Tag Archives: soma

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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2015 Folsom Street Fair proves to be profitable for taxi drivers

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Originally published on October 2, 2015 in the S.F. Examiner

It was a good week to be a taxi driver.

With an estimated 400,000 people attending the Folsom Street Fair on Sunday, business was booming from the start of my shift on Thursday afternoon all the way to Monday morning, when I crawled home from the MacArthur BART station, my mind fried, my bones aching and my pockets bulging with cash.

Thursday started out with epic gridlock in SoMa. My first fare, from Caltrain to Bush and Gough, took 45 minutes and cost $36.

Things just kept going from there.

Friday was even busier. Each time I dropped off a passenger, another fare was waiting to get into my backseat.

“Is some event going on?” a woman asks me at one point. “Why is it surging?”

I want to remind her she was in a cab, thus I have no clue what’s going on with Uber, and while I know we’re all in an open relationship now, some of us aren’t exactly happy about the arrangement. But instead I politely tell her about the Folsom Street Fair, the AC/DC concert that night at the ballpark and TwitchCon at Moscone Center.

“I’m lucky you came along then,” she says.

“You are,” I agree, as we blow past dozens of people flagging me down.

Saturday… I don’t even remember much about what happened on Saturday after I left my apartment, stumbling down Telegraph, unsure if I would even make it to BART without face planting into the pavement.

Everything becomes a blur from the strain of multiple 12-hour shifts behind the wheel, the hassle of getting from Oakland to the National yard in Bayview and, somehow, managing to squeeze in a little shuteye.

Forget about a personal life.

After a while, I’m just a driving machine.

A muscle and a brain.

On Sunday, I start my shift and go straight to SoMa to work the Folsom Street Fair. The annual BDSM and leather subculture fair is the third largest street fair in California, after Pride and the Rose Parade.

I head in on Potrero and then up Division, which is congested. I cut across two lanes of traffic and head down Bryant. Everyone’s turning left at Seventh so I take Sixth and go west on Howard.

There are supposed to be cabstands on Eighth, but once again, I use the same techniques I did with the Dreamforce Gala and Outside Lands. I stick to the periphery—Eighth and Harrison Streets—where I have access to the best avenues of escape.

Folsom Street Fair proves to be pay dirt. And also my gayest—err, I mean, greatest—night of cab driving in San Francisco.

It felt like the old days, when the rest of The City was “Castro adjacent.”

Without a single lull, the rides kept coming and I just kept shoving the money into my chest pockets.

I transport an endless stream of festivalgoers to and from after parties, many zonked out on GHB, some fully clothed, others half-naked, most clad in leather and everything and anything else in between.

Very few passengers talk, comatose from the drugs, cavorting at the Fair and untold hours of dancing.

One guy, who flags me down on Market, spends the entire ride groaning and drooling on his wrestler’s uniform. When I pull up to Park Central, he removes two $5 bills from a striped tube sock. The fare is $12 but I don’t argue. Even though it’s in my best interest to get the hell out of Dodge, I wait to make sure he’s safe. He meanders into Third Street and then onto the sidewalk towards Market.

“You’re going the wrong way!” I yell out my window.

Eventually, he careens in the direction of his hotel.

People continue to pour out of 1015 Folsom long after the 4 AM closing time. I could keep going, too, but I have a 4:45 cab. With five minutes to spare, I hit the gas station on Army and turn in.

Three days of sleep later, I’m still wiped out.

Next weekend is the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, which should be another profitable, albeit exhausting, week of cab driving.

As things begin to look up, though, I think about what Late Night Larry told me as he dropped me off at the Civic Center BART on Monday morning:

“Don’t forget… winter is coming.”