Tag Archives: the mission

Casualties of Halloween

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As last call draws near, the lost souls of Halloween wander drunkenly through the late night/early morning fog, in tattered costumes and feeble disguises. And even though my top light is bright enough to guide them out of the thick gloom, nobody extends a hand in my direction.

So I keep driving.

After hunting for fares in the Haight, I cruise up Fillmore. At Geary, a sexy nurse holds onto the side of a building, as if she were taking its pulse.

A few blocks away, on Post, Luke Skywalker tries to use the Force to retrieve his broken phone from the sidewalk.

In the distance, a park ranger chases after a grizzly bear, whose companion is a cheese head.

At Gough, I contemplate venturing onward to Polk Street, and the inevitable shit show. But alas, I don’t have the guts.

Instead, I head towards the Mission, and the usual Friday night haunts.

Read the rest here.

Mr. Judy Gets Clean

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“I’ve been feeling so much better since laying off the drugs,” says Mr. Judy. “I’m on top of my game and totally killing it, man.”

While describing the benefits of a steady diet of poke and quinoa salads in between text messages, I respond with vacant grunts. It’s hard to concentrate on much but the spectacle of absurdity surrounding us.

Traveling eastbound on 16th past Guerrero, we’re trapped behind an Uber/Lyft that stopped suddenly halfway through the block. Even though there’s an open space in front of Katz and vacant parking spots further down the street, the driver just put on his hazards, impeding half a dozen vehicles. Including the 22-Fillmore, which ended up stuck in the intersection once the light turned red. Since the westbound lanes on 16th are clogged with commuters and more double-parked Uber/Lyfts, the entire corridor is on lockdown until the person who ordered this ride shows up.

A salvo of blaring horns does little to dissuade the driver from staging in the flow of traffic.

Finally, Judy looks up from his phone and asks, “Why aren’t we moving?”

“Uber driver.”

“No surprise there,” Judy responds and snuffles twice.

When the light turns green, westbound traffic begins to move slowly. I see in my rearview that the intersection at Guerrero is congested with vehicles that can’t get past the bus.

“These maggots have no respect for anyone but themselves,” Judy continues. “It’s just me, me, me … Someone needs to do something.”

“You’re right,” I mumble, noticing a Sentra in the opposite lane hesitate, giving me a split-second opportunity to bypass the gridlock.

Of course, like most Bay Area drivers, the guy in the Sentra sees my move as an act of aggression and tries to play a game of chicken.

“YES!” Mr. Judy shouts in excitement. “FUCK YEAH!”

Now, I’m not driving like a maniac for the thrills. Besides thousands of hours of experience working the mean streets of San Francisco, I’m in a multicolored vehicle with a “TAXI” sign on top. Everyone else on the road should just assume I’m liable to do some “creative” maneuvering. But I’m also acutely aware that the thought of a hard-working cabbie doing his job is more than most drivers in San Francisco can bear.

As he lays on his horn, flashes his high beams and screams out his window, I careen through the logjam onto Albion.

“That was awesome,” Judy bellows with laughter.

Compared to the pandemonium of 16th Street, 17th is like Golden Gate Park after hours. At South Van Ness, I go left and take 14th to our destination: Best Buy.

Mr. Judy wants to buy a TV. Part of his new, wholesome lifestyle. No more staying out late at the bars, doing tequila shots and playing pool. From now on, he’s going home at a respectable hour to get enough sleep.

It’s all about reaching his full potential.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Shaun Osburn]

The Night We Drove Old Yellow Around

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It was just like the old days. Before the taxi industry went to shit. Back when people still called cab companies when they needed a ride. Especially on Friday nights, which is when the following aberration occurred.

Of course, as a driver in the post-Uber/Lyft world, the notion of taxis being in high demand is mostly abstract, based entirely on stories form drivers who were around then and still around now.

On this particular night, though, I got a taste of that bygone era…

It happened just after last call. During the transition period between 1:45 a.m. and 2:15 a.m., when most cabs are prowling the bars in the Mission, the Castro, Polk Street, SoMa and Union Square, while others begin forming ad hoc taxi stands outside DJ clubs like Public Works, the Great Northern, Audio, the EndUp and the Cat Club.

As I’m cruising down Valencia on my way to check out the line at Public Works, the dispatch radio comes alive.

Sometimes, I forget the two-way is even there, occasionally restarting the device to make sure it’s still functioning. There are nights when the only activity is drivers asking for radio checks. So I’m surprised to hear Jesse’s voice break the silence.

“Guys, there seem to be orders on the board,” he says. “I don’t know where they’re coming from, but I have phone numbers. If anyone wants to check them out …”

He starts listing off cross streets.

Since I’m only a few blocks away, I check in for Duboce and Valencia. I pull up outside Zeitgeist and ask for a callout.

“Hold on, 182.” After a short pause, Jesse responds, “On the way out.”

“Copy that.”

A few minutes later, a guy gets in the back of my cab, and I take him to Bernal Heights. I want to ask questions, figure out what’s going on with the sudden demand for taxis, but he isn’t chatty.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

The 16th Street Clusterfuck

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The 16th Street Corridor between Guerrero and Mission is one of the worst traffic clusterfucks in the city. Lined with boutiques, liquor stores, bars, restaurants, shops, movie theaters and apartment buildings – all easily accessed via the BART station on Mission – the corridor functions as a nucleus. A welcome center. Not just to the Mission, but the whole city.

It’s where neighborhoods collide and intersect: SoMa to the northeast, like a pair of shades. Tenderloin due north, where your mind is in the gutter. The Castro is west, like a pack of cigarettes in your jean pockets. Duboce Triangle, on your shoulder like a backpack. And the Haight, the feather in your cap.

The Mission is where it’s at.

El corazón de la ciudad.

And 16th Street is the jugular.

Since the street runs halfway across the city – a straight shot east to west, from the Bay to the Castro – it’s also a quasi thoroughfare along the southern edge of the metro area. And thus, a hotspot of activity day and night. After all, that Latino heat is what gives the city flavor.

As a taxi driver, I try to avoid the area.

The 16th Street Corridor is – in addition to all those other things – a fucking quagmire. If there ever was a reason for that word to exist, it’s the 16th Street Corridor.

With no left turns at Guerrero and Mission, once you enter, you’re trapped. You either push through or retreat down an alley. Otherwise you’ll forced to circumvent packs of drunken jaywalkers. And the inevitable army of Ubers and Lyfts.

Driving in the 16th Street Corridor is like going to war with a bunch of preschoolers. I just want to start slapping drivers upside the head. “Whatsamattawitcha! Fucken morons!”

When they’re not double-parking with reckless abandon, impeding the flow of cars, bicyclists and two Muni routes, they’re driving like complete assholes or chickens with their heads cut off.

So last Friday, when Mr. Judy calls me from Albion and 16th looking for an evac, I’m not thrilled. Nonetheless, I charge into the maelstrom, blasting Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein.”

Mr. Judy is standing in front of Monk’s Kettle giving dirty looks to passersby. I quickly pull over and he jumps in the backseat.

“Just in time,” he says ominously.

Read the rest on the examiner site.

[photo by Shaun Osburn]

On becoming a day driver… and a pissed off cabbie!

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This week’s column for the Examiner is about switching to the day shift and immediately becoming the quintessential angry cabbie. 

The nausea comes in waves, along with dizzy spells and a throbbing in my forehead that pulsates to a beat that matches the jackhammers I wake up to most mornings. It’s the sound of progress. These ugly, prison-like buildings are the future. Who am I to criticize some jerkwad who’s willing and able to pay three grand for a cookie-cutter apartment in an “up-and-coming” neighborhood that still hasn’t figured out what to do with the down and out?

If I ever thought having a kid was going to cramp my style, it’s only because I hadn’t considered how nettlesome living with the Bay Area can be. Compared to the toll this place takes on you, dealing with a screaming, sleep-resistant baby is a walk in the park.

When I switched to driving days, I figured there would be some hiccups in the transition. But I wasn’t expecting to become the quintessential angry cab driver overnight.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

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Requiem for Valencia Street

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The City is dead.

It’s barely midnight, and half of the bars in the Mission are already shuttered. Most of the late-night taquerias as well. Even the line at El Farolito is barely out the door.

There isn’t much left to do but ride the green wave down Valencia Street and blast Galaxie 500 as an Uber tailgates me. Probably wants to race up to the red light, slam on his brakes and then speed off to the next intersection. ’Cause that’s what they do.

I could easily pull over and let him get on with his exercise in futility while I practice my own, but the lo-fi psychedelia pouring out of my speakers has me in a tranquil headspace. Ah, who am I kidding? I just really love annoying Uber drivers.

Not that I should harbor so much animosity toward these poor schmucks who don’t yet know they’re getting screwed. One day, they might figure out the system is rigged against them.

Slowly, the public is becoming aware that taxi drivers aren’t the only ones getting screwed anymore. As the wave of anti-Uber/Lyft backlash continues to surge, the people of San Francisco are realizing they’re also getting the proverbial big one up the you-know-what.

It seems the only people benefiting from the proliferation of scab cabs are the passengers who use these services. Of course, they’re usually skulked down in the backseat with their phones in front of their faces, willfully oblivious to the problems their transportation choices create, so who knows what they think …

Read the rest here.

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The Wrong Way to Deal with a Prostitute

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This column originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on March 10, 2017.


 

It’s 3 a.m. The streets are gloriously free of traffic. As I’m heading back to Public Works, a man waves me down at 15th and South Van Ness. He isn’t going far, no doubt on his way home from work, when the last few blocks can feel like torture. I pull up to his place on Folsom just as the meter hits $5.15.

“Give me $5,” I tell him.

He hands me a $20. “Make it $10.”

While I’m sifting through my wad of bills, a scantily clad woman approaches my cab and tries to open the back door.

“¡Pinche puta!” the man shouts and slams the door shut.

She looks at me imploringly through the window. I hand the man his change. He exits, spewing more insults in Spanish.

“You don’t have to be rude, Chubby,” the woman says before asking me, “Can we get a ride?”

Beside her is a young Latino carrying a plastic bag in the shape of a 12-pack.

“Sure. Where to?”

“Balboa Park,” the guy slurs. Then he asks me to play music and cracks open a beer.

“What are you doing?” the woman demands. “You can’t drink alcohol in the back of a taxi.”

“Yes, I can,” he says. “I know the law.”

“Maybe this gentleman doesn’t want you drinking in his cab.”

I’m about to take his side, but upon exchanging glances with the woman in the rearview, I keep my mouth shut. It’s obvious she’s a professional.

After catching a few lights down Folsom, I take a right toward Guerrero.

“No, go to Persia and Mission,” he says.

While I’m waiting to turn left onto Mission, he changes his destination again to San Jose and Geneva.

OK. I head back toward Guerrero.

“Don’t you like me?” he asks the woman over the hip-hop blasting at his request. “You don’t say anything.”

“We’ll talk once it’s just the two of us,” she tells him. “Maybe you should stop drinking so much.”

He laughs and cracks open another.

When I get to Geneva, he’s not sure whether to go left or right. I turn the music down.

“Go right,” he says finally. “To Ocean Avenue.”

“OK, sir,” the woman snaps. “That’s the fourth address you’ve given. I’ve had enough of this shit. Driver, take us back to 18th and Capp.”

I glance in the rearview. Her eyes are like razorblades. I make a quick left onto Interstate 280. It’s obvious she’s the professional in this situation.

“How fast can you get us back there?” she asks.

“I only have one speed,” I say.

“Then go faster than that.”

“Wait!” The guy begins to protest vehemently. “Where are you going?”

“Sir, this is not how you deal with a prostitute,” she tells him, as if he’s a small child. “You can’t take me out in the middle of nowhere and try to trick me.”

“Why are you listening to her?” he shouts at me. “I’m the one paying.”

I say nothing and drive.

“If you listen to her, I won’t pay!”

“Oh, you’re going to pay the man.” The woman reads him the riot act. “He probably has a family at home that he needs to take care of, and you’re wasting his time.”

“I’ll call the police then.” He stares intently at his phone.

“Call the cops.” She laughs. “You’re just looking at your damn home screen. You’re too drunk to even make a call.”

“I’m not paying shit,” he mumbles.

At a red light, he tries to bail, but she stops him.

“You better stay in this taxi!” she yells. “Keep your hands off me!”

He punches the back of the passenger seat.

Just as things start to get ugly, I pull over at 23rd and Mission.

“Now, pay the man!” she orders.

The meter reads $24.40.

“25 bucks! Now!”

The guy makes a grandiose gesture of handing me the money while muttering bitterly. As she walks away, he steps out of the cab to yell at her and then gets back in.

“Take me to Capp,” he demands.

“C’mon, man,” I say. “I don’t have time for this shit. It’s late.”

“But I want a girl,” he whines. “Please, help me.” His eyes are full of confused desperation.

Reluctantly, I drive to 20th and Capp, but there are no girls standing around.

“It’s too late,” I point out.

“I’ll find one.” He exits the cab and disappears around the corner.

I’m about to take off when I notice his 12-pack is on the floorboard. At this hour, an ice cold 12-pack of Modelo is like gold. So why leave it in my cab? Does he seriously think I’ll wait for him?

I consider tossing the beer out on the street, but then again … it’s not like he tipped me.


SINCE YOU’RE HERE …

One of the first responses to this column after the Examiner posted it on Twitter was critical of the word “prostitute.” The person suggested it had negative connotations and I should have used “sex worker” instead.

My first instinct was to respond with, “Uh, isn’t this how Trump got elected?” Then I thought, Well, I guess my working title: “The drunk Mexican and the wary hooker” was definitely too insensitive. But prostitute?

Ultimately, this is how I responded:

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Perhaps there is still hope for civil discourse on the internet.