Category Archives: I Drive SF

Driving with My Good Eye Closed

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I might be cracking up. With a 3-month-old baby who’s already teething, consistent sleep has become a distant memory. And while I can usually navigate the streets of The City as if on autopilot, the synapses that control my sense of direction begin misfiring on Friday night.

My previous shift on Thursday was one of those rare occasions when the taxi gods smiled down on me. In the wet and blustery weather, business was booming. By the end of the night, I was exhausted — and not from the usual boredom and angst, but from actual exertion.

It felt good.

With just a few hours of erratic sleep, though, I’m back in the taxi and not feeling very good at all…

Read the rest here.

 

The Hooligans of Market Street

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about getting accosted by a bunch of kids on Market Street. The situation got pretty tense, but I was able to deescalate things and escape harm.

Interestingly, almost two years ago to the day, I wrote a post for Broke-Ass Stuart.com about taxi drivers getting accosted. I found this passage relevant and still applicable today:

As a new cab driver, I adhere to the principle that taxi driving is an inclusive public service, even though maintaining an open door policy exposes me to certain occupational hazards.  I know the chances of getting robbed or attacked are slim, but the fear still lurks deep in the recesses of my lizard brain.

It’s been over two years since I started driving a taxi and I still maintain an open door policy. Which means I sometimes get in sticky situations, but the alternative – profiling each passenger before I pick them up – is even less appealing.

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With “Hamilton” and “Into the Woods” breaking around the same time, Market Street at 10:50 p.m. is flooded with theatergoers. For taxis, it’s a feeding frenzy. After dropping off a family at the Marine’s Memorial Club, I shoot down Mason for another quick load.

As I turn right onto Market, a girl is standing on the curb with her arm up. Two cabs drive right past her. I pull over.

She opens the back door, turns and yells, “Hey! I got a taxi!”

Upon her exclamation, a group of kids emerge from the shadows and bum-rush my cab.

“Hold up, now!” I shout as they surround me.

The battalion of brats ranges in age, from the full-grown teenagers squeezing themselves into the backseat, to some goofy-looking adolescents pounding on my trunk and climbing onto the roof, to a precocious 9-year-old in the front seat trying to grab everything in sight: my iPhone, the Flywheel phone clipped to the vent, my Square reader and even the dispatch tablet mounted on the dash.

Read the rest of the column here.

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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.

At 2 a.m., there’s only one Jack in the Box

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“Taxi!”

It’s been 20 minutes since the bars let out, and I’m just driving around empty. My eye twitches as I try to locate the source of the call reverberating down Sutter Street. I’m exhausted. Since my ten week old has already started teething, sleep is now an abstract concept.

“Taxi!”

Cater-corner on Powell, a woman is waving. As soon as I acknowledge her, she barges into traffic, prompting me to stop in the crosswalk behind a police cruiser outside Lori’s.

“It’s fucking impossible to get a cab down here,” she says after climbing into my backseat. “Now… where can I get some food?”

“Well, there’s —” I start to take off, but miscalculate the distance between my front end and the back of the police cruiser. Even though it’s just a tap, the cop car jolts forward. My heart jumps out of my chest.

“Anywhere but fucking Lori’s,” the woman snaps.

“Sure…” Fortunately, the cop car is empty. Seizing the lucky break, I drive away. “What about Cafe Mason? Grubstake?”

“Fuck all that. Take me to Jack in the Box.”

As I turn onto Mason, I check my rearview and see a black-and-white SUV make an illegal left off Powell. Oh shit! Did they see anything? My chest starts pounding again.

Meanwhile, the woman is yelling into her phone: “I’m in a fucking taxi! Go to Jack in the Box. Tell your driver… What the fuck do you mean, ‘which one?’ There’s only one!” She hangs up. “Which Jack in the Box … You gotta be fucking kidding me.”

“There’s one on Bayshore and—”

“And one in Bakersfield, too,” she says brusquely, in that distinctive Frisco accent: all daggers, dripping with sarcasm. “Not much good it does us seeing as how we live in Pac-fucking-Heights.”

“Fair enough.” I keep checking my rearview for flashing lights, navigating the congestion of cars and pedestrians in front of Ruby Skye. I pull over next to Jack in the Box, where the sidewalk is teeming with drunken revelers, spectators and hustlers.

“You’ll wait for me, right?” the woman asks, though it doesn’t feel like much of a request.

“Sure.” I’m still preoccupied with justifying my tap and run … It’s not like the cruiser was in pristine condition. If there’s one fleet in The City more rickety than National/Vets, it’s the San Francisco Police Department.

As soon as she walks away, a guy with a pizza box tries to get in my cab.

“I’m waiting for someone,” I tell him nicely through the window. “Grab another one.”

I point towards the row of cabs streaming by on Geary with top lights blazing.

Just then, Hester pulls up in Metro 1557. It looks like he has a load but when the guy goes to his window, he hesitates and wanders back towards me, confused.

“There’s another cab!” I shout as a Flywheel Taxi roll past. “Put your hand out!”

“They’re not stopping,” he complains.

“That’s one’s not a cab. Wait for a second.”

A few seconds later, Hester gets out of his cab and peers into the windows of Jack in the Box.

I join him. “What’s up?”

“I just picked up this girl from New Century who tried to pass a fake C-note. I told her no way, and she got uppity. Said she was going into Jack in the Box to break it and prove me wrong. Left a jacket as collateral. Claimed it was worth $200, but it’s from The Gap.”

“Is she in there now?”

“Nah, she’s probably long gone.”

“So why didn’t you take that guy?” I gesture towards the guy who’s still in the street trying to flag down random cars.

“Him? He’s going to the fucking Marriott.”

“On Sutter?”

“Two blocks. Fuck him.”

“Yeah, fuck him.”

Read the rest in the condensed version here.

[image by Christian Lewis]

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The Wrong Way to Deal with a Prostitute

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It’s obvious that she’s the professional in this situation.

“How fast can you get us back there?” she asks.

“I only go one speed,” I say.

“Well, go faster than that.”

It’s 3 a.m. The streets are gloriously free of traffic. As I’m heading back to Public Works, a man waves me down at 15th and South Van Ness. He isn’t going far, no doubt on his way home from work, when the last few blocks can feel like torture. I pull up to his place on Folsom just as the meter hits $5.15.

“Give me $5,” I tell him.

He hands me a $20. “Make it $10.”

While I’m sifting through my wad of bills, a scantily clad woman approaches my cab and tries to open the back door.

“¡Pinche puta!” the man shouts and slams the door shut.

She looks at me imploringly through the window. I hand the man his change. He exits, spewing more insults in Spanish.

“You don’t have to be rude, Chubby,” the woman says before asking me, “Can we get a ride?”

Beside her is a young Latino carrying a plastic bag in the shape of a 12-pack.

“Sure. Where to?”

“Balboa Park,” the guy slurs. Then he asks me to play music and cracks open a beer.

Read the rest here.

One of the first responses to this column after the Examiner posted it on Twitter was critical of using the word “prostitute.” The person suggested it had negative connotations and I should have used “sex worker” instead.

My first reaction was, isn’t this how Trump got elected? Then I thought, Well, I guess my working title: “The drunk Mexican and the wary hooker” was definitely too insensitive. But prostitute?

Ultimately, this is how I responded.

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Perhaps there is still hope for civil communication on the internet.

The Mysterious Assailants from Chicago

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My column this week is about a “fight” outside a bar in the Mission, told from the perspectives of both participants and witnesses, all of whom were passengers in my taxi. Rashomon on wheels.

On the corner of 16th and Valencia, two guys jump in my taxi going to Molotov’s.

As I take 15th Street to Church Street, one asks the other, “Hey, did you hear about that fight outside Delirium tonight?”

“Tonight?”

“Yeah. Cops showed up and everything.”

“What’s with all the violence in the Mission lately?” his friend wonders.

“These tech bros are out of control,” the first one says. “They make all this money, but it’s not enough to get them laid so they start fights.”

“Losers.”

A short while later, I drop at the 500 Club and pull over on 17th to count my money. Out of the darkness, a guy wobbles toward my cab and climbs into my backseat.

“Do you know where the Orange Village Hostel is?” Young and somewhat bedraggled, he struggles with the door. His right arm is injured, forcing him to reach over with his left.

“What happened to you?” I ask, heading to Union Square.

He snorts. “I was attacked by a bunch of assholes from Chicago.”

“Where were you?” I inquire, thinking about the fight outside Delirium earlier.

“Don’t know. Don’t care. The cops were at least able to see both sides. Even if they were from Chicago, too.”

Chicago?

“I may need to go to the hospital,” he says casually. “But I have to stop by my hotel first. My phone’s dead.”

I offer him a charger.

“It won’t get enough of a charge!” he shouts and then howls in pain.

I look over my shoulder. “Dude! Your arm is completely bent in the wrong direction. You seriously need a doctor.”

“I know that, son!” He barks.

“Hey now!”

“Look, I know this must seem sensational to you, but this isn’t my first rodeo.”

“Whatever.” Just another night driving taxi on the mean streets of San Francisco…

Read the rest of the column here.

Good Fortune is Right Around the Corner

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Now that I think of it, if I could do it over again, the last line of this week’s column for the S.F. Examiner would have read:

“Oh great,” she mumbles snidely as she reaches into her purse. “Lucky me.”

So as to emphasize her visible disdain at having ended up in a taxi.

In fact, the few minutes I interacted with her, when she was conscious, were more noteworthy than I realized last Wednesday afternoon, when I was putting the finishing touches on this column, already an hour and a half past my deadline.

What she actually told me after her address was, “I’ll do whatever you tell me, but I have to sleep now.” Which seemed implausible and surreal at the time. I wasn’t even sure if I heard her correctly.

When she paid me, she dropped her credit card and her wallet, spilling change onto the floorboard, which she never picked up, as well as her phone and her phone charger. I had to get her attention several times to not leave anything behind. Except the coins.

She tipped me 20% and I added the bridge toll. Plus a couple bucks in change -totaled out at a $75 ride. Her Uber probably would have cost a third of that.

I waited until she made it through a wooden gate with a “Beware of Dog” sign. Which seemed odd. Who has a dog you have to be wary of?

Marin County is weird.

Anyway, read the column here.