Category Archives: I Drive SF

Burning Down The House

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This week’s column about driving a taxi is about a week spent not driving a taxi…

One advantage of writing this column each week is that I have notes on almost every shift I’ve driven in the past four years. With this plethora (or waste, some might say) of information, I can generally figure out what to expect on holidays based on previous observations. Such as Labor Day.

Of course, the week leading up to Labor Day is also Burning Man, when a noticeable percentage of the population in the Bay Area migrates to the Nevada desert.

Abandoned in the void are the alleged beneficiaries of the holiday — the workers. Especially those who toil in service, including numerous drivers, who, desperate or just overly habitual, spend the weekend struggling to make a couple bucks on the otherwise empty streets of The City.

Over the past four years, I have been one of those hungry and habitual motorists for hire, albeit mostly un-hired and oh so bored… until the only thing left to do was practice your road rage … Wheelin’ & dealin’

With past column headlines like “Burnt out without the Burners,” “The top light is on but I’m not” and “Hell is other cab drivers,” I don’t need to browse old Word files on my computer, search the Notes app on my phone or exhume discarded Moleskins from the Filing System of Hell to get a sense of the impact that Burning Man and Labor Day will have on cab driving.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

A Taxicab Soundtrack

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about playing music in the cab…

Over the past five years, I’ve tried to create a soundtrack that not only satisfies my personal need for entertainment but also provides a compelling interlude for passengers. During my first couple months of driving a taxi, I listened almost exclusively to Slayer. The aggression of thrash metal helped me overcome the fear and excitement of working the mean streets of San Francisco as I searched for fares and fought my way through traffic.

When people got into my cab, I immediately killed the tunes and made idle conversation while frantically trying to figure out where to go without the aid of GPS. In the heat of the moment, though, I often forgot to turn the volume down. Upon opening the backdoor, my fares were greeted with the cacophony of piercing guitar solos and thunderous drumbeats. My only recourse was to quickly apologize before they had a chance to run away.

One night, I was waiting for the light at Polk and Clay when a guy jumped in the back of my cab as “Dead Skin Mask” blared from the speakers.

“Sorry about that!” I shouted, twisting the knob to the left so hard it almost snapped off.

“That’s cool,” the guy said. “You can put the tunes back on.”

I turned around to ask where he was headed and noticed his Iron Maiden shirt. “Oh, so you don’t mind Slayer then?” I asked with a relieved chuckle.

“This album’s alright,” he said. “But I prefer the earlier stuff.”

Nowadays, I usually keep a diverse selection of albums in my CD wallet, a habit based on Colin’s early advice to always have music that covers most situations, from the somber vibe out of the symphony to the party-hearty atmosphere at the late-night clubs. That way you can almost avoid sacrificing your musical tastes if passengers want to listen to the radio. Or, worse, request an aux cable …

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

All Roads Lead to Uber

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about discussing Uber in the cab, and in the column…

The other night, after a long 14-hour shift, I’m standing outside the dispatch office at National, smoking a cigarette with a couple of drivers and complaining about the latest injustice to our livelihoods: management is raising the gates on 24-hour leases from $103 to $123 per day.

As one driver disappears into the night and another arrives to take his place, conversation fluctuates between outrage and indignation until someone brings up my column, much to my chagrin. He wants to know why I don’t use the forum to blast our adversaries.

Since this is such a common inquiry, especially among taxi drivers, I’ve become adept at brushing it off with offhanded comments like, “Because Uber and Lyft are boring.” Or, “I’m under doctor’s orders not to discuss Uber.”

This time I went with, “Nobody cares about this stuff except taxi drivers.”

My response isn’t good enough, though, and the guy tells me I’m wasting a perfectly good opportunity to help the industry resist the onslaught of the ridehail companies.

“Tell me,” I respond, taking a drag from my American Spirit. “Do you guys actually read the column?”

“Uhhh,” the first guy stutters. “I’ve read it before. In the past.”

The second guy shrugs, while the third guy just smiles.

“So how do you know what I write about, then?” I laugh. “Whatever. If I wrote the column just for taxi drivers, nobody else would read it.” With that, I take a final drag, pitch the butt and walk away.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

A Wild Night for the Wildlife at Outside Lands

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about working Outside Lands…

“Taxi! Taxi!”

Before I can figure out where the shouting is coming from, there are hands reaching for my back door.

“Can you drive us?” The guy’s voice is rife with desperation.

“Yeah,” I say, stating the obvious. “Get in.”

“Thank you so much,” the girl exclaims. “We’re so lucky we found you!”

“Cool. Uh, where ya heading?”

Once I get their destination, I carve my own route out of the Avenues, zigzagging from Balboa to Anza to Clement, and even up to Lake, trying to avoid the gridlock.

“I don’t do traffic,” I tell my passengers nonchalantly, for effect.

Since this is my fifth year working Outside Lands, I can be a little cocky.

I head to the park around 9 p.m., after steeling myself for the inevitable shitshow and getting my accouterments in order. Energy drink: check. Square reader: check. Gary Numan CD: check.

Unlike in the past, attendees of the music festival this year seem to realize that using Uber or Lyft to get out of the park when the music ends is an exercise in futility. Besides the inevitable surge pricing, anyone with eyes can see the congestion. Well, almost anyone.

“Hey! Taxi!”

On my second foray to the park, a girl frantically waves me down on the corner of 18th and Balboa.

“C’mon! Let’s go!” she tells her friend, standing a few feet away.

“But they’ll charge me five dollars,” her friend whines, holding up her phone.

“I’ll Venmo you the five dollars! Come on!”

“But…”

I hit the gas. This is no time for indecision.

Read the rest here.

Mother and Child Confusion

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about a slow night in The City…

Towards the end of my shift last Thursday night, I’m making the final rounds of The City, hoping to encounter a few stragglers. Or an early bird heading to work. My motivation to keep driving, though, is just a force of habit – a reflex. After 10 hours of doing the same thing, it’s hard to stop …

On a slow night, you can hear every rattle in your rattletrap. Figuring out what’s causing those creaks and squeaks, well… that’s a problem best left for another time.

Despite the potential cheer, I can’t be bothered to play music. It’s just the night and me… and all the other empty taxicabs, roaming the misty streets with top lights blazing …

In the Tenderloin, ambulances race through the streets like wailing banshees, their sirens reverberating off the buildings until it’s impossible to figure out where they’re coming from or where they’re going …

At the intersection of Page and Franklin, a guy standing on the corner is bellowing, “I got dope if you got a bubble!”

From down the street, another voice shouts, “Shut the hell up!”

“Fuck you!” the first guy responds. “I’m not even talking to you! I just wanna smoke some dope. Who’s got a bubble?”

“Hey asshole, shut your trap!”

“No, you shut up!” Without missing a beat, he resumes his chant: “I got the dope if you got a bubble.”

When the light turns green I speed away …

Read the rest here.

[Photo by Trevor Johnson]

No Skin off the Meter

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This week’s column for The Examiner is about making money off cold tourists … 

Each afternoon, when the summer fog rolls into The City, so thick it casts a shadow and blots out the skyscrapers downtown, I start looking for cold tourists.

Depending on my location, I prowl the usual hotspots: Fisherman’s Wharf, The Castro, Upper Haight, etc.

Clad in t-shirts, shorts and miniskirts, the shivering out-of-towners are always grateful to see a taxi emerge from the monolithic gloom. And I’m happy to be of service.

The best rides begin with a sense of mutual appreciation. Just as they’re relieved to escape the frigid mist, I’m thankful that plenty of people still come here expecting to find the same weather they left behind in Houston or Atlanta.

It allows me to trot out the frequently misattributed quote about the coldest winter… which pretty much guarantees a laugh. Does it even matter who actually coined the phrase? Or that many folks leave San Francisco thinking they got a ride from the wittiest cab driver around?

Besides entertaining my passengers with anecdotes about weather for manic depressives and bumbling the science behind the omnipresent fog in July and “Fogust,” I take advantage of any opportunity to sell San Francisco out of the back of my taxicab by suggesting a detour. Or two.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

Taxi Driving is Not a Crime

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For several years, while living in Los Angeles, I was a personal assistant for a screenwriter. Except we never used that job title. The guy was staunchly anti-Hollywood and referred to me as “a friend” who occasionally “helped him out.” For money, perks and invaluable life lessons. Such as, “Never become a screenwriter.” Over the course of our “friendship,” I witnessed enough backstabbing and cutthroat Hollywood behavior to heed this advice.

One day I “helped him out” by taking his Cadillac to the dealer. On my way back to his house in the Hollywood Hills, I was maneuvering the land yacht through the narrow, winding roads when his wife came around a bend at high speed and slammed into right me. Surprisingly, her Mini Cooper only had a few scratches on the bumper, but the Cadillac was smashed up pretty bad. Unfazed by the accident, she sped off, saying she had an important meeting but she’d call her husband to explain.

When I got to the house, I wondered what to do next. Should we call his insurance company or mine? Take pictures? Make a report?

“Since I own both cars,” he said, laughing. “It’s like I just punched myself in the face.”

In a way, I was the one who punched him in the face. Or, at least, assisted in the act. But hey, what are friends for?

The next day I took the car to the body shop and within a week it was if nothing had ever happened …

I can’t help but think about this incident — and the semantic artifices — whenever the dispatcher at National hands me a parking citation from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Seeing as how taxi drivers are licensed and regulated by the SFMTA and their logo graces my a-card, it’s not that much of a stretch to view them as a kind of employer. They definitely boss us around, with mandatory drug tests each year and annual permit fees, as well as requiring us to adhere to strict guidelines.

Which is why getting a $110 ticket for following those guidelines can feel like I’ve been punched in the face, and why paying the fine would be the same as doing it to myself.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]