Tag Archives: san francisco

Watch Toler Make Taxi Driving Great Again

VIDEO: So one Sunday morning I’m sitting in the National office after turning in my cab, waiting to make the long trek to the 24th Street BART station, when a call comes in. The person on the other line tells dispatcher Jesse that one of our cabs is blocking their driveway on York Street, just past Army.

“Do you know the cab number?” Jesse asks. “2977? Ok. Thanks for letting us know. We’ll take care of it.”

I laugh. “Fucking Toler…”

Jesse tries to get Toler’s attention on the radio, but it’s pointless.

“I’ll go wake him up,” I say. “It’s on the way to BART anyway.”

After making my way down Barneveld and through the Hairball, I approach Toler’s cab with my phone ready. The above video is the result.

NOW …

What can I say about these videos of Toler sleeping in his cab?

That’s right… taxi drivers sleep in their cabs. Just like Uber/Lyft drivers.

Should I point out that Toler does NOT represent the SF taxi industry, except as an example of everything that’s potentially bad about it? I mean, he’s a big and burly, bearded and beady-eyed MAGA fan. He stinks, falls asleep at the wheel constantly and he’s been known to yell at people for using Uber and Lyft outside DJ clubs.

Without a doubt, Toler has got to be the worst spokesman for taxis imaginable. Maybe even worse than the mysterious public poopers in the SFO taxi holding lots

But you know what? Fuck all that “positive optics” bullshit. Yeah, Toler is gross. And the Trump shit is about as dumb as it gets… Still, sometimes it’s hard not to love the chaos Toler spreads across the city.

ANYWAY …

In this second clip, taken shortly after the first, I’d just walked up 24th Street, kicking myself for not getting Toler to give me a ride to BART – especially after missing my train and thinking to myself, that’s what you get for being a supercilious prick.

Since the next Pittsburgh/Bay Point train isn’t due for another 20 minutes, I wander down Mission Street to smoke a cigarette and – lo and behold – what do I see? National 2977. I get my phone ready and start banging on the window…

Listen to Late Night Larry Talk about “The Picky Couple”

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AUDIO: Another story from Late Night Larry, recorded late one morning at the National barbecue. With chatter in the background from Juneaux, Daniel the Chef, Old Man John and myself…

“I’m coming down O’Farrell Street and I get flagged by this couple. And from the early conversation, I realize they were husband and wife. The guy says to me, ‘You know, you just look like the kind of cab driver we’ve been looking for…'”


 

The Billboard Heard Around the City

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“Build the wall on the internet and make Russia pay for it.”

When a bunch of cab drivers stand around talking, the conversation can be like a four-way stop. Everyone waits their turn, but it’s with a lead foot and a rolling stop.

The topic of a recent powwow was the news that a major medical association is moving their convention from San Francisco to Los Angeles, due to its members not feeling safe in The City, citing the blatant drug use on sidewalks outside hotels, the rampant mental illness on display 24 hours a day and the homelessness epidemic that’s only exacerbated by the futile efforts of the SFPD and the SFPW to somehow “sweep” them out of public view. “Futile” because human beings aren’t as easy to hide under rugs and furniture – or in this case, under freeway overpasses – like other things one might use a broom to eradicate …

“Can’t really blame them, though,” Artur says. “I mean, the city has become a shit hole.”

As taxi drivers, we see more than most of the city’s occupants. The average urbanite has the luxury of shielding themselves from the unpleasant realities of city life by not straying from their standard day-to-day trajectories. But when you’re job is moving people from one part of town to the next, it’s hard to avoid certain neighborhoods or streets, or intersections, or corners …

Still, as a way to offer a “no poverty” package, I try to use routes that avoid the more unpleasant sights. But now that everyone has GPS on their phones, you have to be careful not to seem like you’re running up the fare.

So when you pick up at the Orpheum on Market and your passengers are going to the Fairmont, what’s an honest cabbie supposed to do? Take Larkin, of course. Even though you risk exposing visitors to a long stretch of the Tenderloin and can only hope to make it through the timed lights, all the way to Bush, lest you end up stopped for the red at Geary, where the wall of the Motel 6 is one of the local crack depots.

It’s not easy to shield tourists from the madness of the streets. Try as you may.

Then there’s Turk Street, with the outspoken billboard on the corner, connected to the Kahn and Keville tire shop that Herb Caen once called “the world’s largest fortune cookie.”

After Trump got elected, the billboard seemed to reflect the collective despair of all progressive San Franciscans.

A quote from Lily Tomlin was a subtle dig at Trump: “Behind every failure there is an opportunity someone wishes they had missed.”

While the following one, “Where is Mark Felt?” was equally vague, but only insofar as most people had to Google “Mark Felt.”

The one that said, “Build the wall on the internet and make Russia pay for it” is my favorite from that time period.

As much as I’d like to point any of them out to my passengers, you have to be careful, though, in case the person you’re driving doesn’t share your political views. Yes, even in San Francisco. Shit, especially in San Francisco.

Like Artur said the other day, “This city has become a shit hole.”


 

— taken from the forthcoming zine Behind the Wheel 4: The Thin Checkered Line

 

 

Mother and Child Confusion

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about a slow night in The City…

Towards the end of my shift last Thursday night, I’m making the final rounds of The City, hoping to encounter a few stragglers. Or an early bird heading to work. My motivation to keep driving, though, is just a force of habit – a reflex. After 10 hours of doing the same thing, it’s hard to stop …

On a slow night, you can hear every rattle in your rattletrap. Figuring out what’s causing those creaks and squeaks, well… that’s a problem best left for another time.

Despite the potential cheer, I can’t be bothered to play music. It’s just the night and me… and all the other empty taxicabs, roaming the misty streets with top lights blazing …

In the Tenderloin, ambulances race through the streets like wailing banshees, their sirens reverberating off the buildings until it’s impossible to figure out where they’re coming from or where they’re going …

At the intersection of Page and Franklin, a guy standing on the corner is bellowing, “I got dope if you got a bubble!”

From down the street, another voice shouts, “Shut the hell up!”

“Fuck you!” the first guy responds. “I’m not even talking to you! I just wanna smoke some dope. Who’s got a bubble?”

“Hey asshole, shut your trap!”

“No, you shut up!” Without missing a beat, he resumes his chant: “I got the dope if you got a bubble.”

When the light turns green I speed away …

Read the rest here.

[Photo by Trevor Johnson]

No Skin off the Meter

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This week’s column for The Examiner is about making money off cold tourists … 

Each afternoon, when the summer fog rolls into The City, so thick it casts a shadow and blots out the skyscrapers downtown, I start looking for cold tourists.

Depending on my location, I prowl the usual hotspots: Fisherman’s Wharf, The Castro, Upper Haight, etc.

Clad in t-shirts, shorts and miniskirts, the shivering out-of-towners are always grateful to see a taxi emerge from the monolithic gloom. And I’m happy to be of service.

The best rides begin with a sense of mutual appreciation. Just as they’re relieved to escape the frigid mist, I’m thankful that plenty of people still come here expecting to find the same weather they left behind in Houston or Atlanta.

It allows me to trot out the frequently misattributed quote about the coldest winter… which pretty much guarantees a laugh. Does it even matter who actually coined the phrase? Or that many folks leave San Francisco thinking they got a ride from the wittiest cab driver around?

Besides entertaining my passengers with anecdotes about weather for manic depressives and bumbling the science behind the omnipresent fog in July and “Fogust,” I take advantage of any opportunity to sell San Francisco out of the back of my taxicab by suggesting a detour. Or two.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

What Would Herb Caen Say?

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It may seem impressive: On this Facebook group alone, my column last week garnered 544 Facebook reactions, 332 comments, 44 shares… You’d almost think that these numbers led to a higher than usual page count for my column this week, factoring in my other promotional efforts on Facebook and Twitter… But that wasn’t the case at all.

Once I started reading the comments on the post in San Francisco Remembered, it was obvious the group members weren’t clicking the link, just sharing their memories and feelings about Herb Caen and how they think he’d view The City today. Had they read the column, though, they’d see that Herb Caen was discussing the same issues we’re dealing with now in the early 1960s. That’s what I meant by “My discoveries may surprise you…”

Whatever. More than anything, I just wanted to get that question out there and see how people would respond.

To see what Herb Caen might say, click here.

The Freak Show before Pride

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Every year, it takes me by surprise …

While dropping off Mr. Judy last Wednesday, I notice a scraggly-haired dude and two girls with shaved heads walk past the bar and can’t help but stare. They’re sexually ambiguous and rough around the edges, all tattooed and dressed in black T-shirts, denim and leather. The kind of freaks you don’t really see in San Francisco anymore.

“Look at that,” I say. “Where did they come from?”

“I don’t know,” Judy responds, equally transfixed. “Maybe we should find out where they’re going.”

A short while later, I’m picking up Simone at Lucky 13, tying to make sense of the latest parking restrictions on Market, when I spot some more freaks.

“What’s going on?” I wonder.

“Are you serious with this shit?” Simone asks with a cackle. “It’s Pride. Hello?”

Oh, that’s right.

“This weekend is going to be a shit show,” she says bitterly. “And I have to work.”

“Well, at least they’re enriching the cultural landscape for a few days.”

“Fuck that,” she snaps back. “I need to make some money.”

On Thursday, the streets are filled with people, freaks and non-freaks and everything in between. Anticipation for Pride is like a jungle beat in the distance.

Read the rest here.

[photo  by Douglas O’Connor]