Tag Archives: drugged out passengers

Marin County Thrill Ride

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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]

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]

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 Night of Early Morning Stragglers

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about misadventures while working the early morning crowd on Thanksgiving Day…

Lately, I’ve been playing with days, trying to carve out a schedule that’s not just lucrative but also conducive to the mind, the body, the kid, the wife and BART.

As part of my experimentation, I take a chance and work the day before Thanksgiving. Business is respectable during the first part of my shift, but after midnight, the streets are deserted. No cars. No pedestrians. No panhandlers. Just the occasional straggler. And Mr. Judy and me, rolling from one bar to the next, pulling up and looking through the doors for any signs of life …

“It’s really dead,” I say.

“I love it like this,” Mr. Judy responds cheerfully. “This is the San Francisco I miss.”

Despite the lack of paying customers, San Francisco is magical during the holidays — and Burning Man — when most of the transplants have gone home, leaving The City to those of us who have no other home. For a change, the majority of people you see out and about look like they could be your friends.

Once Mr. Judy gives up and I take him home, a regular calls me. She needs to drop off the keys her boyfriend accidentally left at her place in the Mission.

When I pull up, she climbs in the front seat, which is her wont, and plugs my aux cable into her phone.

“I’m so annoyed right now,” she says, manipulating the settings in the cab’s stereo.

“Where are we heading?” I ask.

“Outer Richmond. Take the long way.”

As I meander through the night, she doesn’t say much. The music plays, and we watch The City stream past.

On my way to drop her back home, I pass a flag on Valencia. Once free, I quickly swing around the block. The guy is still there. He gets in on the left and sits right behind me.

“I’m so glad you picked me [up],” he says, “Otherwise, I might have done something stupid.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Well, I’m just drunk and stoned right now. Oh, and I’ve been doing blow all night. But if you hadn’t got me out of there, I would’ve ended up smoking crack and doing crystal … and that … that would be bad.”

“How so?”

“When I smoke crack and snort meth, I always seem to let some dude give me head.”

I’m not sure how to respond, failing to see the problem.

“I’m not gay!”

“Oh.”

Read the rest of the column here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

2015 Folsom Street Fair proves to be profitable for taxi drivers

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Originally published on October 2, 2015 in the S.F. Examiner

It was a good week to be a taxi driver.

With an estimated 400,000 people attending the Folsom Street Fair on Sunday, business was booming from the start of my shift on Thursday afternoon all the way to Monday morning, when I crawled home from the MacArthur BART station, my mind fried, my bones aching and my pockets bulging with cash.

Thursday started out with epic gridlock in SoMa. My first fare, from Caltrain to Bush and Gough, took 45 minutes and cost $36.

Things just kept going from there.

Friday was even busier. Each time I dropped off a passenger, another fare was waiting to get into my backseat.

“Is some event going on?” a woman asks me at one point. “Why is it surging?”

I want to remind her she was in a cab, thus I have no clue what’s going on with Uber, and while I know we’re all in an open relationship now, some of us aren’t exactly happy about the arrangement. But instead I politely tell her about the Folsom Street Fair, the AC/DC concert that night at the ballpark and TwitchCon at Moscone Center.

“I’m lucky you came along then,” she says.

“You are,” I agree, as we blow past dozens of people flagging me down.

Saturday… I don’t even remember much about what happened on Saturday after I left my apartment, stumbling down Telegraph, unsure if I would even make it to BART without face planting into the pavement.

Everything becomes a blur from the strain of multiple 12-hour shifts behind the wheel, the hassle of getting from Oakland to the National yard in Bayview and, somehow, managing to squeeze in a little shuteye.

Forget about a personal life.

After a while, I’m just a driving machine.

A muscle and a brain.

On Sunday, I start my shift and go straight to SoMa to work the Folsom Street Fair. The annual BDSM and leather subculture fair is the third largest street fair in California, after Pride and the Rose Parade.

I head in on Potrero and then up Division, which is congested. I cut across two lanes of traffic and head down Bryant. Everyone’s turning left at Seventh so I take Sixth and go west on Howard.

There are supposed to be cabstands on Eighth, but once again, I use the same techniques I did with the Dreamforce Gala and Outside Lands. I stick to the periphery—Eighth and Harrison Streets—where I have access to the best avenues of escape.

Folsom Street Fair proves to be pay dirt. And also my gayest—err, I mean, greatest—night of cab driving in San Francisco.

It felt like the old days, when the rest of The City was “Castro adjacent.”

Without a single lull, the rides kept coming and I just kept shoving the money into my chest pockets.

I transport an endless stream of festivalgoers to and from after parties, many zonked out on GHB, some fully clothed, others half-naked, most clad in leather and everything and anything else in between.

Very few passengers talk, comatose from the drugs, cavorting at the Fair and untold hours of dancing.

One guy, who flags me down on Market, spends the entire ride groaning and drooling on his wrestler’s uniform. When I pull up to Park Central, he removes two $5 bills from a striped tube sock. The fare is $12 but I don’t argue. Even though it’s in my best interest to get the hell out of Dodge, I wait to make sure he’s safe. He meanders into Third Street and then onto the sidewalk towards Market.

“You’re going the wrong way!” I yell out my window.

Eventually, he careens in the direction of his hotel.

People continue to pour out of 1015 Folsom long after the 4 AM closing time. I could keep going, too, but I have a 4:45 cab. With five minutes to spare, I hit the gas station on Army and turn in.

Three days of sleep later, I’m still wiped out.

Next weekend is the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, which should be another profitable, albeit exhausting, week of cab driving.

As things begin to look up, though, I think about what Late Night Larry told me as he dropped me off at the Civic Center BART on Monday morning:

“Don’t forget… winter is coming.”

For Whom The Uber Tolls

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It’s Saturday night… not even late. A few minutes after nine. I’m at Mission and 7th. Get a request for an address on Market, a block and a half away. I take a right on 7th and pull into the far left lane. As I turn onto Market, a girl in cut-off jeans and a tank top waves me down. She’s practically in the middle of the street. Grabs my door handle before I can even stop. Climbs in the backseat.

I ask if she’s Andrea, the name of the person I’m supposed to pick up. She mumbles something and rolls down the window. The rider destination has already been added in the app so I start the ride.

“We’re going to the Richmond then?” I ask, anticipating a nice long ride with 1.5x surge. Cha-ching. She says nothing. I look over my shoulder. She’s curled up against the door, passed out. I start driving, hoping and praying she isn’t a potential puker. Turn off Market onto Hayes and then right on Franklin.

As I approach O’Farrell, I get a text from the generic Uber number: “I’m on 8th and Market across from Chase.”

I immediately pull over. What the hell? I wake up the girl in my back seat. “Hey! I think you got in the wrong car.”

She comes to, but her eyes are blurry. She’s not all there. It’s obvious she’s wasted. I don’t smell alcohol though.

“You got into the wrong car,” I tell her again.

She’s confused. “Uhhmmm… I can get out…” She has an accent. As her voice trails off, she looks around. She has no idea where she is.

Oh man… I feel my pulse accelerate as the reality hits me. I picked up the wrong passenger! And she’s not even sober enough to share my distress!!

Besides losing a profitable fare, I was hoping to make the $38-an-hour guarantee Uber’s offering this weekend. And the only way to accomplish that is by staying online for the entire hour. With the Treasure Island Music Festival and several other events going on in town, business was supposed to be “off the charts,” according to the numerous emails I’d received from Uber about it all week. With rent on the horizon, I really need the money from a busy weekend. But I can’t just leave this very intoxicated girl on the street in the Western Addition.

“Where do you need to go?” I ask.

She tells me an address on Battery Street. I assume that’s what she probably said when she first got in the car. I have her repeat the address a second time, just to make sure. Ask if she’s okay.

“Yeah.” She curls back up against the door.

I cancel the original ride and tap the fare review link. Select the option “don’t charge — wrong client.”

At least the Financial District isn’t that far away. If I hurry, I can get her home fast, get back online and maybe still score some of the Uber guarantee for the hour.

As I’m about to pull out, my phone rings. The generic Uber number. It’s Andrea, the girl who actually requested the ride. I explain, as apologetically and calmly as I can, that I picked up the wrong passenger. I tell her that I’ve already canceled the ride and will make sure she doesn’t get charged. And that I’ll send a follow up email to Uber. She asks what to do next. I tell her to request another ride. Apologize again. All the while, I resist the urge to tell her what really happened. Maybe she’s willing to help me? I could use some female assistance. What if I have to drag this girl’s unconscious body out of my car by myself?

I don’t even want to think about that scenario!

With growing trepidation, I begin my via dolorosa to Battery Street. Fighting traffic and shitting bricks. I can’t help but wonder, What if something happens along the way? What if I get in an accident? How do I explain to the authorities why I have some random chick passed out in my backseat? Is my conscience really that guilty? Or have I just been reading way too many news articles lately about rapes and assaults and all kinds of horrible situations in Uber cars? I mean, how can I not be paranoid, now that it’s happening to me? After all, who am I but some guy in a gypsy cab?

I try to take deep breaths. My fear has become sentient. It’s talking to me. Trying to convince me that I do, in fact, really need to freak the fuck out. Yes, old friend, I know… This is some serious shit. Best to get it over with as fast as possible.

As I’m rushing through Nob Hill, another request comes in. Damn it! I forgot to go offline. I let the request time out. Make sure I’m no longer in driver mode. I don’t need to screw up my acceptance rate too.

When I finally reach the address, I heave a sigh of relief. There’s even a place to pull over in front of the high rise with a glass lobby and storefronts. Finally, the universe is throwing me a bone. I take another deep breath and wake the girl up.

“Hey! We’re here!”

I’m surprised how easily she comes to. But she’s still really out of it. I ask if she needs help. She says no. Reaches around the seat and floorboard, seemingly for her purse or phone. It doesn’t look like she has either. I notice there are twigs in her hair. I ask if she’s okay. She says that she is fine. There’s a tinge of annoyance in her voice, like she’s sick of me asking. Opens the car door and careens into the street, in the opposite direction of the apartment building.

I yell after her, “You’re going the wrong way!”

Fortunately, there’s no traffic. She spins around and heads towards the right building.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” I call out.

She comes back towards me and reaches for my hand.

“Thank you so much.”

“You’re going to be okay, right?”

“Yeah.”

But I’m not convinced. She walks to the building and struggles to get through the door. A guy eventually opens it for her. She moves aimlessly through the lobby and then gets into an elevator. I can only hope this is where she lives and that she makes it into her apartment. I hesitate before taking off. Tell myself, At least she’s safer here than in the Civic Center.

I pull into the first parking spot I can find and contact Uber the only way I can: a support ticket through their clunky website. After clicking through a bunch of drop-down menus that encourage me to check the FAQ before contacting them, I explain in my message what happened, how I picked up the wrong passenger and had to take the girl home. I’m also worried how this mix-up will affect my rating. Since I have to rate Andrea before I can go back online, I’m sure she still has the option to rate me, at least until the fare has been reversed. I’ve worked hard to maintain my 4.9 rating. I’d hate to get dinged for what was essentially an emergency situation.

Why were there were twigs in the girl’s hair? I checked the back seat after she got out and discovered an enormous amount of crushed leaves on the floorboard. Way more than usual anyway. The girl could have been drugged at a bar on Polk Street and fell into some bushes as she wandered through the Tenderloin looking for a way home. With the influx of frat bros in San Francisco, GHB is floating around everywhere now. A few months back, the Wife and her friend were drugged at a hipster bar just a few blocks from our apartment in Temescal. The wife managed to stumble home, but her friend woke up the next morning in the emergency room. This shit is real.

More than anything, I wish there was a way to find out if she had actually requested an Uber and mistook me for her driver. Or was she so fucked up that she just saw the U in my window and expected me to take her home? The use of rideshare cars in San Francisco has become second nature for most people. Maybe, in her incapacitated state, she just followed instinct.

Uber, of course, would have some of these answers. They have the ability to see, in real time, all the Uber activity on the road. This isn’t the first time I’ve picked up the wrong passenger. It happened once while driving for Lyft. But that was several months ago and I was able to talk to somebody on the phone who told me he could see that the guy I was supposed to pick up had gotten into another car. Of course, that’s not an option with Uber. They have no telephone support.

The fact is, we are hardly protected if we get into an accident under normal circumstances. We are told to use our personal insurance, which won’t cover damages while engaged in commercial activity. And without a number to call, we can only email Uber afterwards and hope their insurance company decides to cover it. They also charge us a deductible. Had there been an accident while I was driving this girl home, I could have tried to use my own insurance and say she was a friend, or that I was just helping her out. But it would be difficult to explain why she was in my back seat unconscious. And I’d have to hope she would play along, if she remembered anything the next day.

It’s alarming to think how alone we are on the streets. This time, a disaster was averted. But what about all the other times? I’m not the first driver to face similar circumstances. This exact scenario happened recently in Boston and the driver raped the woman after forcing her to withdraw money from an ATM.

Every week there are new reports of Uber drivers assaulting and sexually harassing passengers. It seems Uber doesn’t worry about the negative publicity, as long as Uber is in the news cycle. Despite a storied history of erratic drivers, ridesharing continues to become commonplace. For each person who decides to avoid Uber because of a potential violent driver, there are others who see the counterpoint that one could just as easily be attacked by a cab driver. Still, it’s kind of ridiculous that when they have a chance to extoll the positive aspects of ridesharing, Uber is just as nonresponsive.

At the very least, they could have emailed me back. Told me something. They email me daily with deals for car loans and wake me up first thing every morning with texts about signing up my friends who drive for Lyft and Sidecar. And yet, I can’t even get a canned reply?

As it is, for all my effort, I’m just left with a potential low rating and an overwhelming sense of how vulnerable we are out there.

Every single one of us.