Category Archives: San Francisco Under Siege

The High Cost of Living in California

california-girl

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner
on October 31, 2019.

Last Sunday morning, after power-walking nine blocks from my apartment to the MacArthur BART station, then taking the escalator steps, two at a time, I hit the platform just as the doors of the train slide shut in my face. I consider trying to pry them open and look imploringly through the window for sympathy from the riders, but the train pulls away and all I can do is curse my luck, find a patch of shade and wait until the next one arrives.

Exposed to the elements in the middle of I-980, the wind is relentless. It’s going to be another warm, blustery day, with strong gales that will surely exacerbate the Kincade Fire up north, causing more destruction and mass evacuations.

When a Warm Springs train arrives, a mob of commuters files out onto the platform. Everyone stakes a position to bum rush the next train. I eyeball the wait time on the overhead sign. Fifteen minutes. Wait, wasn’t it just thirteen? Is the time going backwards?

Not only are the trains on a Sunday schedule, the PG&E power outages have led to system wide delays.

There’s a sense of impending doom in the air, and the smell of charred earth.

Frustrated and nervous about getting to the Yellow yard in time to secure a cab, I resume a conversation that’s been playing out in my head intermittently for the past week, this one-sided continuation of a discussion that began with a passenger in my taxi.

Young guy from El Paso. As a liberal vegetarian with an artistic bent, he was understandably infatuated with California. San Francisco in particular.

To a certain type of visitor, California can seem like a utopia. When you live here, though, it’s a different story.

Even though it was a relief to have a conversation about The City that wasn’t a total gripe fest, when he said, “It must be dope living in Cali. You guys got it made,” I couldn’t help but laugh. And not just because of his cringeworthy truncating of California.

I’ve had similar conversations with numerous passengers in the past and always say the same thing: “Yeah, well, all those privileges carry a hefty toll.”

The high cost of living in California isn’t just financial. You pay the price through everyday transactions.

Read the rest here.


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 


 

 

Talking San Francisco Blues

flywheel-taxis-city-hall-green-san-francisco

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner
on May 30, 2019.

Venturing into Fisherman’s Wharf while the sun’s still out is a fool’s errand. But once the cold winds start to blow and the fog comes rolling in so fast it chills you to the bone, all the tourists dressed in t-shirts, shorts and miniskirts rush the Pier 39 cabstand to escape the chill.

Mostly to step between the taxis lined up and reach their Ubers and Lyfts. But when it’s busy, there are enough folks taking cabs to justify the hassle of dealing with the traffic quagmire.

Besides a battalion of unmarked sedans, tour buses and shuttles compete with pedicabs and taxis for space along the curb that stretches from the Aquarium to The Embarcadero. Their frustrated honking sounds like foghorns.

In the melee, backloading is rampant. But when people dressed for May weather in Texas and Florida open your back door seeking sanctuary and transport, do you tell them to go to the front of the line? No, you take the fare and fight your way out of the congestion.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 


 

 

We Were Promised Gridlock

Scores Of Travelers Depart For Long Holiday Weekend

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on September 11, 2019.

While everyone was focused on a potential carmageddon during the Metallica concerts at Chase Center last weekend, an actual transportation quagmire was brewing in the south.

Down at SFO, they were closing one of the three runways for 20 days to make repairs.

For travelers, this means delayed flights, redirected flights and canceled flights. What impact this will have on taxi driving was a mystery at first, but the prognosis wasn’t positive.

At least we have Chase Center…

Read the rest here.


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 

You Can’t Drive a Taxi in a Bubble

taxi-mirror-reflection

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on May 23, 2019.

Despite not wanting to set a bad example for my two-year-old by staring at a phone all day on the couch, I can’t bear the thought of sitting hunched over the computer right now. That’s why I’m thumbing these words into my stupid iPhone, letter by letter, resisting idiotic autocorrect suggestions and feeling like a sad hypocrite in the process.

This weather is bumming me out. I’m ready for the fog of summer and the empty promises of warmth when it blows off. I mean, who doesn’t love summer in San Francisco?

Soon, there will be flocks of tourists again. Those who haven’t been scared off already by the gritty reality of a boomtown. Some might even take taxis.

Tomorrow, the sun’ll come out again. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But today, it’s cold and grey.

When Irina takes the kid toy shopping at Ikea, I sneak out back for a smoke. Survey my potted garden. All this rain has been hard on the marigolds. The mums might bloom any day, though, if we get more sunny ones in a row.

Returning to the couch, I grab a blanket. It’s not just the dank gloom outside making me want to crawl back under the covers. Any time I check Facebook, there’s even more gloom, mixed with plenty of doom, in the news. If it’s not the end of Game of Thrones, it’s the usual political nonsense or, based on your feed settings, the current state of San Francisco.

Which is – newsflash – horrible.

Everyone is bummed out.

The New Yorker and Washington Post have nothing good to report lately.

That’s nothing new. Hit pieces on The City come and go, each one more or less on target, the latest crop as close to a bulls-eye as any wordmonger can get, but hey… What are you gonna do?

As if anyone needs another reason to succumb to ennui and just drift into the oblivion of poly fibers on a rainy day…

Read the rest here.


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 

The Last of the Late Night Cab Drivers

upton-alley-bayview-taxi-lot-yard

I Drive SF column published in the S.F. Examiner on May 9, 2019.

There for a while I seriously questioned my decision to leave National to drive for Yellow, even though the defection was far from spontaneous. Prior to walking down Upton Alley to try my luck at another cab company, I mulled over the prospect for several months. Like Gregory Hines in the movie White Nights, as he planned an escape from the Soviet Union, I wasdetermined and reluctant at the same time.

Unlike most Refuseniks, though, I was riddled with regret and consternation shortly after making the switch, convinced it was a huge mistake. The transition to Yellow has been anything but smooth. Besides the flat tire and broken window detailed in last week’s column, I had a blowout on the Bay Bridge during my first shift in a Yellow cab. Three weeks later, I got into a minor no-fault accident on Mission Street.

Then there were the Yellow policies, which took some getting used to. Unlike National, everything at Yellow is by the book. Taped to the cashier windows are signs with statements like “No exemptions!” That’s how I ended up over-drafting my bank account in February: paying up front for 24- hour shifts and not getting reimbursed for credit card/Paratransit transactions until a week later.

Once my finances were completely out of whack, the despair and economic hardships overwhelmed me and I had to take a break to regroup. At first the anonymity of driving a Yellow cab was appealing. But I quickly began to feel isolated. Whenever I ran into a National/Veterans driver on the streets, I eagerly inquired about the company. Who’s still in the office? What’s going on with the meters? Have they fully transitioned to Flywheel yet?

The Flywheel deal was always a dealbreaker for me. When rumors first to began circulate that National was going to replace their hard-wired taximeters and two-way radios with the Flywheel app, I railed against the idea of an app-based dispatch system and letting a third party take over the mechanics of running a cab.

Nowadays, if you don’t want to run the Flywheel app, you need to be in a Yellow cab.

Still, I don’t handle change well. I’m a very habitual person. Part of growing up a welfare case: after bouncing around foster homes, group homes and relatives’ homes as a teenager, I craved stability as an adult, always seeking a temple of the familiar.

Read the rest here.

You Can’t Go Home Again to San Francisco

you-cant-go-home-to-san-francisco

“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.

The Scourge of the Surge

uber-accident-stanyan-oak-san-francisco

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.