I was a guest on Tony DuShane’s eponymous podcast/radio show, Drinks with Tony. We discuss the craft writing, how I ended up driving a taxi, my experiences with Lyft and Uber, how I landed a gig writing a column for the S.F. Examiner, the pandemic and how a little bit of success can lead to a whole lot of despair.
I think. We talked for a while, and I kinda hoping he edited a bunch of stuff out…
Anyway. Not sure what Tony was drinking, but I had a seltzer on ice.
Oh my. I’ve been going through this blog updating links to the S.F. Examiner pages where many of these posts originally appeared. It seems the management has rearranged their servers and subsequent urls. Not that exciting, but I’m trying to breathe some life back into this site. If for anything, just to keep it from disappearing into the web-oblivion. All links to buy books, zines or other ephemera still – theoretically – work perfectly.
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.”
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.
“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 …
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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 …