Category Archives: San Francisco Under Siege

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.

The Scourge of the Surge

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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.

You Can’t Go Home Again

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After circumventing the 45 bus, the red carpet on Third Street is all mine. With an eye out for any interlopers who think they’re clever enough to access the transit lane, I scope out the W. and St. Regis for potential fares. At Mission, I see an outreached arm halfway down the block. I flash my high beams and go in for the kill.

“Clay and Battery,” the guy tells me, arranging a bunch of shopping bags on the backseat. “How’s your day going?”

Right as I’m about to respond, a van careens across three lanes of traffic, cuts me off and swervs towards Stevenson.

I hit the brakes and squeeze between the van’s rear bumper and the front end of the car next to me. “Ah, you know… Same old, same old.”

“Wow, that guy almost hit you!”

“Yeah.”

The real tragedy is missing the light at Market.

“Is traffic always this bad?” he asks.

“Eh. It gets worse.”


Read the rest here.

Driving into the Apocalypse

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Nov. 22, 2018 …

My day begins under an apocalyptic sky. Due to the deadly Camp fire up north, the atmosphere in Oakland is polluted with tragedy and a thick haze of smoke.

It’s been 10 days since we’ve had a breath of fresh air. The lack of oxygen is really bothering me. As much as I’d like to just stay home, my taxi is parked outside. So I say goodbye to the wife and kid, jumpstart Veterans 233 and begin the long slog across the Bay into a blood red sunset.

On the bridge, visibility is poor. Yerba Buena Island is just a blur and the skyline is blotted out by smog.

I take the Fifth Street exit. At the light, one of the panhandlers has a sign that reads, “Need $ for an N-95.”

Downtown, the streets are practically deserted. Although most people seem to have heeded the authority’s advice to stay indoors, the majority of folks who decided to brave the elements are wearing respirators or surgical masks.

After driving down Market, I turn onto New Montgomery and cruise past The Palace, where Local 2 has been on strike for over a month. Some picketers attempt to make a commotion, clanging on buckets and other percussive instruments, while trying to stay warm as the evening temperature drops rapidly.

Even before the fire, there was a heavy dystopian vibe in San Francisco, as if we’re living a sci-fi novel set in a universe divided by massive income disparity, where crime and violence run rampant and evil corporations develop tools that allow a totalitarian regime to assume control of the government.

While those who’ve read the “Big Three,” along with Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut and Anthony Burgess, might have an idea how this story will end, it seems as though the people developing technology these days are too blinded by hubris and greed to realize they’re bringing us closer to the end of times.

Now that we have the worst air quality in the world, it feels even more like the future is here. And it’s just as terrifying as Orwell and Huxley predicted. But as long as we have enough gadgets to desensitize us to the consequences, there’s no reason to freak out …

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Uber/Lyft Drivers Behaving Badly: Blocking Traffic

VIDEO: In this first video, we have an Uber/Lyft driver doubleparked on Van Ness Ave (Hwy 101) waiting for his passenger to arrive. Nothing new there, but this driver is next to a massive open parking space, in which two Priuses could fit. Why doesn’t he pull to the curb instead of inconveniencing other drivers? Because what they’re doing is obviously more important than what anyone else needs to do.

In this second video, the passenger has finally arrived and gets into the backseat, but the driver continues to block traffic, obviously screwing around with the GPS. Since they’ve already been blocking a lane of traffic on one of the most congested streets in the city for several minutes, why stop now? As anyone who drives in San Francisco knows, that’s the Uber/Lyft way. You’re just not a true Uber/Lyft driver unless you’re inconveniencing as many people as possible while doing your “job.”

While the Prius in this third video looks identical to the previous one, it’s actually a second Uber/Lyft driver following in their equally inept footsteps. Except this one has pulled slightly into the open parking space. Not enough to actually allow vehicles access that lane of traffic – again, on Van Ness, a major artery in the city – but you know… I guess it’s the thought that counts.

All this happened within a few minutes, after I’d grabbed a coffee at the Philz on Van Ness, between Turk and Eddy.

The Billboard Heard Around the City

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“Build the wall on the internet and make Russia pay for it.”

When a bunch of cab drivers stand around talking, the conversation can be like a four-way stop. Everyone waits their turn, but it’s with a lead foot and a rolling stop.

The topic of a recent powwow was the news that a major medical association is moving their convention from San Francisco to Los Angeles, due to its members not feeling safe in The City, citing the blatant drug use on sidewalks outside hotels, the rampant mental illness on display 24 hours a day and the homelessness epidemic that’s only exacerbated by the futile efforts of the SFPD and the SFPW to somehow “sweep” them out of public view. “Futile” because human beings aren’t as easy to hide under rugs and furniture – or in this case, under freeway overpasses – like other things one might use a broom to eradicate …

“Can’t really blame them, though,” Artur says. “I mean, the city has become a shit hole.”

As taxi drivers, we see more than most of the city’s occupants. The average urbanite has the luxury of shielding themselves from the unpleasant realities of city life by not straying from their standard day-to-day trajectories. But when you’re job is moving people from one part of town to the next, it’s hard to avoid certain neighborhoods or streets, or intersections, or corners …

Still, as a way to offer a “no poverty” package, I try to use routes that avoid the more unpleasant sights. But now that everyone has GPS on their phones, you have to be careful not to seem like you’re running up the fare.

So when you pick up at the Orpheum on Market and your passengers are going to the Fairmont, what’s an honest cabbie supposed to do? Take Larkin, of course. Even though you risk exposing visitors to a long stretch of the Tenderloin and can only hope to make it through the timed lights, all the way to Bush, lest you end up stopped for the red at Geary, where the wall of the Motel 6 is one of the local crack depots.

It’s not easy to shield tourists from the madness of the streets. Try as you may.

Then there’s Turk Street, with the outspoken billboard on the corner, connected to the Kahn and Keville tire shop that Herb Caen once called “the world’s largest fortune cookie.”

After Trump got elected, the billboard seemed to reflect the collective despair of all progressive San Franciscans.

A quote from Lily Tomlin was a subtle dig at Trump: “Behind every failure there is an opportunity someone wishes they had missed.”

While the following one, “Where is Mark Felt?” was equally vague, but only insofar as most people had to Google “Mark Felt.”

The one that said, “Build the wall on the internet and make Russia pay for it” is my favorite from that time period.

As much as I’d like to point any of them out to my passengers, you have to be careful, though, in case the person you’re driving doesn’t share your political views. Yes, even in San Francisco. Shit, especially in San Francisco.

Like Artur said the other day, “This city has become a shit hole.”


 

— taken from the forthcoming zine Behind the Wheel 4: The Thin Checkered Line

 

 

Uber/Lyft Drivers Behaving Badly: The Safeway Sleeping Lot

VIDEO: Everybody knows that Uber/Lyft drivers come to San Francisco far off locations like Sacramento and even Los Angeles. This particular impact of the “gig economy” has been covered extensively, from Bloomberg to The SF Chronicle and Business Insider, as well as discussed at length in this Uber/Lyft driver forum.

Due to an oversaturated market, drivers need to work long hours to make decent money. So instead of making the long commute back home, only to turn right back around, they sleep in their cars.

One morning, around 4 a.m., I’d just dropped a fare at Geary and Webster when I happened upon this scene. The Safeway parking lot was full of Uber/Lyft vehicles, many of which had sunshades or towels covering the windows.

I’ve seen this situation elsewhere, in other Safeway parking lots, as well at the rest area on 280, just outside the city. It seems that wherever there’s a place to park, there’s a place to sleep.