Tag Archives: taxi driving

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

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]

Breakfast of Champions

 

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Maybe it’s just my imagination. Or maybe I really do need to get my aura cleansed. 

That was Irina’s sardonic recommendation to cast away the various misfortunes that have been following me around lately like a personalized rain cloud. Or, in her more succinct evaluation: to become less of a schlimazel.

It definitely feels like the universe has been having a cosmic giggle at my expense these days.

Half the time when I order take-out, they give me the wrong food… A perfectly healthy plant only has a 50-50 chance of life expectancy under my care… Despite maintaining the same clothes sizes for over 20 years, I somehow invariably buy shirts in medium instead of large…

Why? It makes no sense.

As I sit behind the wheel of my cab, stranded on Maritime Street at West Grand and waiting for the tow truck to arrive, I can’t help but contemplate my propensity for misfortune.

After all, it was my rotten luck to end up in a taxi without a spare tire in the trunk. Road flares? Check. Lug wrench? Got it. Donut?

Uhhh… Nope.

Even worse, I’m out of cigarettes. And way too un-caffeinated to deal with this predicament.


Read the rest here.

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]