Category Archives: The Taxi Experience

The Loneliness of the Late Night Taxi Driver

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My weekly column for the S.F. Examiner published on March 14, 2019:

In the small hours, Howard Street can be the loneliest stretch of asphalt in The City.

Driving through the quiet streets of SoMa after midnight is like starting into an abyss. Behind you are the glass high rises of downtown and straight ahead, the rowdy clubs on 11th Street. Beyond that, the hustle and bustle of the Mission.

Between those two points, there isn’t much activity and I tend to drift into despair. Especially when it’s my last chance to redeem another pilfered shift.

With only eleven hours to make gate and gas, I spend the first half of the night in the red. Once I have my nut, then it’s my turn to earn a little scratch.

But one false move and I’m chasing the shadows of fares until I have to turn in my cab.

Maintaining a positive outlook isn’t easy when there’s so much at stake.

Even though the clubs are all hopping and partygoers are spilling out onto the sidewalk and into traffic, scoring a live one is tricky. And despite the doom and gloom that can overtake you on nights like these, you still have to be ready to force a smile once someone does flag you down. Because no one likes a party pooper.

So you just keep circling and hoping for the best …

After popping and locking up Valencia, followed by a creepy crawl down Mission, I cross myself at 13th and drive-by Monarch at Sixth. I circle the block in case the signs of life aren’t just my imagination, then head towards 11th. From there, I do the Folsom Street shuffle.

At Eighth, a line of cabs is wrapped around the Cat Club and F8 like a birthday gift that no one wants to open. Outside 1015 Folsom, the doormen point flashlights at the drivers who try to stage.

At Fifth, I take a right and cruise Blow Buddies on Harrison, where there’s always at least one cab posted up. I investigate the End-Up and consider whether to circle back to Union Square or head to the Mission.

Waiting for the light, I gauge my level of desperation and decide whether it’s worth the effort to troll Polk Street.


Read the rest here.

AND

while I have your attention…

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If you dig these short rides, why not consider going for a long haul and buying a zine?

Or two?

Or four?

Each issue of Behind the Wheel is jam packed with ribald tales, cheap thrills and personal insight from the manic streets of San Francisco, illustrated with city scenes, maps and retro graphics. Also, stickers!

Help keep print media alive and support your local word-slinging cab driver!

Click here to order.


[photo by Christian Lewis]

When Uber Drivers Attack

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From my weekly column for the S.F. Examiner published on March 7, 2019:

Well, it happened again.

Seems like no matter how hard I try to avoid choleric interactions with Uber/Lyft drivers, the odds are always against me.

On the streets of San Francisco, their numbers alone are reason enough to steer clear, but also why getting tangled up with one of these inexperienced drivers for hire is almost inevitable …

Last Friday night, with Hamilton back in town for a second run, I head towards the Orpheum around 9:45 p.m.

Right as I pull up on Hyde, the theater breaks. Insta-load. Two ladies going to Parc 55. Along the way, they ask to stop at the Walgreen’s on Powell.

Racing down O’Farrell on the red carpet, dodging potholes and double-parkers, their conversation comes and goes like a bad signal from a talk radio station. On the sidewalks, dark figures huddle and conspire in the shadows.

“I was here 10 years ago,” one tells the other. “And never hesitated to walk through Union Square. Now…”

“I know what you mean…”

They discuss the virtues of Denver and Phoenix as we hit a bit of congestion.

Outside the Hilton, I surreptitiously eyeball a streetwalker prowling the cold, wet night in a flimsy miniskirt.

When I pull up across the street from the drugstore, they ask me to wait. I’m not surprised.

“Just keep the meter running.”

“Uh, sure.” As long as they’re fast, I’ll still have time to hit Golden Gate

Theater in ten minutes. “I’ll either be here or…”

Just then, a space opens up in front of Walgreen’s.

“… over there.”

Once the coast is clear, I flip a U, which becomes a three-point turn due to the horrible turning radius on the Fusion.

As I attempt to straighten up, a Camry pulls in behind me, seemingly out of nowhere, and prevents me from fully accessing the space. In my rearview, I notice the U symbol on their windshield.

Oh, great.


Read the rest here.

Stuck Inside a Taxi with the Wintertime Blues Again

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This is my 200th column for the S.F. Examiner, published on Feb. 28, 2019.

February is a bust.

I only worked three shifts this month. Which is the longest I’ve gone without driving a cab since getting my a-card four years ago.

Even when my daughter was born I skipped just two weeks. Of course, back then, with one source of income, we needed the money. And driving a taxi was still viable in 2017. Somehow. Despite the long, cold winter.

Two years later, in the midst of another long, cold winter, that’s no longer the case. Now you’re barely making minimum wage on an eleven-hour shift.

That’s why, when Irina landed a big project a few weeks ago paying five times what I make behind the wheel, it was a no-brainer who would be on toddler wrangling duty.

Instead of chasing fares on the streets of San Francisco, I’m chasing a naked two-year-old around the apartment, pleading with her to take a nap, as she screeches at the cat in the litter box, “Kitty go poo poo, Dada! Kitty go poo poo!!”

So it’s not much different from driving a cab in The City, really. Except the late night crowd tends to be messier and more demanding.

Read the rest here.

The Taxicab Hustle

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“I Drive S.F.” column published in the S.F. Examiner on Feb. 21, 2019.

Last Thursday was my first taxi shift in two weeks. After failing to come up with my share of February’s rent, the powers that be, i.e., my wife, issued an official proclamation, stating that taxi driving shall no longer be considered a real job, and shall be referred to henceforth as my “hobby.” According to this decree, I’m only allowed to “goof off in the cab” when it doesn’t interfere with Irina’s workload. Fair enough. Who am I to contest the will of the people? All I can do is hope business picks up when baseball season starts and the tourists return.

In the meantime, there’s the occasional convention. On Thursday, the IMB Think conference hosted a special event at Pier 39. 10,000 people were supposed to have attended. On top of which, Yellow had an exclusive arrangement to provide transportation for the employees staying out of town, issuing 1800 vouchers for rides to hotels in the Peninsula and East Bay that only Yellow drivers could accept. Since the prospects seemed decent, Irina granted me a temporary furlough to “work” that night.

Like almost every day this month, it rains. Traffic is a nightmare. Despite a late start, I scour the wet streets for rides.

Around 9:30, my dispatch tablet starts blowing up.

“CABS NEEDED PIER 39!”

“PIER 39 NEEDS CABS!!”

From SoMa, I deadhead to the Wharf. The sky is pissing rain. With the wipers slapping the windshield like a dominatrix on meth, I try to navigate the congestion of shuttles and buses among the hordes of Uber/Lyft ninnies doing their best to muck things up.

People are running everywhere, trying to find their drivers or take shelter.

On Powell, a guy with a lanyard bangs on my window. “Are you free?”

I lock the doors. Confused, he walks away. Another guy takes his place. I ignore him until he leaves.

Across the street, in the Yellow designated staging area, people in orange safety vests are yelling at me, “Yellow, over here!”

As more desperate conventioneers approach my cab, I pretend my English is too limited to understand them.

Do I feel sorry for turning down these bullshit fares? Not at all. Because no one is looking out for me. And if I don’t take care of number one, who will? I have a family. A child. But more importantly, a pissed off spouse. If there’s anything in this world that takes precedence over everything else, it’s pissed off spouses.

Read the rest here.

A Ride for Everyone

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I Drive S.F. column published in the Examiner on February 7, 2019.

In a Yellow cab, you really stand out. Besides the distinctive, universally recognized color scheme, there are seven giant ‘3s’ plastered along each set of doors, along with an assortment of official decals. But it’s the illuminated ad topper mounted on the roof that leaves no doubt what purpose the vehicles serves.

While a Veterans cab is also an obvious form of conveyance, when the toplight is off, they can almost pass for a regular car. Albeit one with an unusual paint job.

That’s not possible with Yellow cabs.

At night, the ad topper shines through the darkness like a klieg light. Even when I have a fare, people will flag me. Or just walk up and try to get inside. Whether I’m loaded or not …

Read the rest here.

New Terrain in Familiar Places

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I Drive S.F. column published in the Examiner on January 31, 2019

Deep in the cut, I play the radio hard. Taking one order after another. Mostly short rides, along with some no-go’s, that push me further into the outlying neighborhoods of The City.

Since my shift began earlier that afternoon, I’ve been loading shopping bags, folding carts and walkers into the trunk of my cab and letting passengers guide me to their destinations through the unfamiliar streets of Visitacion Valley, Ingleside, Crocker Amazon and Balboa Park. Places I know, but rarely worked before switching to Yellow.

So far, most folks are happy to give directions. Except for one lady, who, despite limited English, ribs me for asking her the quickest route from the Glen Park Bart station to the Foodsco in the Bayview.

“You’re supposed to know that!” she responds with a chortle, then leans forward and uses hand gestures to show me the way.

It’s not that I don’t know how to get around, but with a meter running, the stakes are too high for detours. And this being their home turf, wouldn’t they know the best shortcuts?

Plus, deciphering broken English and heavy accents can be even more challenging than navigating new terrain. Especially with streets named Cayuga, Farragut and Onondaga. Or even Jones.

Read the rest here.

Breakfast of Champions

 

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Maybe it’s just my imagination. Or maybe I really do need to get my aura cleansed. 

That was Irina’s sardonic recommendation to cast away the various misfortunes that have been following me around lately like a personalized rain cloud. Or, in her more succinct evaluation: to become less of a schlimazel.

It definitely feels like the universe has been having a cosmic giggle at my expense these days.

Half the time when I order take-out, they give me the wrong food… A perfectly healthy plant only has a 50-50 chance of life expectancy under my care… Despite maintaining the same clothes sizes for over 20 years, I somehow invariably buy shirts in medium instead of large…

Why? It makes no sense.

As I sit behind the wheel of my cab, stranded on Maritime Street at West Grand and waiting for the tow truck to arrive, I can’t help but contemplate my propensity for misfortune.

After all, it was my rotten luck to end up in a taxi without a spare tire in the trunk. Road flares? Check. Lug wrench? Got it. Donut?

Uhhh… Nope.

Even worse, I’m out of cigarettes. And way too un-caffeinated to deal with this predicament.


Read the rest here.