Category Archives: Taxi Life

Driving with My Good Eye Closed

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I might be cracking up. With a 3-month-old baby who’s already teething, consistent sleep has become a distant memory. And while I can usually navigate the streets of The City as if on autopilot, the synapses that control my sense of direction begin misfiring on Friday night.

My previous shift on Thursday was one of those rare occasions when the taxi gods smiled down on me. In the wet and blustery weather, business was booming. By the end of the night, I was exhausted — and not from the usual boredom and angst, but from actual exertion.

It felt good.

With just a few hours of erratic sleep, though, I’m back in the taxi and not feeling very good at all…

Read the rest here.

 

Taxi Driving is More than a Job

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On this, the occasion of my 100th column, I can’t help but feel somewhat reflective. Almost two years have passed since the San Francisco Examiner gave me an opportunity to tell my stories of The City’s streets in 700 words, give or take. While writing about driving a taxi comes easy, actually driving a taxi can be a real drag sometimes. Particularly on those slow, mind-numbing nights, during excruciatingly slow weeks, in painfully slow months.

Taxi driving is more than a job. It’s a form of punishment for all the bad decisions you’ve ever made. Instead of pursuing the 9 to 5, you became an artist, played in bands, wrote books, traveled or just enjoyed life — all the unrealistic distractions your parents, teachers and guidance counselors said would only lead to poverty that somehow became sustainable through driving a taxi. Until one day, it was no longer viable, once some eggheads created a centralized dispatch app, and the cab companies were too busy squabbling over brand recognition to retain any relevance. But in the stupidity of it all, there was still a sense of freedom.

Taxi driving is still the closest you can get to the swashbuckling adventures of a pirate. With no bosses around and no supervisors breathing down your neck, it’s just you, your cab, the streets and the general public. How you navigate those obstacles is up to you. Even if you don’t have what it takes. Thankfully, the meek get lucky, too.

Read the rest here.

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]

The Mysterious Assailants from Chicago

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My column this week is about a “fight” outside a bar in the Mission, told from the perspectives of both participants and witnesses, all of whom were passengers in my taxi. Rashomon on wheels.

On the corner of 16th and Valencia, two guys jump in my taxi going to Molotov’s.

As I take 15th Street to Church Street, one asks the other, “Hey, did you hear about that fight outside Delirium tonight?”

“Tonight?”

“Yeah. Cops showed up and everything.”

“What’s with all the violence in the Mission lately?” his friend wonders.

“These tech bros are out of control,” the first one says. “They make all this money, but it’s not enough to get them laid so they start fights.”

“Losers.”

A short while later, I drop at the 500 Club and pull over on 17th to count my money. Out of the darkness, a guy wobbles toward my cab and climbs into my backseat.

“Do you know where the Orange Village Hostel is?” Young and somewhat bedraggled, he struggles with the door. His right arm is injured, forcing him to reach over with his left.

“What happened to you?” I ask, heading to Union Square.

He snorts. “I was attacked by a bunch of assholes from Chicago.”

“Where were you?” I inquire, thinking about the fight outside Delirium earlier.

“Don’t know. Don’t care. The cops were at least able to see both sides. Even if they were from Chicago, too.”

Chicago?

“I may need to go to the hospital,” he says casually. “But I have to stop by my hotel first. My phone’s dead.”

I offer him a charger.

“It won’t get enough of a charge!” he shouts and then howls in pain.

I look over my shoulder. “Dude! Your arm is completely bent in the wrong direction. You seriously need a doctor.”

“I know that, son!” He barks.

“Hey now!”

“Look, I know this must seem sensational to you, but this isn’t my first rodeo.”

“Whatever.” Just another night driving taxi on the mean streets of San Francisco…

Read the rest of the column here.

Good Fortune is Right Around the Corner

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Now that I think of it, if I could do it over again, the last line of this week’s column for the S.F. Examiner would have read:

“Oh great,” she mumbles snidely as she reaches into her purse. “Lucky me.”

So as to emphasize her visible disdain at having ended up in a taxi.

In fact, the few minutes I interacted with her, when she was conscious, were more noteworthy than I realized last Wednesday afternoon, when I was putting the finishing touches on this column, already an hour and a half past my deadline.

What she actually told me after her address was, “I’ll do whatever you tell me, but I have to sleep now.” Which seemed implausible and surreal at the time. I wasn’t even sure if I heard her correctly.

When she paid me, she dropped her credit card and her wallet, spilling change onto the floorboard, which she never picked up, as well as her phone and her phone charger. I had to get her attention several times to not leave anything behind. Except the coins.

She tipped me 20% and I added the bridge toll. Plus a couple bucks in change -totaled out at a $75 ride. Her Uber probably would have cost a third of that.

I waited until she made it through a wooden gate with a “Beware of Dog” sign. Which seemed odd. Who has a dog you have to be wary of?

Marin County is weird.

Anyway, read the column here.