Canary in the Coal Mine

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I was talking with a journalist recently about the inevitable death of the taxi industry. He seemed surprised by my response, that taxis aren’t going anywhere.

“They may not look the same in the future,” I said, “or function the same, but when the day comes that a retired couple from Omaha flying into SFO is required to not only possess a smartphone but also download an app, give a third-party company their personal information, agree to terms of service that allow them to track their movements and then sell that information to other companies for marketing purposes just to get a ride into The City is the day you can officially say San Francisco has lost its soul.”

We were at The Orbit Room, and while he wrote down my comment, one of those old streetcars from Vienna clattered past on Market Street.

No, taxis aren’t going anywhere. And automated vehicles are a long, long way off. In San Francisco, anyway. Unless The City invests millions of dollars in public infrastructure.

Several months ago, I drove two guys who picked my brain about which streets in The City were the worst to drive on. As soon as I found out they worked for Ford, I challenged them on the issue of self-driving cars.

“You know they’ll never work here, don’t you?” I demanded. “It’s hard enough for a human to drive in this city, much less a computer. Besides potholes the size of Lake Merritt, many streets don’t even have clearly marked lanes. How are lasers supposed to detect something that’s not there? It’s impossible, right?”

Both guys nodded.

No, taxis aren’t going anywhere.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

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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]

The I DRIVE S.F. Newsletter

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Subscribe to the I DRIVE S.F. Newsletter

The free monthly I DRIVE S.F. Newsletter is a supplement to the weekly San Francisco Examiner column, collecting expurgated content with reader correspondence and anecdotes from passengers and fellow taxi drivers about living and working in today’s San Francisco…

It’s an attempt to recreate the kind of dialogue that only seems to happen in the back of a taxicab, where the anonymity of the experience often allows people to talk honestly and openly express themselves…

Also, a way to assemble as many diverse voices from the city as possible and combine them all into a communication smorgasbord…

Wanna take the ride?

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The SFO Casino

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When all else fails, there’s always the SFO casino …

On most nights, deadheading to the airport is a gamble. But with taxis sandbagging every hotel, bar, strip joint and DJ club in The City, a Hail Mary seems like the only option.

On my way to the freeway, I stop by Mythic Pizza for a couple slices. Not much is happening on Haight Street. The only customers inside the restaurant are two young ladies sitting at a table having a very loud, profanity-laden conversation about their personal lives.

When my slices are ready, I look for the parmesan, but the container isn’t with the other condiments — it’s on the table where the young ladies are sitting.

I ask if they’re done with the cheese.

“Do your thing,” one says snidely.

Uh, OK. I carry it back to the counter and sprinkle the cheese liberally over my pepperoni slices.

As I’m heading out the door, the girls yell at me:

“Whoa, dude! Where’s our parmesan?”

“What?” I laugh, as if they’re fucking with me.

Their serious faces imply otherwise …

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

The Rain, The Conference and the Inbound Shuffle

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Slowly, as the holiday season recedes like a bad memory and 2018 offers a plethora of new reasons to be outraged, San Francisco begins to show signs of life again. The weekends are still quiet, and there’s not much action in any particular neighborhood, but at least you get the sense that The City is not officially dormant. Yet.

Last week, the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference rolled through town, with several thousand deep-pocketed attendees who seemed to have no problem throwing money around. I was only able to take advantage of one day of the convention, but if my experience on Wednesday was any indication of the previous two, the event more than made up for a lackluster New Year’s Eve and the dismal December that preceded it.

Most rides are short, but as one fare ends, another begins. And a light drizzle means even more potential rides. All those $7 and $10 rides quickly add up. Then, just as I’m feeling lucky, I get pushed out of the loop and wind up in the Mission.

OK. Just a minor setback, I tell myself. It’s not like I’m going to turn down fares …

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

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]

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]