Category Archives: San Francisco in Sprite of Itself

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.

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 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.

An Ambassador on Wheels

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Nov. 15, 2018 …

Outside the Hyatt Regency, an Amtrak Thruway Coach idles in the bus stop, leaving just enough room for me to pull into the cabstand. A few seconds later, an elderly man approaches my cab.

“We need a taxi,” he tells me. “Can you drive us?”

In the side mirror, I notice suitcases. With a Thruway Coach on the scene, though, it’s unlikely they’re going to the airport.

While stowing the luggage, I ask for their destination.

“Travelodge. 1707 Market.”

The husband and wife are from a small town in New Jersey and plan to spend a week in San Francisco. To see the sights. But mostly to shop.

As we roll down Market Street, they stare out of the windows, marveling at the grandeur of The City. I go into tour guide mode.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

“So… How Long Have You Been Part of the Problem?”

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“In the end, everyone in San Francisco will get evicted.”

The guy in the back of my taxi is in the middle of an epic rant.

“Regardless of how many generations deep you are, how much money you got, where you work, whether you’re famous or living in a tent – none of that matters. When you die, they’ll box you up and relocate you down to Colma. Or dump your remains in the Bay. Or whatever. Because nobody gets to stay in The City forever.”

Stuck on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, in traffic moving like a funeral procession, it’s hard not to think about death. Especially as this guy’s negative comments rack up faster than the clicks on the taximeter.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I mumble.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

The Misanthropic Drug Dealer

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“There’s no hope, I’m telling ya. All that’s left is total destruction.”

Mr. Judy has been ranting since I picked him up at a dive bar in the Mission, where he peddles his wares, and tried to drop him off at another. But as I idle in front, he just sits there, eyeballing the crowd of smokers on the sidewalk.

Randomly, he singles out a girl in ballerina flats and three chuckleheads with matching spectacles and beards fawning over her. “I hate those shoes. They’re awful. Her pants are too tight. And look at that hair … Well, at least she’s the queen of the sausage party tonight.”

“Dude, I think you’re way too judge-y to go in there right now.” I offer to drive him somewhere else, but he just wants to hang out in my cab for a while. Since I’m not feeling very servile myself, I don’t mind driving around aimlessly. At least the meter’s running.

Sensing Mr. Judy’s high level of agitation, I put on some Grateful Dead. In between tirades, he sings along to Jerry, then critiques the bars we pass on our way downtown, describing the owners, the bouncers, the bartenders, the type of clientele and what kind of music they play. His knowledge of watering holes in the Mission is impressive, though it makes sense for a bar-to-bar salesman to know his territory.

One thing I’ve learned from driving Mr. Judy is that selling drugs isn’t as easy as one might think. You have fierce competition for both customers and suppliers, you have to control your personal intake while dealing with people you’d rather see skewered in a cannibalistic ritual, 12 hours a day, just to make a buck. Which is a lot like taxi driving. Except the money’s not as good.

“I don’t know how you do it,” I say during a brief moment of silence.

“It gets really fucking boring,” he admits. “But just when you’ve had enough, someone gives you money and you feel good. So you wait around, until you can’t take it anymore. Then, right before you bail, someone gives you money. And you feel good. So you keep waiting …”

Again, sounds like cab driving.

After snorting something, Mr. Judy returns to his bitter soliloquy.

“Sometimes I hate this city as much as I hate myself. I feel like Colonel Kurtz, you know? Just send in the air raid already! Exterminate the brutes! These kids today … I can’t stand them. If they’re the future, we’re fucked! Doomed! There’s no hope. I’m telling ya … None at all. Might as well give in to total destruction. It’s the only solution.”

After a while, I lose track of his jeremiad, so just drive and grunt on cue.

“Do you have a five-year plan? No? Do you even know what you’re doing next week? I don’t … Life has no meaning. None of our lives matter. Today is all we have. There is no future. We’re living our future right now … Look at all the madness. It’s everywhere … I’m losing it. It. It. I don’t even know what ‘it’ is. But I want to know, don’t you? I want to find a way to harness the madness. I need to become a cash cow … Look around you. Madness disguised as cheap consumerism. All our needs monetized. Ad machines fueled by our complacency … That’s why we need total destruction …”

As if realizing the world outside the bars might be worse, he decides to go back to the first place I picked him up.

“Orwell was wrong,” he continues. “We don’t have to fear Big Brother. Our only fear is that Big Brother isn’t watching us … We surrender our privacy for the allusion of choice. We feed the marketers until they know everything we want, how much we want and when we want it … But they won’t sell us what we really need: total destruction.”

I pull up to the bar, and Mr. Judy looks out the window for a few minutes, making up his mind.

“I’ll call you in a bit,” he says finally, hands me a wad of bills and slowly exits the cab. Before closing the door, he leans back in. “Remember, the future is now.”

I drive away, back to my own grind, waiting for someone to give me money before I embrace total destruction myself.


Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on March 17, 2017 here

[photo via]