Tag Archives: bay area

Driving into the Apocalypse

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Nov. 22, 2018 …

My day begins under an apocalyptic sky. Due to the deadly Camp fire up north, the atmosphere in Oakland is polluted with tragedy and a thick haze of smoke.

It’s been 10 days since we’ve had a breath of fresh air. The lack of oxygen is really bothering me. As much as I’d like to just stay home, my taxi is parked outside. So I say goodbye to the wife and kid, jumpstart Veterans 233 and begin the long slog across the Bay into a blood red sunset.

On the bridge, visibility is poor. Yerba Buena Island is just a blur and the skyline is blotted out by smog.

I take the Fifth Street exit. At the light, one of the panhandlers has a sign that reads, “Need $ for an N-95.”

Downtown, the streets are practically deserted. Although most people seem to have heeded the authority’s advice to stay indoors, the majority of folks who decided to brave the elements are wearing respirators or surgical masks.

After driving down Market, I turn onto New Montgomery and cruise past The Palace, where Local 2 has been on strike for over a month. Some picketers attempt to make a commotion, clanging on buckets and other percussive instruments, while trying to stay warm as the evening temperature drops rapidly.

Even before the fire, there was a heavy dystopian vibe in San Francisco, as if we’re living a sci-fi novel set in a universe divided by massive income disparity, where crime and violence run rampant and evil corporations develop tools that allow a totalitarian regime to assume control of the government.

While those who’ve read the “Big Three,” along with Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut and Anthony Burgess, might have an idea how this story will end, it seems as though the people developing technology these days are too blinded by hubris and greed to realize they’re bringing us closer to the end of times.

Now that we have the worst air quality in the world, it feels even more like the future is here. And it’s just as terrifying as Orwell and Huxley predicted. But as long as we have enough gadgets to desensitize us to the consequences, there’s no reason to freak out …

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Welcome to Pleasanton

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Always get the money up front…

My column this week is about deserting a regular fare for a meter-and-a-half ride that goes horribly wrong. I guess you can say I got my just deserts.

“Alright,” the guy says, getting out of the cab. “Thanks for the ride.”

“Wait a second!”

The woman gets out of the cab slowly. I watch as she teeters on the high heels and careens toward a parked car, bounces off the trunk and falls to the ground. Just as quickly, though, she’s back on her feet.

“Who’s going to pay me?” I demand.

She wrinkles her face and stumbles away.

I get out of the cab and follow her to the door of her apartment. As she goes in, the guy emerges with a bunch of stuff that he loads into the back of a Corolla. On the windshield, there’s an Uber placard.

“I really need to get paid,” I tell him, feeling like the paperboy from the movie “Better off Dead.”

“I told you, I’m not paying. She’s a whore. Get her to pay.”

“Come on, man. I don’t want to get into the middle of this …”

“Be a man! Go get your money!” He drives away.

I knock on the door. No answer. I knock again.

Goddamn it.

I return to my cab and Google the Pleasanton Police Department. An operator picks up on the second ring.

“I don’t know if this is something you can help me with …”

Read the rest of the column here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

Random Views from a San Francisco Taxi

Scenes of San Francisco and the Bay Area from behind the wheel:

Hailing a Taxi while Black

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Yellow cab driver picking up family at SF General. Photo by Douglas O’Connor

My column this week for the S.F. Examiner touches on some of the racial elements in taxi driving…

On the corner of Folsom and 6th, a guy is standing with his hand in the air. Even though it’s not a night to be turning down fares — if there ever are nights like that anymore — three empty taxis in a row blow right past him.

When he turns around to flag me, I see what the problem is: He’s young and black, with dreads protruding from his hoodie and a gold grill flickering in the haze of a streetlamp.

As he approaches my cab hesitantly, I gesture him forward, and he jumps into the backseat. Up close, he looks more like a lost kid than a gangster, despite the getup.

“I need to get to Richmond hella bad,” he tells me.

“District or city?”

“City.”

“Oh, man …” I stammer. “It’s after 1 a.m. and uh … that’s a pretty long ride. You think I can get some cash up front?” Adding a quick, “No offense or anything.”

Which actually makes the request more offensive.

Read the rest here.

Bay Area Drivers Are the Worst

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Stranger in my Hometown – The “I Drive LA” Edition

This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about my trip to LA.

Over the past week, Trumpmania has made it almost impossible to focus on anything besides the election results, as well as the sobering realization I may be one of those left-coast elites disconnected from the rest of the country.

Completely unrelated, though entirely opportune, I distracted myself from the armchair quarterbacking — and the taxi life — for a couple days with a road trip to Los Angeles.

Even though I’m a native Angeleno, I’ve only gone back to Southern California three times in as many years. These days, I feel more like a stranger in my hometown.

Also, driving a taxi 40 hours a week in San Francisco has no doubt helped shape my perception of the two places, because the differences blew me away immediately.

Read the rest of the column here.

San Franciscan Pedestrians are the Worst

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An all too common scenario:

I’m at a busy intersection. Say, South Van Ness and 24th. I’m on 24th. Turning right onto Van Ness.

The light is green.

My signal is flashing. As I wait for the pedestrians to cross, I watch the car turning left in the middle of the intersection. We both have traffic lined up behind us. I glance in my side mirror. A girl in a Sentra looks distressed. No doubt wondering if she’s going to make the light. I’m wondering the exact same thing as an endless column of pedestrians moves past.

Mr. Left Turner’s face is full of determination. I’m already pulled as far to the right as I can go without entering the crosswalk. Who’s going to make it first? Me or him? The crowd is thinning. The last pedestrian, an old lady with two oversized bags, is almost in the middle of the street as the number next to the flashing red hand ticks down.

Seven seconds.

Six seconds.

I’m ready. So is Mr. Left Turner. The girl behind me inches closer to my bumper. Once the old lady is a few feet from the curb, I’m going for it. Mr. Left Turner’s just gonna have to wait.

Three seconds.

Just as I’m about to remove my foot from the brake and take off, I see a guy in tight raw denim jeans and a hoodie, staring at his iPhone, enter the crosswalk. Two seconds to go. The old lady is about to step on the curb as Tight Jeans slowly makes his way across the street, never once taking his face out of his phone.

One second.

Mr. Left Turner charges through the intersection, beating Tight Jeans to the middle of the street as the light turns red. Not exactly the safest maneuver, but at least he got through the light. My front end is blocking the right lane on Van Ness. We’re all waiting for Tight Pants MaGoo to finish sauntering across the street.

“Show some fucking hustle,” I mumble. “Motherfucker.”

I curse his pants.

I curse his hoodie.

I curse his very existence.

Of course, he can’t hear me with earbuds blocking out the world and sealing in the oblivion.

I fantasize about hitting the gas. Just plowing into the crosswalk and taking out this self-entitled douchebag. I wonder if I could generate enough speed to get him airborne? I’d really like to see him fly through the air, flip off the grill of my car, smash into my windshield, roll over the roof and tumble to the pavement with two broken legs and several cracked ribs. Maybe then he’d finally realize he doesn’t own the world just cause he makes a hundred grand a year at a bullshit start-up and dresses like a middle-schooler.

Once Tight Pants MaGoo is out of harm’s way, the cars move past me, flashing dirty looks, like I’m the asshole who screwed up traffic.

Fuck, I hate that guy.

I know that there’s a strong tradition of jaywalking in San Francisco. It’s part of the pedestrian culture of the city. People who’ve lived in LA and San Francisco will always marvel at the difference between walking in the two cities.

In LA, you don’t jaywalk. Period. Besides possibly getting a ticket, you’ll get run over. Walking in LA is a blood sport. You look both ways fifty times before you even cross on the green in case some dickwad in a Porsche is trying to outrun oncoming traffic. Cars have the right of way. After all, only a nobody walks in LA. So you better fucking watch out.

In San Francisco, the accepted practice is to cross once there are no more cars coming, regardless of whether the light is red or green. The stoplights here are brutal. Even when there’s not a single car on the road, the lights play out their pattern. And it’s usually chilly. So standing on a corner waiting for a walk signal is absurd. But these new transplants, in their infinite need to feel like they have more rights than the rest of us, take this custom of pedestrian rights to the ultimate degree. They incorporate it into their general attitude of entitlement.

And people wonder why pedestrians are getting run over all the time…