Category Archives: I Drive SF

Mother and Child Confusion

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about a slow night in The City…

Towards the end of my shift last Thursday night, I’m making the final rounds of The City, hoping to encounter a few stragglers. Or an early bird heading to work. My motivation to keep driving, though, is just a force of habit – a reflex. After 10 hours of doing the same thing, it’s hard to stop …

On a slow night, you can hear every rattle in your rattletrap. Figuring out what’s causing those creaks and squeaks, well… that’s a problem best left for another time.

Despite the potential cheer, I can’t be bothered to play music. It’s just the night and me… and all the other empty taxicabs, roaming the misty streets with top lights blazing …

In the Tenderloin, ambulances race through the streets like wailing banshees, their sirens reverberating off the buildings until it’s impossible to figure out where they’re coming from or where they’re going …

At the intersection of Page and Franklin, a guy standing on the corner is bellowing, “I got dope if you got a bubble!”

From down the street, another voice shouts, “Shut the hell up!”

“Fuck you!” the first guy responds. “I’m not even talking to you! I just wanna smoke some dope. Who’s got a bubble?”

“Hey asshole, shut your trap!”

“No, you shut up!” Without missing a beat, he resumes his chant: “I got the dope if you got a bubble.”

When the light turns green I speed away …

Read the rest here.

[Photo by Trevor Johnson]

No Skin off the Meter

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This week’s column for The Examiner is about making money off cold tourists … 

Each afternoon, when the summer fog rolls into The City, so thick it casts a shadow and blots out the skyscrapers downtown, I start looking for cold tourists.

Depending on my location, I prowl the usual hotspots: Fisherman’s Wharf, The Castro, Upper Haight, etc.

Clad in t-shirts, shorts and miniskirts, the shivering out-of-towners are always grateful to see a taxi emerge from the monolithic gloom. And I’m happy to be of service.

The best rides begin with a sense of mutual appreciation. Just as they’re relieved to escape the frigid mist, I’m thankful that plenty of people still come here expecting to find the same weather they left behind in Houston or Atlanta.

It allows me to trot out the frequently misattributed quote about the coldest winter… which pretty much guarantees a laugh. Does it even matter who actually coined the phrase? Or that many folks leave San Francisco thinking they got a ride from the wittiest cab driver around?

Besides entertaining my passengers with anecdotes about weather for manic depressives and bumbling the science behind the omnipresent fog in July and “Fogust,” I take advantage of any opportunity to sell San Francisco out of the back of my taxicab by suggesting a detour. Or two.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

Taxi Driving is Not a Crime

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For several years, while living in Los Angeles, I was a personal assistant for a screenwriter. Except we never used that job title. The guy was staunchly anti-Hollywood and referred to me as “a friend” who occasionally “helped him out.” For money, perks and invaluable life lessons. Such as, “Never become a screenwriter.” Over the course of our “friendship,” I witnessed enough backstabbing and cutthroat Hollywood behavior to heed this advice.

One day I “helped him out” by taking his Cadillac to the dealer. On my way back to his house in the Hollywood Hills, I was maneuvering the land yacht through the narrow, winding roads when his wife came around a bend at high speed and slammed into right me. Surprisingly, her Mini Cooper only had a few scratches on the bumper, but the Cadillac was smashed up pretty bad. Unfazed by the accident, she sped off, saying she had an important meeting but she’d call her husband to explain.

When I got to the house, I wondered what to do next. Should we call his insurance company or mine? Take pictures? Make a report?

“Since I own both cars,” he said, laughing. “It’s like I just punched myself in the face.”

In a way, I was the one who punched him in the face. Or, at least, assisted in the act. But hey, what are friends for?

The next day I took the car to the body shop and within a week it was if nothing had ever happened …

I can’t help but think about this incident — and the semantic artifices — whenever the dispatcher at National hands me a parking citation from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Seeing as how taxi drivers are licensed and regulated by the SFMTA and their logo graces my a-card, it’s not that much of a stretch to view them as a kind of employer. They definitely boss us around, with mandatory drug tests each year and annual permit fees, as well as requiring us to adhere to strict guidelines.

Which is why getting a $110 ticket for following those guidelines can feel like I’ve been punched in the face, and why paying the fine would be the same as doing it to myself.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

Flogging a Dead Taxi Shift

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Two weeks ago, my wife flew to Los Angeles with the baby to spend the week of July 4 at her parents’ apartment in West Hollywood and visit friends and family. After dropping them off at Oakland Airport, I came

home and stood in the kitchen, pondering the list of chores Irina had made for me and thinking about what to do instead, now that the place was all mine for six and a half days. … With some cash in my pocket, a stocked fridge, two packs of American Spirits and a car full of high-octane at my disposal, my options seemed limitless.

My first thought was sleep. Oh, sweet slumber. Long stretches of uninterrupted shut-eye are one of the great luxuries of a childless life. And in between naps, I could relax in the bathtub while reading a book. Then go totally nuts and spread out on the couch in my pajamas. Binge watch all the movies and TV shows people have been talking about lately. Do we still have a Netflix account? Hell, I could sign up for all the on demand services – maybe even get free trials for the month – or just go to Amoeba and buy a stack of cheap DVDs …

Thinking about this possibility for a few minutes, though, it occurred to me that sleeping and watching TV was a complete waste of my temporary bout of bachelordom. I needed to take full advantage of the solitude and do something else that’s even more difficult to do with a baby around: write.

By the time Irina and the baby get back, I could probably finish editing the text for the new Behind the Wheel zine, most of which is already written, and perhaps fine-tune the layout and have the zine ready for the printer at the end of the month.

Not only a brilliant use of the free time, a huge accomplishment as well. It’s been over two years since the last issue came out.

Mind settled, I glance at Irina’s list of chores, crumple up the paper and toss it onto the table. How’s that for expressing my freedom?

Grabbing my smokes and a hoody, I go out back to make a list of which sections of the zine need to be edited, what parts need to be rewritten and what’s completed.

Thirty minutes later, back in the kitchen, I’m smoothing out the wrinkles on Irina’s list and getting ready to head to the National yard, where 233 is waiting for me.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

What Would Herb Caen Say?

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It may seem impressive: On this Facebook group alone, my column last week garnered 544 Facebook reactions, 332 comments, 44 shares… You’d almost think that these numbers led to a higher than usual page count for my column this week, factoring in my other promotional efforts on Facebook and Twitter… But that wasn’t the case at all.

Once I started reading the comments on the post in San Francisco Remembered, it was obvious the group members weren’t clicking the link, just sharing their memories and feelings about Herb Caen and how they think he’d view The City today. Had they read the column, though, they’d see that Herb Caen was discussing the same issues we’re dealing with now in the early 1960s. That’s what I meant by “My discoveries may surprise you…”

Whatever. More than anything, I just wanted to get that question out there and see how people would respond.

To see what Herb Caen might say, click here.

Everything Will Be Illuminated

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I’m rolling through the Bayview on Jerrold, heading back to the Mission after dropping at Third and Newcomb, when the order goes out over the radio.

“11th and Folsom. Drivers, 11th and Folsom.”

Artur repeats the cross streets for several minutes, his voice becoming increasingly irate.

“11th and Folsom, drivers,” Artur pleads. “C’mon! Someone go pick him up!”

I grab the mic. “This is 233. I’m by the yard but can probably get there in 10 minutes.”

“Thank you, 233. Go to 320 11th Street.”

Since rush hour is on the make, I figure Rhode Island over Potrero Hill is my best bet. I down-shift and take the inclines with gusto.

Despite making great time, there’s gridlock on Division. And forget about making a right onto 11th at Bryant. So Harrison it is.

After finally getting through the intersection at 11th, I flip a U-ey in front of Slim’s and pull up to the address.

A few minutes later, a guy emerges from the liquor store. He’s on crutches. His clothes are in tatters. There’s a giant cast on his left foot that looks like a kindergartener’s papier-mâché project gone awry. And he’s holding a gas can.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]