Category Archives: driving in San Francisco

My Rating Weighs A Ton

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As an Uber/Lyft driver, you live and die by the rating system, which is, at best, dysfunctional. We are constantly at the whim of passengers who may or may not be in their right minds when asked to select a number of stars. When it comes to the late night drunkies, we can only hope they wait until morning to finish the transaction. But in the middle of the day, somebody pissed off at the world could easily shift frustration to a driver. Bad day at work? That’s a star. Not getting along with the girlfriend/boyfriend? Another star. Lost the high score on the that new video game? Sayonara star. Boss being a jerk? One star for you!

I usually know when I’m about to get hit with a bad rating. Like this Thursday night a few weeks ago…

I pick up a guy from a burger joint in the Marina. He’s carrying a take-out bag. Drive him to Pac Heights. Nice dude. But the smell of his crappy fast food is nauseating. I love a cheap, greasy burger, except trapped inside a car the smell seems to metastasize until my head is swimming in a toxic stew. I have these Febreeze air freshener cartridges that clip onto the vents. I hit recirculate to help mask the odor.

After dropping him off, I roll down the windows. Immediately, I get another request. Drive back towards the Marina worrying about the stench lodged in my olfactory nerves like an act of shame. I’m certain my next passengers will think I’m the one who reeked up the car.

To my surprise, the pinned location is Roam, an artisan burger restaurant on Union. What luck!

Two girls get in the back. I tell the one who requested the ride, “I just picked up this guy from another burger joint and was trying to air my car out. I’m so relieved you’re at a burger place too!”

“Sorry,” she says snidely.

Uhhh… “No, it’s a good thing.”

She grunts. Obviously wasted. The stench of secondhand alcohol merges with the lingering cheap burger stink to create a noxious miasma of putridness. And it’s only 9:30! I stopped driving the late shift a month ago because I was sick of dealing with the drunkie shit show. And the subsequent hits to my rating.

“Alhambra and Pierce. Take Fillmore.”

“Alright.” I take off but hesitate before starting the ride on the app. Sometimes I wait until I’m sure the passenger is not going to be a problem. I’d rather lose a fare than risk a low rating.

During the short drive, she talks to her friend about some interpersonal bullshit that makes no sense to me. Drunken advice. The worst kind of advice. How the girl should do this and not do that. But the girl doesn’t take too kindly to the counseling. They start arguing. When I pull up to the apartment building at Alhambra and Pierce, they’re calling each other bitches.

I try to be cool and end the ride with my usual, “Have a good night.” And then, in the most sincere tone I can muster, “Take care now.”

That “take care now” is my standard closer. It’s proven to be an effective way to leave things with passengers. Especially the silent ones. My way of exuding respect and bonhomie. But I can tell from her repugnant snort that it misses its mark this time. She chases after her friend who is careening down the street.

“Where the fuck are you going, bitch?”

I get out of there fast. Wonder what I could have done differently… I know she was in a foul mood when I first interacted with her. I probably shouldn’t have said anything, but how could I have known? There’s just no telling with people…

An hour later, just as I suspected, my rating goes down a hundredth of a decimal point. Yeah, not that big of a deal, but those four star ratings can really add up fast. It sucks. I performed my job without a glitch and yet I’m penalized because this girl was having a bad night?

I do a lot to keep my rating high. I clean my Jetta weekly and spot clean it the rest of the time. I use Armor-All on the leather seats. Before the price cuts, I went to a hand wash place here in Oakland. After that, I did it myself at a self-serve. Then I found a drive-thru car wash that only charges eight bucks. They have a parking area with vacuums. There are usually plenty of towncars and taxis around.

One thing I’ve learned about ridesharing is to always look for the cab drivers. They know the best spots to get gas, where to piss late at night and which streets to drive. If I’m on a street and there are no cabs, I’m on the wrong street. I have nothing but respect for cab drivers. All drivers should respect cab drivers. Just don’t drive like one. That’s not what the rideshare passenger wants. They want to feel baller. And there’s nothing baller about recklessly turning corners and laying on the horn whenever another car is going too slow.

I drive with purpose. I keep a close watch on my blind spots, errant pedestrians and speeding bicyclists. I take my corners easy. Use my lower gears to get up hills. Maintain the speed limit. Come to full and complete stops. And when faced with an idiot behind the wheel, I use my high beams. Way more annoying than a horn, I think. I flash them real fast, like strobe lights. Freaks the tourists out. Big time.

I try to be accommodating to my passengers, but I don’t open doors. I don’t give out candy or water. And I don’t try to come off as anything I am not. I wear short sleeve t-shirts that expose my tattoos. I keep my hair down. I play punk, post-punk and hard rock with the speakers faded to the front. I have a built-in iPod jack and no auxiliary port. If passengers want to listen to the radio, I’ll fiddle with the dial a little.

Although I never force an interaction, I refuse to be treated like an invisible servant. I talk to myself while I drive. I tap the steering wheel. I make comments about traffic. If passengers are chatting to each other about a topic and I feel like interjecting, I don’t hesitate to make my presence known. I may look like a stoner metalhead, but if somebody needs advice or an opinion, I’m not afraid to offer my services.

When it comes to high ratings, what matters most is how you drive. And I drive like a motherfucker. I know the streets. I know short cuts and alternate routes. I don’t rely on navigation and only use Waze if traffic is really bad or I’m going to the suburbs. Though I usually just make passengers direct me.

I keep my eyes on the road at all times. Even when my passengers talk to me. At stoplights I’ll glance in the rear view, but I’ve had full-on conversations with people I only looked in the eye when I said goodbye.

I know the city. Its history. Hot spots. I know the hotels and how to access their driveways so the valets can open the doors for my passengers. I know most of the bars and as many restaurants as I can remember with what’s left of my feeble mind. Sometimes I need my memory jogged, but that just gives me an opportunity to crack a joke about being old and feeble minded. Maybe start a conversation.

I make a point of letting my passengers know right away that I’m one of the good guys.

I always keep my cool. No matter how long a passenger makes me wait, jerks me around or acts self-entitled. I don’t let it get to me.

I accept all requests. Even if the passenger’s rating is 4.4. I believe in second chances.

I cancel requests all the time. If I don’t like where somebody wants to be picked up, I cancel. If they request again, I accept and cancel a second time. If I’m not fighting traffic, I’ll text them, “Bad pick-up location.” And then cancel. Eventually they’ll figure it out.

Rideshare passengers are not dumb. They tend to be assholes, but they’re not dumb.

The trick is maintaining authority. From the moment I start dealing with a passenger I exert control. Otherwise they walk all over you. But I also know that exerting control sometimes means letting the passenger think they are the ones in control.

I learn from my rides. I try to never make the same mistake twice.

What I don’t know I pretend to know.

Every day I figure out more about the city streets. I suggest routes to passengers. I tell them how the app wants me to go and offer an alternative. Most of the time, when asked, they tell me which way they prefer to go. Even if they give me bad directions, I go where they want. The passenger is always right. Especially when they’re wrong. The way I figure it, I’m going to be driving no matter what way we go.

I never chase the surge. And when I have a passenger who has been hit with a higher rate, I’ll end the ride a few blocks from their destination. To “offset the surge a little,” I tell them. It’s not much, but it makes the passenger feel better about being gouged.

I know which side of the street has even numbers and which side has the odd numbers. Or at least I think I do.

I know I don’t know enough.

I yield to pedestrians, joggers, bicyclists, jaywalkers, taxis, town cars, Ubers, Lyfts, buses, raccoons and suicidal pigeons. But confused tourists are fair game.

I refer to the turn by turn in the app, but I tend to deviate. The passenger can see that blue line on the screen of your iPhone. And if they’re going home or to work, every driver before me has used the same route. So I switch it up, based on what I’ve learned about the neighborhood.

My attitude is always the same: sit down, relax and leave the driving to me.

I never take the freeway unless I’m going to the airport or the southern quadrants. I stick to the streets. Particularly the brightly like ones.

When I drive a girl alone, I suggest the most illuminated direction and let her decide how she wants to get there.

I tell passengers, when they ask, that I like to drive. And I’m not lying. If they ask whether I like Uber or Lyft, I tell them, “I like driving.”

Fair enough?

I can’t count how many times passengers have told me, “You’re the best Uber/Lyft driver I’ve ever had!”

Or, “You’re like a New York cab driver!”

Or, “I can’t believe you know where to go with just the cross streets.”

Or, they get out of my car and mention to their companions, “Now that was a five star driver.”

You get the point…

I wish I didn’t have such a high rating. It’s too much pressure. A high rating is untenable. One day I will inevitably deal with a passenger who rates me low for no particular reason. Maybe even one-stars me, sending my rating down more than a hundredth of a decimal point. And it’ll bum me out to no end. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.

Until then, all I can do is keep driving like I always do.

Like a motherfucker.

San Franciscan Pedestrians are the Worst

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An all too common scenario:

I’m at a busy intersection. Say, South Van Ness and 24th. I’m on 24th. Turning right onto Van Ness.

The light is green.

My signal is flashing. As I wait for the pedestrians to cross, I watch the car turning left in the middle of the intersection. We both have traffic lined up behind us. I glance in my side mirror. A girl in a Sentra looks distressed. No doubt wondering if she’s going to make the light. I’m wondering the exact same thing as an endless column of pedestrians moves past.

Mr. Left Turner’s face is full of determination. I’m already pulled as far to the right as I can go without entering the crosswalk. Who’s going to make it first? Me or him? The crowd is thinning. The last pedestrian, an old lady with two oversized bags, is almost in the middle of the street as the number next to the flashing red hand ticks down.

Seven seconds.

Six seconds.

I’m ready. So is Mr. Left Turner. The girl behind me inches closer to my bumper. Once the old lady is a few feet from the curb, I’m going for it. Mr. Left Turner’s just gonna have to wait.

Three seconds.

Just as I’m about to remove my foot from the brake and take off, I see a guy in tight raw denim jeans and a hoodie, staring at his iPhone, enter the crosswalk. Two seconds to go. The old lady is about to step on the curb as Tight Jeans slowly makes his way across the street, never once taking his face out of his phone.

One second.

Mr. Left Turner charges through the intersection, beating Tight Jeans to the middle of the street as the light turns red. Not exactly the safest maneuver, but at least he got through the light. My front end is blocking the right lane on Van Ness. We’re all waiting for Tight Pants MaGoo to finish sauntering across the street.

“Show some fucking hustle,” I mumble. “Motherfucker.”

I curse his pants.

I curse his hoodie.

I curse his very existence.

Of course, he can’t hear me with earbuds blocking out the world and sealing in the oblivion.

I fantasize about hitting the gas. Just plowing into the crosswalk and taking out this self-entitled douchebag. I wonder if I could generate enough speed to get him airborne? I’d really like to see him fly through the air, flip off the grill of my car, smash into my windshield, roll over the roof and tumble to the pavement with two broken legs and several cracked ribs. Maybe then he’d finally realize he doesn’t own the world just cause he makes a hundred grand a year at a bullshit start-up and dresses like a middle-schooler.

Once Tight Pants MaGoo is out of harm’s way, the cars move past me, flashing dirty looks, like I’m the asshole who screwed up traffic.

Fuck, I hate that guy.

I know that there’s a strong tradition of jaywalking in San Francisco. It’s part of the pedestrian culture of the city. People who’ve lived in LA and San Francisco will always marvel at the difference between walking in the two cities.

In LA, you don’t jaywalk. Period. Besides possibly getting a ticket, you’ll get run over. Walking in LA is a blood sport. You look both ways fifty times before you even cross on the green in case some dickwad in a Porsche is trying to outrun oncoming traffic. Cars have the right of way. After all, only a nobody walks in LA. So you better fucking watch out.

In San Francisco, the accepted practice is to cross once there are no more cars coming, regardless of whether the light is red or green. The stoplights here are brutal. Even when there’s not a single car on the road, the lights play out their pattern. And it’s usually chilly. So standing on a corner waiting for a walk signal is absurd. But these new transplants, in their infinite need to feel like they have more rights than the rest of us, take this custom of pedestrian rights to the ultimate degree. They incorporate it into their general attitude of entitlement.

And people wonder why pedestrians are getting run over all the time…

Driving in the New San Francisco is the Worst

Scores Of Travelers Depart For Long Holiday Weekend

As an LA native, I know my way around a traffic jam. Driving in LA is a part of life. We take it seriously. Newcomers have a learning curve, but they quickly get indoctrinated into the LA style of driving or face dire consequences.

LA drivers are like wild animals trapped in cages. If you poke at us with your crappy driving, we will strike back viciously and get you in line. Road rage is the equivalent of an ape throwing his shit at a contemptible visitor to the zoo.

LA drivers know all to well the primal animosity that surges up through your body and overwhelms you to the point of violence when you have to deal with some moron’s shitty driving. I once stopped my car in the street, got out and banged on this asshole’s window for tailgating me when I was looking for parking. The terrified look on his face may or may not have been worth the potential assault charge, but it made me feel better at the time.

As a Lyft and Uber driver in San Francisco, I traverse almost the entire city over the course of a weekend. It’s a small place. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t perilous.

San Francisco’s narrow streets are filled with cars, buses, bicyclists and pedestrians. It’s much more difficult to navigate San Francisco than LA, where the streets are only clogged with other cars.

Many passengers have asked me how I’m able to deal with driving in San Francisco. I tell them it’s like mastering a video game. You’re always trying to get to the next level. But honestly, it’s really not that difficult. The hardest part of driving in San Francisco is Bay Area drivers. They are the absolute shittiest drivers I’ve ever encountered.

I have a list of grievances I log daily in my Moleskin. These are the most egregious examples of horrible driving I see on a daily basis:

1. Asleep at the wheel when the light turns green.

What the fuck? Pay attention! You’re in traffic! Be prepared to drive when the light turns green. Step on the fucking gas! I wanna get through the light too. It never fails, if I’m three cars behind the one at the light, I know I’m not going to make it through the intersection.

2. Four way stops.

Some basic shit here, folks. The first person to stop is the first person to go. It’s not every man for himself. As you approach the four way intersection, pay attention to who gets there first. Look at their wheels. Have they stopped before yours? Yes? Then let them go. If not, you go. Two people stop at the same time? The one on the right goes. Three people? The one on the right still goes! This isn’t rocket science! I know throwing pedestrians into the mix makes it a tab bit confusing. But even though I have to skip my turn to let somebody cross, I’m still in the queue, goddamn it!

3. Merging.

Okay, the concept of two lanes of traffic becoming one seems to be mind-boggling to everybody. Even though, like a four way stop, there is a basic rule: one car from one lane, one car from the other lane. Like folding cards into a deck. Or a zipper. This method keeps the flow of traffic moving and ensures everybody gets where they’re going without creating complete chaos. It’s fair and it’s the fucking law. But while drivers in every city fuck this simple method up, I have never seen cars in a merging lane perpendicular to traffic until I started driving in the Bay Area. East Bay drivers in particular seem to treat merge lanes as a free-for-all. And nobody respects a solid line! Solid means you can’t change lanes, asshole!

4. Double parking.

Sure, they’re nowhere to park in San Francisco and when you’re driving for hire, you have to pull over to pick people up and let them out in awkward situations all the time. But there are certain streets, namely the arterial thoroughfares, where double parking is not just impractical, it completely interrupts the flow of traffic. And yet it’s completely avoidable. Pull into a driveway. Let the person out on the corner. Do ANYTHING but don’t STOP in the middle of the street. Arterial thoroughfares are the closest things to freeways in San Francisco. They are the quickest ways to cross the city. So don’t fuck it up for everybody else because you can’t be bothered to find a safe place to pull over.

5. Blocking intersections.

Again, it’s a simple rule of the road: if the car in front of you has not cleared the opposite crosswalk, don’t enter the intersection. You are going to block opposing traffic. Do you enjoy feeling like an asshole stuck in the middle of the intersection as traffic backs up waiting for you to move? You know everyone hates you, right?

6. Changing lanes on the freeway.

Do you really think that changing into the lane that is moving slightly more than the one you’re already in will get you where you’re going faster? If so, you’d be wrong. And an idiot. Once you and all the other moronic drivers move into that lane, it will slow down the rest. There is no escape! Just accept the futility of traffic and don’t make it worse for the rest of us!

Those are the top six grievances. I could go on and on. Believe me…

I swear, the only thing worse than driving in San Francisco is dealing with San Franciscan pedestrians.