Category Archives: Taxi Life

The Thin Checkered Line – eBook Version Now Available

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Piltdownlad #11

Behind the Wheel 4: The Thin Checkered Line

PDF & ePub Digital Download

Includes a PDF of the zine, so you can see the layout and artwork that accompanied the stories, as well as an .epub file to view on your favorite eBook reader. The PDF is a printable version of the print zine. It’s 64 pages long, illustrated. The ePub file does not include any images besides the cover.

Get it here.


“The Thin Checkered Line” is the fourth installment in the Behind the Wheel series – a week in the life of a San Francisco taxi driver living in Oakland, a newly minted father and newspaper columnist who’s always on the prowl for a good ride and an even better story …Over the course of these five narrative essays, I document the gritty details of the 12-hour taxi shift while exploring the rapidly changing landscape of present day San Francisco; .

As I attempt to explain how the taxi system works, I answer the eternal question: why I drive a taxi, and describe what it’s like driving a taxi in the age of Uber and Lyft …

Along the way, I also speculate on the future of transportation and wonder where the hell we’re going, and whether or not the destination is meter and a half …

Knowing Better than to Make Things Worse

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Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on December 20, 2018.

On Friday night, as the symphony and ballet are about to break simultaneously, I’m racing up Seventh Street, hoping to get a fare before there’s nothing left on Grove but a bunch of phonies standing on the curb and the usual swarm of empty cabs circling the area like sharks late to the kill.

Approaching Mission, a figure emerges from the shadows with his arm extended. I glance in the rearview. Since there are no cars directly behind me, I hit the brakes, expecting the guy to quickly jump into my cab. But he just stands there, until traffic catches up to me.

Then, out of nowhere, I’m blinded by a flash of light.

Two lanes over, a cop has his spotlight aimed at me.

“Why couldn’t you pull into that open space?” the officer yells through the window of his cruiser.

“What?” I respond, confused by the unexpected scrutiny. Despite overtly egregious infractions, the police usually ignore taxi drivers. Even if we’re in dire straits. My cab could be engulfed in flames while a deranged lunatic chases me around the wreckage, stabbing me in the neck with a rusty icepick, and the cops would just look the other way. So why single me out?

“You’re blocking traffic,” he points out.

I look over my shoulder at the dude struggling to open the backdoor. “I didn’t realize it would take him so long to get into the cab,” I yell back.

“Come on,” the cop says. “Use your head. You know better than that.”

“But I…”

Before I can defend myself, he speeds away.


Read the rest here.

Listen: Crashing the Tech Industry on the Two Paychecks Podcast

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A few months ago I was a guest on the Two Paychecks Podcast, an anarchist podcast out of the Pacific Northwest.

We talk about my gonzo adventures documenting the Uber/Lyft experience before going pro as a bonafide taxi driver. From recording the vapid attitudes of the new urbanites to going full-on Jerry Springer on a panel at a tech conference, this rambling exchange covers a lot of ground.

Check it out on SoundCloud or listen below:

The Two Paychecks Podcast is also available on iTunes.


 

Watch Toler Make Taxi Driving Great Again

VIDEO: So one Sunday morning I’m sitting in the National office after turning in my cab, waiting to make the long trek to the 24th Street BART station, when a call comes in. The person on the other line tells dispatcher Jesse that one of our cabs is blocking their driveway on York Street, just past Army.

“Do you know the cab number?” Jesse asks. “2977? Ok. Thanks for letting us know. We’ll take care of it.”

I laugh. “Fucking Toler…”

Jesse tries to get Toler’s attention on the radio, but it’s pointless.

“I’ll go wake him up,” I say. “It’s on the way to BART anyway.”

After making my way down Barneveld and through the Hairball, I approach Toler’s cab with my phone ready. The above video is the result.

NOW …

What can I say about these videos of Toler sleeping in his cab?

That’s right… taxi drivers sleep in their cabs. Just like Uber/Lyft drivers.

Should I point out that Toler does NOT represent the SF taxi industry, except as an example of everything that’s potentially bad about it? I mean, he’s a big and burly, bearded and beady-eyed MAGA fan. He stinks, falls asleep at the wheel constantly and he’s been known to yell at people for using Uber and Lyft outside DJ clubs.

Without a doubt, Toler has got to be the worst spokesman for taxis imaginable. Maybe even worse than the mysterious public poopers in the SFO taxi holding lots

But you know what? Fuck all that “positive optics” bullshit. Yeah, Toler is gross. And the Trump shit is about as dumb as it gets… Still, sometimes it’s hard not to love the chaos Toler spreads across the city.

ANYWAY …

In this second clip, taken shortly after the first, I’d just walked up 24th Street, kicking myself for not getting Toler to give me a ride to BART – especially after missing my train and thinking to myself, that’s what you get for being a supercilious prick.

Since the next Pittsburgh/Bay Point train isn’t due for another 20 minutes, I wander down Mission Street to smoke a cigarette and – lo and behold – what do I see? National 2977. I get my phone ready and start banging on the window…

Taxis Around the World – Part Five

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Kabul, Afghanistan

Taxi-Mexico

Mexico

Taxi-Kuwait

Kuwait

Geisha-Taxi-Japan

Japan

Palestine-Woman-Taxi-Driver

Palestine

Taxis-Kowloon-Waterfront-Hong-Kong

Hong Kong

Taxi-Taiwan-Taipei

Taipei, Taiwan

Calcutta-Taxis-India

Kolkata, India

Sendai-Taxi-Japan

Sendai, Japan

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Yugoslavia

Living in a Dream World

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about working Salesforce’s annual convention Dreamforce…

On Salesforce Sunday, when 170,000 people descend on San Francisco for Dreamforce, the largest software convention in the world, hope springs eternal in the SFO taxi holding lots. And for once, I’m going to be a part of the action … 

Before embarking on my first, full-fledged attempt to become an airport player, I hover in the shade on Loomis Street, summoning the courage to face the unknown while smoking a final cigarette and chugging an iced coffee. The night before and all that morning, I bombarded Ben and Hester with a flurry of stupid questions. Still feeling ill-prepared, but with the nicotine/caffeine combo surging through my veins, I jump on 101 south, ready to embrace the madness.

As several cabs zoom past me on the freeway, I try to keep up, eventually shadowing one into the garage and through a maze of lines and staging areas.

At first, the whole process seems chaotic, but it’s obviously designed to house 100s of vehicles until they’re ready for service …

From the Entry Lot to the Wiggle and into the Donut, taxi drivers mill around their cabs until whistles start blowing, horns start honking and everyone is shouting, “Go! Go! Go!”

In the Paid Lot, we metaphorically rev our engines and wait for the starter’s whistle. Then it’s show time!

I chase the other cabs down a ramp that leads to the arrival terminals, where passengers stand with luggage.

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After my first successful run, I deadhead back to SFO.

In the Entry Lot, Bobby comes over to my cab. I pepper him with a bunch of stupid questions.

“Don’t worry,” he says confidently. “Just follow the cab in front of you.”

A few minutes later, my row enters the Wiggle, but when the Luxor cab in front of me stops, there’s no room for me to squeeze in. Panicking, I look around, unsure of where to go and waiting for someone to yell at me. Nobody seems to care though.

When a driver finally notices my confusion and shouts directions at me, I thank him profusely.

Later, in the Donut, Bobby walks to my window and chuckles. I point out that following the cab in front of me isn’t always the ideal strategy.

“Man, it’s all good,” he drawls.

By the end of the night, with seven SFO trips under my belt, I’ve become a real airport player …

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Read the rest here.

[Photos by Douglas O’Connor]

Top: The Donut
Middle: The Wiggle
Bottom: Paid Lot