Category Archives: san francisco

When I Was a Newbie

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My last two columns for the S.F. Examiner were interconnected, published in two parts.

The first installment, published last week, describes a ride with two ladies who, when I tell them I’ve only been driving for three years, start calling me a “newb” and offering ridiculous advice on how to become a good horrible cab driver.

“You shouldn’t be so nice, newb,” one of the women says.

“You’re never going to make it as a cab driver with that attitude,” says the other.

Their joint laughter is cut short when I turn left onto Hyde.

“This is us over here on the right.”

I hit the hazards and the overhead light.

“I only have a credit card,” the second woman tells me.

“That’s perfectly fine,” I say, inserting the Square reader into my phone.

“Come on newb!” snaps the first woman. “You’re supposed to say your card reader is broken.”

Yeah, they were drunk and having a laugh, but, in part two, published this week, I write about how the old “cabbie ways,” as glorified by these ladies in jest, are what led to rise of Uber and Lyft. And how, when I actually was a “newb” – that is, a hapless Lyft driver – most of my passengers told me they’d started using these new ride-hail options because of all their bad experiences with taxis in the past…

… most of my passengers had these nightmare experiences dealing with The City’s taxi service that mirrored the ladies’ acerbic suggestions: not accepting credit cards, refusing non-airport rides, talking on the phone incessantly and freaking out if you questioned their route.

It seemed like you weren’t a real San Franciscan unless you had a handful of horror stories about taking taxis. People talked about missing flights, losing jobs, getting stuck in the rain and practically left for dead.

My Lyft passengers were so thrilled to have a ride they didn’t care that I barely knew how to get around. (Or refused to attach that hideous pink mustache to the grill of my Jetta.)

Of course, while Lyft and Uber may have solved some of these problems by busting up the taxi industry’s monopoly and in the process forcing out the bad apples who were only able to thrive in a field without competition that capitalized on the public’s desperate need for transportation, a new breed of sleazy operators was unleashed: Uber/Lyft drivers.

But more on that disreputable lot next week…

[photo by Christian Lewis]

The Slumlord of Haight-Ashbury

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I try not to take it personally, but it’s been over a week since my last Flywheel order. Even though I log in to the app at the start of each shift religiously and stay “available” the whole time, except when I already have a passenger or if I’m unable to accept orders, the Android phone attached to the vent next hasn’t chirped in so long I almost forget it’s there.

So after dropping off my first fare of the day in Cow Hollow and tapping the Flywheel app to go online, I’m not only shocked to get an immediate ride request for Beach and Cervantes, but one with a $9 guaranteed tip! I quickly hit “accept” and head toward the part of the Marina that looks like it was designed by a drunken cartographer.

When I pull up, an older gentleman is outside waiting for me.

“Market and Jones,” he says curtly.

“No problem,” I say, hitting the meter. “By the way, thanks for the $9 tip.”

“That’s to make sure you fuckers show up!” he snaps.

I respond with an audible gulp.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

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.

The Rascally Couple Looking for Late Night Snacks and Adventure

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“Always say yes.”

During a recent Recitation of the Waybill, a bunch of us were standing around the National office as Late Night Larry offered up some of his incontrovertible advice.

“No matter the question,” he snarled. “The answer is always yes.”

I’ve implemented many of Larry’s words of wisdom over the years, but sometimes it’s my own rules that save the day. Like that Friday night when I was inbound on Columbus at 3 a.m., waiting for the light to change at Pacific.

Behind me, the neon lights of Broadway are diffused in the fog like the setup to a Scooby-Doo mystery, while stragglers lurk in dark corners.

Just as the signal turns green, a young black guy and an older white woman approach my cab. Besides the overwhelming stench of booze that’s almost palpable, their eyes are spinning in their sockets, suggesting other intoxicants.

“Hey! You’re cute!” the woman screeches at me. “Can I touch your hair?”

Less of a request and more of a warning, I try to dodge her grasp.

“Let’s not molest the driver,” the guy says with a giggle. “Yet.”

“Uhhh … Where to?” I ask hesitantly.

“We need snacks!” the woman shouts. “Pronto!”

“Driver, do you know where we can get some snacks?” the guy asks calmly, as if his companion’s exclamation wasn’t clear enough.

I suggest Union Square. With several 24-hour diners, fast food and a 7-Eleven, it covers all the bases for late night snack options. And close enough to get this rascally duo out of my cab. Pronto.

Read the rest here.

The Poor Man’s Taxi Driver

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Do taxis only serve the rich?

Are Uber and Left really accessible to all?

That’s what my passenger in this week’s column for the S.F. Examiner argues…

“Honestly,” I tell him. “I’d rather deal with more than just one demographic of The City. Uber and Lyft only provide transportation for certain members of society, excluding the poor, elderly and disabled.”

“What are you talking about?” he exclaims. “Taxis are way more expensive than Uber! And if you use the ‘Pool’ option, it’s even cheaper.”

After making a bizarre argument that people who don’t own smartphones can save money on rides to the airport by acquiring a burner at Walgreens, he tells me, “Part of what I love about Uber and Lyft is that they’re affordable to everyone and not just the wealthy. Ask around. Most people could never dream of riding in a taxi regularly. Now, they’re riding in cars — nice cars, too — from their doorstep to work for only 3 to 5 bucks a pop.”

As he continues making privileged judgments about how poor people should behave, I bite my tongue. This guy has no clue what it’s like to be poor. And just because the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development makes some announcement that Bay Area households earning six figures are now considered lower-class, that doesn’t mean the spoiled brats who find public transportation beneath them are actually broke. For most working-class folks, taking a cab is a luxury, not a right.

The more I think about his nonsensical ideas, the more my head feels like it’s going to explode. There’s just not enough time left in the universe to explain all the many ways his viewpoint is wrong and fucked up.

Read the rest here.

Ode to Street Hustle

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Like a game of chance, driving a cab requires more than just skill – it’s luck and determination that’ll make or break a taxi shift.

A good side hustle doesn’t hurt either…

The hassle and the hustle of cab driving.

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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