Like a game of chance, driving a cab requires more than just skill – it’s luck and determination that’ll make or break a taxi shift.
A good side hustle doesn’t hurt either…
Like a game of chance, driving a cab requires more than just skill – it’s luck and determination that’ll make or break a taxi shift.
A good side hustle doesn’t hurt either…
As a new cab driver, I adhere to the principle that taxi driving is an inclusive public service, even though maintaining an open door policy exposes me to certain occupational hazards. I know the chances of getting robbed or attacked are slim, but the fear still lurks deep in the recesses of my lizard brain.
With “Hamilton” and “Into the Woods” breaking around the same time, Market Street at 10:50 p.m. is flooded with theatergoers. For taxis, it’s a feeding frenzy. After dropping off a family at the Marine’s Memorial Club, I shoot down Mason for another quick load.
As I turn right onto Market, a girl is standing on the curb with her arm up. Two cabs drive right past her. I pull over.
She opens the back door, turns and yells, “Hey! I got a taxi!”
Upon her exclamation, a group of kids emerge from the shadows and bum-rush my cab.
“Hold up, now!” I shout as they surround me.
The battalion of brats ranges in age, from the full-grown teenagers squeezing themselves into the backseat, to some goofy-looking adolescents pounding on my trunk and climbing onto the roof, to a precocious 9-year-old in the front seat trying to grab everything in sight: my iPhone, the Flywheel phone clipped to the vent, my Square reader and even the dispatch tablet mounted on the dash.
It’s been 20 minutes since the bars let out, and I’m just driving around empty. My eye twitches as I try to locate the source of the call reverberating down Sutter Street. I’m exhausted. Since my ten week old has already started teething, sleep is now an abstract concept.
Cater-corner on Powell, a woman is waving. As soon as I acknowledge her, she barges into traffic, prompting me to stop in the crosswalk behind a police cruiser outside Lori’s.
“It’s fucking impossible to get a cab down here,” she says after climbing into my backseat. “Now… where can I get some food?”
“Well, there’s —” I start to take off, but miscalculate the distance between my front end and the back of the police cruiser. Even though it’s just a tap, the cop car jolts forward. My heart jumps out of my chest.
“Anywhere but fucking Lori’s,” the woman snaps.
“Sure…” Fortunately, the cop car is empty. Seizing the lucky break, I drive away. “What about Cafe Mason? Grubstake?”
“Fuck all that. Take me to Jack in the Box.”
As I turn onto Mason, I check my rearview and see a black-and-white SUV make an illegal left off Powell. Oh shit! Did they see anything? My chest starts pounding again.
Meanwhile, the woman is yelling into her phone: “I’m in a fucking taxi! Go to Jack in the Box. Tell your driver… What the fuck do you mean, ‘which one?’ There’s only one!” She hangs up. “Which Jack in the Box … You gotta be fucking kidding me.”
“There’s one on Bayshore and—”
“And one in Bakersfield, too,” she says brusquely, in that distinctive Frisco accent: all daggers, dripping with sarcasm. “Not much good it does us seeing as how we live in Pac-fucking-Heights.”
“Fair enough.” I keep checking my rearview for flashing lights, navigating the congestion of cars and pedestrians in front of Ruby Skye. I pull over next to Jack in the Box, where the sidewalk is teeming with drunken revelers, spectators and hustlers.
“You’ll wait for me, right?” the woman asks, though it doesn’t feel like much of a request.
“Sure.” I’m still preoccupied with justifying my tap and run … It’s not like the cruiser was in pristine condition. If there’s one fleet in The City more rickety than National/Vets, it’s the San Francisco Police Department.
As soon as she walks away, a guy with a pizza box tries to get in my cab.
“I’m waiting for someone,” I tell him nicely through the window. “Grab another one.”
I point towards the row of cabs streaming by on Geary with top lights blazing.
Just then, Hester pulls up in Metro 1557. It looks like he has a load but when the guy goes to his window, he hesitates and wanders back towards me, confused.
“There’s another cab!” I shout as a Flywheel Taxi roll past. “Put your hand out!”
“They’re not stopping,” he complains.
“That’s one’s not a cab. Wait for a second.”
A few seconds later, Hester gets out of his cab and peers into the windows of Jack in the Box.
I join him. “What’s up?”
“I just picked up this girl from New Century who tried to pass a fake C-note. I told her no way, and she got uppity. Said she was going into Jack in the Box to break it and prove me wrong. Left a jacket as collateral. Claimed it was worth $200, but it’s from The Gap.”
“Is she in there now?”
“Nah, she’s probably long gone.”
“So why didn’t you take that guy?” I gesture towards the guy who’s still in the street trying to flag down random cars.
“Him? He’s going to the fucking Marriott.”
“Two blocks. Fuck him.”
“Yeah, fuck him.”
[image by Christian Lewis]
In the taxi industry, I’m surrounded by men who’ve raised both daughters and sons in The City, who’ve provided for their families, bought houses, paid for college, and still do, as taxi drivers.
Sure, it’s next to impossible to even imagine now that the profession has been diluted by the egghead sector, i.e., the “tech” community, who believe robots can do any job better, and the millennials who bemoan the lack of decent jobs and yet embrace the systematic dismantling of one decent job after another in their constant pursuit of convenience…
Point all the fingers you want, kiddos, but it’s not the baby boomers who’ve made taxi driving the less than profitable enterprise it once was.
Which is why I thank the stars my daughter was born under Obama’s administration, so we could not just afford maternity care, but qualify for it, through the ACA. Otherwise, what? Google how to give a DIY caesarean?
It’s Christmastime in San Francisco, and everyone is behaving like dogs. Must be that holiday spirit that compels folks to abandon what little civility they have left these days, along with all those pesky traffic laws.
Behind the wheel of my taxi, I do my best to steer clear of the pent-up motorists as I try to glean a little scratch before they lock the gates at National, the only cab company in The City that gives its drivers Christmas Day off to spend with family. Or get drunk at home alone.
Hey, it’s the thought that counts…
There wasn’t much to be thankful for over Thanksgiving weekend, as far as driving a taxi… That is, until Colin came up with one of his big dumb great ideas…
On Wednesday night, I’m waiting outside The Box, a literal hole in the wall on Natoma Street next to Tempest that serves up some of the best late night food options in The City. Potato skins with quail eggs, anyone?
As I smoke a cigarette, two guys approach me. The bedraggled one on my right hits me up for change so he can get a slice of pizza. On my left, equally disheveled, some kid from the bar who just wants a light.
“Sorry to bother you…”
“No worries.” I put a flame to the end of his cigarette. “It’s a little weird asking people for things in an alley.”
Next thing you know, we’re talking politics.
“But Hillary’s a bitch!” he declares at one point.
“What’s she ever done to you?” I ask with a condescending chuckle. He’s 27 years old and didn’t even vote.
“Look, the presidential election isn’t a popularity contest. You’re voting for an agenda.”
Like a bell signaling the end of a round, Dre calls out my name from behind the counter. I’m as ready for my food as I am to end this conversation…
I skipped work on Thursday. I was dubious about Friday too, but I did better than I assumed…
Saturday night, out of the sloshed fields of the Mission, I manage to get a decent ride to the Green Tortoise. Three English dudes from Brighton. One of whom forgot his ID.
“Look at him though,” the guy in the middle says. “He’s practically a gaffer. And his jokes are shit. Listen.”
“What did zero say to eight?” the guy asks. “Nice belt.”
Apparently, his bad jokes weren’t persuasive enough to get him into many bars.
They want me to tell my best one liners as we drive to North Beach, but instead I tell them about a ride I had on Friday night…
Around 9 p.m., I’m in the black. First up at the Hilton taxi stand. I’m smoking and talking to some other cab drivers when a guy with luggage walks up.
“Let’s go!” I throw his bags into the trunk.
Before I even make the corner he tells me in a thick accent, “My plane’s leaving in an hour. Do you think we can still make it?”
“We’ll make it,” I say.
The entire way to the airport, he’s freaking out that he’s going to miss his flight.
“Relax,” I keep saying. “It’ll be okay. By the way, are you carrying marijuana?”
“None at all. Why?”
“You reek of weed.”
“Oh, I’ve been trimming all week. It must be on my clothes.”
I continue to assure him that he won’t miss his plane, neglecting to mention that he’s probably going to get flagged in security. The smell of pot is so strong I’m practically getting a contact buzz.
At SFO, the United terminal is jam-packed. I make some questionable maneuvers to get close enough to drop him off. He hands me three $20 bills. “Keep it.”
“Run like the wind!” I yell after him…
“You think he made it?” one of the Brighton kids ask me.
“No, he probably end up getting anally probed.”
We all laugh.
“That’s so like a trimmer,” one of the guys says.
“Do we seem like trimmers?”
“I don’t really judge.”
“Well, we are.”
“We just changed our clothes before we went out.”
“Good job, cause you guys just reek of booze.”
“That was our plan all along.”
“Now that’s funny.”
This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is a night in the life of a crack baby…
It’s been a weird night. I’m still waiting to hear back from the lab about my drug test to renew my A-Card, which is about to expire in a few days. In the meantime, my cab has become a mecca for dope deals.
So far tonight, my backseat has hosted transactions of heroin, weed, molly and blow. Hey, it’s San Francisco. Everything’s cool, unless you’re a taxi driver who smokes a little pot during his free time. Then you have to jump through a bunch of regulatory hoops to keep your job…
Bill Graham is breaking. As M83 fans pour out of the auditorium past the metal barricades into the steady rain that hasn’t let up all evening, I wait in the intersection of Grove and Polk for a fare. But there are no takers. I swing around to the Larkin side and strike out there, too.
As I head down Grove, I hear, “Taxi!”
I look around.
On the other side of Hyde Street, I see two guys and a girl pushing a stroller with a clear plastic sheet draped over it. They’re flagging every taxi that goes by, even though none have their toplights on.
When they spot me, the mother and her companions cross the street. I pull over and hit my hazards.
A sense of civic duty kicks in. It’s my job to get this family out of the elements. But as they get closer, I realize this isn’t your typical family out for an evening promenade in the pouring rain. They all have scarred faces, missing teeth, hollow eyes and dingy clothes that suggest they spend most of their days sitting on the filthy sidewalks of San Francisco.
I’m beginning to wonder if there’s really even a baby in that stroller.
In San Francisco, you might need the right cab driver to get you to the right sex club…
In this week’s column for the S.F. Examiner, I write about getting misguided passengers where they want to go:
I’m cruising down Folsom Street on a quiet Thursday night at about midnight. An arm goes up in front of Powerhouse. I pull over. A man with a strong accent gets in the back of my taxi.
“Can you take me here?” He shows me his phone with the Google details for the Power Exchange on the screen.
As I head up 7th Street, I ask nonchalantly, “Not the crowd you’re looking for back there, huh?”
“Too many problems!” he exclaims. “I’m looking for women.”
“Well, you’re going to the right place now.”
Racing through the littered streets of the Tenderloin, I can’t help but wonder how this guy ended up at a gay cruising bar instead of the hetero sex club he was looking for. Poor communication with a cab driver? A mix up in a Google search?
Whatever. These things happen. A few months back, I had a similar situation, albeit in reverse, while driving past the Power Exchange …
A guy flags me down and immediately tells me he’s a tourist and has ended up at the wrong place.
“The doorman told me I should check out Blow Buddies,” he says. “Do you know where that is?”
Of course. I’m quite familiar with the place, I tell him. But instead of assuming that, as a night cabbie, I know where all the sex clubs are in San Francisco — gay and straight — he thinks I’m a regular and grills me on the details.
“It’s all gay, right? Is it OK to just watch? Do I have to take off all my clothes? Are there condoms available? Showers?”
“All I know is that, once you’re inside, they’ll explain everything.”
When I pull up to Blow Buddies, which is a shuttered storefront on a dark street, my misguided fare is understandably nervous. I assure him they’re open and that I’ll wait to make sure. As he enters, he turns to flash me a Cheshire grin and then recedes into the flaming red light.
Not all mistaken forays into the sex positive climate of San Francisco have happy endings though …
Two or three weeks ago, I’m heading back to the National yard, about to hit the Chevron on Bayshore, when a tall man runs toward my cab, flailing his hands in the air.
First thing I notice are his pink shorts, white shirt and topsiders. Did he just fall out of a J. Crew catalogue into the industrial part of the Bayview?
I stop. More out of curiosity than anything.
“I need to get to the Westin,” he gasps. “Don’t worry, I have money.”
“No, in Milanbay, I think.”
“Hold on, I have a card.” He reads off the address for the Westin by the airport.
As I circle back to the freeway, I ask, “Why are you wandering around the Bayview?”
“It’s a long story.”
“We got a little time before we reach your hotel,” I point out.
“Well … I’m only here for one night on business. So I figured I’d head into San Fran, get something to eat and have a couple drinks. My cab driver recommended Polk Street. After getting a decent steak, I walked down to Jackalope. I was smoking outside and this hot chick approached me. She invited me to a bar across the street. A place called Divas. Everything was going great. We were totally hitting it off. Then she wanted to go back to her place. Awesome. We get in her car and start driving. At a red light, I lean in and …” He pauses. “That’s when I figured out something wasn’t right.”
His eyes are full of despair as they meet mine in the rearview, and I quickly stifle my laughter.
“I’m from Detroit, man! I was in the Marines!”
“What did you do after that?” I’m almost afraid to ask.
“I jumped out of her car! Just started walking. I would’ve walked all the way back to the hotel. I don’t give a fuck. I was a Marine!”
I’m inclined to tell him it’s not his fault he didn’t know Divas was a transgender bar, but would it even matter at this point?
“I just wanted to have a little fun in San Fran …”
Slowly, his voice fades, and I leave him to his thoughts. He’s got a long night ahead of him, and a long flight back to Detroit, which might be enough time to sort out all these new emotions.
Not to brag, but I totally failed my piss test…
In this week’s column for the S.F. Examiner, I detail the indignities the SFMTA subjects cab drivers to while Uber and Left drivers ride roughshod all over The City.
One of the many perks of driving a taxi in San Francisco is the recently enforced mandatory drug test we must pass in order to renew our A-Cards.
The last time I had to urinate for employment was in 1993, when I applied for a porter position at Martin’s department store in Gadsden, Alabama. Just like then, I’m sure to fail. But this time, I don’t have to drink copious amounts of water for a week and jog around the block three times a day to exorcise the traces of marijuana in my system.
Fortunately for potheads like myself, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is kind enough to allow a medical marijuana exception. So with a recommendation from the reputable Oakland 420 Doctor, I won’t lose my job.
I chase my coffee with a bunch of water and head out to the MacArthur BART station.
On the train, I get the chatty conductor: “Sit back and relax as we make the smooth move through the groove tube.”
I try to take his advice, but I’m too annoyed about the disruption of my free time. As a taxi driver, I’m an independent contractor.
How can the SFMTA make me submit to a drug test? Moreover, what does it prove? That I have enough self-control to go a few days without smoking crack or PCP?
Since cannabis is the only drug that stays in your system longer than that, and with Proposition 64 on the ballot in November, this drug test is purely a violation of my privacy, another regulatory hurdle to make life harder for taxi drivers while Uber drivers are free to shoot dope in their jugulars in between rides and snort blow off the breasts of their unconscious passengers.
If The City actually informed the public about all the obstacles taxi drivers are subjected to in order to keep them safe, perhaps the hassle wouldn’t be so aggravating. But in the new hypernormal reality, it’s more proof the SFMTA doesn’t give a damn about taxi drivers — except when it comes to selling us worthless medallions for $250,000.
“Live! In San Francisco!” the conductor announces when we hit the Embarcadero station.
I empty my water bottle. I still don’t have to pee, but I’m hopeful I’ll be able to provide an adequate sample. When it comes to releasing bodily fluids, I tend to choke under pressure.
At 16th Street, I take the 55 down to Missouri Street and walk the rest of the way to the clinic on Connecticut.
After filling out some forms, I grab a New Yorker and make periodic trips to the water fountain in the lobby.
Twenty minutes later, I follow a technician into the back. She has me put my possessions in a locker and wash my hands before entering the bathroom. Then she sprays blue solution on the inside of the commode and gives me a beaker, instructing me not to flush.
I stare into the empty container …
A few minutes later, I emerge with half a cup of warm amber.
“Is this enough?” I ask.
The technician seems pleased with my sample.
That makes two of us.
My previous column for the S.F. Examiner ended with a cliffhanger. This one ties that up a bit and extends the theme of obstacles taxi drivers must face… but with a happy ending.
Every once in a while the sun shines on a taxi driver’s ass.
After getting some leeway from the very understanding Officer Yuen last Saturday night, I start my workweek on Wednesday afternoon feeling optimistic. That night, U2 is performing at the Cloud (née Cow) Palace, as part of the Dreamforce convention. With 170,000 attendees at the annual tech extravaganza, there should be a decent crowd at the arena. Maybe even a few people looking for cabs.
Just like last year, the concert ends with a traffic tsunami as a massive influx of Uber and Lyft cars descend upon the area and cell networks go down, leaving riders and drivers stranded in the ensuing congestion.
And just like last year, taxis come to the rescue.