Category Archives: San Francisco Under Siege

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

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When it’s raining, people like to complain. As if, once the waterworks start, you can’t hold back the deluge …

Heading to the Dogpatch down 16th Street, I take full advantage of the new taxi/bus lanes, while the girl behind me talks about growing up in San Francisco.

“I remember being a kid and going to my grandparents’ house,” she says. “Right where you’re taking me now. 16th was a completely different street back then. My grandfather built the house right after the earthquake and fire in 1906. Over the years, the area got worse, but he never left. Since then, it’s all changed, and I often wonder what he would think of what’s become of this neighborhood …”

She takes a long pause. It’s hard to know what to say. As the windshield wipers scrape across the glass, I look around at the ultramodern condos, the state-of-the-art UCSF Medical Center and children’s hospital and, looming in the distance, the menacing shell of the new Warriors stadium in mid-construction.

What do you say about unbridled progress?

“I’m sure he would have hated it,” she asserts.

Read the rest here.

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Ed Lee’s Legacy of Grievances

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“San Francisco is a white-collar crime,” the woman in the back of my taxi says, in a machine gun-like monologue. “And Ed Lee is — was — one of the main culprits. It was Ed Lee who sold us out to the tech companies, turning The City into a playground for the rich.”

It seems like the only notable conversations I have in my cab anymore that aren’t long winded jeremiads are the ones that don’t involve politics. Or millennials. Or tech. Or San Francisco.

“Don’t get me wrong though … I didn’t want Ed Lee dead. Just out of office. Or in jail. He should have gone down after the Shrimp Boy case …”

When I pull up to the woman’s building at Bush and Jones, she hands me a $20 bill.

“So yeah … you won’t see me wearing a black armband anytime soon,” she says, as if there’s a moral obligation to mourn the untimely death of the mayor.

Granted, over the past few weeks, there have been countless public memorials, but the majority of the people I talk to in my cab haven’t changed their tunes.

Despite Willie Brown’s observation in his column for the Chronicle last week:

Everyone on all sides of the political spectrum has something nice to say about the guy. Everyone, that is, except the taxi drivers. They still blame Ed for the flood of Uber and Lyft cars that are killing their livelihoods.

Turns out, taxi drivers aren’t the only San Francisco not mourning the death of Lee …

From Bush and Jones, I meander through the Tenderloin and end up at the scene of the crime.

Inside City Hall, several hundred Google developers are having their corporate holiday party. A typical frock-and-jock event, the guys wear the usual business casual, and the women are decked out in festive evening gowns. Slowly, in their high heels, they cascade down the steps, past the assemblage of bouquets and wreaths laid out in remembrance of Lee.

Outside, on the Polk Street side, an ad hoc cabstand is forming.

While the partygoers gather and wait with their phones out like Geiger counters, a bunch of Hackers gather outside our cabs to kvetch about how slow business has been this holiday season.

“Every year, it just gets worse …”

“I just don’t know what I’m going to do, man,” Icarus says. “I have to get out from under this debt. It’s killing me!”

Saddled with a $250,000 loan for a worthless medallion, Icarus works five days a week just to make the monthly payments.

“Am I supposed to declare bankruptcy over this and run my credit until I’m 60 years old?”

Things aren’t any better for Hester.

“I’d be doing so much better as a gate-and-gas driver.”

“Ed Lee ruined my life.”

“Maybe the Credit Union will step in and take these medallions back.”

Just days after Lee’s passing, KPIX ran a story about the San Francisco Credit Union suing The City over defaulted medallion loans because the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency did nothing to stop the illegal taxis that flooded the streets. And since The City is in the business of selling taxi medallions for $250,000, maintaining the value of those medallions would seem like a no-brainer.

Not so in Lee’s San Francisco, where, by his proclamation, every July 13 is Lyft Day.

It’s actions like these that helped feed the rumor, mostly spread among taxi drivers, that Lee’s daughter is an investor in Lyft, or works at Lyft or has some connection to the company. Whether or not that rumor is true doesn’t matter. The damage has been done. And there’s no going back now …

Read the full column here.

Where Have All the Good Rides Gone?

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Without the fireworks and traffic along The Embarcadero, last Sunday night would have felt like any other weekend night. That it was New Year’s Eve only seemed incidental…

By midnight, I’ve already forgotten about the holiday. Walking into the Hilton on O’Farrell, I’m taken aback by the small but rowdy crowd in the bar/reception area counting backwards.

In the restroom, it hits me.

“Oh yeah,” I say aloud, my voice echoing off the tile.

I’m not alone though, as a flushing toilet drowns out the cheers from the lobby.

Back on the street, the doorman at the Nikko flags me and deposits an older couple in my backseat.

“What’s going on?” the gentleman in the leather suit asks me.

“It’s the New Year,” I reply.

“Yes.” He laughs. “But where are all the people?”

“Still home for the holidays?” I suggest.

They’d been at Bix, where they’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve for the past 20 years.

“We always book months ahead of time,” he says. “But this year, the bar was only half full.”

“It was very odd,” the woman adds. “We left early, thinking the traffic would be dreadful.”

Ahead of us, Market Street is wide open, hardly a vehicle on the road and barely a soul on the sidewalk.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

The Example of the Working Woman

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It’s Thursday night. After dropping at Bayside Village, I contemplate my next move, blasting Ty Segall while barreling aimlessly into the night. 11th Street or home to Oakland? What shall it be?

Then my Flywheel phone goes off.

850 Bryant. I assume the Hall of Justice but spot two women standing outside the AutoReturn on Seventh, one waving her phone furiously.

I pull up and confirm the name. “Diane?”

“Yes, that’s me,” the first one tells me. “Can you to take my friend to Berkeley on my account?”

“Sure, no problem.”

The other woman gets in the backseat and Diane asks if it’s possible to order another cab through the app.

“No, but I’ll get you a cab.”

I call in the order on the dispatch radio and offer to wait. The streets are empty and she’s too well dressed for the occasion.

“My friend really needs to get home,” Diane tells me. “I’ll be fine.”

I glance in the rearview. Had I picked them up outside a restaurant, theater or trendy cocktail lounge, I wouldn’t have blinked. But under the freeway at midnight, they’re as incongruous as it gets.

“You sure?” I ask one last time.

After giving me an address, the woman in back sighs.

“Rough night?” I inquire, heading up the I-80 onramp.

“I just had the craziest experience of my life.”

I point out we’ve got 20 minutes or so ahead of us.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Read the entire column here.

There Will be Traffic – The Lyft Guarantee

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Lyft sends out a postcard invitation to drivers across the region: come to San Francisco and flood the streets with your incompetent driving. Oh yeah. What could go wrong?

Read here.

 

The Outside Lands Transportation Shit Show

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On my way to the city to work Outside Lands

I just completed my fourth Outside Lands as a driver, which prompted me to reevaluate my previous reportage on working the three day music festival in Golden Gate Park. 

My first OSL was in 2014 as an Uber/Lyft driver. I covered that experience here.

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My second OSL was in a taxi and I wrote about it here

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Since I didn’t publish anything about my third year working Outside Lands in 2016, I searched my computer for any notes I may have written and found this:

The tide is turning as anti-Uber backlash surges…

Passengers are starting to realize that Uber and Lyft drivers, the majority of whom aren’t from the area, are creating most of the traffic congestion in The City, especially during major festivals.

That’s what happened during Outside Lands.

I wasn’t making any money driving people home from the festival. With all the congestion getting back to the park for another load, it just wasn’t worth my time…

Next week, my column will be about working Outside Lands for the fourth time. And no, it’s not going to be pretty…

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An Accidental Tub-thumper

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In this week’s column for the S.F. Examiner, I pick up a family who’s exposed to San Francisco’s ugly side on 6th Street, AKA, the Dirty Six. Instead of letting them think the worst, I try to help them understand the consequences of the city’s epic income disparity.

As I wait for the light to change at Mission, a bedraggled woman on the corner is flailing her arms and bitching out the sky.

“Oh my god.” The lady behind me gasps. “What’s wrong with her?”

As I continue down, she points out the motley cast of characters hanging out on the sidewalks and expresses shock at the various displays of mental illness.

“How close are we to your neighborhood?” she asks her son. “I’m really not comfortable with you living around all this squalor.”

“It’s not my neighborhood,” he replies with obvious annoyance.

“It doesn’t look safe here at all,” she intones.

“Mom, I never even come down here!”

As they go back and forth on how much danger she thinks he’s being exposed to, despite his protestations, I feel the need to interrupt. Not that I’m feeling like much of a booster for San Francisco these days, but … someone has to do it.

Read the entire column here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]