Category Archives: Faces of Taxi

Taxi Driving is More than a Job

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On this, the occasion of my 100th column, I can’t help but feel somewhat reflective. Almost two years have passed since the San Francisco Examiner gave me an opportunity to tell my stories of The City’s streets in 700 words, give or take. While writing about driving a taxi comes easy, actually driving a taxi can be a real drag sometimes. Particularly on those slow, mind-numbing nights, during excruciatingly slow weeks, in painfully slow months.

Taxi driving is more than a job. It’s a form of punishment for all the bad decisions you’ve ever made. Instead of pursuing the 9 to 5, you became an artist, played in bands, wrote books, traveled or just enjoyed life — all the unrealistic distractions your parents, teachers and guidance counselors said would only lead to poverty that somehow became sustainable through driving a taxi. Until one day, it was no longer viable, once some eggheads created a centralized dispatch app, and the cab companies were too busy squabbling over brand recognition to retain any relevance. But in the stupidity of it all, there was still a sense of freedom.

Taxi driving is still the closest you can get to the swashbuckling adventures of a pirate. With no bosses around and no supervisors breathing down your neck, it’s just you, your cab, the streets and the general public. How you navigate those obstacles is up to you. Even if you don’t have what it takes. Thankfully, the meek get lucky, too.

Read the rest here.

Just Another Night in a Sanctuary City

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I’m inbound on Market. At Guerrero, a Luxor, a Citywide and a Vina are already waiting at the signal. Toplights blazing. When I roll up, two girls charge across the street from the Orbit Room and jump into my cab.

“We’ll be right there,” one screams into her phone. “We just got in an Uber.”

Uhhh …

Later, outside the W hotel, I pull up next to a Citywide. Out of nowhere, a guy makes a beeline for my cab.

“I’m not going far,” he says. “Do you know the Mint Plaza?”

I might feel bad about sideloading if the fares weren’t all crap.

After a futile loop through the Financial, I’m outbound on Sutter. There’s a Flywheel cab in front of me. Toplight on. Which doesn’t mean shit anymore. Even though their fancy new TaxiOS meters are supposed to revolutionize the taxi industry, they still haven’t figured out how to make the toplight go out automatically when they have a fare.

As we approach Stockton, the Flywheel moves to the center lane. I pull up next to him at the light. When the doorman at the Grand Hyatt blows his whistle, my Pavlovian response is to inch forward. I look over at the Flywheel driver. He’s actually empty, glaring at me. I can tell he’s salivating, too.

He may have been in pole position, but he changed lanes. That fare is mine. He’d have to do something cra—. What? He’s got his left turn indicator on? Oh, hell no! I inch forward. He inches forward. I inch forward a little more.

When the light turns green, I gun it and pull up to the hotel with the Flywheel hot on my tail. Sorry, Charlie. I avoid eye contact as he drives away.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

The Lure of Taxi Driving is No Match for a Newborn

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From the pages of the S.F. Examiner:

It’s been more than two weeks since I last drove a taxi. I’ll be on paternity leave for a little while longer, until life with a newborn becomes less of a freak show. Or the money runs out …

I’m not used to taking this much time off. I’m starting to worry I’ll forget how to navigate the maddening streets of San Francisco once I get back to work. I mean, what happens when I pick up my first fare at Caltrain and they’re going to, say, Hyde and Vallejo, and I totally blank on how to get there?

Is cab driving like riding a bike?

Not that it matters. I don’t even know if I can still ride a bike.

In the meantime, I’m on diaper-duty. And between feedings, I cradle little Tèa and entertain her with my best Charles Mingus impression.

Read the rest of the column here.

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Top photo by author. Bottom photo by Christian Lewis.

Winter Storms Bring Winter Babies

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about the birth of my daughter and the prospect of raising a child in the Bay Area as a taxi driver:

In the taxi industry, I’m surrounded by men who’ve raised both daughters and sons in The City, who’ve provided for their families, bought houses, paid for college, and still do, as taxi drivers.

Sure, it’s next to impossible to even imagine now that the profession has been diluted by the egghead sector, i.e., the “tech” community, who believe robots can do any job better, and the millennials who bemoan the lack of decent jobs and yet embrace the systematic dismantling of one decent job after another in their constant pursuit of convenience…

Point all the fingers you want, kiddos, but it’s not the baby boomers who’ve made taxi driving the less than profitable enterprise it once was.

Which is why I thank the stars my daughter was born under Obama’s administration, so we could not just afford maternity care, but qualify for it, through the ACA. Otherwise, what? Google how to give a DIY caesarean?

Read the rest of the column here.

 

Bring on the Self-Driving Ubers

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The news last week that Uber had unleashed a fleet of driverless vehicles in San Francisco — much like the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s recent announcement that Uber and Lyft are causing most of The City’s traffic congestion — was met by the majority of taxi drivers with a resounding: “Uh doy!”

We’ve been seeing these vehicles, as well as others outfitted with antennas and various gadgets, for months. The other day, I drove past an 18-wheeler run by OTTO, a company recently acquired by Uber that’s developing autonomous big-rigs.

Uber’s official roll out last on December 14, however, didn’t go as planned. By that afternoon, someone had photographed one of their self-driving cars almost running into an intersection on Van Ness, and a Luxor cab recorded video of another one blowing through a red light in front of SFMOMA, narrowly missing a pedestrian.

In the media feeding frenzy that followed, Uber blamed the mishaps on human error. OK. But if they can’t train humans to obey traffic laws, what does that say about their ability to create driverless cars?

Personally, I’d much rather share the road with automated vehicles than the typical inexperienced, out-of-town drivers who disrupt the flow of traffic. If Uber’s hiccup of a launch last week proved anything, it’s that the problem really is — in their own words — “the other dude in the car.”

As anyone who has spent a significant amount of time driving in San Francisco can attest, most Uber drivers are totally unpredictable, usually confused and potentially unhinged psychopaths…

Read the rest of this column, including my experience with a crazy Uber driver here.

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Don’t let the door hit you on the way out: Uber’s fleet of self-driving cars leave San Francisco… transported to Arizona, appropriately enough, on semi-autonomous semis.

This column generated some Facebook love:

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Hope is Better than Nothing: A Late Night Larry Story

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner:

“San Francisco is always changing. So are we.”

While I’m idling in gridlocked traffic on Third Street, trying to get my fare to the St. Francis, I read the advertisement on the wooden barricades shielding the construction at Moscone Center. The statement feels more like a threat than the typical “pardon our dust as we make improvements” disclaimer.

It’s hard not to feel uptight when “change” is used in the same sentence as “San Francisco.”

And yet, you can almost watch The City change before your very eyes — like the weather, when the fog rolls in on a sunny day and wraps itself around the top of the Pyramid like King Kong, or you turn a corner and the wind blows so cold you can’t even remember how it feels to be warm…

If you want to live in San Francisco, you have to accept the flux. And those city dwellers who want the urban life and end up displaced by all this change should just accept inevitability and move along, right?

That’s what an advertisement like the one at Moscone Center seems to be saying. Or at least that’s how it feels in a cab yard, after a long shift, when we’re standing around a dormant barbeque grill trying to make sense of what’s become of the taxi industry.

“I still believe things will turn around,” Colin says.

“Something’s gotta give,” Juneaux points out.

“Ah, fuck this… We’re all doomed,” Jesse decrees as he tosses his cigarette and returns to the office.

“It does feel rather hopeless,” I admit.

“Speaking of hope,” says Late Night Larry. “Have I told you guys the one about the male hooker and the missing $100 bill?”

No one turns down a story from Larry …

Read Larry’s story here.

NIGHT ON EARTH