Category Archives: The Taxi Experience

“As Far as $53 Will Take Me”

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Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Jan. 8, 2020.

“I just need to hit a lick or something, and everything will be OK,” the guy in the back of my taxi tells me, bringing a torrent of dismay to a semi-conclusion. “It’s not like I’m asking for the world, you know? I mean, something’s gotta give. I can’t keep building cardboard forts to stay out of the rain. You know what I mean?”

Even though most of his statements end with questions, I realized soon into the ride that he wasn’t seeking affirmation. He just wants to talk. Been on a roll since I picked him and his black Labrador up outside the Whole Foods on California Street.

At the time, I was on a radio call, looking for someone named Sylvia. While he didn’t fit the description, he was the only one around who wanted a taxi.

I sensed right away that he was on the skids. A reality he also knew was unmistakable, which is why, after making sure I was cool with the dog, he immediately handed me a wad of cash.

“How far south can I go for $53?” he asked. “That’s all the money I have to my name.”

Read the rest here.


[Image from the San Francisco Postcard Collection – Street Scenes from Behind the Wheel.]

 


 

 

 

The Lost Art of Getting Around

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Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Dec. 27, 2019.

She gets in the back of my taxi at the United terminal, wearing Beats headphones. A clear signal: do not disturb. Which is fine. After finding out her destination — the Proper hotel — I keep my mouth shut. I don’t feel like talking anyway. Until the freeway turns into a parking lot and I kind of need to explain why we’re taking an alternate route.

According to the electronic traffic sign right before the split, it’s 50 minutes to downtown.

Fortunately, I know a shortcut.

In the age of Google Maps, Waze, et al., there aren’t many secret ways to get around The City anymore. Almost everyone relies on GPS nowadays. I use it too, but only to find out which way not to go.

When Google Maps suggests a route, I know that’s the one to avoid, because if they’re telling me to go that way, they’re directing every other driver that way too.

It’s a no-brainer, really. If you want to beat traffic, you have to carve out your own trajectory.

Read the rest here.


[Image from the San Francisco Postcard Collection – Street Scenes from Behind the Wheel.]

 


 

 

Banging My Head Against a Taxi Shift

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

There was something in the air last week, and not just the glow of fireworks pulsating through the dense fog that shrouded most of The City on the Fourth of July…

Equally ominous, but even more unsatisfying, are all the empty streets, devoid of fares. Except in the Wharf, where thousands of visitors congregate for the official pyrotechnic display, only to leave disappointed.

Before the show is over, a mass exodus begins. Around 9:45 p.m., I head up Columbus, hoping to pick off from the herd without venturing too deep into the morass of vehicles for hire operated by drivers just as confused as the erstwhile spectators wandering the streets like refugees from an active war zone.

“You can’t see a thing!” exclaims a group of women from West Virginia.

“Happens every year,” I tell them.

“So what’s the point?”

“No clue.”

After depositing them at the St. Francis, I head back to the Wharf for another load.

“The fog’s too thick to see the fireworks,” complains a mother of two sons.

“But you can hear them,” points out the younger one.

“It’s like this every July,” I say.

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.

 


 

 

Playing the Airport

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Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on June 12, 2019.

I’ve never been much of an airport player. I prefer to work The City.

Even before the new system limiting which medallions can operate at SFO, I lacked the patience required to wait three hours in the holding lots, hoping for a decent ride once finally reaching the terminals.

Even though the prospect of a long haul can be tantalizing, you’re just as likely to end up with a Burlingame. And while a short allows you get to cut to the front of the line on returning, if the airport isn’t moving, it’s a small consolation.

Plus, I get restless easily. Back when I used to try my luck at the ‘port, I’d go stir crazy idling in the wiggle and donut lots, while drivers stood around discussing their ride prospects like oddsmakers at an OTB.

Last Thursday night, though, after the theater crowd dissipates and my only shot at a fare is a random flag or a radio order while circling through SoMa, the TL and the Mission, I see an unusual post on Hackers: “Cabs needed at SFO!”

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]


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.

 

A Long Day’s Journey into the Night

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

Sometimes getting out of The City is just as hard as getting in.

You know what to expect with morning traffic. It’s always bad. If you don’t get across the bridge before 5:30 a.m., it’ll take over an hour just to reach the toll plaza. But once you’re past the metering lights, it’s a race to the finish line.

The commute home, though, is a total crapshoot. Lately, there’s been construction on the bridge at night that causes a backup to the Fourth Street exit. Instead of idling in the congestion, I usually take surface streets to the First Street onramp. Me and several hundred other drivers. While it’s probably quicker to stay on the freeway, nobody wants to feel like a sucker.

When I don’t have the cab, getting home to Oakland at night can be a long, arduous journey. Add some inclement weather to the mix and things get really ugly.

For almost 10 days, it’s been raining cats and dogs. And people haven’t been behaving much better.

Traffic was a nightmare all week. Despite the constant downpours, Christmas shoppers poured into downtown from all points north, south, east and west. It was impossible to get anywhere fast, especially now that most streets in Union Square and South of Market have been reduced to one lane. City planners seem determined to punish drivers for bringing their cars downtown. Since people aren’t going to stop driving into The City, this passive-aggressive way of controlling congestion only makes it worse.

You know traffic is bad when getting through the holding lots at SFO takes less time than dropping off fares at the hotels in Union Square.

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.

 


 

 

In Traffic We Become Something Bigger

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Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on August 14, 2019.

Everything hit at once last weekend. Besides Outside Lands, the Giants were at home and, on Saturday, there was the Pistahan parade and festival.

Combined, it made for a hectic few days of cab driving…

I started my week on Thursday afternoon. Caught a Millbrae train to New Montgomery, and surfaced just as a 9R is idling a few blocks away. I luck out with a seat in the back. As we pass Civic Center, though, a person nursing a crushed can of Old E nods off and hits the deck.

A woman looks up from her iPhone and screams, “Somebody call 911!”

“Forget that!” the guy next to me shouts. “I’m gonna be late for work.”

“But he could be dead!”

The guy shrugs.

Just as the passengers begin taking sides, the bus turns onto 11th Street and comes to a stop. Even though the man is back in his seat, sipping on what’s left of his beer, the operator refuses to continue.

“Come on! Let’s go!”

The grumbling grows louder, until the lights flicker off and it’s obvious we must disembark.

A few minutes later, another 9R turns off Market. Circumventing the first bus, I notice the man has followed us. Barely able to stand, holding onto the back of a seat precariously…

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]


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.

 

An Impromptu Morning Shift

yellow-cab-palace-hotel-stand

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner
on September 26, 2019.

I rise with The City.

Atop a hill, behind the wheel of my taxi, I watch bleary-eyed through the windshield as darkness begins to succumb to the amber clouds on the eastern horizon. The neighborhood spread out below is completely still.

I admire the view for a few minutes, then rub the sleep from my eyes and drive to Philz.

Despite the allure of a San Francisco morning, this isn’t how I expected to begin my day. The night before, after getting a fare to Los Gatos from SFO around 11 p.m., I drove back on 280, since there was construction on 101 north.

During the long journey through the mountains in pitch-black night, overwhelming fatigue set in. I blasted the Beastie Boys to help me stay alert, but once the taillights in front of me began twirling like luminescent dervishes, I knew it was time to take a break before making the final stretch to Oakland, just to rest my eyes a little. I got off the freeway at San Jose and found a quiet corner to park…

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.