Tag Archives: traffic

This Cab’s on Fire

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I Drive SF column published in the S.F. Examiner on April 25, 2019.

I never really wanted to drive a car. I was happy enough being the passenger, riding under glass, watching the stars come out of the sky and seeing the city’s ripped backsides.

Even growing up in the 80s in LA, the Mecca of car culture, I was perfectly content to stroll through my neighborhood, always mindful not to break my mother’s back. And if the destination was beyond the sneaker superhighway, there was always the RTD. If I had some pocket change.

At 15 years old, I moved to a small town in Alabama that didn’t have sidewalks. Just ditches on either side of the road. This presented a challenge, but I quickly sought out friends with automobiles.

Later, right before I started college at a university thirty miles way, my foster mother forced me to get a driver’s license and gave me her beat up Tercel.

I resisted at first, but soon realized the freedom that came with owning a car.

For the next four years, my friend Jody and I explored every inch of asphalt in Calhoun County. Most of the dirt roads too. There wasn’t much else to do in the sticks except cruise the backroads while blasting punk and thrash metal. We eventually got bored of our home turf and began branched out to Tennessee, Georgia and into the Smoky Mountains. It seemed like there was no place we couldn’t go as long as we had wheels underneath us.

After college, I packed all my things into the Tercel and drove to New Orleans. Slowly but surely, the car fell to pieces on the pothole-riddled streets. So I got a beach cruiser with a cup holder on the handlebars.

That summer I traveled across the country via Greyhound, Amtrak and thumb. My destination was San Francisco, with its vibrant atmosphere and expansive public transportation system. For eight months, I spent my days wandering through The City, too broke to afford the bus, unless I found a discarded transfer on the ground.

Back in LA, I was a personal assistant for eight years. My job unusually entailed driving from one side of town to the next in peak rush hour traffic. Because that’s the kind of grunt work you pay someone else to do if you can afford to pay people to do your grunt work. It was tedious and demoralizing. Especially in summer. During those incalculable hours stuck in gridlock, I would dream about returning to San Francisco and becoming a passenger again.

Ironically, when I did make it back to The City, I ended up driving for hire.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Bay Area Drivers Are the Worst

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Stranger in my Hometown – The “I Drive LA” Edition

This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about my trip to LA.

Over the past week, Trumpmania has made it almost impossible to focus on anything besides the election results, as well as the sobering realization I may be one of those left-coast elites disconnected from the rest of the country.

Completely unrelated, though entirely opportune, I distracted myself from the armchair quarterbacking — and the taxi life — for a couple days with a road trip to Los Angeles.

Even though I’m a native Angeleno, I’ve only gone back to Southern California three times in as many years. These days, I feel more like a stranger in my hometown.

Also, driving a taxi 40 hours a week in San Francisco has no doubt helped shape my perception of the two places, because the differences blew me away immediately.

Read the rest of the column here.

The Daily Trials and Tribulations of a Taxicab

A very cool advert spread for the 1970 Chevrolet taxis:

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images via

The Thin Checkered Line

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For some stupid reason, I still start my shifts at Caltrain these days, even though the construction on 4th Street guarantees I’ll end up snarled in traffic. I guess I’m a creature of habit, but I also know there’ll always be a few people getting off the train who haven’t summoned one of the Uber-Lyfts that make up most of the vehicles in this quagmire on Townsend. 

I inch forward slowly with steadfast determination toward the sanctuary of the taxi stand. After waiting only two minutes, I’m loaded and heading back into the maelstrom. 

I try to squeeze in front of a Lexus, but the driver isn’t giving me any leeway, riding the bumper of a Honda ahead of him. When the light finally turns green, he lays on his horn as I try to get in between him and the Honda. 

“Do you not understand how a taxi works?” I yell out my window and then mutter under my breath. “I hope the next time you’re in a taxi, some asshole prevents your driver from getting you where you need to go.”

I see an opening to the right and, like a running back fighting my way across the line of scrimmage, I seize the opportunity. The PCO directing traffic motions me through the intersection just as the light turns red. 

So long, suckas! 

Read the rest of the column here.

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A San Francisco National Cab taxi at the intersection of Geary and Powell

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The Many Potholes on the Road to Self-Driving Cars

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“You know it’s a good ride,” Juneaux texts me after letting me know he’d gotten a ride to  Palo Alto, “when you’re using cruise control on the way back The City. 

Just as I’m about to respond with “You lucky bastard,” I get flagged by two guys on the corner of Post and Powell.

“Do you know of any strip clubs open this late?” one asks. 

Five minutes later and $50 richer, I drive away from New Century, thinking about the different services we offer as taxi drivers and how difficult it would be to replace the taxi experience with self-driving cars.

Take the four women I picked up earlier that day outside Magnolia on Haight for example. They’re going to the Marriott Maquis. 

“But first we need to see the painted ladies. Is that alright?”

That’s more than alright. A $15 fare turned into a $25 fare, since I obviously had to show them other Victorians in the neighborhood. 

How can you get service like that from a self-driving car? 

Read the rest here.

 

The Passenger is (Not) Always Right

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Nobody knows the streets of San Francisco like cab drivers. Not the cops, the firemen, the bus drivers… Only cab drivers traverse every inch of The City.

Sure, Uber and Lyft drivers cover almost as much ground (save the transit lanes), but with their faces constantly in their phones, following a line in a navigation app, what do they really see? Judging by how most drive, they certainly aren’t looking at the road. 

After a year of working the cabstands outside Mighty and Public Works, I’ve carved particular routes through The City that are, in my mind, efficient, both time-wise and cost-wise.

Since there is little traffic at 3 a.m., I drive as the bird flies, following the map of San Francisco imprinted in my brain and try to hit the timed lights.

When I get a fare out of Public Works, say, going to the Sunset District, I take Fifteenth to Castro, which becomes Divisadero, and turn left on Fell.

This path also works for the Richmond District, except, instead of continuing through the park, I take a right on Stanyan to Fulton.

Easy-peasy.

Out of curiosity, I followed the directions from Public Works to the Sunset District according to Google Maps: Mission to Van Ness, turn left on Hayes, another left at Gough and then a right onto Fell. In the end, this path cost over two dollars more and wasted several minutes.

So fuck you and your GPS, right?

Well, not so fast…

My column in the S.F. Examiner this week is about some of the most annoying passengers: directionally challenged backseat drivers. 

Read it here

 

(screenshot of the MacArthur Maze from Google Maps)

 

And now this, from Jimmy the Cab Driver:

The Taxi You Yield to May Be Your Own

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On the streets of San Francisco, there are three types of drivers: yahoos, slow pokes and cabbies.

After hours and hours and days and days behind the wheel, National 182 is basically an extension of my body. I’m always in complete control of my vehicle, just as I am always in control of my arms and legs.

This week’s column in the S.F. Examiner

Photo by Juneaux