Tag Archives: cab life

A fake $100 bill, a street fight, pupusas and other unanswered questions…

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My column this week for the S.F. Examiner is a somewhat confusing story about an altercation between a cab driver and a pupuseria worker, involving a possible fake $100 bill…

I don’t hear the details over the two-way radio as it unfolds, but when I come upon the aftermath at 16th and Valencia, I see two SFPD squad cars have National 2977 surrounded. On the sidewalk, cops mingle with the crowd of Saturday night revelers, the mariachis and a few competing hot dog vendors.

I look for the familiar face of the driver, but an arm in the air distracts me.

Later, in the Mighty cabstand, Juneaux tells me all he knows: The driver of 2977 was attacked by his passengers and taken to the emergency room.

While I’m cashing out at the end of my shift, Jesse only has a little more information. The driver, Noguchi, was taken to SF General, and they’re towing the cab back to the yard.

Outside the office, the weekly recitation of the waybill is underway, with Noguchi’s fate the center of attention. Colin, Juneaux, Late Night Larry, Marty and I stand around asking questions: Why doesn’t somebody just go pick up the cab? Cause the driver has the key. Oh. Has anyone gone to the hospital to check on the driver? Did the police file a report? Are we going to pull the chip from the camera?

After a while, the tow truck arrives with 2977 on the hook. Then Noguchi shows up, bedraggled with a hospital bracelet still around his wrist.

We immediately demand answers.

“Hold up,” he says, still visibly shaken. “It’s a long story. Somebody, please, I need a cigarette.”

Colin hands him an American Spirit, and we yield the floor …

“I was dropping off a fare at 16th and Guerrero,” Noguchi begins. “There were three people. One was getting out. But the other two were continuing on to Ocean and Plymouth. The guy who’s getting out wants to settle the bill. The other two will pay separate. He hands me a $100 bill. Now I’ve been playing the airport all evening. I only have $20 in change. That won’t help anybody. I go into a bar to ask for change. Sorry. I go into the liquor store. Sorry. I try the pupuseria. They say, only if you buy something. So I order the beef deshilachada.”

At this point, things get somewhat confusing … Noguchi goes outside to give the guy his change. And since he’s now committed to the food he’s ordered, the other two passengers flag down a different cab, which happens to also be a National.

On his way back inside the pupuseria, the cashier confronts him.

“You gave me a fake $100 bill!”

Realizing that the people associated with the $100 bill are in the National cab, Noguchi tries to prevent them from driving away. The pupuseria worker, however, assumes he’s trying to escape and attacks him.

“He just starts hitting you right away?” somebody asks.

“Yes, and I told him, ‘I don’t want to fight.’ I’m just trying to get the people back to sort this all out. You know what I mean? I’m trying to be honest.” He slaps his chest.

The pupuseria guy won’t listen. He just keeps pummeling Noguchi until he’s on the pavement.

“And then he’s kicking me and kicking me! And I’m rolling on the ground.”

“In the middle of 16th Street?”

“Yes! I keep yelling, ‘I don’t want to fight!’ But still, he’s kicking me.” Noguchi’s accent gets stronger as he revisits the adrenaline-fueled confrontation.

“So what did you do?”

“I got up and I grabbed him by the head and … BLAM!” He pantomimes a slam-dunk.

“You smashed him into the ground?”

“I did not want to fight! I was only trying to be honest!”

We continue grilling Noguchi until he finishes another cigarette. Then he gets into 2977 and drives away.

Left to fill in the gaps, we try to jigsaw what few facts we have into a cohesive story …

At some point, the cops obviously showed up and then an ambulance took him to General. But what about the pupuseria worker? What happened to him? And what about the guy who passed the alleged fake $100 bill?

“What if,” Juneaux proposes, “the guy’s bill wasn’t phony at all, and the cashier was just trying to get rid of one he already had?”

As conspiracy theories lead to other wacky possible scenarios, much to Colin’s delight, the sky brightens. Slowly, we break away, leaving the yard and all the unanswered questions behind.

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on May 27, 2016.

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[Top photo by Christian Lewis. Joe Strummer in a NY taxicab via the interwebs.]

I Drive a Taxi So You Don’t Have to

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This week’s column is about growing weary of the taxi conversation, creating confusion by driving a clean cab, exhaustion from working long shifts and unconsciously eating yoghurt naked due to said exhaustion… But not necessarily in that order…

There are days when I don’t even want to think about driving a taxi. Days when I’d just as soon contemplate anything but what goes on behind the wheel of a cab at night in The City.

Today is one of those days.

Given the option, I’d rather discuss this psychotic election cycle, the hunger strike outside the Mission Police Station, the fate of Syrian refugees or even my fucked up life. Anything but taxis. But this is supposed to be a column about driving a taxi … so taxis it is. 

Read the rest here.

[Photo by Christian Lewis]

The Worst Taxi Driver in San Francisco

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The worst cab driver in San Francisco may be on to something the rest of of are missing…

This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is an homage to the worst cab driver in San Francisco. Read it here.

The Rogue Cab Company of San Francisco

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As rain falls hard on a humdrum night in The City, the windshield wipers on National 182 slap away the moisture obscuring my view of the street and any potential flags.

The longer I drive empty, the more I convince myself there are thousands of people just dying to get in my cab, if only my visibility weren’t so limited. So I drive slower, and slower, and slower, until I’m stopped outside a dismal bar, hoping someone will run into the back of my cab and say, “Walnut Creek! Step on it!”

After driving empty for half an hour, I try not to let it drag me down. And yet, my mind begins to wander into the depths of wanton speculation and I contemplate all that I can’t control…

Like the conversation I’d had with Colin on the way to work today when we saw an Oakland cab stripped of most of its taxi markings and a TCP license on its bumper.

“Why would anyone get a TCP license at this point in the game?” he asked. “He could just go to the hardware store and get some adhesive numbers and put them on your bumper and look legit.”

“What about cab drivers?” I asked. “Why do we follow the rules?”

Cause we’re a bunch of chumps. That’s why.

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This week’s column in the S.F. Examiner is about starting a gypsy cab. Why follow the rules when no one does? It’s not like there’s anyone out there enforcing the rules. Are cab drivers fools for voluntarily doing what’s right when the game is rigged against them by a system that completely ignores them and their struggles?

Read the entire column here.

 

Photo by Trevor Johnson.

A Cog in the Wheel of Corruption

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner seemed to draw the ire of many cab drivers who think I’m revealing “trade secrets” by discussing our role in, and how we sometimes benefit from, illicit activities in the city, from paying bribes to hotel doormen for airport rides, taking kickbacks from strip clubs and massage parlors, transporting hookers, directing passengers to their desired transgressions and the complicity of the police and, most likely city hall, in it all. There’s also a Tony Soprano for good measure. What these critics miss is that corruption takes many forms, including tipping, which is a form of bribery. Tell a server you’re not going to tip at the beginning of a meal and see how great your service is. That we are cogs in this wheel of corruption is part of what makes the job of a cab driver interesting. Well, I think so anyway. See for yourself, if you haven’t already read the column and made up your mind…

As ambassadors of The City, cab drivers are both purveyors of myth and concierges of vice. From the tourist attractions to the ripped backsides, we navigate the orthodox and the underbelly to take you where you want to go.

Or at least point you toward the right transgression.

Naturally, most services come with the expectation of a gratuity. And once cash starts exchanging hands, everyone wants a piece of the action …

Read the rest here.

The Story of Magnificent Meg and the Taxi Dispatcher

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The dispatch office at National/Veterans Cab Co.

From this week’s I Drive S.F. column in the S.F. Examiner:

“You’re with National,” she states the obvious, slurring her words. “I used to call you guys all the time to order a cab, and the dispatcher always said, ‘Hey, Magnificent Meg! Where you going tonight?’ You guys made me feel so special. And always made sure I got a cab. Sometimes it would take a while, when it was busy, but you’d call me back and let me know when the driver was going to show up.”

“Why’d you stop calling?” I inquire, anticipating the answer.

“Well … I started using Uber … Just at first, you know, to check it out. Then, later, it was easier to use the app than make a call. And it’s cheaper. But I hate Uber now. The drivers don’t know where they’re going and they’re creepy. It’s just, like, a habit.”

She pauses for a few seconds.

“Still, I miss the old days when I’d call National and I was ‘Magnificent Meg,’” she said. “That’s why, when I saw you parked there, I wanted to tell you how much it meant to me.”

Read the rest here.

Photo via

All the Young Passengers and Their Needs

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Lights on the Bay Bridge

This week’s column:

The kids were out in full force this weekend, despite the downpours and never-ending drizzle that challenged the windshield wipers on National 2976, the spare I had to drive while 182 gets a new master cylinder.

Some of them even ventured into taxis.

Read the rest…