Tag Archives: san francisco

How to Become a Taxi Driver

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My column for the SF Examiner published on April 17, 2019 is about the exhaustive procedures to become a taxi driver versus the simple process of driving for Uber and Lyft.

One of the major “innovations” Uber and Lyft have unleashed upon the world is a low barrier of entry in recruiting drivers. Since their inception, Uber/Lyft lobbyists have argued in City Hall and Sacramento that putting too much pressure on potential applicants would discourage them from signing up.

It worked. And to this day, there are still news stories about former criminals becoming Uber/Lyft drivers and perpetuating new crimes.

Remember when Uber claimed to provide the safest ride? Yeah. They were forced by a court of law to stop spreading that obvious lie.

As I’ve mentioned in my last two columns, regulations exist for a reason: to protect the public. Uber/Lyft boosters often overlook this fact when defending their transportation choices.

During 11 months that I did the Uber/Lyft thing, I seldom felt safe. The only thing more terrifying than all the potential scenarios one might face on the road was how little support Uber and Lyft offered their “partners.”

I always felt alone on the streets. While I couldn’t possibly rely on passengers to have my back, I didn’t trust other Uber/Lyft drivers either. Because I knew how easy it was to become one.

Read the rest here.


 

The Uber/Lyft Trend

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My column for the SF Examiner published on March 21, 2019 is about trendoids and their transportation choices…

You can learn a lot about the current state of transportation in the ad hoc cabstand outside Public Works at 3 a.m.

While waiting in line for 30 minutes or longer for a fare, you have a unique perspective on how the new San Franciscans get around these days.

And it’s not pretty.

As dozens of Uber/Lyft vehicles scrimmage on either side of Mission, some charging headlong into the smoking section on Erie, packs of club goers stand around the makeshift concession stand at the end of the dead end alley waiting for their rides.

For each cab taken, there are approximately 15-20 Uber and Lyft pick-ups. The process is slow going. Obviously, most of these young urbanites are willing to brave the precipitation and frigid night air in their skimpy club attire than get into one of the available taxis.

Meanwhile, every 15 minutes, a 14 bus roars by, blaring its horn out of frustration at the vehicular morass.

Even though you can easily get from Public Works to Monarch or Club 6 on the 14, or take the 9 to Halcyon, the Great Northern or 150 San Bruno, no self-respecting hip city dweller would be caught dead on Muni.

Or a taxi, for that matter.

Most recent transplants prefer to ride in some random dude’s Camry than take public transportation. Regardless of the price. Because getting around today isn’t about saving a buck. Or even convenience.

It’s about trends.

And taxis, like buses, are relics of the past.

Read the rest here.


 

Remembrance of Things Taxi

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My column for the SF Examiner published on March 27, 2019 is about regulars from the past. 

Regulars come and regulars go. Sometimes the memories of them linger on, long after the final whiff of their stinky feet in the back of your taxi is gone.

The reality is, you can only tolerate so much of anyone’s presence for any considerable amount of time. Not just the guy whose MO was to impersonate a petri dish of party favors doing acid while stoned on another daylong Mission bar crawl.

Although the body odors of long-gone passengers may not inspire much nostalgia, flashbacks of the sweaty-palmed $20 bills I’d shove in my pockets at the ends of his rides can definitely lead to a prolonged search of lost time.

Good-paying customers always have peculiar demands, idiosyncrasies or preferred routes. Besides Mr. Stinky Feet, there was Sir Shop A-Lot and Miss “I’ll gladly PayPal you next Friday for a ride to Oakland today.”

That was my problem, actually, for being too accommodating. And not just with regulars. I’ve been kidnapped by random passengers several times.

Once, forced into giving this visiting artist a tour of The City at 1 a.m. Literally compelled by her local host, under threat of not leaving the cab without one. Since they were so nice about it and told me to keep the meter running, the only charges I pressed were in my Square app.

Sadly, the problem with good-paying customers is they usually make bad-paying friends.

Read the rest here.


 

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.