Category Archives: I Drive SF

Waiting for the Orpheum to break…

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Last week I get a text from Colin: “Wholly shit; I’m doing homework for the first time in a decade, putting Open World, Dreamforce, Castro Street Fair in schedule.”

Holy shit, times sure have changed. Back when I always made sure to know what convention was at Moscone, what shows were at the theaters and who was playing at the concert venues, Colin would snicker and call me “cute” for “being such a good rookie.”

Now that he’s embraced the new way of taxi driving, Colin isn’t just queuing outside hotels, Davies Hall and the War Memorial, he’s preparing for what to expect.

Of course, there are times when it pays to do your homework. Like last Thursday, when a bunch of clueless cab drivers were staging outside the Masonic and complaining about not getting any fares – they might not have wasted their time at the Nob Hill concert hall if they knew about the night’s headliner, Harry Styles. People who pay to see a former boy band singer are not as likely to take a taxi after the show as those who go to the opera, where about thirty people waited desperately for a ride home.

I heard the whistles on Franklin before even turning onto Grove.

After taking my fare from the War Memorial to the St. Francis, I head to the Orpheum, where “An American in Paris” is about to break, and line up on Hyde Street.

A few minutes later, the side doors open and the audience pours out into the night. I wave a man and a woman forward. He opens the door and she gets in first. Tells me their destination:

“The Ritz.”

I hit the meter and maneuver through the surge of vehicles quickly descending on the area.

As I turn right onto Larkin, the man comments on City Hall, awash in multicolored lights.

“What are the colors for? The flag?”

“I think it’s to commemorate the Folsom Street Fair this weekend,” I suggest, even though the colors aren’t exactly the same as the rainbow colors usually associated with the LGBT community.

“What street fair?” he asks.

“Folsom. It’s a celebration of…” I hesitate, unsure how to explain the festival to mixed company.

The woman beats me to it. “Folsom Street Fair is a leather and bondage event,” she explains.

“Oh,” the man replies.

“Yeah. They’re expecting over 200,000 attendees. I haven’t looked forward to seeing a bunch of hot, sweaty half-naked dudes this much since I used to watch WWF wrestling religiously.”

After trying to take a selfie with City Hall is the background, the couple asks how my night has been going. There’s not much to report.

“So, is driving a cab your only job in The City?” the woman asks.

“I also, uh… write.”

“Oh, what do you write?” the man wants to know.

“Besides other things, I write a weekly column for the Examiner about driving a taxi.”

“You want a story?” the man asks with a chuckle. “I could tell you my name.”

“Let’s not do that!” the woman chides him.

I glance in the rearview but it’s too dark to make out his face clearly. “What’s your name?”

He laughs again.

“Come on,” she insists. “We’re almost to the hotel.”

Read the rest here.

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San Francisco is no way to treat a human

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“Sometimes I just want to scream, ‘Has everyone lost their goddamn minds?’”

Considering the windows or my taxi are rolled down, and we’re sitting at a red light on Market Street, I think to myself: You kind of did. But this is no time to split hairs. My fare is currently explaining the politics of flipism.

“That’s how shit gets done in San Francisco.” He clears his throat. “They use a Magic 8-Ball. ‘Should we anchor this high-rise condominium to the bedrock?’ Someone shakes the 8-Ball. ‘My sources say no.’ Then, the person in charge goes, ‘OK, fellas. You heard the Magic 8-Ball.’”

The guy has been shouting at the back of my head since I picked him up on a radio order. We began this journey from the Inner Richmond to AT&T on the agreed-upon circuitous route of California to Presidio to Bush to Octavia to Post to Hyde to Market (!) to Fourth and then, “Just drop me at the train station. I’ll walk the rest of the way so I can suck down a few cigarettes before the game.”

Read the rest of the column here.

Hell is other cab drivers

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I never thought having a child would help me deal with driving a taxi. But the shrieking of an infant reminds me of those impatient cab drivers who use their horns to communicate …

A few weeks ago, I’m lining up on Market Street waiting for the Orpheum to break.

Several cabs have already queued. I pull behind an unmarked SUV with its hazards on. I don’t know if it’s an Uber, so I keep my distance. A Flywheel cab gets behind me and starts blowing his horn. Several taps at first, but then he really lays on it.

Is he honking at me? I wonder. And if so, why?

Finally, the guy gets out walks to the front of my cab. He starts gesturing at the space between the SUV and me. In broken English, he tells me to pull up. I try to explain that I don’t know what the SUV is going to do and want to avoid getting stuck. But he keeps shouting at me, so I just move up grudgingly.

He bellyaches all the way back to his cab.

A few minutes later, the show lets out, and people start getting in cabs.

The Flywheel driver, who doesn’t seem to know how to work the theaters, starts blowing his horn again and trying to get around me on the left. I see people get into the taxis in front of the SUV, which, predictably, doesn’t move. As a couple heads for my cab, the Flywheel is angled on my left so that when a lady tries to get into his cab, he’s too far away and she gets into the Fog City behind him.

I hit reverse to move around the SUV to escape the melee.

When it comes to an 8-month-old, screaming pretty much gets the desired result. According to baby experts, she doesn’t understand “No!” yet and, well, we really don’t want our neighbors to hate us too much. For taxi drivers who use their horns to communicate, though, it doesn’t always pay…

Read the rest here.

Disrupting the Disruptors?

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about the recent decision to give the money in the Driver Fund to the cab drivers, app-based transportation and marketing…

It’s hard not to feel like my taxi driving days are numbered. Hell, the entire industry seems doomed. As things continue to go from bad to worse, Green Cab started a GoFundMe campaign this week to crowdfund the $30,000 they need to stay in business, while the SFMTA plans to divvy up $4.7 million among 5,000 cab drivers to the tune of $400 to $900 each, based on seniority.

So what am I going to do with my “windfall?” Pay off my backbook at National? Buy a couple cartons of cigarettes? Wipe my ass with four crisp $100 bills?

Not to be rude, but using the Taxi Driver Fund as a retirement package is shortsighted and stupid. Even if I were to get the same share as a 30-year veteran, my rent is $1,700 a month. It’ll take more than a few hundred dollars to offset my financial problems.

When they mail the checks, they should write in the memo line, “Thanks for nothing, chump!”

Personally, I voted to spend the Driver Fund on advertising. Which may seem just as stupid, since taxis are repeatedly called a “legacy” industry, as if they’re already obsolete. But the only difference between an Uber/Lyft vehicle and a taxi is a color scheme and a phone number painted on the side. Oh, and centralized dispatch.

Uber and Lyft didn’t disrupt taxis, they disrupted the taxi companies that resisted centralized dispatch and made no effort to provide consistently good customer service. Brag about fingerprinting all you want, but if you can’t prevent a driver from kicking an old lady to the curb because she wants to use a credit card, you’re going to lose your customers once a better option is available.

Read the rest here.

The Long Rocky Road to Buster’s

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Christian started it. That picture he posted on Facebook of his cab outside Buster’s triggered a hankering for a Buster’s Burger that I couldn’t satisfy with just one. Or two. Or even three. Pretty much any fare to North Beach over the past few weeks was an excuse to hit up Buster’s …

Last Friday night, after dropping at The Boardroom, I make a beeline to Columbus and Vallejo, hoping for rock-star parking at the green meter on the corner.

When I get there, an SUV is hogging the space and part of the red curb next to the fire hydrant, preventing me from squeezing in without blocking the crosswalk.

I consider giving up, but my Buster’s craving is too strong. I go around the block searching for another spot, then head to the Vesuvio taxi stand, which, fortunately, isn’t overrun by Uber drivers.
Just as I’m getting back into my cab, two guys approach me.

“Are you available?” the first one asks, opening my back door.

“Sure,” I say, thinking, Well, the fries are usually hot as hell anyway.

“We’re going to Parc 55,” the first guy tells me. “The address is — ”

“Parc 55,” I reply, cutting him off. “I got ya.”

“See, he knows where he’s going,” the other guy playfully chides his companion.

I take a right on Pacific and head down Stockton. As the cab bounces and jerks over a battle zone of potholes, buckled asphalt and metal plates, I apologize for the rough terrain.

“Does San Francisco have many streets that are in bad shape like this?”

I can’t help but laugh. “I’ve driven on dirt roads that were smoother than most of these streets.”

“Are there certain ones you intentionally avoid?”

“There are plenty of streets I’d like to avoid, but it’s almost impossible since so many are ripped to shit.”

“What are some of the streets you think are in the worst condition?” he asks.

I rattle a few off the top of my head: Van Ness, Haight Street, Broadway and Fourth Street.

“Potrero was a total shit show for like five years,” I add. “But they finally repaved it, although there’s still a stretch between Division and 17th that’s a complete suspension killer.”

When they ask me to spell out Potrero, I realize they’re writing them down.

[Keep reading…]

The thin checkered line revisited

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An Argument on Wheels

The other night I’m transporting a bouncer from The Fillmore to his apartment on Leavenworth. We’re inbound on Post when an Uber/Lyft in front of me hits the hazards and comes to a sudden stop.

I slam on my brakes and look in my side mirror. There’s a motorcycle in the other lane but I seem to have enough space to move over.

The biker, however, disagrees. He beeps his tiny horn and screams at me, “Watch out, motherfucker!”

At the light, I roll down the passenger window to apologize but the biker can’t hear me and most likely assumes I’m just talking shit.

He’s keeps yelling, “Motherfucker! You better watch your ass! I’ll fuck you up, motherfucker!”

It’s an honest mistake, but the guy acts like I’ve committed a capital crime and should be dragged out of my cab and pummeled into hamburger meat on the asphalt.

Now I’m sure the biker’s anger had more to do with the fact that I’m driving a taxi than anything else. Whenever there’s an altercation on the road and blame must be incurred, the easiest target is always the taxi. Not the fucking idiot Uber/Lyft driver who could have easily pulled into an open space to drop his passenger but chose instead to impede traffic since they don’t drive with common sense and just follow GPS directions. They’re not in a taxi, though. Despite the small, barely perceptible Uber and Lyft placards in their windows, they resemble any other vehicle. So they get a pass.

The taxi, though, is the idiot mucking up traffic…

As someone who drives a regular vehicle in the city as well as a taxicab, I’ve noticed over the years how different the two experiences are and how other drivers treat you when you’re driving a cab.

People seem to have this innate hatred of taxis based on the stereotypes that we’re filled with road rage, drive like maniacs and have no respect for anyone else on the road.

In reality, taxi drivers, who log 40+ hours a week behind the wheel, are some of the better drivers on the road.

Along with all the other difficulties of transporting people in an urban environment, there’s the constant disdain from the general public that never once considers the struggles we go through everyday trying to earn a living driving on the mean streets of San Francisco. Which is the topic for this week’s revisited * column…

Read it here.

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* Revisited from a column published last year.