Category Archives: San Francisco Under Siege

Requiem for Valencia Street

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The City is dead.

It’s barely midnight, and half of the bars in the Mission are already shuttered. Most of the late-night taquerias as well. Even the line at El Farolito is barely out the door.

There isn’t much left to do but ride the green wave down Valencia Street and blast Galaxie 500 as an Uber tailgates me. Probably wants to race up to the red light, slam on his brakes and then speed off to the next intersection. ’Cause that’s what they do.

I could easily pull over and let him get on with his exercise in futility while I practice my own, but the lo-fi psychedelia pouring out of my speakers has me in a tranquil headspace. Ah, who am I kidding? I just really love annoying Uber drivers.

Not that I should harbor so much animosity toward these poor schmucks who don’t yet know they’re getting screwed. One day, they might figure out the system is rigged against them.

Slowly, the public is becoming aware that taxi drivers aren’t the only ones getting screwed anymore. As the wave of anti-Uber/Lyft backlash continues to surge, the people of San Francisco are realizing they’re also getting the proverbial big one up the you-know-what.

It seems the only people benefiting from the proliferation of scab cabs are the passengers who use these services. Of course, they’re usually skulked down in the backseat with their phones in front of their faces, willfully oblivious to the problems their transportation choices create, so who knows what they think …

Read the rest here.

Getting Higher Radio Interview

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On Dec. 1, 2016, I was a guest on the Getting Higher Radio podcast, hosted by AJ Cook and Jon Foreman. We had a rowdy conversation about taxis, drugs, politics and life in San Francisco.

Check it out here.

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The Goons Come Out in the Rain

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about driving in the rain with the Keystone Kops on parade…

The rain brings out the madness normally only seen during natural disasters. After all, this is California, where even the faintest hint of precipitation threatens the already thin veil of civility. And once it really starts pouring … well, then all bets are off …

I’m driving westbound on North Point when an SUV pulls up alongside me, also going westbound. There’s an Uber symbol in the window. When the light turns green, I keep pace, curious when he’s going to realize he’s driving on the wrong side of the road. As we approach Larkin, another SUV is traveling eastbound. Also an Uber. The original SUV, oblivious that he’s doing anything out of the ordinary, even though there’s a vehicle heading straight toward him, maintains his trajectory until both SUVs stop, face to face, and try to determine who has the right of way…

Later, I’m heading north on Sixth Street when I encounter an accident in front of Monarch. A Prius nailed a Porsche. Based on the positions of the vehicles, it looks like one of the drivers made an illegal left onto Mission. The accident is bad enough the cops showed up. As I’m trying to get through the light, a Lyft driver is waiting in the intersection, left blinker flashing. Once the rain lets up for a moment, I pull into the taxi stand at The Palace for a smoke break. Before I get out, though, a woman comes out of the hotel and gets into the front seat of my cab.

“Do you know the bar Kells?”

“Sure.”

Judging by her accent, she’s Australian, which explains why she’s in the front seat.

On the way to North Beach, she tells me an Uber driver had groped her earlier.

“What?” I’m aghast. “Did you call the police?”

“Yes. And I emailed Uber and my lawyer,” she says. “That bastard is gonna regret messing with me.”

“Were you in the front seat?” I inquire.

Of course she was. She’s Australian. I feel like an asshole pointing out that most Americans don’t sit up front in taxis or Ubers. Because, in an ideal world, women should be able to sit wherever the fuck they want to in a car. But this is America. Trump’s America…

Around 2:30 a.m., I’m heading down Van Ness. At Mission, two guys flag me.

The first one opens the front door.

“It’s better in the back,” I say.

“He rides shotgun,” the other guy snarls. “That’s his thing.”

“We’re going to Golden Boy,” Mr. Shotgun tells me. He seems less drunk than his friend.

“Must be nice, getting paid to drive recklessly through The City,” the guy in back says.

“That’s pretty much my job description.” I make a hard right onto Pearl and rumble over the brick pavement to Market Street.

“You know where you’re going?” he slaps the back of my seat. “We need ’za!”

“Is Golden Boy even still open?” I check my phone at the light. “Nope.” Closed one minute ago.

They seem dumbfounded by this turn of events. I suggest Escape from New York on Polk Street. But they’re closed, too.

“What about the pizza places on Geary?”

No, they don’t want Geary pizza.

“Where’s home?” I ask.

The Presidio.

“So Pizza Orgasmica then?”

As we careen over the hills on Franklin, the guy in back applauds my driving and knowledge of pizza joints. I can almost sense what’s going to happen next.

When we reach Pizza Orgasmica, both guys start to exit the cab.

“Hey, you have to pay me for the ride,” I point out.

“What do you mean?” the guy in back asks. “This is Lyft.”

“Man, this is the furthest thing from Lyft.” I point at the meter, which reads $12.30.
“That’s some false representation,” he slurs. “You’re a real asshole, you know that?”
“So you don’t like me anymore?”

“I never liked you. Dan, fuck this guy. Don’t pay him.” He jeers at me. “Fuck you!”

“Fuck you too, dickhead.” I laugh some more. We’re just having fun. Locker room talk.

His eyes are enraged, like he’s about to get violent.

Dan gives me a ten and a five.

“Change back?” I ask.

“Yeah, change back, asshole,” the guy in back seethes.

Sure thing. Happy to serve. I hand Dan back three singles. Once they’re clear of my cab, I take off. In my rearview I see the guy flipping me off.

It’s stopped raining. For now, at least.

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This column elicited some angry reader responses:

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Bay Area Drivers Are the Worst

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Stranger in my Hometown – The “I Drive LA” Edition

This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about my trip to LA.

Over the past week, Trumpmania has made it almost impossible to focus on anything besides the election results, as well as the sobering realization I may be one of those left-coast elites disconnected from the rest of the country.

Completely unrelated, though entirely opportune, I distracted myself from the armchair quarterbacking — and the taxi life — for a couple days with a road trip to Los Angeles.

Even though I’m a native Angeleno, I’ve only gone back to Southern California three times in as many years. These days, I feel more like a stranger in my hometown.

Also, driving a taxi 40 hours a week in San Francisco has no doubt helped shape my perception of the two places, because the differences blew me away immediately.

Read the rest of the column here.

Your Friend with a Rape Van

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In September 2016, Lyft took over the former Bell Plumbing location in Potrero Hill including the “Van on a Stick” that was prominently placed along US 101 right before the Hospital Curve. 

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Even though the building was vacant for a long wile before Lyft took it over to house their support center, the Van on a Stick was an icon in The City. It’s a shame Lyft decided to paint the iconic van pink and destroy another bit of San Francisco history. 

But, as with everything Lyft does, they set themselves up for mockery:

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Fuck you, Lyft.

[Original photo of the Van on the Stick from SF Curbed.]

Between a Jackhammer and a Piss Cup

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Not to brag, but I totally failed my piss test… 

In this week’s column for the S.F. Examiner, I detail the indignities the SFMTA subjects cab drivers to while Uber and Left drivers ride roughshod all over The City.

One of the many perks of driving a taxi in San Francisco is the recently enforced mandatory drug test we must pass in order to renew our A-Cards. 

The last time I had to urinate for employment was in 1993, when I applied for a porter position at Martin’s department store in Gadsden, Alabama. Just like then, I’m sure to fail. But this time, I don’t have to drink copious amounts of water for a week and jog around the block three times a day to exorcise the traces of marijuana in my system.

Fortunately for potheads like myself, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is kind enough to allow a medical marijuana exception. So with a recommendation from the reputable Oakland 420 Doctor, I won’t lose my job.

Read the rest of the column here.

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Brains top Apps at 2015 Dreamforce Convention

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Originally published on September 25, 2015 in the S.F. Examiner

Taxis Come to the Rescue when Technology Fails

Dreamforce, Dreamforce, Dreamforce… That’s all everyone talked about on Thursday, the last day of the Salesforce conference that consumed SoMa and most of The City with a reported 160,000 attendees.

Earlier that week, I was walking up 3rd Street to BART from my friend’s vintage shop in the Bayview when I stumbled into a throng of business-casual rank-and-file with laminated badges hanging from lanyards.

The entire area around Moscone Convention Center was a madhouse. Howard was closed off and the archway they’d constructed over the street was heavily guarded to prevent anyone without a badge from entering.

Traffic was, of course, gridlocked. Sidewalks were jammed. From every angle, advertisements begged to be noticed. Booths were set up on the periphery promoting various tech companies, some with food trucks offering free chipotle burritos and pulled pork sandwiches—for those with a badge, obviously.

I’d heard reports from cab drivers that some conventioneers were even taking taxis. So when I started my shift Thursday afternoon, in a sparkling clean Prius, I had high hopes.

That night, Salesforce was throwing a huge blowout at Pier 70 with performances by the Killers and the Foo Fighters.

The two guys I dropped off at the event around 7pm—or tried to drop off, rather, since 3rd Street was a parking lot and they ultimately had to get out at Mariposa Street and walk the rest of the way—told me 70,000 badge-wearers were expected to show up.

After that first foray into the Dogpatch, it was apparent getting people out of the area when the concert ended was going to be a strategic nightmare. I envisioned a scenario similar to Outside Lands, but in an even smaller, much more difficult to navigate space.

Unlike most tech conferences, the event planners anticipated the need for taxis and arranged with SFMTA for a cabstand at 23rd and Illinois. But there was no way to get that close to the venue. The congestion was impenetrable.

Hey, it’s the thought that counts…

Like the electronic traffic sign on 3rd directing both taxis and Ubers to 23rd… Nice try, guys, but taxis and Ubers are not the same.

Since Uber and Lyft rely on GPS to connect drivers with riders, and since these GPS systems tell drivers to all go the same exact route, from the beginning to the end of the concert, Uber and Lyft drivers were stuck on 3rd and Mariposa like bumper cars piled up on the track.

The SF Hackers, on the other hand, had the game plan all worked out.

Instead of taking the Mariposa exit off of Highway 280, as GPS would recommend, we used the Army/25th Street exit, went down Pennsylvania to 23rd and turned right.

Worked like a charm.

Once I hit Indiana Street, a frenzied crowd greeted me with their arms in the air.

“We’re so glad to see you!” the first group told me effusively. “We’ve been trying to get a ride for fifteen minutes.”

Apparently, even with a 3.1 surge, the Uber and Lyft users were struggling to get rides.

“That’s too bad,” I said, as I flipped around, leaving the trapped Ubers and Lyfts to the clusterfuck of their own making.

I spent the next couple hours rescuing stranded concertgoers, utilizing the dark, secluded streets along the industrial side of Potrero Hill and overriding the “logic” of GPS with basic common sense: always follow the path of least resistance.

At one point, I was racing down Pennsylvania with a full load when I came upon the part of the road that went around a blind curve to 17th. I barely slowed down.

“Are you sure this road is going somewhere?” the guy up front asked, holding up his iPhone. “It says we should have taken a right back there…”

As I made a hard right onto Mississippi and crossed 16th to 7th, the lights of downtown getting closer with each block, I replied, “Where we’re going, we don’t need apps.”

Like having a candle during a power outage, experienced cab driving comes in handy when you just need a ride to your hotel in an unfamiliar city. Even if it is based on such atavistic technology as a taximeter. And a brain.