Tag Archives: san francisco

Driving into the Apocalypse

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Nov. 22, 2018 …

My day begins under an apocalyptic sky. Due to the deadly Camp fire up north, the atmosphere in Oakland is polluted with tragedy and a thick haze of smoke.

It’s been 10 days since we’ve had a breath of fresh air. The lack of oxygen is really bothering me. As much as I’d like to just stay home, my taxi is parked outside. So I say goodbye to the wife and kid, jumpstart Veterans 233 and begin the long slog across the Bay into a blood red sunset.

On the bridge, visibility is poor. Yerba Buena Island is just a blur and the skyline is blotted out by smog.

I take the Fifth Street exit. At the light, one of the panhandlers has a sign that reads, “Need $ for an N-95.”

Downtown, the streets are practically deserted. Although most people seem to have heeded the authority’s advice to stay indoors, the majority of folks who decided to brave the elements are wearing respirators or surgical masks.

After driving down Market, I turn onto New Montgomery and cruise past The Palace, where Local 2 has been on strike for over a month. Some picketers attempt to make a commotion, clanging on buckets and other percussive instruments, while trying to stay warm as the evening temperature drops rapidly.

Even before the fire, there was a heavy dystopian vibe in San Francisco, as if we’re living a sci-fi novel set in a universe divided by massive income disparity, where crime and violence run rampant and evil corporations develop tools that allow a totalitarian regime to assume control of the government.

While those who’ve read the “Big Three,” along with Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut and Anthony Burgess, might have an idea how this story will end, it seems as though the people developing technology these days are too blinded by hubris and greed to realize they’re bringing us closer to the end of times.

Now that we have the worst air quality in the world, it feels even more like the future is here. And it’s just as terrifying as Orwell and Huxley predicted. But as long as we have enough gadgets to desensitize us to the consequences, there’s no reason to freak out …

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

An Ambassador on Wheels

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Nov. 15, 2018 …

Outside the Hyatt Regency, an Amtrak Thruway Coach idles in the bus stop, leaving just enough room for me to pull into the cabstand. A few seconds later, an elderly man approaches my cab.

“We need a taxi,” he tells me. “Can you drive us?”

In the side mirror, I notice suitcases. With a Thruway Coach on the scene, though, it’s unlikely they’re going to the airport.

While stowing the luggage, I ask for their destination.

“Travelodge. 1707 Market.”

The husband and wife are from a small town in New Jersey and plan to spend a week in San Francisco. To see the sights. But mostly to shop.

As we roll down Market Street, they stare out of the windows, marveling at the grandeur of The City. I go into tour guide mode.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

“So… How Long Have You Been Part of the Problem?”

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“In the end, everyone in San Francisco will get evicted.”

The guy in the back of my taxi is in the middle of an epic rant.

“Regardless of how many generations deep you are, how much money you got, where you work, whether you’re famous or living in a tent – none of that matters. When you die, they’ll box you up and relocate you down to Colma. Or dump your remains in the Bay. Or whatever. Because nobody gets to stay in The City forever.”

Stuck on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, in traffic moving like a funeral procession, it’s hard not to think about death. Especially as this guy’s negative comments rack up faster than the clicks on the taximeter.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I mumble.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

Casualties of Halloween

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As last call draws near, the lost souls of Halloween wander drunkenly through the late night/early morning fog, in tattered costumes and feeble disguises. And even though my top light is bright enough to guide them out of the thick gloom, nobody extends a hand in my direction.

So I keep driving.

After hunting for fares in the Haight, I cruise up Fillmore. At Geary, a sexy nurse holds onto the side of a building, as if she were taking its pulse.

A few blocks away, on Post, Luke Skywalker tries to use the Force to retrieve his broken phone from the sidewalk.

In the distance, a park ranger chases after a grizzly bear, whose companion is a cheese head.

At Gough, I contemplate venturing onward to Polk Street, and the inevitable shit show. But alas, I don’t have the guts.

Instead, I head towards the Mission, and the usual Friday night haunts.

Read the rest here.

One Step Over the (Picket) Line

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If anyone happened to be surprised by the SFMTA’s recent decision to limit the number of taxicabs allowed to work at SFO to only those with paid medallions and wanted to know how the transit agency could pit cab drivers against each other so easily, you wouldn’t have to look much farther than Powell and Post. Or Fourth and Market. Or Howard and Third. Or New Montgomery and Market.

At each of these locations you’ll find a hotel owned by the multinational hospitality company Marriott International. And, over the past three weeks, you’ll see two things that shouldn’t be happening simultaneously: workers on strike, and taxis in the hotel cabstands, waiting for fares.

Last Wednesday, after picking up Veterans 233 from the National yard, I head out into The City, making the usual rounds. I cruise through the Mission, drop down into SoMa, check on Caltrain and then meander up the Embarcadero to investigate the Ferry Building and downtown hotels.

In Union Square, the picketers outside the St. Francis have upped the ante, making a full-on ruckus outside the erstwhile opulent hotel. Besides the usual bullhorn-led chants, they’re stomping, banging, rattling and creating a spectacular percussive racket. It’s awe-inspiring. But then, spotting a bunch of cabs queued up along Powell Street, as if business as usual, I’m immediately disgusted by my fellow cab drivers.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

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…'”