Tag Archives: taxi passengers

Remembrance of Things Taxi

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My column for the SF Examiner published on March 27, 2019 is about regulars from the past. 

Regulars come and regulars go. Sometimes the memories of them linger on, long after the final whiff of their stinky feet in the back of your taxi is gone.

The reality is, you can only tolerate so much of anyone’s presence for any considerable amount of time. Not just the guy whose MO was to impersonate a petri dish of party favors doing acid while stoned on another daylong Mission bar crawl.

Although the body odors of long-gone passengers may not inspire much nostalgia, flashbacks of the sweaty-palmed $20 bills I’d shove in my pockets at the ends of his rides can definitely lead to a prolonged search of lost time.

Good-paying customers always have peculiar demands, idiosyncrasies or preferred routes. Besides Mr. Stinky Feet, there was Sir Shop A-Lot and Miss “I’ll gladly PayPal you next Friday for a ride to Oakland today.”

That was my problem, actually, for being too accommodating. And not just with regulars. I’ve been kidnapped by random passengers several times.

Once, forced into giving this visiting artist a tour of The City at 1 a.m. Literally compelled by her local host, under threat of not leaving the cab without one. Since they were so nice about it and told me to keep the meter running, the only charges I pressed were in my Square app.

Sadly, the problem with good-paying customers is they usually make bad-paying friends.

Read the rest here.


 

A Ride for Everyone

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I Drive S.F. column published in the Examiner on February 7, 2019.

In a Yellow cab, you really stand out. Besides the distinctive, universally recognized color scheme, there are seven giant ‘3s’ plastered along each set of doors, along with an assortment of official decals. But it’s the illuminated ad topper mounted on the roof that leaves no doubt what purpose the vehicles serves.

While a Veterans cab is also an obvious form of conveyance, when the toplight is off, they can almost pass for a regular car. Albeit one with an unusual paint job.

That’s not possible with Yellow cabs.

At night, the ad topper shines through the darkness like a klieg light. Even when I have a fare, people will flag me. Or just walk up and try to get inside. Whether I’m loaded or not …

Read the rest here.

New Terrain in Familiar Places

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I Drive S.F. column published in the Examiner on January 31, 2019

Deep in the cut, I play the radio hard. Taking one order after another. Mostly short rides, along with some no-go’s, that push me further into the outlying neighborhoods of The City.

Since my shift began earlier that afternoon, I’ve been loading shopping bags, folding carts and walkers into the trunk of my cab and letting passengers guide me to their destinations through the unfamiliar streets of Visitacion Valley, Ingleside, Crocker Amazon and Balboa Park. Places I know, but rarely worked before switching to Yellow.

So far, most folks are happy to give directions. Except for one lady, who, despite limited English, ribs me for asking her the quickest route from the Glen Park Bart station to the Foodsco in the Bayview.

“You’re supposed to know that!” she responds with a chortle, then leans forward and uses hand gestures to show me the way.

It’s not that I don’t know how to get around, but with a meter running, the stakes are too high for detours. And this being their home turf, wouldn’t they know the best shortcuts?

Plus, deciphering broken English and heavy accents can be even more challenging than navigating new terrain. Especially with streets named Cayuga, Farragut and Onondaga. Or even Jones.

Read the rest here.

You Can’t Go Home Again

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After circumventing the 45 bus, the red carpet on Third Street is all mine. With an eye out for any interlopers who think they’re clever enough to access the transit lane, I scope out the W. and St. Regis for potential fares. At Mission, I see an outreached arm halfway down the block. I flash my high beams and go in for the kill.

“Clay and Battery,” the guy tells me, arranging a bunch of shopping bags on the backseat. “How’s your day going?”

Right as I’m about to respond, a van careens across three lanes of traffic, cuts me off and swervs towards Stevenson.

I hit the brakes and squeeze between the van’s rear bumper and the front end of the car next to me. “Ah, you know… Same old, same old.”

“Wow, that guy almost hit you!”

“Yeah.”

The real tragedy is missing the light at Market.

“Is traffic always this bad?” he asks.

“Eh. It gets worse.”


Read the rest here.

The Sharp-Dressed Kid Takes a Second Chance

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Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on December 27, 2018.

It’s a cold, blustery evening in The City. As I wait for a red light to cut me some slack, a tsunami of garbage drifts through the intersection. Competing tabloids wrestle in the street, while crimson and ocher leaves, plastic bags and stained fast food wrappers egg them on like hype men in a rap battle.

Even though the rain has finally let up, the sidewalks are vacant and most of the bars are quiet. Not much traffic either, which makes waiting so long for this light to change all the more frustrating.

“Come on, signal,” I mumble out loud. “Turn green already.”

I’m not long for this shift. With only fleeting moments of demand earlier that have since become few and far between, I don’t see much promise in the small hours ahead. Or the next few blocks, for that matter.

Should I waste my time circling through SoMa? I wonder. Or take a right and go straight to the bridge instead?

When the light turns green, I make a left.

After finding no love on Eleventh Street, I turn onto Folsom. Outside The Willows, there’s an arm in the air.


Read the rest here.

Knowing Better than to Make Things Worse

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Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on December 20, 2018.

On Friday night, as the symphony and ballet are about to break simultaneously, I’m racing up Seventh Street, hoping to get a fare before there’s nothing left on Grove but a bunch of phonies standing on the curb and the usual swarm of empty cabs circling the area like sharks late to the kill.

Approaching Mission, a figure emerges from the shadows with his arm extended. I glance in the rearview. Since there are no cars directly behind me, I hit the brakes, expecting the guy to quickly jump into my cab. But he just stands there, until traffic catches up to me.

Then, out of nowhere, I’m blinded by a flash of light.

Two lanes over, a cop has his spotlight aimed at me.

“Why couldn’t you pull into that open space?” the officer yells through the window of his cruiser.

“What?” I respond, confused by the unexpected scrutiny. Despite overtly egregious infractions, the police usually ignore taxi drivers. Even if we’re in dire straits. My cab could be engulfed in flames while a deranged lunatic chases me around the wreckage, stabbing me in the neck with a rusty icepick, and the cops would just look the other way. So why single me out?

“You’re blocking traffic,” he points out.

I look over my shoulder at the dude struggling to open the backdoor. “I didn’t realize it would take him so long to get into the cab,” I yell back.

“Come on,” the cop says. “Use your head. You know better than that.”

“But I…”

Before I can defend myself, he speeds away.


Read the rest here.

Stranger than Fiction

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This week’s I Drive S.F. column for the S.F. Examiner is about the other side of San Francisco, the one you don’t see from an Uber/Lyft – the taxi side of The City … 

“Since they’re spoon-fed ride requests, Uber/Lyft drivers don’t have to troll the streets of the Tenderloin at 1 a.m. looking for junkies running late meet up with their dealers before they turn into pumpkins … 

“During my eleven months driving for Uber and Lyft, most of what I documented were studies in vapid entitlement, the occasional comedy of errors due to a technical glitch and jeremiads about the exploitative nature of the business model.

“Once in a taxi, though, things went into overdrive and I charged headlong into the unknown, fueled by a guileless enthusiasm tinged with fear and a thrash metal soundtrack. Each shift came with a variety of misadventures, discoveries and altercations. All I had to do was write it down.

“Although only some of the stories made it into the column, as many encounters weren’t – and still aren’t – suitable for the general reading public. The really wild rides are reserved for the zines, where I have more freedom to describe the sordid and ribald aspects of driving a taxi in San Francisco. But I still have to be careful what’s divulged, to not risk losing my A-card …” 

Read the whole thing here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]