Tag Archives: soma

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]

From One Soma to the Next

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This is the full-length version of the I Drive S.F. column prior to the hatchet job that was published in the S.F. Examiner on October 4, 2018 about driving a taxi during the week of Folsom Street Fair and the Dreamforce convention. 


 

Everything is a blur …

This morning, when I wake up to the sound of rain, the week before is a distant memory, even though just 24 hours have passed since I walked from the National yard to the 24th Street BART station and boarded an Antioch train. As we sped from one stop to the next and then barreled east through the Transbay Tube, I forced myself not to fall asleep. It wasn’t easy.

From MacArthur, I stumbled down Telegraph under an overcast sky. The coming storm was manifest in the tepid breeze that threatened to knock me down.

Five long days of cab driving had taken their toll on my body. I was exhausted, almost tempted to let the wind take me – just surrender to the current and drift like a broadside through the streets and avenues of Oakland, hoping not to get stuck in a tree, or impaled on the finials of the wrought iron fence around the Harmony Baptist Church.

In the distance, the sound of heavy machinery from a construction site brings me back to reality, and I continue moving forward. Only seven more blocks to go, I tell myself. Seven more blocks and then sleep …

After taking BART to 24th Street, I jump in a cab, but the driver refuses to take me to the Bayview. So I walk, with the sun directly overhead, peeling off layers along the way.

Once I’m behind the wheel of Veterans 233, I head over Potrero Hill into SoMa, to hunt for Dreamforce conventioneers, easily identifiable by the lanyards around their necks, and the gray backpacks over their shoulders.

I drive up Third Street, glancing at the people standing on the curb, holding
out their phones out like Geiger counters and looking forlornly in the direction of oncoming traffic.

Taxi, anyone?

At Market, I take a right and go down New Montgomery. On Howard, a guy yells into his phone, “I’m on the left side of the street, in a blue shirt. Do you see me? No? Where are you?”

Slowly, I meander up Kearney, then down Clay Street into the Financial. Around Battery, a man runs towards me, flailing his arms.

“Oh, I’m so glad I found you!” he tells me. “I couldn’t find a cab anywhere!”

“Yeah, it’s been really busy,” I say. “Dreamforce and all…”

“I’m going to a place called Absinthe on Hayes Street. It looks like you should probably take Washington to – ”

“We’ll take Sacramento,” I say, cutting him off. “There’s a taxi lane.”

“Taxi lane?”

“Yeah. Taxi lane.”

While the guy FaceTimes with his wife and kids, I charge up the hill, weaving between the two lanes to circumvent buses, cars turning right and numerous potholes.

“This place is amazing! Check it out,” he tells his wife while pointing the phone at the street. “We’re practically at a 45 degree angle.”

After fighting traffic down Gough and Laguna, I finally pull up to the restaurant. The meter reads $15.60.

“Make it… $42.” He hands me an Amex.

“That’s too much,” I say.

“You act like it’s my money.”

“Fair enough.”

I run his card for $42.

That night, Metallica and Janet Jackson play a concert in Civic Center. On Thursday night, there are Salesforce related events all over Soma. I race from one venue to the next, usually with a passenger in the back.

Once Dreamforce is over, lanyards and business casual give way to leather jockstraps and bondage gear …

On Friday evening, I’m taking a regular to the Rumpus Room on Sixth, cutting down Stevenson to avoid Market. After driving past a guy sticking a needle in some girl’s foot, we encounter a long line of people at the corner. As we get closer, I notice several men have their butts exposed. Which can only mean one thing: Folsom Street Fair has begun.

From that point on, things get blurry. All I really remember are the butts. So many butts. Butts on Friday. Butts on Saturday. And butts on Sunday.

Around 2:30 a.m., I start working 1015 Folsom and Audio. I never wait very long. Once I’ve delivered my fares to their location, I head back to the SoMa clubs.

Eventually, the day begins. The streets downtown become congested with buses, cars and bikes. Bondage gear and leather jockstraps give way to jeans, hoodies, uniforms and suits.

“Sure looks like rain,” people say.

“Sure does…”

It’s Monday morning. As most people head to work under cloudy skies, I make the long trek home.


Originally appeared in a truncated version in the S.F. Examiner on October 4, 2018.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

Middle-Aged Life in the Fast Lane

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This I Drive S.F. column published in the S.F. Examiner on September 27, 2018 is about driving a taxi during a Journey concert at AT&T Park:

You never have to wonder if someone works in the entertainment industry. They usually tell you right away. Like the guy I picked up at the Hyatt Regency. He works for Journey as a sound guy. Or a video guy … Some kind of guy.

“I’ve been touring with rock stars for 25 years,” he tells me.

“That’s cool,” I respond. “So uhm … where ya heading?”

Last Thursday and Friday nights, AT&T was flashback central for the soft rock set, with the Eagles and Doobie Brothers playing the first night, and Journey, Foreigner and Def Leppard on the second.

While Mr. Journey tells me about the lineup, the only positive comment I can muster is, “I liked Def Leppard as a kid. That Pyromania album was pretty good.”

“I can get you free tickets to the concert,” he says. “Just say the word. I’ll put you on the list.”

“That’s cool, man, but I gotta work.”

“Take the night off!”

“I have a kid.”

“You have two days to come up with a plan,” he counters.

Uhhh…

The kid thing is usually a clincher. I try to think of another excuse besides, No thanks, I absolutely hate that kind of music.

Sure, I bought the “Pyromania” tape when it came out in 1983. They were still a metal band. But their sound changed and so did my musical preferences. Def Leppard soon became a symbol of a style I’d abandoned by age 15. I’ll never forget being hospitalized in Birmingham, Alabama, and how my mother came to visit me from Los Angeles and promised to buy me a tape. I was all about punk at that point and asked for the Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind the Bollocks.” But she brought me “Hysteria” by Def Leppard instead. I couldn’t even hide my severe disappointment. “I thought you liked that band!” my mother said, exasperated with my lack of gratitude. Yeah, like two years ago …

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

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]

The Luck of Juneaux

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Juneaux is the most fastidious taxi driver I know.

His cab is always spotless, inside and out. He focuses on superior customer service and, in the process, has an uncanny ability to twist fortune in his favor.

I call it “The Luck of Juneaux.”

A few weeks ago, I wake up to a salvo of texts that began at midnight.

“I’m so fucked,” Juneaux writes. “I accidentally overslept and now I only have six hours to make my nut. I’m going to end up hanging a gate.”

After several texts describing the hopelessness of the situation, his tone changes drastically.

“Dude! You’ll never believe what just happened …”

Around 3 a.m., he picks up a guy who’s lost his Lexus somewhere in SoMa and has Juneaux drive him around while he clicks his key remote. An hour later, the meter is at $34.75, and the guy realizes it’s a lost cause.

“So, he asks me, ‘Can you drive me home?’ Sure. Where’s home? ‘Half Moon Bay.’”

His good fortune doesn’t stop there. Back in The City, he gets a timed SFO through Flywheel.

His final text reads: “After gate, gas and tip, I’m $146 in the black. Not bad for starting my shift six hours late.”

While Juneaux is dubious of its veracity, I have complete faith in The Luck. So much so, I’m convinced it’s even transferable …

Read the rest of the column here.

Or click the image below for the newsprint version (with no pop-up ads):

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[photo by Trevor Johnson]

From the Wrong Sex Club to the Right Sex Club

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In San Francisco, you need the right cab driver to get you to the right sex club…

In this week’s column for the S.F. Examiner, I write about getting misguided passengers where they want to go:

I’m cruising down Folsom Street on a quiet Thursday night at about midnight. An arm goes up in front of Powerhouse. I pull over. A man with a strong accent gets in the back of my taxi. 

“Can you take me here?” He shows me his phone with the Google details for the Power Exchange on the screen. 

As I head up 7th Street, I ask nonchalantly, “Not the crowd you’re looking for back there, huh?” 

“Too many problems!” he exclaims. “I’m looking for women.”

“Well, you’re going to the right place now.”

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photo of the entrance to the Power Exchange courtesy of S.F. Weekly

Racing through the littered streets of the Tenderloin, I can’t help but wonder how this guy ended up at a gay cruising bar instead of the hetero sex club he was looking for. Poor communication with a cab driver? A mix up in a Google search? 

Whatever. These things happen. A few months back, I had a similar situation, albeit in reverse, while driving past the Power Exchange …

A guy flags me down and immediately tells me he’s a tourist and has ended up at the wrong place. 

“The doorman told me I should check out Blow Buddies,” he says. “Do you know where that is?”

Of course. I’m quite familiar with the place, I tell him. But instead of assuming that, as a night cabbie, I know where all the sex clubs are in San Francisco — gay and straight — he thinks I’m a regular and grills me on the details. 

“It’s all gay, right? Is it OK to just watch? Do I have to take off all my clothes? Are there condoms available? Showers?” 

“All I know is that, once you’re inside, they’ll explain everything.”

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Read the rest of the column here

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Branded Hoodies and Leather Jock Straps

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Last week is a blur. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I thought I could do five taxi shifts in a row. I’m no longer a young man. I have grown weary and paunchy around the waist.

At the time, though, it seemed like a good idea. With the Oracle convention winding down and the Folsom Street Fair gearing up, The City was hopping, and I didn’t want to miss out on any of the action.

The last thing I remember with any clarity is finishing my column on Wednesday morning and then calling Jacob at the National office to secure 182, my regular cab.

From there, things get a little muddy …

Read the rest of this column here.

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