Category Archives: Taxi Life

The Worst Taxi Driver in San Francisco

The worst cab driver in San Francisco doesn’t work the DJ clubs, doesn’t troll the bars in the Mission and avoids Polk Street like the plague. He doesn’t play the airport or cabstand at hotels. Most of the time, he sits in front of the Power Exchange or Divas waiting for a call from a regular rider.

The worst cab driver in San Francisco has said, given the option, he’d prefer to exclusively deal with transgender passengers.

“They’re the only normal people around anymore.” He doesn’t mind the patrons of sex clubs, because they don’t expect more than a ride. But he never asks questions. He’d rather not know what goes on inside those establishments.

The worst cab driver in San Francisco doesn’t collect kickbacks when he drops off at massage parlors or strip clubs. He just moves on to the next fare. “Why would I expect to get paid to take somebody one place and not another?”

The worst cab driver in San Francisco doesn’t make much money, even though he works every day. He hasn’t missed a shift in more than a year, but he only does splits, showing up at the yard around 10 p.m. Sometimes he doesn’t hit the streets until midnight. There are nights when he barely covers his gate and gas, and nights when he’s lucky to go home with $15 in his pocket.

The worst cab driver in San Francisco usually drives the shittiest cabs in the fleet. By showing up late, his options are limited to whatever’s available, and that’s almost always a clunker or a spare. But he’s all right with it …

The worst cab driver in San Francisco isn’t picky. He never complains. And if he does express displeasure, he quickly blames himself. He knows he’s the worst cab driver in San Francisco and isn’t afraid to accept that distinguished role. After all, someone has to be the worst.

The worst cab driver in San Francisco focuses on developing relationships with regular clients and providing safe transport. Once, a woman he’d just dropped off at her apartment returned to his cab and asked why he hadn’t driven away yet. “I’m waiting for you to get inside,” he told her. “Why?” she wanted to know. “Because it’s my job.”

The worst cab driver in San Francisco may be odd, but he is so trustworthy his regular customers have asked him to housesit while they’re out of town.

The worst cab driver in San Francisco will stop and help out any driver in distress, cab or otherwise. It’s not like he has anything to lose by taking the time to jumpstart a stalled vehicle or push it out of the flow of traffic. And if they offer him a tip, he adamantly turns it down.

The worst cab driver in San Francisco once left his cab running outside his apartment while he ran up to use the bathroom. In the few minutes he was gone, someone snatched his pack of cigarettes from the console, the key from the ignition and the medallion off the dash. Figuring the thief would ditch the medallion once he realized it was just a worthless piece of tin, he spent the next morning wandering around the neighborhood looking for it to avoid the fine for getting a replacement. When his search proved futile, he went to the police station to file a report and there was the medallion, sitting right on the officer’s desk. How it got there, no one knew. The key and his cigarettes, however, were never recovered.

The worst cab driver in San Francisco doesn’t charge meter and a half for rides 15 miles outside The City. He’s just happy to get what’s on the meter. And besides, he points out, during the hours he works, traffic isn’t an issue.

The worst cab driver in San Francisco always makes sure to stretch before and after each shift. “I may look silly doing this,” he says while doing crunches on an abandoned bucket seat in the yard with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. “But my back feels amazing.”

The worst cab driver in San Francisco, whenever I tell him he might be on to something the rest of us are missing, always says, “Nah, man … I don’t know shit.”

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Originally published by S.F. Examiner. Photo by Trevor Johnson.

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

 

Nice Taxi Drivers Finish Last

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It’s last call and I’m in the Castro. Since there’s space in the Bank of America taxi stand, I pull in behind a Luxor. The line moves slowly at first but soon all the cabs in front of me are loaded and I’m on deck.

A guy opens my back door.

“How’s it going?” I ask.

He just grunts. Obviously not in a great mood. Whatever.

In a thick accent, he gives me an address. I don’t recognize the street and ask him to repeat it. Then spell it.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asks, curtly. “Do I need to get another taxi?”

“Can you just tell me a neighborhood so I can get a general idea of where we’re going?”

“Portola,” he says.

The way he pronounces “Portola” sounds like the street, but when I turn left on 18th, he tells me I’m going in the wrong direction.

“You said ‘Portola’,” I point out.

“Oh God,” he exclaims. “Portola District.”

“Okay.” That’s not how I’m used to hearing the neighborhood pronounced, but who am I to argue with a native Spanish speaker? I take a right on Collingwood and head to Market.

“I can’t believe you don’t know where you’re going!” His tone is nasty. “I thought you have to know the streets to drive a taxi.”

“I can’t identify every one block street in The City,” I reply calmly, trying to diffuse the situation.

“Well, then put it in your fucking phone!” he snaps.

Even though he’s being unpleasant, I type his address into Google Maps. Just as I suspected, it’s a tiny street between Third and Bayshore off 101.

In between his annoyed sighs, I confirm the route and head towards Duboce Avenue.

The guy continues to mumble insults. “I can’t believe you drive a taxi. You don’t even know what you’re doing.”

“That’s it!” Conjuring Late Night Larry, I pull over to the curb and shout, “You’re out!”

“What are you doing?”

“Ride’s over.” I turn off the meter. “Find another cab.”

“No! You’re driving me home!”

“Then stop being mean!”

Read the entire column here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

The SFMTA Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack

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“Well, there’s no point is crying over spilt cocaine,” I say with a nervous chuckle, even though no one else in the taxi seems to share my humor at the situation.

The guy up front looks at me aghast while the two in back unleash a salvo of invectives as they make a futile attempt to scrape up the loose powder.

This is obviously not the time for jokes.

Apologizing, I hit the dome light and look in the back. There’s white powder all over their pants, the seat around them, their shoes and the floorboard.

Uhhh… “That’s not good.”

Just moments before the three guys got into my taxi in a celebratory mood. They even asked permission before snorting their drugs, which was thoughtful, since most passengers never inquire if I have a policy on consuming illegal substances before doing blow in my backseat. At least once or twice a night I have to brush cocaine residue off the leather interior…

A few rides later, I comment on the previous coke explosion to another set of happy passengers.

“I really hope this isn’t going to influence the drug test I have to take next week,” I add, jokingly. “It would just be my luck that some of the airborne molecules permeated my mucus membranes.”

“Even if you did a Tony Montana pile of cocaine, it would be out of your system completely within 72 hours,” the girl behind me says with authority. “Sooner, depending on your metabolism.”

That’s right. The only drug that stays in your urine for any significant period of time is marijuana, which the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency allows an exemption for, as long as you have a medical recommendation.

The whole drug test thing is completely absurd, another example of how The City holds taxi drivers to a higher standard than our ride-hail counterparts. Not to mention the cost of getting the marijuana recommendation and the $120.50 for the A-Card, as well as the time and energy running around taking care of these errands. And for what? To prove that we’re more professional than Uber and Lyft drivers?

That would be great if it actually mattered to the general public. But it doesn’t. Most people just want to tap a button in their phones and have a car show up. They could care less whether the driver was a drug fiend on PCP, a former or prospective terrorist or a law-abiding citizen.

The whole process is so infuriating, I feel like getting high just to deal …

As the night progresses, I fantasize about sabotaging my UA and testing positive for every drug on the list by going on a drug-collecting crusade that would impress Hunter S. Thompson.

Coke and ecstasy are easy to acquire at most bars in the Mission or on Polk Street … I could stop by Pill Hill and pick up some heroin … Swing by the Plaza for a little crack … I must know a meth head or two … PCP though … Since it gained peak popularity with criminals in ’70s cop shows like “Kojak” and “Baretta,” is angel dust even readily available?

“I’m sure we could do some online research and cook some up,” Mr. Judy suggests, when I broach the subject with him.

As he starts listing the kitchen utensils he’ll probably need to concoct some homemade PCP in his friend’s kitchen, I quickly change the subject …

Three days after peeing in a cup, I’m pulled over in front of Beck’s Motor Lodge answering a phone call from Wisconsin.

A grim voice on the line tells me, “I need to speak with you about the results of your recent urine analysis …”

As if my thoughts were enough to pollute my sample, I get a little nervous. “OK,” I mumble after an audible gulp.

“You tested positive for marijuana,” the doctor says. “Can you tell me why there was marijuana in your system?”

Uhhh … “Because I smoked it.”

“When was the last time you consumed marijuana?”

I did study really hard for the test … “A few days before. I don’t do it all the time or anything,” I lie.

“It seems the SFMTA has a unique policy that treats a positive result for marijuana if you have a doctor’s permission. Do you have that documentation?”

Of course.

After emailing a scan of my recommendation from the 420 Doc in Berkeley, my only obstacle to driving a taxi for another year is heading down to One South Van Ness and forking over the $120.50 fee to the SFMTA.

I feel so special.


Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Nov. 3, 2017.

[photo by Christian Lewis]