Tag Archives: taxi

Driving Women Under the Influence

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I’ve written extensively about the fear and confusion that defines a particular kind of ride: the intoxicated woman. You got mean drunks and happy drunks. And you have the unknown

Whether they’ve had too many drinks or had something put in their drinks, women who get wasted in public at night are easy targets for predators.

Even though one of the major selling points of Uber and Lyft is providing safe passage for the most vulnerable, when people are leaving bars and clubs at 3 a.m., they’re not always aware enough to read a license plate, or make sure that the thumbnail in their phone matches the dude behind the wheel of an unmarked sedan in a sea of unmarked sedans. 

Lyft’s color-coding system is a step in the right direction, but every attempt they make to implement safeguards only makes them more taxi-like. And since their inception, Lyft has resisted any resemblance to taxis, lest they end up being regulated like taxis. 

Last week, in my column for the S.F. Examiner, I wrote about the benefit of taxis in the urban landscape and brought up the proliferation of fake Uber drivers who prey on drunken women and how the Uber/Lyft model seems to encourage predators.

This rubbed a few readers the wrong way. So this week, I decided to double down and explore the problem in more detail.

I’ll never forget my first wasted girl. The young woman was probably 19 – 20 tops. So intoxicated, she couldn’t remember where she lived. Somewhere in the Inner Sunset. That’s all she was able to tell me.

I had just started driving for Lyft and the person who ordered the ride didn’t know her. There was a house party, she must have taken something and, yada yada yada, she was my responsibility now.

I was more than a little freaked out. Especially when her first garbled attempt at an address proved futile and she climbed into the front seat of my Jetta.

At this point, she was bawling nonstop. I was on the verge of hysterics myself. Besides the frantic attempt to get her home, I’d already ended the trip through the app, so it was a free ride.

Forty-five minutes later, to my great relief, she finally recognized her building. I managed to help her inside, with only a few more crying jags between the car and her door.

A few months after that, while driving for Uber, a young woman jumped into my car at Market and Eighth Streets and instantly passed out. When the actual person who ordered the ride called me, I had a momentary panic attack. But I managed to figure out where the woman in my backseat lived and get her home.

Over the years, I’ve found myself in similar situations on numerous occasions. And while I had the routine down to a science by the time I started driving a taxi, the immediate fear that grips you at the onset of these incidents never really goes away.

Most people don’t seem to realize just how vulnerable you are on the streets at night, whether you’ve been partying, or driving for hire.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Getting Called Out by an Uber/Lyft Shill

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When your email address is posted online each week in a major newspaper, you’re bound to get some crappy messages from readers and/or trolls. Over the past five years that I’ve been writing about the Uber/Lyft/Taxi thing, all sorts of rude crackpots have tried to take me to task for my commentary. 

Case in point:

Last week I got an email from “mfereno24@gmail.com,” who took issue with my latest column in the SF Examiner, in which I listed a few recent assault cases that involved attackers impersonating Uber and Lyft drivers. 

To make a point that taxi drivers have also been accused of sexual assaults, mfereno24 sent me several emails, each with a link for a rape case that involved a cab driver. One was from 1999, another from 2013. One was in 2015. The most recent case took place in 2017.

I rarely give a shit what opinionated twits like this have to say, but my column was about the fear of raising a daughter in a world with less regulations, and how, as a father, that future terrifies me. So it seemed really inappropriate for this blowhard to send me a bunch of links about rapes and then tell me to “Enjoy” reading them.

A loathsome enough act to warrant a heavy-handed response. So, in the words of mfereno24@gmail.com, Enjoy:

Continue reading

The Future of Lyft is So Bright You Gotta Wear a Blindfold

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When you live with a rambunctious two-year old in a cramped one-bedroom apartment, ignoring background noise is the only way to not go insane or end up with “Baby Shark” stuck in your head all day.

So as my daughter plays in the living room while watching a Curious George DVD, I do my best to block out the voiceovers and read the news about Lyft’s recent IPO. That is, until I hear the Man in the Yellow Hat shout, “Taxi!” Soon enough, I’m following the exploits of the inquisitive monkey gone wild.

Apparently, the Man and George were heading to an important business meeting when George got off the bus to grab a free map. As the Man chased after him, he accidentally left his portfolio behind.

This leads to a series of misadventures that includes the Man taking a taxi to catch the bus and find George, who’s now riding in a bike messenger’s saddle bags.

“You’re taking a cab to catch a bus?” the cab driver asks, his deadpan delivery emitting a cantankerous disdain. “And you want me to find you a monkey on a bicycle? Buddy, I’m just a cabbie.”

This archetype of the surly cab driver reminds me of the genesis for a character in another beloved children’s show, Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch, whose voice was based on a grumpy cab driver the actor encountered on his way to the audition.

It seems taxis are everywhere when you’re a kid. In books, puzzles, cartoons and toys. Anything to do with transportation or life in the city usually includes a brightly colored, easily identifiable taxicab.

Or as my daughter refers to them, “Dada’s car.”

Just like fire engines, police cars, buses, delivery trucks and streetcars, taxisare a part of the urban landscape.

When the titular character in Little Blue Truck Leads the Way heads to the big city, she has this bit of advice for the speeding taxi, “You may be fast, and I might be slow, but one at a time, is the way to go.”

Even though she’s ridden in taxis her whole life and been raised in an urban environment, my daughter still points out commercial and transit vehicles on the road. Just like the kids from small towns in Union Square and the Wharf, who stare in wonder as I drive past them, or chirp with excitement when they get to ride in the backseat with their parents.

And yet, if companies like Lyft and Uber, along with investors and supporters, have their way, taxicabs in the city will soon be a thing of the past. In their dystopian vision of the future, any vehicle on the road should be a form of conveyance.

Where’s the fun in that? And how does one represent that image for the preschool set?

Read the rest here.


[image from the children’s book “The Taxi that Hurried”]

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…

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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]

When Uber Drivers Attack

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From my weekly column for the S.F. Examiner published on March 7, 2019:

Well, it happened again.

Seems like no matter how hard I try to avoid choleric interactions with Uber/Lyft drivers, the odds are always against me.

On the streets of San Francisco, their numbers alone are reason enough to steer clear, but also why getting tangled up with one of these inexperienced drivers for hire is almost inevitable …

Last Friday night, with Hamilton back in town for a second run, I head towards the Orpheum around 9:45 p.m.

Right as I pull up on Hyde, the theater breaks. Insta-load. Two ladies going to Parc 55. Along the way, they ask to stop at the Walgreen’s on Powell.

Racing down O’Farrell on the red carpet, dodging potholes and double-parkers, their conversation comes and goes like a bad signal from a talk radio station. On the sidewalks, dark figures huddle and conspire in the shadows.

“I was here 10 years ago,” one tells the other. “And never hesitated to walk through Union Square. Now…”

“I know what you mean…”

They discuss the virtues of Denver and Phoenix as we hit a bit of congestion.

Outside the Hilton, I surreptitiously eyeball a streetwalker prowling the cold, wet night in a flimsy miniskirt.

When I pull up across the street from the drugstore, they ask me to wait. I’m not surprised.

“Just keep the meter running.”

“Uh, sure.” As long as they’re fast, I’ll still have time to hit Golden Gate

Theater in ten minutes. “I’ll either be here or…”

Just then, a space opens up in front of Walgreen’s.

“… over there.”

Once the coast is clear, I flip a U, which becomes a three-point turn due to the horrible turning radius on the Fusion.

As I attempt to straighten up, a Camry pulls in behind me, seemingly out of nowhere, and prevents me from fully accessing the space. In my rearview, I notice the U symbol on their windshield.

Oh, great.


Read the rest here.

Stuck Inside a Taxi with the Wintertime Blues Again

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This is my 200th column for the S.F. Examiner, published on Feb. 28, 2019.

February is a bust.

I only worked three shifts this month. Which is the longest I’ve gone without driving a cab since getting my a-card four years ago.

Even when my daughter was born I skipped just two weeks. Of course, back then, with one source of income, we needed the money. And driving a taxi was still viable in 2017. Somehow. Despite the long, cold winter.

Two years later, in the midst of another long, cold winter, that’s no longer the case. Now you’re barely making minimum wage on an eleven-hour shift.

That’s why, when Irina landed a big project a few weeks ago paying five times what I make behind the wheel, it was a no-brainer who would be on toddler wrangling duty.

Instead of chasing fares on the streets of San Francisco, I’m chasing a naked two-year-old around the apartment, pleading with her to take a nap, as she screeches at the cat in the litter box, “Kitty go poo poo, Dada! Kitty go poo poo!!”

So it’s not much different from driving a cab in The City, really. Except the late night crowd tends to be messier and more demanding.

Read the rest here.