Category Archives: The Taxi Experience

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.

The Golden Age of the Passenger

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Dec. 6, 2018 …

In a city where over 50 percent of the population relies on some form of public transportation, having wheels can make you rather popular. Especially among friends eager to avoid Muni and BART, those who get off work after midnight and ones who are just lazy.

It seems like someone is always looking for a ride. Naturally, as a taxi driver, I’m used to carting people around. Even on my days off, I often give rides in my Jetta. Free, of course. Since there’s not a taximeter mounted on the dash. And I’m not an Uber or Lyft. On that latter point, I tend to be a bit touchy.

Back when I first started driving for Lyft, it annoyed me when passengers wouldn’t sit up front. Dudes in particular. After switching to Uber, everyone rode in back and I quickly began to feel like a servant — or an underpaid taxi driver. That was one of the main reasons I decided to go to taxi school.

If you’re going to be treated like a taxi driver, I figured, you might as well get paid like one.

In the normal way of the world, the protocol for riding in someone’s personal car is to sit up front. Before the advent of Uber and Lyft, the idea of sitting behind the driver when the front seat is readily available was absurd. Anyone who did that would have been considered a total douchebag. Like, who do you think you are, the King of England?

Not that long ago, riding shotgun was the next best thing to being at the wheel. In high school, a typical after class ritual was to race to your friend’s car in order to get dibs on the front seat, otherwise you’d be relegated to the back, usually reserved for fast food wrappers and empty soda cans.

Now that we’re in the golden age of the passenger, the traditional methods of riding in cars are all topsy-turvy. These days, it’s perfectly normal to see two grown men squeezed together in the back of an unmarked Kia while the front seat remains empty.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

Wherever the Taxi Winds May Blow

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Nov. 29, 2018 …

Not all rides are equal. Even if they start at the same point, destinations vary

so drastically — and financially — that entire shifts can hang in the balance of one arbitrary decision.

In my early days of driving a taxi, I approached each intersection with a quandary: What’ll happen if I turn right? Will I hit pay dirt by taking a left instead? Or does my fortune lie straight ahead?

After a while, I realized there’s nothing certain about taxi driving, every move is a gamble and the only way to avoid going insane is by letting fate determine your trajectory.

Nowadays, when I leave the National yard, my usual thought is, So… where are the taxi winds going to take me tonight?

Even though getting Zen about cab driving may lead to warm and fuzzy feelings, there are hundreds of taxi drivers on the streets, who are all in direct competition with each other and couldn’t care less about your inner serenity.

It’s only a matter of time before your phlegm is put to the test.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

The End of Mr. Judy

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When it comes to certain passengers, no matter how much they pay you, it’s never enough …

This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about an unfortunate aspect of driving a taxi: the unwanted regular.

It’s all fun and games until you realize you’ve been listening to the same passenger moan and complain in the backseat of your taxi for the last… uhhh… two years.

At $2.75 a mile and 55 cents a minute, that may seem like a pretty good load, but what’s the going rate for being a pain sponge?

“It’s never enough,” Late Night Larry tells me. “When it comes to certain passengers, no matter how much they pay you, it’s never enough.”

Outside the Orpheum on Hyde Street, waiting for Miss Saigon to break, I’m leaning against Larry’s cab, complaining about my predicament with a deep-pocketed regular who has become more trouble than he’s worth.

“Did I ever tell you about the Cash Cow?” Larry asks.

The Cash Cow used to call him three to five times a night. The rides were usually long and profitable. But they could also be problematic.

“One night, I’m driving the Cash Cow and his girlfriend up Van Ness. At a red light, they see somebody on the sidewalk and the woman screams, ‘There he is!’ She jumps out of the cab, walks up to the guy and starts pummeling him. Soon, people are gathering around. Somebody calls the cops. Meanwhile, I’m thinking to myself… This just isn’t worth it.”

Later that night, I’m griping to Colin. He mentions the Little Shit, one of his old regulars. This guy just wanted to hang out in the backseat of his cab doing whippets while Colin drove around.

“The Little Shit always called when it was busy, which made it difficult to deal with my other regulars. Even though he paid me whatever I asked for, he wasn’t worth the hassle.”

While it’s comforting to know I’m not the only cab driver to end up with an unwanted regular, I still have to figure out how to get rid of mine: Mr. Judy.

Read the rest here.

From One Soma to the Next

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This is the full-length version of the I Drive S.F. column prior to the hatchet job that was published in the S.F. Examiner on October 4, 2018 about driving a taxi during the week of Folsom Street Fair and the Dreamforce convention. 


 

Everything is a blur …

This morning, when I wake up to the sound of rain, the week before is a distant memory, even though just 24 hours have passed since I walked from the National yard to the 24th Street BART station and boarded an Antioch train. As we sped from one stop to the next and then barreled east through the Transbay Tube, I forced myself not to fall asleep. It wasn’t easy.

From MacArthur, I stumbled down Telegraph under an overcast sky. The coming storm was manifest in the tepid breeze that threatened to knock me down.

Five long days of cab driving had taken their toll on my body. I was exhausted, almost tempted to let the wind take me – just surrender to the current and drift like a broadside through the streets and avenues of Oakland, hoping not to get stuck in a tree, or impaled on the finials of the wrought iron fence around the Harmony Baptist Church.

In the distance, the sound of heavy machinery from a construction site brings me back to reality, and I continue moving forward. Only seven more blocks to go, I tell myself. Seven more blocks and then sleep …

After taking BART to 24th Street, I jump in a cab, but the driver refuses to take me to the Bayview. So I walk, with the sun directly overhead, peeling off layers along the way.

Once I’m behind the wheel of Veterans 233, I head over Potrero Hill into SoMa, to hunt for Dreamforce conventioneers, easily identifiable by the lanyards around their necks, and the gray backpacks over their shoulders.

I drive up Third Street, glancing at the people standing on the curb, holding
out their phones out like Geiger counters and looking forlornly in the direction of oncoming traffic.

Taxi, anyone?

At Market, I take a right and go down New Montgomery. On Howard, a guy yells into his phone, “I’m on the left side of the street, in a blue shirt. Do you see me? No? Where are you?”

Slowly, I meander up Kearney, then down Clay Street into the Financial. Around Battery, a man runs towards me, flailing his arms.

“Oh, I’m so glad I found you!” he tells me. “I couldn’t find a cab anywhere!”

“Yeah, it’s been really busy,” I say. “Dreamforce and all…”

“I’m going to a place called Absinthe on Hayes Street. It looks like you should probably take Washington to – ”

“We’ll take Sacramento,” I say, cutting him off. “There’s a taxi lane.”

“Taxi lane?”

“Yeah. Taxi lane.”

While the guy FaceTimes with his wife and kids, I charge up the hill, weaving between the two lanes to circumvent buses, cars turning right and numerous potholes.

“This place is amazing! Check it out,” he tells his wife while pointing the phone at the street. “We’re practically at a 45 degree angle.”

After fighting traffic down Gough and Laguna, I finally pull up to the restaurant. The meter reads $15.60.

“Make it… $42.” He hands me an Amex.

“That’s too much,” I say.

“You act like it’s my money.”

“Fair enough.”

I run his card for $42.

That night, Metallica and Janet Jackson play a concert in Civic Center. On Thursday night, there are Salesforce related events all over Soma. I race from one venue to the next, usually with a passenger in the back.

Once Dreamforce is over, lanyards and business casual give way to leather jockstraps and bondage gear …

On Friday evening, I’m taking a regular to the Rumpus Room on Sixth, cutting down Stevenson to avoid Market. After driving past a guy sticking a needle in some girl’s foot, we encounter a long line of people at the corner. As we get closer, I notice several men have their butts exposed. Which can only mean one thing: Folsom Street Fair has begun.

From that point on, things get blurry. All I really remember are the butts. So many butts. Butts on Friday. Butts on Saturday. And butts on Sunday.

Around 2:30 a.m., I start working 1015 Folsom and Audio. I never wait very long. Once I’ve delivered my fares to their location, I head back to the SoMa clubs.

Eventually, the day begins. The streets downtown become congested with buses, cars and bikes. Bondage gear and leather jockstraps give way to jeans, hoodies, uniforms and suits.

“Sure looks like rain,” people say.

“Sure does…”

It’s Monday morning. As most people head to work under cloudy skies, I make the long trek home.


Originally appeared in a truncated version in the S.F. Examiner on October 4, 2018.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]