Category Archives: The Taxi Experience

Marin County Thrill Ride

golden-gate-bridge-christian-lewis-web

During last call on Friday nights, I usually wait out the shit show in some dark recess of The City. A few weeks ago, though, trying to escape the sloshed fields of the Mission, I was driving past the Armory Club when a guy jumped in front of my cab.

“Will you take five of us?” he asks.

While it’s not exactly legal to transport more people than there are seatbelts, what are laws in San Francisco anymore but mere suggestions?

As three women and one dude pile into the backseat, laughing and grunting as they position themselves in a tight mass, the first guy holds the door open like he’s directing traffic, then jumps in the front seat.

“83 Elaine Ave.,” he says. “We’re going to my place. I have plenty of booze, so we can keep this party going. Right?”

Everyone cheers.

“Where?” I ask.

“Mill Valley,” he tells me.

“To the bridge!” the guy in back yells. “Take us to the bridge!”

Everybody laughs.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

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Marin County Thrill Ride

golden-gate-bridge-christian-lewis-web

During last call on Friday nights, I usually wait out the shit show in some dark recess of The City. A few weeks ago, though, trying to escape the sloshed fields of the Mission, I was driving past the Armory Club when a guy jumped in front of my cab.

“Will you take five of us?” he asks.

While it’s not exactly legal to transport more people than there are seatbelts, what are laws in San Francisco anymore but mere suggestions?

As three women and one dude pile into the backseat, laughing and grunting as they position themselves in a tight mass, the first guy holds the door open like he’s directing traffic, then jumps in the front seat.

“83 Elaine Ave.,” he says. “We’re going to my place. I have plenty of booze, so we can keep this party going. Right?”

Everyone cheers.

“Where?” I ask.

“Mill Valley,” he tells me.

“To the bridge!” the guy in back yells. “Take us to the bridge!”

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Pimp my Taximeter

TaxiOS-Meter-by-Christian-Lewis-web

As the prime movers behind the Uberization of San Francisco’s taxi industry, Flywheel, the taxi-hailing app, and Flywheel, the taxi company, seem so intent on emulating Uber that they’re even taking a page out of deposed CEO Travis Kalanick’s “Guide to Being a Complete Dirtbag.”

Last Wednesday, Flywheel sent out a message informing drivers not affiliated with one of their color scheme partners that we’ll no longer be receiving orders through the app. Unless, that is, we switch to one of the six color scheme partners.

Drivers were understandably outraged that Hansu Kim, the owner of Flywheel, the app, and Flywheel, the taxi company, would actually kneecap 1,000s of drivers who rely on the app for part of their income, as well as stymie users who expect Flywheel to provide prompt service and, through this divisive act, traduce the industry in the public eye.

As one driver put it: “Just when you think it can’t get any worse …”

But wait. It gets worse.

Since the color scheme partners listed in their first message all use Flywheel’s TaxiOS, instead of the traditional taximeter, most drivers assumed that was the proviso: Adopt their backend, app-based metering system and shoulder the massive costs associated with acquiring hundreds of smartphones to run the app, removing the old taximeter equipment and then paying them monthly service and network charges and a percentage of Flywheel orders, credit card-processing fees and dispatch orders routed through the app.

Displaying Uber-like greed, Flywheel seems to want a piece of all our action, on top of what we’re already giving the cab companies for leasing vehicles.

In return, we get the Flywheel orders back, for which we’d been paying them a cut of appropriately 13 percent.

Now that’s what you call a hornswoggling.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Taking Grandma to the Crack Store

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After dropping a fare in the Richmond District late one night, I head toward Haight Street. With low expectations and the 7-Noriega in front of me, I cruise past Milk Bar, Murio’s and The Alembic. At Cole, I manage to overtake the bus.

Outside of Club Deluxe a short, elderly woman sidesteps a group of smoking hepcats and hisses, “Cabbie!”

I hit the brakes.

She approaches my window with a crumpled $20 bill and mumbles, “Downtown.”

“Sure. Get in,” I say, cringing as the bus barrels down on me and she’s slowly climbing into the back of my cab. When she shuts the door it doesn’t close all the way. I take off anyway.

“Where downtown are you going?” I ask.

She responds in an unintelligible garble.

“Where?”

She mumbles something several times before I finally realize she’s saying, “Walgreens.”

“Which one?” I inquire.

“Downtown.”

“But there are so many.”

“Downtown!”

“OK.” I take a left at Ashbury.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Felicia the Freeloader

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I’m sitting on the throne at the Hilton Union Square, watching the madness of rush-hour traffic in front of the hotel as cars trying to drop off and pick up contend with a single interloper who didn’t utilize the loading zone properly, forcing every other vehicle behind him to wait in the street akimbo while the 38 bus, followed closely by a 38R, comes barreling down O’Farrell with horn blasting, and all the stymied doormen can do is push around empty luggage carts hoping that somebody — anybody — will need help checking in, but the tourists move through the bedlam fearlessly, phones held aloft, like seasoned globetrotters.

Then, Artur calls out a radio order for Market and Sixth. Since there’s a break in the congestion, I check in.

“233. O’Farrell and Mason.”

“233. Check. Go pick up Felicia.”

Artur sends the order to my tablet, and I head down Ellis to Jones. As soon as I cross Market, a woman waves me down.

“I need to go to the Travelodge on Valencia and Market,” Felicia tells me.

“Sure thing,” I say, merging into traffic and taking a right on Mission.

“Hey, aren’t you the guy who writes for the paper?”

“Oh, you read the Examiner?” I respond.

“Oh wow! I can’t believe it’s you!”

I’m never sure what to say when passengers recognize me from the column. It’s not something I advertise in the cab and rarely — if ever — bring up.

“You better not put me on blast!” she says with a protracted cackle.

“Now, why would I do something like that?” I laugh.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

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.

Playing the Radio

I play the radio loud. Which is the only way to decipher cross streets when Artur calls out dispatch orders in his overworked and underpaid drawl.

The Russian accent doesn’t help. Especially when the two-way starts cracking up.

Believe it or not, National/Veterans still has regular customers. And Artur will browbeat drivers on the air to get them filled, calling out orders repeatedly and even singling out cabs he can tell are nearby, like a school teacher trying to get the class to answer a question nobody knows …

Last Friday, after dropping in The Castro, I’m inbound on Market while Artur is trying to fill an order for Geary and Webster. A regular customer at the Safeway needs a ride, but there are no takers.

For the next several minutes, Artur’s voice gets increasingly choleric: “Drivers! Geary and Webster! Somebody go pick her up! This is a regular customer! Come on!”

Even though I’m not close, I check in. “This is 233. Market and Sanchez.”

“233. God bless you. Go get her, please. I’ll give you a bonus load.”

With the promise of $10 off my gate, I get in the left turn lane. I figure Steiner through the Western Addition is my best bet. But there’s an Uber with Nevada plates in front of me, and when the light goes from green to yellow and then red, the driver doesn’t move.

Read the rest here.

[photos by Christian Lewis]