Tag Archives: taxi driving

Wherever the Taxi Winds May Blow

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Nov. 29, 2018 …

Not all rides are equal. Even if they start at the same point, destinations vary

so drastically — and financially — that entire shifts can hang in the balance of one arbitrary decision.

In my early days of driving a taxi, I approached each intersection with a quandary: What’ll happen if I turn right? Will I hit pay dirt by taking a left instead? Or does my fortune lie straight ahead?

After a while, I realized there’s nothing certain about taxi driving, every move is a gamble and the only way to avoid going insane is by letting fate determine your trajectory.

Nowadays, when I leave the National yard, my usual thought is, So… where are the taxi winds going to take me tonight?

Even though getting Zen about cab driving may lead to warm and fuzzy feelings, there are hundreds of taxi drivers on the streets, who are all in direct competition with each other and couldn’t care less about your inner serenity.

It’s only a matter of time before your phlegm is put to the test.

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]

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]

Flogging a Dead Taxi Shift

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Two weeks ago, my wife flew to Los Angeles with the baby to spend the week of July 4 at her parents’ apartment in West Hollywood and visit friends and family. After dropping them off at Oakland Airport, I came

home and stood in the kitchen, pondering the list of chores Irina had made for me and thinking about what to do instead, now that the place was all mine for six and a half days. … With some cash in my pocket, a stocked fridge, two packs of American Spirits and a car full of high-octane at my disposal, my options seemed limitless.

My first thought was sleep. Oh, sweet slumber. Long stretches of uninterrupted shut-eye are one of the great luxuries of a childless life. And in between naps, I could relax in the bathtub while reading a book. Then go totally nuts and spread out on the couch in my pajamas. Binge watch all the movies and TV shows people have been talking about lately. Do we still have a Netflix account? Hell, I could sign up for all the on demand services – maybe even get free trials for the month – or just go to Amoeba and buy a stack of cheap DVDs …

Thinking about this possibility for a few minutes, though, it occurred to me that sleeping and watching TV was a complete waste of my temporary bout of bachelordom. I needed to take full advantage of the solitude and do something else that’s even more difficult to do with a baby around: write.

By the time Irina and the baby get back, I could probably finish editing the text for the new Behind the Wheel zine, most of which is already written, and perhaps fine-tune the layout and have the zine ready for the printer at the end of the month.

Not only a brilliant use of the free time, a huge accomplishment as well. It’s been over two years since the last issue came out.

Mind settled, I glance at Irina’s list of chores, crumple up the paper and toss it onto the table. How’s that for expressing my freedom?

Grabbing my smokes and a hoody, I go out back to make a list of which sections of the zine need to be edited, what parts need to be rewritten and what’s completed.

Thirty minutes later, back in the kitchen, I’m smoothing out the wrinkles on Irina’s list and getting ready to head to the National yard, where 233 is waiting for me.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

My Kind of Passenger

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It was one of those nights, when you’re out late, chasing ghosts all over The City, even though the streets are as empty as the backseat of your cab, and there’s nothing left to do but follow the faint glow of your headlights and hope for the best, despite knowing you should just head to the yard, pay your gate and call it a night, because at 3:30 a.m., if your luck hasn’t changed for the better, it probably never will…

After one last circle through Union Square, I take Mason down to Market. Waiting for the light at Fifth Street, two Yellow cabs blow past me, toplights blazing. I hit my turn indicator. At least Soma is one neighborhood closer to the Bayview.

Like an apparition, she appears from behind a plume of steam billowing from the grates in the middle of the street. She walks straight towards me.

“You available?” she asks through the half-cracked window.

“Yeah.” I quickly unlock the doors.

“I was going to call an Uber,” she says, once inside. “But… you probably don’t want to hear about that.”

“Where you heading?”

“Redwood City. I’ll have the address for you in a second.”

I hit the meter and head towards the freeway. Guess I was wrong about that whole luck thing.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

The thin checkered line revisited

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An Argument on Wheels

The other night I’m transporting a bouncer from The Fillmore to his apartment on Leavenworth. We’re inbound on Post when an Uber/Lyft in front of me hits the hazards and comes to a sudden stop.

I slam on my brakes and look in my side mirror. There’s a motorcycle in the other lane but I seem to have enough space to move over.

The biker, however, disagrees. He beeps his tiny horn and screams at me, “Watch out, motherfucker!”

At the light, I roll down the passenger window to apologize but the biker can’t hear me and most likely assumes I’m just talking shit.

He’s keeps yelling, “Motherfucker! You better watch your ass! I’ll fuck you up, motherfucker!”

It’s an honest mistake, but the guy acts like I’ve committed a capital crime and should be dragged out of my cab and pummeled into hamburger meat on the asphalt.

Now I’m sure the biker’s anger had more to do with the fact that I’m driving a taxi than anything else. Whenever there’s an altercation on the road and blame must be incurred, the easiest target is always the taxi. Not the fucking idiot Uber/Lyft driver who could have easily pulled into an open space to drop his passenger but chose instead to impede traffic since they don’t drive with common sense and just follow GPS directions. They’re not in a taxi, though. Despite the small, barely perceptible Uber and Lyft placards in their windows, they resemble any other vehicle. So they get a pass.

The taxi, though, is the idiot mucking up traffic…

As someone who drives a regular vehicle in the city as well as a taxicab, I’ve noticed over the years how different the two experiences are and how other drivers treat you when you’re driving a cab.

People seem to have this innate hatred of taxis based on the stereotypes that we’re filled with road rage, drive like maniacs and have no respect for anyone else on the road.

In reality, taxi drivers, who log 40+ hours a week behind the wheel, are some of the better drivers on the road.

Along with all the other difficulties of transporting people in an urban environment, there’s the constant disdain from the general public that never once considers the struggles we go through everyday trying to earn a living driving on the mean streets of San Francisco. Which is the topic for this week’s revisited * column…

Read it here.

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* Revisited from a column published last year.

Random Views from a San Francisco Taxi

Scenes of San Francisco and the Bay Area from behind the wheel: