Tag Archives: jim jarmusch

Playlists, Profanity and Other Tricks of the Trade

night-on-earth

Originally published on October 16, 2015 in the S.F. Examiner

Tonight I’m all alone in my cab. Although I may not be the only one prowling the streets of San Francisco playing the Modern Lovers, if I don’t get a fare soon, I just might go insane.

It’s still early but I’m a little cranky from waking up at nine in the morning to a cacophony of power tools drilling into concrete and slicing through wood. Coming off my second 12-hour shift in a row, I was tired as hell, but there was no way to sleep through the noise.

In the two years I’ve been in this apartment, I’ve suffered one construction project after another. But that’s the price you pay for living in an “up-and-coming” neighborhood.

I began my shift that afternoon by dialing in a Pandora station based on a playlist of garage and noise rock bands. A proud Luddite, I only recently discovered streaming music through my iPhone. I started with the free service, but once the Lyft ads became overbearing, I upgraded.

As I troll the Embarcadero for a fare, “Astral Plane” segues nicely into Thee Oh Sees.

I don’t get a flag until I’m on Jefferson. Two guys going to the Best Western Americana. About two-thirds into the ride, one of the guys asks me in a German accent why we don’t have partitions like New York cabs.

“Cause we’re fucking friendly in California!” I shout.

My feeble sarcasm doesn’t translate well and we spend the next several blocks in awkward silence as the Wooden Shjips drone on in the background.

So much for taking Late Night Larry’s advice.

Last week, at the National barbeque, Larry was telling me how to break the ice with passengers.

“I ask every person who gets in my cab, ‘How the fuck are you?’ Unless they’re the sophisticated type. Then I ask, ‘How the hell are you?’”

I was dubious about using profanity with my passengers, but several other drivers nodded their heads in agreement.

Even though I’m constantly soliciting tricks of the trade from experienced cab drivers—like creating a soundtrack for the cab—as I head up Seventh Street to see if the Orpheum is breaking, I wonder if they were just pulling my leg this time.

Of course, it’s easy for Larry to pull off a faux-surly attitude with his passengers. He already comes across like a college football coach. Before driving a cab, he was the house dick at the St. Francis. Before that, an MP homicide detective in Vietnam. At some point he was involved in banking.

It’s difficult to keep track of Larry’s myriad adventures and his long history, which began in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, when his family moved to California from St. Louis to start a riverboat company on the American River.

Like most native San Franciscans, nothing shocks Larry. When he tells a story, whether it’s about driving a cab or solving a murder, he punctuates the most gruesome aspects with sadistic laughter.

Or the night he had two pukers and never seemed happier.

“Two!” he shouted gleefully. “In one night! What are the odds? I made an extra $200.00!”

“Yeah, but the puke…” I pointed out.

“Ah, I know how to clean up puke,” he said, brushing away the insignificant detail.

At the Orpheum, I get a short ride to the Hilton, where I pick up a couple going to Ashbury Heights. Then a flag on Divisadero to the Hotel Kabuki.

I cruise down O’Farrell just as the Shannon and the Clams show at the Great American is breaking. With King Kahn and the Shrines blasting, I pull behind a Yellow cab and wait for a like-minded fare.

After the initial wave has dissipated, I watch the remaining concertgoers stand around holding their phones and looking up and down the street for their Ubers and Lyfts. Somebody gets into the Yellow cab in front of me, but I sit empty until it’s just the roadies and me.

I give up and turn left onto Larkin. Outside New Century, I immediately get flagged. A guy climbs into my backseat.

Before he can tell me where he’s going, I turn around and ask him, “How the fuck are you doing tonight?”

taxi-driver-movie-deniro-scorsese-inside-cab

Top photo still from Night on Earth. Bottom photo from set of Taxi Driver via

What’s in a Passenger?

BOG

On the Prevalence of Women Drugged Against Their Will in the SF Bay Area and Ending Up in Taxis and Ride-Hails

My column in the S.F. Examiner this week is about transporting a woman who was most likely drugged. As I mention in the column, the frequency of women getting drugged at bars in the San Francisco Bay Area has become way too common.

It’s alarming how many women I encounter who’ve unknowingly had their drinks spiked in bars. No place is immune. Not even the Cat Club, which usually has a very sophisticated clientele.

Recently, I had a long conversation with a bartender who told me, in the 10 years she’s been in San Francisco, she’s been roofied three times.

In the past, I’ve written about dealing with situations like this as an Uber driver.

As a taxi driver I was confronted with a situation out of my control:

A few months ago, a very intoxicated and distraught young lady showed up in the National cab yard. She only had one high-heeled boot on and no idea where she lived, or where her friends went.

A cab driver brought her into the yard out of desperation after picking her up and not knowing what to do with her.

Since the cab yards are in the Bayview, it would have been natural to assume this girl was homeless and/or on drugs, but she was wearing designer jeans, her hair was done up and her nails were manicured.

While she ran around the junk piles and broken down cabs in a hysterical daze, no one knew what to do with her. That’s the problem with a woman in this condition: most men are afraid to intervene because of potentially misperceived impropriety.

But I’m relatively comfortable dealing with super intoxicated women. So I led the girl to the couch in the lounge area and tried to get her to relax. I held her hands between mine and reassured her that she was safe. I encouraged her to focus on her breathing. I reminded her repeatedly that she was going to feel better soon, that this would pass.

Just as I’d finally calmed her down, flashlights lit up the area and three large cops approached. Someone had called the cops.

I got out of their way, but I tried to mention to them that she just needed to go to the emergency room and get a bed with a blanket until whatever drug she was on wore off. But cops being cops, they surround her and begin to question her like a criminal.

When Colin and I left the yard, they had her on McKinnon sitting on the curb.

I guess they were calling an ambulance after giving her the option of going to jail or to the hospital.

That was a hard lesson learned: never call the cops unless you need a gun.

Anyway, the following is my piece on overly intoxicated women passengers , expanded from the original column published in the S.F. Examiner; as it appears in the zine Behind the Wheel 3: The Unexpurgated Columns:

night-on-earth-paris-blind-passenger

Not much is happening. Just a boring Thursday night. I pull up to the Cat Club and shoot the shit with Chucky, Liz and John, the stalwarts of the ad hoc cabstand there, until I’m on deck.

As I watch the throng of smokers for a potential fare, I get a Flywheel request for 1190 Folsom: the address of the Cat Club.

Bingo.

A few minutes later, two women approach my cab.

“This is for Gina, right?” one asks me. I nod and she opens the back door, helps the other inside and says, “Make sure she gets home safe.”

I turn around. Gina looks a little rough around the edges.

“Where to?” I ask.

She mumbles something about Battery and Jackson.

As I head towards the Financial, Gina starts to whimper slightly.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“Sure. I mean… Not really.”

“You wanna talk about it?”

She garbles something. Goes silent.

Guess not.

At each red light, I watch her in the rearview gradually keel over onto the backseat. She seems to be sleeping, even though her eyes are half open.

Since nothing about her indicates she’s consumed enough alcohol to be this wasted, I assume she’s been roofied.

It’s alarming how many women I encounter who’ve unknowingly had their drinks spiked in bars. No place is immune. Not even the Cat Club, which usually has a very sophisticated clientele.

Recently, I had a long conversation with a bartender who told me, in the ten years she’s been in San Francisco, she’s been roofied three times. Once she woke up in a strange bed, in a strange apartment, with no clue how she got there. Turned out a guy found her the night before raving like a lunatic on the median at Van Ness and Union. Since she’d lost her purse and couldn’t remember her address, he took her home, gave up his bed and slept in the office chair at his desk. A fortunate turn of events, we concurred.

Unlike two years ago, when Irina met a friend at Kingfish in Temescal for a couple drinks. After a while, Irina felt sick, went to the bathroom, threw up and walked back to our apartment four blocks away. I came home later that night and she was still asleep. Her friend, however, woke up in the emergency room.

Sadly, I’ve dealt with so many drugged women in my cab I’ve become adept at dealing with the nerve-racking process of getting them out of my taxi and into their homes.

It’s always upsetting and I’m usually paralyzed with fear that something I do may seem or come across inappropriate.

With so many news reports about Uber drivers sexually assaulting passengers, it’s terrifying to be in these vulnerable situations myself. Because I can see how easily temptation arises while transporting extremely young girls, especially when they pass out in the backseat of your car in their tiny skirts, with their legs open, or their tops in disarray and their breasts exposed… For a man with little to no willpower or possessed with an uncontrollable momentary urge, these types of opportunities would be hard to resist.

Whenever girls pass out in my backseat of my cab in a short skirt, I don’t look between their legs. Not just because I’m trying to be a gentleman, or that I’m trying to resist temptation. No, I’m respecting a woman’s body and her right to privacy, even in – especially in – a weakened state.

I keep my eyes up. I turn the lights on and roust them from their slumber. If they come to and are cognizant, I make sure they know my eyes are in the rearview mirror, where I can only see their faces. Or at the least, if they’re completely oblivious, I know in my mind that I’ve done all I can do to protect them when they’re helpless.

It’s my job to get people home safe and sound. And that’s what I do. With as much dignity as possible…

So… when I arrive at Gina’s building, I wake her up and ask if she needs help. Once she gives me permission, I open the back door and extend my arm. She stands up and wobbles, but I hold her steady.

As she gains her balance, she swings around and tries to embrace me, giggling. Sensing her inhibitions due to the drugs, I grab the strap of her shoulder bag and slowly guide her towards the building like a marionette. Along the way, she gets more playful and tries to impede the operation.

“Let’s focus, okay?” I tell her. “You need to get home.”

When we get to the front door, I ask if she has her keys.

“Right here!” She pulls them out joyfully.

I open the door for her, but there’s no way I’m crossing the threshold. “Can you make it to the elevator?”

“I’ll be fine!” she insists, though not very convincingly.

“You’re a pro!” I psych her up to make the final stretch into her apartment. “You got this.”

“I’m a pro!”

“Yeah!”

As she’s about to enter the lobby, she turns around and demands a kiss. Just then, someone emerges from the elevator and I’m able to redirect her advance.

“Quick! Get on the elevator before the doors close!”

Gina careens back inside but doesn’t reach the elevator in time. While she staggers back towards me, laughing hysterically, the girl who got off the elevator stands nearby staring into her phone.

“No! No!” I shout. “Press the button again!”

Gina follows my instructions and, when the doors open, she goes inside. As I wait for them to close, she opens them at the last moment to play peek-a-boo.

“That’s not very pro!” I tell her sternly.

Finally, the doors close and I take off.

Back in my cab, I head to the yard. I’ve had enough excitement for a boring Thursday night.

First photo  by Trevor Johnson. Second photo from Night on Earth, a film about taxi drivers around the wold, directed by Jim Jarmusch.