Playlists, Profanity and Other Tricks of the Trade

night-on-earth

Originally published on October 16, 2015 in the S.F. Examiner

Tonight I’m all alone in my cab. Although I may not be the only one prowling the streets of San Francisco playing the Modern Lovers, if I don’t get a fare soon, I just might go insane.

It’s still early but I’m a little cranky from waking up at nine in the morning to a cacophony of power tools drilling into concrete and slicing through wood. Coming off my second 12-hour shift in a row, I was tired as hell, but there was no way to sleep through the noise.

In the two years I’ve been in this apartment, I’ve suffered one construction project after another. But that’s the price you pay for living in an “up-and-coming” neighborhood.

I began my shift that afternoon by dialing in a Pandora station based on a playlist of garage and noise rock bands. A proud Luddite, I only recently discovered streaming music through my iPhone. I started with the free service, but once the Lyft ads became overbearing, I upgraded.

As I troll the Embarcadero for a fare, “Astral Plane” segues nicely into Thee Oh Sees.

I don’t get a flag until I’m on Jefferson. Two guys going to the Best Western Americana. About two-thirds into the ride, one of the guys asks me in a German accent why we don’t have partitions like New York cabs.

“Cause we’re fucking friendly in California!” I shout.

My feeble sarcasm doesn’t translate well and we spend the next several blocks in awkward silence as the Wooden Shjips drone on in the background.

So much for taking Late Night Larry’s advice.

Last week, at the National barbeque, Larry was telling me how to break the ice with passengers.

“I ask every person who gets in my cab, ‘How the fuck are you?’ Unless they’re the sophisticated type. Then I ask, ‘How the hell are you?’”

I was dubious about using profanity with my passengers, but several other drivers nodded their heads in agreement.

Even though I’m constantly soliciting tricks of the trade from experienced cab drivers—like creating a soundtrack for the cab—as I head up Seventh Street to see if the Orpheum is breaking, I wonder if they were just pulling my leg this time.

Of course, it’s easy for Larry to pull off a faux-surly attitude with his passengers. He already comes across like a college football coach. Before driving a cab, he was the house dick at the St. Francis. Before that, an MP homicide detective in Vietnam. At some point he was involved in banking.

It’s difficult to keep track of Larry’s myriad adventures and his long history, which began in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, when his family moved to California from St. Louis to start a riverboat company on the American River.

Like most native San Franciscans, nothing shocks Larry. When he tells a story, whether it’s about driving a cab or solving a murder, he punctuates the most gruesome aspects with sadistic laughter.

Or the night he had two pukers and never seemed happier.

“Two!” he shouted gleefully. “In one night! What are the odds? I made an extra $200.00!”

“Yeah, but the puke…” I pointed out.

“Ah, I know how to clean up puke,” he said, brushing away the insignificant detail.

At the Orpheum, I get a short ride to the Hilton, where I pick up a couple going to Ashbury Heights. Then a flag on Divisadero to the Hotel Kabuki.

I cruise down O’Farrell just as the Shannon and the Clams show at the Great American is breaking. With King Kahn and the Shrines blasting, I pull behind a Yellow cab and wait for a like-minded fare.

After the initial wave has dissipated, I watch the remaining concertgoers stand around holding their phones and looking up and down the street for their Ubers and Lyfts. Somebody gets into the Yellow cab in front of me, but I sit empty until it’s just the roadies and me.

I give up and turn left onto Larkin. Outside New Century, I immediately get flagged. A guy climbs into my backseat.

Before he can tell me where he’s going, I turn around and ask him, “How the fuck are you doing tonight?”

taxi-driver-movie-deniro-scorsese-inside-cab

Top photo still from Night on Earth. Bottom photo from set of Taxi Driver via

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