely feels like the universe has been having a cosmic giggle at my expense these days.

Half the time when I order take-out, they give me the wrong food… A perfectly healthy plant only has a 50-50 chance of life expectancy under my care… Despite maintaining the same clothes sizes for over 20 years, I somehow invariably buy shirts in medium instead of large…

Why? It makes no sense.

As I sit behind the wheel of my cab, stranded on Maritime Street at West Grand and waiting for the tow truck to arrive, I can’t help but contemplate my propensity for misfortune.

After all, it was my rotten luck to end up in a taxi without a spare tire in the trunk. Road flares? Check. Lug wrench? Got it. Donut?

Uhhh… Nope.

Even worse, I’m out of cigarettes. And way too un-caffeinated to deal with this predicament.


Read the rest here.

The Sharp-Dressed Kid Takes a Second Chance

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Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on December 27, 2018.

It’s a cold, blustery evening in The City. As I wait for a red light to cut me some slack, a tsunami of garbage drifts through the intersection. Competing tabloids wrestle in the street, while crimson and ocher leaves, plastic bags and stained fast food wrappers egg them on like hype men in a rap battle.

Even though the rain has finally let up, the sidewalks are vacant and most of the bars are quiet. Not much traffic either, which makes waiting so long for this light to change all the more frustrating.

“Come on, signal,” I mumble out loud. “Turn green already.”

I’m not long for this shift. With only fleeting moments of demand earlier that have since become few and far between, I don’t see much promise in the small hours ahead. Or the next few blocks, for that matter.

Should I waste my time circling through SoMa? I wonder. Or take a right and go straight to the bridge instead?

When the light turns green, I make a left.

After finding no love on Eleventh Street, I turn onto Folsom. Outside The Willows, there’s an arm in the air.


Read the rest here.