Category Archives: The Taxi Experience

The Art of Driving a Taxi

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When done properly, no two cab rides should ever be alike …

Last month, during the Fancy Foods Show, I was posted up outside 888 Brannan, where an after party associated with the convention was winding down.

Despite the apparent lack of need for taxis — according to Hackers, they’re all Phonies inside — I’d just dropped at Lennon Studios a few blocks away and, well, not much else is going on.

A few minutes later, a woman approaches my cab and taps on my window.

“Do you take credit cards?” she asks.

“Of course!” I respond enthusiastically.

“Great! My Lyft app is acting up. It won’t let me request a ride.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” I say, feigning concern.

On the drive to the St. Francis, she gives me the lowdown on the specialty food convention. Then asks if I drive for Lyft as well.

Now, regular readers of this column may remember my stock response to this frequent inquiry is to claim not to own a car. Or to point out that the risks associated with operating a vehicle for hire with inadequate insurance and limited safeguards are too foolhardy, even for a lummox like me. Only on the rarest occasions will I mention my background as an Uber/Lyft driver, and that, from my own experience, using your personal car as a taxicab is less sustainable than driving a real one.

This time, though, instead of my usual attempt to suppress the subject outright, all this talk of artisanal cuisine and the farm-to-table movement offers such an ideal opportunity for a slew of metaphors that I can’t resist …

“Well, it’s like comparing small-batch ice cream, chocolate, cheese or whisky to mass-produced food and booze that all tastes the same,” I say. “Uber and Lyft offer a homogenous stale experience. That’s the point, isn’t it? No matter where you go, instead of figuring out the local modus operandi, you just open the app and it’s like you never left home. They’re the McDonald’s of transportation. Taxi driving is the opposite of that. As my friend Colin puts it, we’re — I cough for effect — ‘artisan transportation engineers.’”

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

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A Taxi-Driving Hero Ain’t Nothing to Be

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As a general rule, I never read comments. Especially comments on my own stuff, either on the Examiner site or social media. But when someone tags you in a Facebook post, it’s hard to avoid the nastiness so common when there’s a computer or smart phone screen in the way.

That’s how I stumble upon this bitter perspective:

“I guess writing this column is the only reason you still drive.”

I instantly click reply, “What the fuck does that even mean? As opposed to doing what? Getting back on track with my fledging astrophysics gig?”

Does this person think I’m independently wealthy? That the Examiner is paying me the big bucks for my 700 words a week, which I invariably turn in late because I’m too exhausted from driving a taxi all week to write about driving a taxi?

Before clicking submit, though, I delete the response. Type out, “You sound like my wife.” Then replace “wife” with “mother-in-law.” And delete that, too.

Instead, I turn off my phone and roll over. As I watch my daughter sleep under the muted glow of a nightlight, my mind spins, processing this notion that I’m supposed to be more than a taxi driver. Why? Because I’m white? American? Male? College-educated?

Who makes up these rules?

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

A Taxi Driver and His Cab

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This week’s column is about the Taxi Commandment: thou shalt not covet another taxi driver’s cab.

From my earliest days at National, I fought tooth and nail to get a regular cab that was clean and ran well. I cajoled and begged the cashiers, happily paying extra for National 182, a Ford Fusion that met the above criteria and didn’t have a regular driver. For almost two years, 182 was my trusted ride, until the medallion owner took it out of circulation on a long-term lease.

After that, I ended up with 1462, the only National cab with an ad topper, one of numerous cabs recently acquired from Yellow. I hated driving around with a glowing advertisement above me. Plus, the speakers were broken. So when Vic, the medallion owner/day driver, switched to a 24-hour lease, I was almost relieved to be back at the mercy of the window and the varying conditions and quality of the gate and gas fleet.

Veterans 215 was the best of the worst. Even though I’m not keen on Camrys, this was Juneaux’s former cab, and due to his persnickety nature, the inside had remained mostly clean. But as long as it stayed in general circulation, it’s condition rapidly deteriorated.

Months later, Alex finally told me I would be on Veterans 233, a Fusion with low mileage, leather seats and a sunroof. For weeks, I watched the vehicle transform from a regular car into a taxi. First the paint job, then the taximeter and tablet attached to the dashboard and a top light fastened to the roof. Eventually, SFO permit stickers were affixed to the side and, after several more inspections, the day arrived when I was handed the keys and medallion.

Now that I had a regular cab, my next battle was to make sure other drivers didn’t trash it. Because no matter how cherry a taxi is, most cab drivers seem intent on running a good taxi into the ground.

Read the rest here.

The Scourge of Outside Lands

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Part One

It never fails.

Whenever I work large events like Outside Lands, I always end up with a pack of drunken millennials in my taxi who are so accustomed to geographically-challenged Uber/Lyft drivers that they will try, despite the haze of alcohol, weed and molly, to micromanage my attempt to navigate the congestion.

Of all the tragedies that have resulted from the rise of Uber and Lyft, this assumption that a driver for hire has no clue how to reach the simplest destinations is really, as our commander-in-chief would put it, sad.

The other day, I pick up this guy at the Grand Hyatt. As he tips the doorman for flagging him a cab, I hear the guy say his phone had died and he wasn’t able to order an Uber.

“Where to?” I ask.

“Pac Heights.”

Okay. “Where in Pac Heights?”

“Geary and Laguna.”

“What?” I respond, somewhat confused.

“Lower Pac Heights. Close to Japantown.”

Brother, there is no Lower Pac Heights, I want to say. Geary and Laguna is Japantown. But I let it go. He’s either a tourist or has just moved here.

As I’m about to cross Van Ness, I ask where he’s going at Laguna and Geary.

He leans forward and says, “Oh, uhh, keep going two more blocks.”

“I know where Laguna is,” I reply. “Where are you going at Geary and Laguna? Are you on Geary? Laguna? Am I going right or left? It’s a big street with lots of turn restrictions.”

“Left on Laguna,” he says. “You’ll uhhh… probably have to make a U-turn.”

“Yeah, at Webster,” I mumble. So his cross streets are actually Ellis and Laguna, which would enable me to access the street he actually lives on: Cleary Court.

And regardless of what his real estate agent told him, he lives in motherfucking Western Addition!

It’s always the clueless passengers who tell you how to get somewhere, and they usually end up lost or going the longest route possible…

Anyway, this is my fourth year working Outside Lands. And even though I’m steeling myself for the inevitable shit show, I am hopeful this year might be different…

An unforeseen benefit of Uber and Lyft is that the number of millennials I pick up has dwindled to the point that, when they do end up in my cab, it’s usually memorable.

Like the four bros who surprised me at Davies Symphony Hall a few months back…

Drunk off their asses and wearing white tuxedos, they pile into my cab and demand to be taken to Emperor Norton’s.

“Do you know where that is?” one asks.

I respond affirmatively several times over the next few blocks, while the three guys in back continue to question whether I’m going the right way since I didn’t put the location into my phone and the guy up front incessantly nags me about playing the radio.

“Look!” I finally snap. “The bar is only five blocks away. I think you can go that long without music. Don’t you?”

*

On Friday, the first night of Outside Lands, things were astonishingly calm and uneventful.

That is, free of millennials.

I take two guys to Brass Tacks.

“Do you mind if we do garbage cocaine?” the one on the right asks me.

After several key bumps, the guy spends the rest of the ride complaining about the shitty blow in San Francisco.

My second ride is a young couple who’d just met. They spend the ride to Club Deluxe bonding over their pets. When I pull up to the bar, the guy hands me a $20 bill and refuses change on the $12.30 fare.

“For going out of your way to pick us up,” he says, exiting curbside.

Day two starts out smooth enough.

Since I stopped working Saturday nights, I don’t have my regular cab. So I’m driving Veterans 327. Late Night Larry’s cab.

As I venture out to the park on Fulton while the sun is still in the sky, I’m impressed with how the PCOs are controlling the streets and making sure all vehicles are able to get through the area. That same is true on Lincoln. Even though the SFMTA had promised us taxi stands, there are no designated staging areas. But it isn’t that much of a hassle.

When Metallica stops playing later that night, though, there’s little chance for any kind order in the ensuing chaos…

Read Part Two here.

[photo by Jessica Christian]

Welcome to Pleasanton

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Always get the money up front…

My column this week is about deserting a regular fare for a meter-and-a-half ride that goes horribly wrong. I guess you can say I got my just deserts.

“Alright,” the guy says, getting out of the cab. “Thanks for the ride.”

“Wait a second!”

The woman gets out of the cab slowly. I watch as she teeters on the high heels and careens toward a parked car, bounces off the trunk and falls to the ground. Just as quickly, though, she’s back on her feet.

“Who’s going to pay me?” I demand.

She wrinkles her face and stumbles away.

I get out of the cab and follow her to the door of her apartment. As she goes in, the guy emerges with a bunch of stuff that he loads into the back of a Corolla. On the windshield, there’s an Uber placard.

“I really need to get paid,” I tell him, feeling like the paperboy from the movie “Better off Dead.”

“I told you, I’m not paying. She’s a whore. Get her to pay.”

“Come on, man. I don’t want to get into the middle of this …”

“Be a man! Go get your money!” He drives away.

I knock on the door. No answer. I knock again.

Goddamn it.

I return to my cab and Google the Pleasanton Police Department. An operator picks up on the second ring.

“I don’t know if this is something you can help me with …”

Read the rest of the column here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

The Outside Lands Transportation Shit Show

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On my way to the city to work Outside Lands

I just completed my fourth Outside Lands as a driver, which prompted me to reevaluate my previous reportage on working the three day music festival in Golden Gate Park. 

My first OSL was in 2014 as an Uber/Lyft driver. I covered that experience here.

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My second OSL was in a taxi and I wrote about it here

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Since I didn’t publish anything about my third year working Outside Lands in 2016, I searched my computer for any notes I may have written and found this:

The tide is turning as anti-Uber backlash surges…

Passengers are starting to realize that Uber and Lyft drivers, the majority of whom aren’t from the area, are creating most of the traffic congestion in The City, especially during major festivals.

That’s what happened during Outside Lands.

I wasn’t making any money driving people home from the festival. With all the congestion getting back to the park for another load, it just wasn’t worth my time…

Next week, my column will be about working Outside Lands for the fourth time. And no, it’s not going to be pretty…

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