Category Archives: san francisco

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]

The Freak Show before Pride

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Every year, it takes me by surprise …

While dropping off Mr. Judy last Wednesday, I notice a scraggly-haired dude and two girls with shaved heads walk past the bar and can’t help but stare. They’re sexually ambiguous and rough around the edges, all tattooed and dressed in black T-shirts, denim and leather. The kind of freaks you don’t really see in San Francisco anymore.

“Look at that,” I say. “Where did they come from?”

“I don’t know,” Judy responds, equally transfixed. “Maybe we should find out where they’re going.”

A short while later, I’m picking up Simone at Lucky 13, tying to make sense of the latest parking restrictions on Market, when I spot some more freaks.

“What’s going on?” I wonder.

“Are you serious with this shit?” Simone asks with a cackle. “It’s Pride. Hello?”

Oh, that’s right.

“This weekend is going to be a shit show,” she says bitterly. “And I have to work.”

“Well, at least they’re enriching the cultural landscape for a few days.”

“Fuck that,” she snaps back. “I need to make some money.”

On Thursday, the streets are filled with people, freaks and non-freaks and everything in between. Anticipation for Pride is like a jungle beat in the distance.

Read the rest here.

[photo  by Douglas O’Connor]

The Tenderloin is for Lovers

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It’s late. Wednesday night. I’m making one last round through the Tenderloin before taking the bridge home to Oakland.

While driving past the usual clusterfuck of SUVs, towncars and taxis double-parked in front of the New Century, two women flag me on the corner of Geary.

Despite the weather, they’re scantily clad. And what clothes they are wearing only seem to emphasize their Rubenesque figures. With them is a tall gentleman who looks like he stumbled out of a sales conference. He seems to be shielding his eyes from the glow of the streetlight.

As the women slink into the backseat, the guy gets up front, much to their dismay.

“Come sit back here with us?” they whine.

“I’m all right,” he replies in an English accent.

I try to show him how to adjust the seat, since it’s pushed all the way forward, but he ignores me and remains scrunched up with his knees against the dash.

“Acer Hotel, driver,” says the woman on my right.

“Where?” I ask.

“The Acer. It’s in Union Square.”

“O’Farrell and Mason,” the woman behind me clarifies.

“You don’t know the Acer?” the first lady asks. “How long you been driving taxi?”

“Couple years,” I say.

“Don’t worry, baby, you’ll get the hang of it eventually.”

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

Waiting for the Orpheum to break…

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Last week I get a text from Colin: “Wholly shit; I’m doing homework for the first time in a decade, putting Open World, Dreamforce, Castro Street Fair in schedule.”

Holy shit, times sure have changed. Back when I always made sure to know what convention was at Moscone, what shows were at the theaters and who was playing at the concert venues, Colin would snicker and call me “cute” for “being such a good rookie.”

Now that he’s embraced the new way of taxi driving, Colin isn’t just queuing outside hotels, Davies Hall and the War Memorial, he’s preparing for what to expect.

Of course, there are times when it pays to do your homework. Like last Thursday, when a bunch of clueless cab drivers were staging outside the Masonic and complaining about not getting any fares – they might not have wasted their time at the Nob Hill concert hall if they knew about the night’s headliner, Harry Styles. People who pay to see a former boy band singer are not as likely to take a taxi after the show as those who go to the opera, where about thirty people waited desperately for a ride home.

I heard the whistles on Franklin before even turning onto Grove.

After taking my fare from the War Memorial to the St. Francis, I head to the Orpheum, where “An American in Paris” is about to break, and line up on Hyde Street.

A few minutes later, the side doors open and the audience pours out into the night. I wave a man and a woman forward. He opens the door and she gets in first. Tells me their destination:

“The Ritz.”

I hit the meter and maneuver through the surge of vehicles quickly descending on the area.

As I turn right onto Larkin, the man comments on City Hall, awash in multicolored lights.

“What are the colors for? The flag?”

“I think it’s to commemorate the Folsom Street Fair this weekend,” I suggest, even though the colors aren’t exactly the same as the rainbow colors usually associated with the LGBT community.

“What street fair?” he asks.

“Folsom. It’s a celebration of…” I hesitate, unsure how to explain the festival to mixed company.

The woman beats me to it. “Folsom Street Fair is a leather and bondage event,” she explains.

“Oh,” the man replies.

“Yeah. They’re expecting over 200,000 attendees. I haven’t looked forward to seeing a bunch of hot, sweaty half-naked dudes this much since I used to watch WWF wrestling religiously.”

After trying to take a selfie with City Hall is the background, the couple asks how my night has been going. There’s not much to report.

“So, is driving a cab your only job in The City?” the woman asks.

“I also, uh… write.”

“Oh, what do you write?” the man wants to know.

“Besides other things, I write a weekly column for the Examiner about driving a taxi.”

“You want a story?” the man asks with a chuckle. “I could tell you my name.”

“Let’s not do that!” the woman chides him.

I glance in the rearview but it’s too dark to make out his face clearly. “What’s your name?”

He laughs again.

“Come on,” she insists. “We’re almost to the hotel.”

Read the rest here.

“The View from a Taxi” Anthologized

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I contributed a story called “The View from a Taxi” to this anthology on San Francisco writing, Your Golden Sun Still Shines, edited by Denise Sullivan and published by Manic D Press.

You can order it on Amazon. Or through your local independent bookstore.

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]

On becoming a day driver… and a pissed off cabbie!

blinded-by-light-i-drive-sf-examiner-taxi-column

This week’s column for the Examiner is about switching to the day shift and immediately becoming the quintessential angry cabbie. 

The nausea comes in waves, along with dizzy spells and a throbbing in my forehead that pulsates to a beat that matches the jackhammers I wake up to most mornings. It’s the sound of progress. These ugly, prison-like buildings are the future. Who am I to criticize some jerkwad who’s willing and able to pay three grand for a cookie-cutter apartment in an “up-and-coming” neighborhood that still hasn’t figured out what to do with the down and out?

If I ever thought having a kid was going to cramp my style, it’s only because I hadn’t considered how nettlesome living with the Bay Area can be. Compared to the toll this place takes on you, dealing with a screaming, sleep-resistant baby is a walk in the park.

When I switched to driving days, I figured there would be some hiccups in the transition. But I wasn’t expecting to become the quintessential angry cab driver overnight.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

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