The Yellow Taxicab Kind of Service in 1913

Two ads from the New York Tribune, the first one dated October 20, 1913, and the second, November 17, 1913.

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Living in a Dream World

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about working Salesforce’s annual convention Dreamforce…

On Salesforce Sunday, when 170,000 people descend on San Francisco for Dreamforce, the largest software convention in the world, hope springs eternal in the SFO taxi holding lots. And for once, I’m going to be a part of the action … 

Before embarking on my first, full-fledged attempt to become an airport player, I hover in the shade on Loomis Street, summoning the courage to face the unknown while smoking a final cigarette and chugging an iced coffee. The night before and all that morning, I bombarded Ben and Hester with a flurry of stupid questions. Still feeling ill-prepared, but with the nicotine/caffeine combo surging through my veins, I jump on 101 south, ready to embrace the madness.

As several cabs zoom past me on the freeway, I try to keep up, eventually shadowing one into the garage and through a maze of lines and staging areas.

At first, the whole process seems chaotic, but it’s obviously designed to house 100s of vehicles until they’re ready for service …

From the Entry Lot to the Wiggle and into the Donut, taxi drivers mill around their cabs until whistles start blowing, horns start honking and everyone is shouting, “Go! Go! Go!”

In the Paid Lot, we metaphorically rev our engines and wait for the starter’s whistle. Then it’s show time!

I chase the other cabs down a ramp that leads to the arrival terminals, where passengers stand with luggage.

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After my first successful run, I deadhead back to SFO.

In the Entry Lot, Bobby comes over to my cab. I pepper him with a bunch of stupid questions.

“Don’t worry,” he says confidently. “Just follow the cab in front of you.”

A few minutes later, my row enters the Wiggle, but when the Luxor cab in front of me stops, there’s no room for me to squeeze in. Panicking, I look around, unsure of where to go and waiting for someone to yell at me. Nobody seems to care though.

When a driver finally notices my confusion and shouts directions at me, I thank him profusely.

Later, in the Donut, Bobby walks to my window and chuckles. I point out that following the cab in front of me isn’t always the ideal strategy.

“Man, it’s all good,” he drawls.

By the end of the night, with seven SFO trips under my belt, I’ve become a real airport player …

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Read the rest here.

[Photos by Douglas O’Connor]

Top: The Donut
Middle: The Wiggle
Bottom: Paid Lot

 

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]

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]