Tag Archives: taxi driver

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…

behind_the_wheel_zines_across

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[photo by Christian Lewis]

Burning Down The House

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This week’s column about driving a taxi is about a week spent not driving a taxi…

One advantage of writing this column each week is that I have notes on almost every shift I’ve driven in the past four years. With this plethora (or waste, some might say) of information, I can generally figure out what to expect on holidays based on previous observations. Such as Labor Day.

Of course, the week leading up to Labor Day is also Burning Man, when a noticeable percentage of the population in the Bay Area migrates to the Nevada desert.

Abandoned in the void are the alleged beneficiaries of the holiday — the workers. Especially those who toil in service, including numerous drivers, who, desperate or just overly habitual, spend the weekend struggling to make a couple bucks on the otherwise empty streets of The City.

Over the past four years, I have been one of those hungry and habitual motorists for hire, albeit mostly un-hired and oh so bored… until the only thing left to do was practice your road rage … Wheelin’ & dealin’

With past column headlines like “Burnt out without the Burners,” “The top light is on but I’m not” and “Hell is other cab drivers,” I don’t need to browse old Word files on my computer, search the Notes app on my phone or exhume discarded Moleskins from the Filing System of Hell to get a sense of the impact that Burning Man and Labor Day will have on cab driving.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

Hailing a Taxi Like You Own The City

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Lauren Bacall in Rome, 1960

You know it’s a slow night in The City when practically every taxi not at SFO is queued up outside Davies Symphony Hall waiting for Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto” to break.

As I roll up onto the scene, the line stretches from the entrance on Grove to the corner and then across Franklin. While I’m assessing the situation, the first cab in the second line starts blowing his horn, presumably, to prevent me from usurping his position. But I have no interest in this line.

Turning right on Grove, I head to the Van Ness side of Davies, to the actual cabstand for the venue. The one with signs indicating that only taxis are allowed to park there from 9 p.m. to midnight.

Very few taxi drivers, it seems, have faith in the Van Ness side of Davies. While I’m waiting, a taxi will occasionally stop, lose patience a few minutes later and speed off around the corner.

Eventually, Late Night Larry pulls in behind me, followed by a few more taxis.

Then concertgoers emerge en masse from the symphony hall. As the first cab in line, I get a fare right away going to Market and Castro. While the light at Hayes is red, I slowly wedge my front end between a minivan and a pickup truck so that when the signal turns green, I’m able to speed away.

All the way up Market, the lights are on my side. After dropping my fare at Catch, I hightail it back to Davies, hoping for a double-dip. At the very least, I’ll get a decent spot in line at the Orpheum for when “The Book of Mormon” breaks.

While fighting the congestion on Franklin, I see a woman on the corner of Hayes with her arm in the air. I flash my high beams and, once there’s an opening, swoop in.

She’s heading to the Richmond District.

“Thanks for stopping,” she says. “The security guard back there kept telling me he would help me catch a cab, but I’ve been taking cabs in San Francisco for 35 years. I may be old, but I can still hail a taxi.”

“You’re flagging skills are impeccable,” I say. “I spotted you from blocks away.”

“There is skill to hailing a taxi, isn’t there?”

“There is,” I respond, about to proffer one of my favorite lines: “You want to put your arm out like you — ”

“Like you own The City,” she says, snatching the words right from my mouth.

Read the rest here.

[photo from How to Hail a Taxi – A Photoset]

The Tenderloin is for Lovers

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It’s late. Wednesday night. I’m making one last round through the Tenderloin before taking the bridge home to Oakland.

While driving past the usual clusterfuck of SUVs, towncars and taxis double-parked in front of the New Century, two women flag me on the corner of Geary.

Despite the weather, they’re scantily clad. And what clothes they are wearing only seem to emphasize their Rubenesque figures. With them is a tall gentleman who looks like he stumbled out of a sales conference. He seems to be shielding his eyes from the glow of the streetlight.

As the women slink into the backseat, the guy gets up front, much to their dismay.

“Come sit back here with us?” they whine.

“I’m all right,” he replies in an English accent.

I try to show him how to adjust the seat, since it’s pushed all the way forward, but he ignores me and remains scrunched up with his knees against the dash.

“Acer Hotel, driver,” says the woman on my right.

“Where?” I ask.

“The Acer. It’s in Union Square.”

“O’Farrell and Mason,” the woman behind me clarifies.

“You don’t know the Acer?” the first lady asks. “How long you been driving taxi?”

“Couple years,” I say.

“Don’t worry, baby, you’ll get the hang of it eventually.”

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

The SFO Casino

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When all else fails, there’s always the SFO casino …

On most nights, deadheading to the airport is a gamble. But with taxis sandbagging every hotel, bar, strip joint and DJ club in The City, a Hail Mary seems like the only option.

On my way to the freeway, I stop by Mythic Pizza for a couple slices. Not much is happening on Haight Street. The only customers inside the restaurant are two young ladies sitting at a table having a very loud, profanity-laden conversation about their personal lives.

When my slices are ready, I look for the parmesan, but the container isn’t with the other condiments — it’s on the table where the young ladies are sitting.

I ask if they’re done with the cheese.

“Do your thing,” one says snidely.

Uh, OK. I carry it back to the counter and sprinkle the cheese liberally over my pepperoni slices.

As I’m heading out the door, the girls yell at me:

“Whoa, dude! Where’s our parmesan?”

“What?” I laugh, as if they’re fucking with me.

Their serious faces imply otherwise …

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

The Rain, The Conference and the Inbound Shuffle

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Slowly, as the holiday season recedes like a bad memory and 2018 offers a plethora of new reasons to be outraged, San Francisco begins to show signs of life again. The weekends are still quiet, and there’s not much action in any particular neighborhood, but at least you get the sense that The City is not officially dormant. Yet.

Last week, the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference rolled through town, with several thousand deep-pocketed attendees who seemed to have no problem throwing money around. I was only able to take advantage of one day of the convention, but if my experience on Wednesday was any indication of the previous two, the event more than made up for a lackluster New Year’s Eve and the dismal December that preceded it.

Most rides are short, but as one fare ends, another begins. And a light drizzle means even more potential rides. All those $7 and $10 rides quickly add up. Then, just as I’m feeling lucky, I get pushed out of the loop and wind up in the Mission.

OK. Just a minor setback, I tell myself. It’s not like I’m going to turn down fares …

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

The Art of Driving a Taxi

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When done properly, no two cab rides should ever be alike …

Last month, during the Fancy Foods Show, I was posted up outside 888 Brannan, where an after party associated with the convention was winding down.

Despite the apparent lack of need for taxis — according to Hackers, they’re all Phonies inside — I’d just dropped at Lennon Studios a few blocks away and, well, not much else is going on.

A few minutes later, a woman approaches my cab and taps on my window.

“Do you take credit cards?” she asks.

“Of course!” I respond enthusiastically.

“Great! My Lyft app is acting up. It won’t let me request a ride.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” I say, feigning concern.

On the drive to the St. Francis, she gives me the lowdown on the specialty food convention. Then asks if I drive for Lyft as well.

Now, regular readers of this column may remember my stock response to this frequent inquiry is to claim not to own a car. Or to point out that the risks associated with operating a vehicle for hire with inadequate insurance and limited safeguards are too foolhardy, even for a lummox like me. Only on the rarest occasions will I mention my background as an Uber/Lyft driver, and that, from my own experience, using your personal car as a taxicab is less sustainable than driving a real one.

This time, though, instead of my usual attempt to suppress the subject outright, all this talk of artisanal cuisine and the farm-to-table movement offers such an ideal opportunity for a slew of metaphors that I can’t resist …

“Well, it’s like comparing small-batch ice cream, chocolate, cheese or whisky to mass-produced food and booze that all tastes the same,” I say. “Uber and Lyft offer a homogenous stale experience. That’s the point, isn’t it? No matter where you go, instead of figuring out the local modus operandi, you just open the app and it’s like you never left home. They’re the McDonald’s of transportation. Taxi driving is the opposite of that. As my friend Colin puts it, we’re — I cough for effect — ‘artisan transportation engineers.’”

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]