Nice Taxi Drivers Finish Last

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It’s last call and I’m in the Castro. Since there’s space in the Bank of America taxi stand, I pull in behind a Luxor. The line moves slowly at first but soon all the cabs in front of me are loaded and I’m on deck.

A guy opens my back door.

“How’s it going?” I ask.

He just grunts. Obviously not in a great mood. Whatever.

In a thick accent, he gives me an address. I don’t recognize the street and ask him to repeat it. Then spell it.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asks, curtly. “Do I need to get another taxi?”

“Can you just tell me a neighborhood so I can get a general idea of where we’re going?”

“Portola,” he says.

The way he pronounces “Portola” sounds like the street, but when I turn left on 18th, he tells me I’m going in the wrong direction.

“You said ‘Portola’,” I point out.

“Oh God,” he exclaims. “Portola District.”

“Okay.” That’s not how I’m used to hearing the neighborhood pronounced, but who am I to argue with a native Spanish speaker? I take a right on Collingwood and head to Market.

“I can’t believe you don’t know where you’re going!” His tone is nasty. “I thought you have to know the streets to drive a taxi.”

“I can’t identify every one block street in The City,” I reply calmly, trying to diffuse the situation.

“Well, then put it in your fucking phone!” he snaps.

Even though he’s being unpleasant, I type his address into Google Maps. Just as I suspected, it’s a tiny street between Third and Bayshore off 101.

In between his annoyed sighs, I confirm the route and head towards Duboce Avenue.

The guy continues to mumble insults. “I can’t believe you drive a taxi. You don’t even know what you’re doing.”

“That’s it!” Conjuring Late Night Larry, I pull over to the curb and shout, “You’re out!”

“What are you doing?”

“Ride’s over.” I turn off the meter. “Find another cab.”

“No! You’re driving me home!”

“Then stop being mean!”

Read the entire column here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

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The SFMTA Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack

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“Well, there’s no point is crying over spilt cocaine,” I say with a nervous chuckle, even though no one else in the taxi seems to share my humor at the situation.

The guy up front looks at me aghast while the two in back unleash a salvo of invectives as they make a futile attempt to scrape up the loose powder.

This is obviously not the time for jokes.

Apologizing, I hit the dome light and look in the back. There’s white powder all over their pants, the seat around them, their shoes and the floorboard.

Uhhh… “That’s not good.”

Just moments before the three guys got into my taxi in a celebratory mood. They even asked permission before snorting their drugs, which was thoughtful, since most passengers never inquire if I have a policy on consuming illegal substances before doing blow in my backseat. At least once or twice a night I have to brush cocaine residue off the leather interior…

A few rides later, I comment on the previous coke explosion to another set of happy passengers.

“I really hope this isn’t going to influence the drug test I have to take next week,” I add, jokingly. “It would just be my luck that some of the airborne molecules permeated my mucus membranes.”

Read the entire column here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

The SFO Open Lot Feeding Frenzy

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What am I doing at the airport? According to Ben this is where taxi drivers go when they’ve lost all hope. As I idle in a long line of taxis, my initial optimism rapidly dissipates.

I’m not even sure if this line goes anywhere. For all I know, it could lead to the exit.

I try to find a familiar face. Someone to ask, “Am I in the right place?”

The drivers around me are focused, collectively champing at the bit.

When the line moves a little, the promise of a paying fare is restored. But it’s fleeting and movement grinds to a halt.

Then the honking starts. Haphazardly as first, until it reaches a furious crescendo.

Why are they blowing their horns? There’s no indication anyone is responsible for the hold up, so what’s the point of laying on the horn?

This is open lot.

Between 12:45 a.m. to 6 a.m., taxis entering SFO aren’t required to pay the usual fee. And you don’t have to wind through the various holding lots that drivers affectionately call the Donut, the Loop and the Wiggle. None of which are as exciting as their names imply.

During open lot, you drive right up to the terminal.

Even though I’ve never worked the airport in almost three years of taxi driving, last Thursday, I decided to try my luck with open lot.

Read the entire column here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

The Example of the Working Woman

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It’s Thursday night. After dropping at Bayside Village, I contemplate my next move, blasting Ty Segall while barreling aimlessly into the night. 11th Street or home to Oakland? What shall it be?

Then my Flywheel phone goes off.

850 Bryant. I assume the Hall of Justice but spot two women standing outside the AutoReturn on Seventh, one waving her phone furiously.

I pull up and confirm the name. “Diane?”

“Yes, that’s me,” the first one tells me. “Can you to take my friend to Berkeley on my account?”

“Sure, no problem.”

The other woman gets in the backseat and Diane asks if it’s possible to order another cab through the app.

“No, but I’ll get you a cab.”

I call in the order on the dispatch radio and offer to wait. The streets are empty and she’s too well dressed for the occasion.

“My friend really needs to get home,” Diane tells me. “I’ll be fine.”

I glance in the rearview. Had I picked them up outside a restaurant, theater or trendy cocktail lounge, I wouldn’t have blinked. But under the freeway at midnight, they’re as incongruous as it gets.

“You sure?” I ask one last time.

After giving me an address, the woman in back sighs.

“Rough night?” I inquire, heading up the I-80 onramp.

“I just had the craziest experience of my life.”

I point out we’ve got 20 minutes or so ahead of us.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Read the entire column here.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

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That’s Powell at Bush. This shithead taxi driver has either gone rogue or he’s a recently deactivated Uber/Lyft driver who thinks cabs can drive on any red carpet in The City. Newsflash: they can’t. That’s a Muni-only lane for the cable car.

There Will be Traffic – The Lyft Guarantee

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Lyft sends out a postcard invitation to drivers across the region: come to San Francisco and flood the streets with your incompetent driving. Oh yeah. What could go wrong?

Read here.

 

When the night strikes back

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The first week of October was hot. There was something in the air.

First it was F/A-18 Hornets screeching through the skies above The City for Fleet Week. Then smoke and ash from the fires up north, making it difficult to breathe even with all the windows shut tight.

On the 5th, it was the Harvest Moon.

As if through cosmic intervention, I had one of the worst taxi shifts ever.

The whole day was one mishap after another: losing my phone, missing my train and not finding a cab at 24th and Mission, forcing me to walk in direct sunshine to the cab yard…

Things got crazy. And crazier. But that’s the way it goes in San Francisco.

Read some of the insanity here.

 

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