Tag Archives: SFO

The Lost Art of Getting Around

BtW-postcard-23-web

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Dec. 27, 2019.

She gets in the back of my taxi at the United terminal, wearing Beats headphones. A clear signal: do not disturb. Which is fine. After finding out her destination — the Proper hotel — I keep my mouth shut. I don’t feel like talking anyway. Until the freeway turns into a parking lot and I kind of need to explain why we’re taking an alternate route.

According to the electronic traffic sign right before the split, it’s 50 minutes to downtown.

Fortunately, I know a shortcut.

In the age of Google Maps, Waze, et al., there aren’t many secret ways to get around The City anymore. Almost everyone relies on GPS nowadays. I use it too, but only to find out which way not to go.

When Google Maps suggests a route, I know that’s the one to avoid, because if they’re telling me to go that way, they’re directing every other driver that way too.

It’s a no-brainer, really. If you want to beat traffic, you have to carve out your own trajectory.

Read the rest here.


[Image from the San Francisco Postcard Collection – Street Scenes from Behind the Wheel.]

 


 

 

Playing the Airport

taxi-sfo-paid-lot-douglas-oconnor-web

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on June 12, 2019.

I’ve never been much of an airport player. I prefer to work The City.

Even before the new system limiting which medallions can operate at SFO, I lacked the patience required to wait three hours in the holding lots, hoping for a decent ride once finally reaching the terminals.

Even though the prospect of a long haul can be tantalizing, you’re just as likely to end up with a Burlingame. And while a short allows you get to cut to the front of the line on returning, if the airport isn’t moving, it’s a small consolation.

Plus, I get restless easily. Back when I used to try my luck at the ‘port, I’d go stir crazy idling in the wiggle and donut lots, while drivers stood around discussing their ride prospects like oddsmakers at an OTB.

Last Thursday night, though, after the theater crowd dissipates and my only shot at a fare is a random flag or a radio order while circling through SoMa, the TL and the Mission, I see an unusual post on Hackers: “Cabs needed at SFO!”

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 

A Long Day’s Journey into the Night

yellow-donut-lot-sfo

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner
on December 11, 2019.

Sometimes getting out of The City is just as hard as getting in.

You know what to expect with morning traffic. It’s always bad. If you don’t get across the bridge before 5:30 a.m., it’ll take over an hour just to reach the toll plaza. But once you’re past the metering lights, it’s a race to the finish line.

The commute home, though, is a total crapshoot. Lately, there’s been construction on the bridge at night that causes a backup to the Fourth Street exit. Instead of idling in the congestion, I usually take surface streets to the First Street onramp. Me and several hundred other drivers. While it’s probably quicker to stay on the freeway, nobody wants to feel like a sucker.

When I don’t have the cab, getting home to Oakland at night can be a long, arduous journey. Add some inclement weather to the mix and things get really ugly.

For almost 10 days, it’s been raining cats and dogs. And people haven’t been behaving much better.

Traffic was a nightmare all week. Despite the constant downpours, Christmas shoppers poured into downtown from all points north, south, east and west. It was impossible to get anywhere fast, especially now that most streets in Union Square and South of Market have been reduced to one lane. City planners seem determined to punish drivers for bringing their cars downtown. Since people aren’t going to stop driving into The City, this passive-aggressive way of controlling congestion only makes it worse.

You know traffic is bad when getting through the holding lots at SFO takes less time than dropping off fares at the hotels in Union Square.

Read the rest here.


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 


 

 

A Vacation at the Airport

SFO-Taxi-Line-Douglas-OConnor-web

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner
on July 18, 2019.

In San Francisco, it’s always open season on taxicabs. Sometimes it boggles my mind how driving a taxi can inspire so much scorn from the general public. But then, on any given day, Bay Area drivers seem to be in direct competition with each other, racing towards the next red light for the grand prize of absolutely nothing.

Except maybe new brakes.

So when a professional driver enters the equation, with access to transit-only lanes, plenty of road experience and a deep knowledge of how to maneuver the lights, it must frustrate all the speed demons to get owned by a taxi.

Last week, I’m heading south on Potrero in the red carpet lane. At 24th, where it ends, I merge into the flow of traffic. Since letting any car in front of you is akin to slander, a beat up Mazda almost causes a multiple car pileup changing lanes to cut me back off. Which I let him do when he finally speeds up. It’s not like I’m trying to drive like a jerk. There’s a paying customer in my backseat with a meter running. I’m just doing my job, getting passengers where they need to go as efficiently as possible.

And yeah, I know a taxi driver complaining about traffic is totally cliché, but when you spend as much time driving as we do, it transcends a mere occupational annoyance and rises to the level of an existential grievance.

Normally, I just accept my fate and deal with the constant abuse from other drivers. But last Thursday afternoon, after spending 20 minutes on Townsend, trying to reach the Caltrain cabstand, only to find it filled with unmarked sedans, it occurs to me that there’s an alternative to the hassle of working the streets.

When the train pulls in, I get a fare going to Glen Park, but instead of subjecting myself to congestion in the Mission on the way downtown, I get on the freeway… SFO bound.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 


 

 

 

We Were Promised Gridlock

Scores Of Travelers Depart For Long Holiday Weekend

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on September 11, 2019.

While everyone was focused on a potential carmageddon during the Metallica concerts at Chase Center last weekend, an actual transportation quagmire was brewing in the south.

Down at SFO, they were closing one of the three runways for 20 days to make repairs.

For travelers, this means delayed flights, redirected flights and canceled flights. What impact this will have on taxi driving was a mystery at first, but the prognosis wasn’t positive.

At least we have Chase Center…

Read the rest here.


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 

When It’s Time for a Change in the Game

taxi-sfo-donut-lot-douglas-oconnor-web

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on July 24, 2019.

Well, my transition into an airport player is almost complete. As much as I’d rather just work The City, it isn’t worth the hassle most of the time.

I used to loathe the idea of waiting almost two hours or more for a fare, but over the past few weeks, the SFO holding lots have become a sanctuary from the madness of the streets.

It’s not just the infinite stream of unmarked sedans, infringing every traffic law on the books, as if they were merely suggestions. Which they seem to be, since you rarely see any enforcement. Unless there’s a fatal accident. Then they assign an officer to that block 24/7, while every other street remains a free-for-all.

It’s also the perpetual construction projects. The ripped up asphalt, strafed with potholes. Along with mercurial signals that are never on your side. Rude, aggressive drivers, looking for any reason to unleash pent-up road rage. Jaywalkers. Cantankerous seagulls. The detritus of excess and endless despair.

Even if there were a hundred flags on every street downtown, you’d spend more time fighting traffic to reach them than you would with the meter running.

So when I start my shift on Thursday, I ask for a P medallion, to avoid a longer wait at the airport. But they only have a couple Ks.

I take the key to 1274 and head over Potrero to Caltrain.

That evening, listening to Jon Miller’s play-by-play on KNBR 680, I make a beeline to the ballpark after the seventh inning stretch. As the game goes into extra innings, I return to Second and King seven more times, until the Giants finally take the lead in the 16th.

After dropping my last fare out of the ballpark in the Marina, I check out the Deerhunter show at the Fillmore. Get a ride to Bernal Heights. Since I’m close to the freeway and there are plenty of delayed flights, I head to SFO.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 

The Longs and Shorts of Playing SFO

taxi-sfo-douglas-oconnor-web

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on July 31, 2019.

Given the competition’s artificially deflated rates, taxi drivers rarely get long rides out of The City these days. The farthest south I go on any regular basis is Daly City, the Gateway to the Peninsula. As if to say, we can get to the door, but not past it.

Not only are taxi rates higher, we’re also allowed to charge meter and a half on rides that go 15 miles past the county line.

I’ve always had a hard time enforcing this policy. Getting a long, profitable ride is such an anomaly, expecting more than straight meter and a tip seems kind of predatory.

Unless there’s an expense account in the mix.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.