Category Archives: san francisco taxi

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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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 Disgruntled Mr. Judy

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“There’s no hope, I’m telling ya. All that’s left is total destruction.”

Mr. Judy has been ranting since I picked him up at a dive bar in the Mission, where he peddles his wares, and tried to drop him off at another. But as I idle in front, he just sits there, eyeballing the crowd of smokers on the sidewalk.

Randomly, he singles out a girl in ballerina flats and three chuckleheads with matching spectacles and beards fawning over her. “I hate those shoes. They’re awful. Her pants are too tight. And look at that hair … Well, at least she’s the queen of the sausage party tonight.”

“Dude, I think you’re way too judge-y to go in there right now.” I offer to drive him somewhere else, but he just wants to hang out in my cab for a while. Since I’m not feeling very servile myself, I don’t mind driving around aimlessly. At least the meter’s running.

Sensing Mr. Judy’s high level of agitation, I put on some Grateful Dead. In between tirades, he sings along to Jerry, then critiques the bars we pass on our way downtown, describing the owners, the bouncers, the bartenders, the type of clientele and what kind of music they play. His knowledge of watering holes in the Mission is impressive, though it makes sense for a bar-to-bar salesman to know his territory.

Read the rest here.

[photo via]

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.

 

A Fairytale of San Francisco

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It’s Christmastime in San Francisco, and everyone is behaving like dogs. Must be that holiday spirit that compels folks to abandon what little civility they have left these days, along with all those pesky traffic laws.

Behind the wheel of my taxi, I do my best to steer clear of the pent-up motorists as I try to glean a little scratch before they lock the gates at National, the only cab company in The City that gives its drivers Christmas Day off to spend with family. Or get drunk at home alone.

Hey, it’s the thought that counts…

Read the rest of this column about my experiences driving a cab during Christmas here.

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Desperate Times Call for Big Dumb Great Ideas

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about driving a taxi during Thanksgiving weekend… The good, the bad and the turkey. (Spoiler alert: I’m the turkey.)

There wasn’t much to be thankful for over Thanksgiving weekend, as far as driving a taxi… That is, until Colin came up with one of his big dumb great ideas…

On Wednesday night, I’m waiting outside The Box, a literal hole in the wall on Natoma Street next to Tempest that serves up some of the best late night food options in The City. Potato skins with quail eggs, anyone?

As I smoke a cigarette, two guys approach me. The bedraggled one on my right hits me up for change so he can get a slice of pizza. On my left, equally disheveled, some kid from the bar who just wants a light.

“Sorry to bother you…”

“No worries.” I put a flame to the end of his cigarette. “It’s a little weird asking people for things in an alley.”

Next thing you know, we’re talking politics.

“But Hillary’s a bitch!” he declares at one point.

“What’s she ever done to you?” I ask with a condescending chuckle. He’s 27 years old and didn’t even vote.

“Well…”

“Look, the presidential election isn’t a popularity contest. You’re voting for an agenda.”

Like a bell signaling the end of a round, Dre calls out my name from behind the counter. I’m as ready for my food as I am to end this conversation…

I skipped work on Thursday. I was dubious about Friday too, but I did better than I assumed…

Saturday night, out of the sloshed fields of the Mission, I manage to get a decent ride to the Green Tortoise. Three English dudes from Brighton. One of whom forgot his ID.

“Look at him though,” the guy in the middle says. “He’s practically a gaffer. And his jokes are shit. Listen.”

“What did zero say to eight?” the guy asks. “Nice belt.”

Apparently, his bad jokes weren’t persuasive enough to get him into many bars.

They want me to tell my best one liners as we drive to North Beach, but instead I tell them about a ride I had on Friday night…

Around 9 p.m., I’m in the black. First up at the Hilton taxi stand. I’m smoking and talking to some other cab drivers when a guy with luggage walks up.

“SFO?”

“Let’s go!” I throw his bags into the trunk.

Before I even make the corner he tells me in a thick accent, “My plane’s leaving in an hour. Do you think we can still make it?”

“We’ll make it,” I say.

The entire way to the airport, he’s freaking out that he’s going to miss his flight.

“Relax,” I keep saying. “It’ll be okay. By the way, are you carrying marijuana?”

“None at all. Why?”

“You reek of weed.”

“Oh, I’ve been trimming all week. It must be on my clothes.”

I continue to assure him that he won’t miss his plane, neglecting to mention that he’s probably going to get flagged in security. The smell of pot is so strong I’m practically getting a contact buzz.

At SFO, the United terminal is jam-packed. I make some questionable maneuvers to get close enough to drop him off. He hands me three $20 bills. “Keep it.”

“Run like the wind!” I yell after him…

“You think he made it?” one of the Brighton kids ask me.

“No, he probably end up getting anally probed.”

We all laugh.

“That’s so like a trimmer,” one of the guys says.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Do we seem like trimmers?”

“I don’t really judge.”

“Well, we are.”

“That’s cool.”

“We just changed our clothes before we went out.”

“Good job, cause you guys just reek of booze.”

“That was our plan all along.”

“Now that’s funny.”

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Read the actual column here.

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Crackheads are People Too

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is a night in the life of a crack baby…

It’s been a weird night. I’m still waiting to hear back from the lab about my drug test to renew my A-Card, which is about to expire in a few days. In the meantime, my cab has become a mecca for dope deals.

So far tonight, my backseat has hosted transactions of heroin, weed, molly and blow. Hey, it’s San Francisco. Everything’s cool, unless you’re a taxi driver who smokes a little pot during his free time. Then you have to jump through a bunch of regulatory hoops to keep your job…

Bill Graham is breaking. As M83 fans pour out of the auditorium past the metal barricades into the steady rain that hasn’t let up all evening, I wait in the intersection of Grove and Polk for a fare. But there are no takers. I swing around to the Larkin side and strike out there, too.

As I head down Grove, I hear, “Taxi!”

I look around.

“Taxi!”

On the other side of Hyde Street, I see two guys and a girl pushing a stroller with a clear plastic sheet draped over it. They’re flagging every taxi that goes by, even though none have their toplights on.

When they spot me, the mother and her companions cross the street. I pull over and hit my hazards.

A sense of civic duty kicks in. It’s my job to get this family out of the elements. But as they get closer, I realize this isn’t your typical family out for an evening promenade in the pouring rain. They all have scarred faces, missing teeth, hollow eyes and dingy clothes that suggest they spend most of their days sitting on the filthy sidewalks of San Francisco.

I’m beginning to wonder if there’s really even a baby in that stroller.

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Keith Haring said it before Whitney Houston

Read the rest of the column here.

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the accompanying image for this column, btw, is not the recommended method for smoking crack