Scenes of San Francisco and the Bay Area from behind the wheel:
My column this week for the S.F. Examiner touches on some of the racial elements in taxi driving…
On the corner of Folsom and 6th, a guy is standing with his hand in the air. Even though it’s not a night to be turning down fares — if there ever are nights like that anymore — three empty taxis in a row blow right past him.
When he turns around to flag me, I see what the problem is: He’s young and black, with dreads protruding from his hoodie and a gold grill flickering in the haze of a streetlamp.
As he approaches my cab hesitantly, I gesture him forward, and he jumps into the backseat. Up close, he looks more like a lost kid than a gangster, despite the getup.
“I need to get to Richmond hella bad,” he tells me.
“District or city?”
“Oh, man …” I stammer. “It’s after 1 a.m. and uh … that’s a pretty long ride. You think I can get some cash up front?” Adding a quick, “No offense or anything.”
Which actually makes the request more offensive.
Read the rest here.
Stranger in my Hometown – The “I Drive LA” Edition
This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about my trip to LA.
Over the past week, Trumpmania has made it almost impossible to focus on anything besides the election results, as well as the sobering realization I may be one of those left-coast elites disconnected from the rest of the country.
Completely unrelated, though entirely opportune, I distracted myself from the armchair quarterbacking — and the taxi life — for a couple days with a road trip to Los Angeles.
Even though I’m a native Angeleno, I’ve only gone back to Southern California three times in as many years. These days, I feel more like a stranger in my hometown.
Also, driving a taxi 40 hours a week in San Francisco has no doubt helped shape my perception of the two places, because the differences blew me away immediately.
Read the rest of the column here.
An all too common scenario:
I’m at a busy intersection. Say, South Van Ness and 24th. I’m on 24th. Turning right onto Van Ness.
The light is green.
My signal is flashing. As I wait for the pedestrians to cross, I watch the car turning left in the middle of the intersection. We both have traffic lined up behind us. I glance in my side mirror. A girl in a Sentra looks distressed. No doubt wondering if she’s going to make the light. I’m wondering the exact same thing as an endless column of pedestrians moves past.
Mr. Left Turner’s face is full of determination. I’m already pulled as far to the right as I can go without entering the crosswalk. Who’s going to make it first? Me or him? The crowd is thinning. The last pedestrian, an old lady with two oversized bags, is almost in the middle of the street as the number next to the flashing red hand ticks down.
I’m ready. So is Mr. Left Turner. The girl behind me inches closer to my bumper. Once the old lady is a few feet from the curb, I’m going for it. Mr. Left Turner’s just gonna have to wait.
Just as I’m about to remove my foot from the brake and take off, I see a guy in tight raw denim jeans and a hoodie, staring at his iPhone, enter the crosswalk. Two seconds to go. The old lady is about to step on the curb as Tight Jeans slowly makes his way across the street, never once taking his face out of his phone.
Mr. Left Turner charges through the intersection, beating Tight Jeans to the middle of the street as the light turns red. Not exactly the safest maneuver, but at least he got through the light. My front end is blocking the right lane on Van Ness. We’re all waiting for Tight Pants MaGoo to finish sauntering across the street.
“Show some fucking hustle,” I mumble. “Motherfucker.”
I curse his pants.
I curse his hoodie.
I curse his very existence.
Of course, he can’t hear me with earbuds blocking out the world and sealing in the oblivion.
I fantasize about hitting the gas. Just plowing into the crosswalk and taking out this self-entitled douchebag. I wonder if I could generate enough speed to get him airborne? I’d really like to see him fly through the air, flip off the grill of my car, smash into my windshield, roll over the roof and tumble to the pavement with two broken legs and several cracked ribs. Maybe then he’d finally realize he doesn’t own the world just cause he makes a hundred grand a year at a bullshit start-up and dresses like a middle-schooler.
Once Tight Pants MaGoo is out of harm’s way, the cars move past me, flashing dirty looks, like I’m the asshole who screwed up traffic.
Fuck, I hate that guy.
I know that there’s a strong tradition of jaywalking in San Francisco. It’s part of the pedestrian culture of the city. People who’ve lived in LA and San Francisco will always marvel at the difference between walking in the two cities.
In LA, you don’t jaywalk. Period. Besides possibly getting a ticket, you’ll get run over. Walking in LA is a blood sport. You look both ways fifty times before you even cross on the green in case some dickwad in a Porsche is trying to outrun oncoming traffic. Cars have the right of way. After all, only a nobody walks in LA. So you better fucking watch out.
In San Francisco, the accepted practice is to cross once there are no more cars coming, regardless of whether the light is red or green. The stoplights here are brutal. Even when there’s not a single car on the road, the lights play out their pattern. And it’s usually chilly. So standing on a corner waiting for a walk signal is absurd. But these new transplants, in their infinite need to feel like they have more rights than the rest of us, take this custom of pedestrian rights to the ultimate degree. They incorporate it into their general attitude of entitlement.
And people wonder why pedestrians are getting run over all the time…
As an LA native, I know my way around a traffic jam. Driving in LA is a part of life. We take it seriously. Newcomers have a learning curve, but they quickly get indoctrinated into the LA style of driving or face dire consequences.
LA drivers are like wild animals trapped in cages. If you poke at us with your crappy driving, we will strike back viciously and get you in line. Road rage is the equivalent of an ape throwing his shit at a contemptible visitor to the zoo.
LA drivers know all to well the primal animosity that surges up through your body and overwhelms you to the point of violence when you have to deal with some moron’s shitty driving. I once stopped my car in the street, got out and banged on this asshole’s window for tailgating me when I was looking for parking. The terrified look on his face may or may not have been worth the potential assault charge, but it made me feel better at the time.
As a Lyft and Uber driver in San Francisco, I traverse almost the entire city over the course of a weekend. It’s a small place. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t perilous.
San Francisco’s narrow streets are filled with cars, buses, bicyclists and pedestrians. It’s much more difficult to navigate San Francisco than LA, where the streets are only clogged with other cars.
Many passengers have asked me how I’m able to deal with driving in San Francisco. I tell them it’s like mastering a video game. You’re always trying to get to the next level. But honestly, it’s really not that difficult. The hardest part of driving in San Francisco is Bay Area drivers. They are the absolute shittiest drivers I’ve ever encountered.
I have a list of grievances I log daily in my Moleskin. These are the most egregious examples of horrible driving I see on a daily basis:
1. Asleep at the wheel when the light turns green.
What the fuck? Pay attention! You’re in traffic! Be prepared to drive when the light turns green. Step on the fucking gas! I wanna get through the light too. It never fails, if I’m three cars behind the one at the light, I know I’m not going to make it through the intersection.
2. Four way stops.
Some basic shit here, folks. The first person to stop is the first person to go. It’s not every man for himself. As you approach the four way intersection, pay attention to who gets there first. Look at their wheels. Have they stopped before yours? Yes? Then let them go. If not, you go. Two people stop at the same time? The one on the right goes. Three people? The one on the right still goes! This isn’t rocket science! I know throwing pedestrians into the mix makes it a tab bit confusing. But even though I have to skip my turn to let somebody cross, I’m still in the queue, goddamn it!
Okay, the concept of two lanes of traffic becoming one seems to be mind-boggling to everybody. Even though, like a four way stop, there is a basic rule: one car from one lane, one car from the other lane. Like folding cards into a deck. Or a zipper. This method keeps the flow of traffic moving and ensures everybody gets where they’re going without creating complete chaos. It’s fair and it’s the fucking law. But while drivers in every city fuck this simple method up, I have never seen cars in a merging lane perpendicular to traffic until I started driving in the Bay Area. East Bay drivers in particular seem to treat merge lanes as a free-for-all. And nobody respects a solid line! Solid means you can’t change lanes, asshole!
4. Double parking.
Sure, they’re nowhere to park in San Francisco and when you’re driving for hire, you have to pull over to pick people up and let them out in awkward situations all the time. But there are certain streets, namely the arterial thoroughfares, where double parking is not just impractical, it completely interrupts the flow of traffic. And yet it’s completely avoidable. Pull into a driveway. Let the person out on the corner. Do ANYTHING but don’t STOP in the middle of the street. Arterial thoroughfares are the closest things to freeways in San Francisco. They are the quickest ways to cross the city. So don’t fuck it up for everybody else because you can’t be bothered to find a safe place to pull over.
5. Blocking intersections.
Again, it’s a simple rule of the road: if the car in front of you has not cleared the opposite crosswalk, don’t enter the intersection. You are going to block opposing traffic. Do you enjoy feeling like an asshole stuck in the middle of the intersection as traffic backs up waiting for you to move? You know everyone hates you, right?
6. Changing lanes on the freeway.
Do you really think that changing into the lane that is moving slightly more than the one you’re already in will get you where you’re going faster? If so, you’d be wrong. And an idiot. Once you and all the other moronic drivers move into that lane, it will slow down the rest. There is no escape! Just accept the futility of traffic and don’t make it worse for the rest of us!
Those are the top six grievances. I could go on and on. Believe me…
I swear, the only thing worse than driving in San Francisco is dealing with San Franciscan pedestrians.