Tag Archives: san francisco

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.

You Can’t Go Home Again to San Francisco

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“Driving a taxi in San Francisco isn’t really about driving,” I tell the guy in the back of my cab, trying to sound like a sage cabbie. “It’s mostly about not hitting shit. Or getting hit.”

“I’m from The City originally,” he says. “Haven’t been back in over five years. It’s hard to believe how much things have changed.”

While stuck in traffic on Kearney, his bemused description of what he’s observed over the past three days quickly turns into an all too familiar rant.

At first, he compares the growing homeless population and shuttering of venerable businesses with the opulent new skyscrapers and the latest squeaky-clean transplants, then mourns the loss of familiar stomping grounds, the neighborhoods of his youth, overrun with crime and condos, before lamenting the privation of The City’s cultural relevance. It seems his homecoming isn’t anything to write home about.

“Before you stopped, two other cabs drove past me.”

“Their top lights were on?”

“Oh, sure. They slowed down, looked at me and took off.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“Whatever. It’s not a big deal. But that never happens to me in New York. I’m just a little surprised. Since when did everyone here become so angry and self-entitled? I mean, look at this guy.”

He points towards a man who recklessly darts across Kearney, forcing cars to slam on their brakes and lay on their horns.

“And what about this crap.”

At Bush, several vehicles are blocking the intersection. More honking ensues as cars struggle to change lanes.

“If the Sentra couldn’t get through the light, why did the Range Rover think they could make it?”

“That boggles my mind constantly,” I say.

“But you know, the worst part of coming home…” He pauses and softly chuckles. “The whole time I was gone, I kept telling people how San Francisco is awesome and everyone’s friendly and welcoming. But I come back and realize my hometown is…”

“Not so awesome?”

“Maybe it’s always been this way and I just never noticed before.”

“I don’t know, man… sometimes you have to love San Francisco in spite of the flaws.”

At Clay, I take a right and drive in silence for the next few blocks. What else can you say?


From the I Drive S.F. column published in the S.F. Examiner on January 10, 2019.

Driving San Francisco, Again

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It’s all about the radio…

Back in the day, Veterans Cab was the premier radio company in San Francisco. Veterans drivers would pass up hundreds of street flags on their way to pick up one radio call. They had accounts throughout the Financial as well as most top-rated restaurants and bars across The City. If you wanted a cab to actually show up, you didn’t call Yellow. You called Veterans.

That’s all history now, though, of course. Over time, Veterans became Arrow Checker when National bought Veterans, then Arrow went under and the last of the Veterans accounts were either squandered or lost to Uber.

What little radio business National was able to hold onto had all but dissipated by the time the new owner decided to implement a Flywheel branded, app-based dispatch system.

When the two-way radios disappeared from all the National/Veterans cabs one day, hardly anyone noticed.

Ever since the idea of transitioning to soft meters was first suggested, I vehemently opposed it. I just want to drive a cab, I repeatedly told the manager at National, equipped with a traditional taximeter. Why fix what isn’t broken? Besides, the countless problems I’d had with the Flywheel phone vastly outnumbered my one incident with the taximeter.

Technology is wonderful, sure. When it works.

Without a radio, you end up just working hotel lines and prowling the streets for random fares, hoping for the occasional Flywheel request. As long as there aren’t any server issues, that is. This strategy can lead to some very boring, unprofitable shifts.

Even though I rarely play the airport, the SFMTA’s new policy determining which cabs get preferential treatment at SFO eliminates another source of fares.

So what’s a cab driver who just wants to serve the people of San Francisco supposed to do?


Read the rest here.

You Can’t Go Home Again

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After circumventing the 45 bus, the red carpet on Third Street is all mine. With an eye out for any interlopers who think they’re clever enough to access the transit lane, I scope out the W. and St. Regis for potential fares. At Mission, I see an outreached arm halfway down the block. I flash my high beams and go in for the kill.

“Clay and Battery,” the guy tells me, arranging a bunch of shopping bags on the backseat. “How’s your day going?”

Right as I’m about to respond, a van careens across three lanes of traffic, cuts me off and swervs towards Stevenson.

I hit the brakes and squeeze between the van’s rear bumper and the front end of the car next to me. “Ah, you know… Same old, same old.”

“Wow, that guy almost hit you!”

“Yeah.”

The real tragedy is missing the light at Market.

“Is traffic always this bad?” he asks.

“Eh. It gets worse.”


Read the rest here.

The Sharp-Dressed Kid Takes a Second Chance

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Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on December 27, 2018.

It’s a cold, blustery evening in The City. As I wait for a red light to cut me some slack, a tsunami of garbage drifts through the intersection. Competing tabloids wrestle in the street, while crimson and ocher leaves, plastic bags and stained fast food wrappers egg them on like hype men in a rap battle.

Even though the rain has finally let up, the sidewalks are vacant and most of the bars are quiet. Not much traffic either, which makes waiting so long for this light to change all the more frustrating.

“Come on, signal,” I mumble out loud. “Turn green already.”

I’m not long for this shift. With only fleeting moments of demand earlier that have since become few and far between, I don’t see much promise in the small hours ahead. Or the next few blocks, for that matter.

Should I waste my time circling through SoMa? I wonder. Or take a right and go straight to the bridge instead?

When the light turns green, I make a left.

After finding no love on Eleventh Street, I turn onto Folsom. Outside The Willows, there’s an arm in the air.


Read the rest here.

Knowing Better than to Make Things Worse

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Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on December 20, 2018.

On Friday night, as the symphony and ballet are about to break simultaneously, I’m racing up Seventh Street, hoping to get a fare before there’s nothing left on Grove but a bunch of phonies standing on the curb and the usual swarm of empty cabs circling the area like sharks late to the kill.

Approaching Mission, a figure emerges from the shadows with his arm extended. I glance in the rearview. Since there are no cars directly behind me, I hit the brakes, expecting the guy to quickly jump into my cab. But he just stands there, until traffic catches up to me.

Then, out of nowhere, I’m blinded by a flash of light.

Two lanes over, a cop has his spotlight aimed at me.

“Why couldn’t you pull into that open space?” the officer yells through the window of his cruiser.

“What?” I respond, confused by the unexpected scrutiny. Despite overtly egregious infractions, the police usually ignore taxi drivers. Even if we’re in dire straits. My cab could be engulfed in flames while a deranged lunatic chases me around the wreckage, stabbing me in the neck with a rusty icepick, and the cops would just look the other way. So why single me out?

“You’re blocking traffic,” he points out.

I look over my shoulder at the dude struggling to open the backdoor. “I didn’t realize it would take him so long to get into the cab,” I yell back.

“Come on,” the cop says. “Use your head. You know better than that.”

“But I…”

Before I can defend myself, he speeds away.


Read the rest here.

‘Tis the Season to Go Old School

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My column for the S.F. Examiner published on Dec. 13, 2018 is about avoiding the debauchery of SantaCon while transporting revelers stranded at company holiday parties in remote parts of the city …

With the holidays fast approaching, there are certain things a taxi driver can count on: Union Square will be packed with shoppers and families enjoying the festive atmosphere, which means gridlocked traffic; most of the event spaces around town will host company-sponsored Christmas parties; and thousands of revelers will don red velvet suits and wreak havoc throughout The City during SantaCon.

In years past, I’d venture into the sloshed fields to document the annual bar crawl out of journalistic responsibility. But now that there’s a toddler in my life, I deal with enough bodily fluids. So last Saturday, with SantaCon happening, I avoid the roving bands of Santas, sexy Santas, elves and reindeer altogether and focus on more profitable, and less disorderly, opportunities. Like the Facebook bash at the Palace of Fine Arts …

Normally, I wouldn’t have even thought to look for fares in the Marina, given its proximity to a plethora of SantaCon-friendly bars, had Loco not mentioned the event on the Hackers message board. And I still wouldn’t have ventured north of Broadway if I didn’t get a fare to Sacramento and Broderick. But seeing as how the Marina isn’t too much of a schlep from Laurel Heights, I follow Loco’s advice and take Divisadero to Lombard, go around the Palace of Fine Arts to Marina Boulevard and join a long procession of Ubers and Lyfts waiting to enter a quasi cattle corral that winds through a parking lot towards the front of the museum, where several hundred people are waiting for rides.

Read the rest here.