Tag Archives: drugs

The Rascally Couple Looking for Late Night Snacks and Adventure

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“Always say yes.”

During a recent Recitation of the Waybill, a bunch of us were standing around the National office as Late Night Larry offered up some of his incontrovertible advice.

“No matter the question,” he snarled. “The answer is always yes.”

I’ve implemented many of Larry’s words of wisdom over the years, but sometimes it’s my own rules that save the day. Like that Friday night when I was inbound on Columbus at 3 a.m., waiting for the light to change at Pacific.

Behind me, the neon lights of Broadway are diffused in the fog like the setup to a Scooby-Doo mystery, while stragglers lurk in dark corners.

Just as the signal turns green, a young black guy and an older white woman approach my cab. Besides the overwhelming stench of booze that’s almost palpable, their eyes are spinning in their sockets, suggesting other intoxicants.

“Hey! You’re cute!” the woman screeches at me. “Can I touch your hair?”

Less of a request and more of a warning, I try to dodge her grasp.

“Let’s not molest the driver,” the guy says with a giggle. “Yet.”

“Uhhh … Where to?” I ask hesitantly.

“We need snacks!” the woman shouts. “Pronto!”

“Driver, do you know where we can get some snacks?” the guy asks calmly, as if his companion’s exclamation wasn’t clear enough.

I suggest Union Square. With several 24-hour diners, fast food and a 7-Eleven, it covers all the bases for late night snack options. And close enough to get this rascally duo out of my cab. Pronto.

Read the rest here.

Crackheads are People Too

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is a night in the life of a crack baby…

It’s been a weird night. I’m still waiting to hear back from the lab about my drug test to renew my A-Card, which is about to expire in a few days. In the meantime, my cab has become a mecca for dope deals.

So far tonight, my backseat has hosted transactions of heroin, weed, molly and blow. Hey, it’s San Francisco. Everything’s cool, unless you’re a taxi driver who smokes a little pot during his free time. Then you have to jump through a bunch of regulatory hoops to keep your job…

Bill Graham is breaking. As M83 fans pour out of the auditorium past the metal barricades into the steady rain that hasn’t let up all evening, I wait in the intersection of Grove and Polk for a fare. But there are no takers. I swing around to the Larkin side and strike out there, too.

As I head down Grove, I hear, “Taxi!”

I look around.

“Taxi!”

On the other side of Hyde Street, I see two guys and a girl pushing a stroller with a clear plastic sheet draped over it. They’re flagging every taxi that goes by, even though none have their toplights on.

When they spot me, the mother and her companions cross the street. I pull over and hit my hazards.

A sense of civic duty kicks in. It’s my job to get this family out of the elements. But as they get closer, I realize this isn’t your typical family out for an evening promenade in the pouring rain. They all have scarred faces, missing teeth, hollow eyes and dingy clothes that suggest they spend most of their days sitting on the filthy sidewalks of San Francisco.

I’m beginning to wonder if there’s really even a baby in that stroller.

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Keith Haring said it before Whitney Houston

Read the rest of the column here.

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the accompanying image for this column, btw, is not the recommended method for smoking crack

What’s in a Passenger?

BOG

On the Prevalence of Women Drugged Against Their Will in the SF Bay Area and Ending Up in Taxis and Ride-Hails

My column in the S.F. Examiner this week is about transporting a woman who was most likely drugged. As I mention in the column, the frequency of women getting drugged at bars in the San Francisco Bay Area has become way too common.

It’s alarming how many women I encounter who’ve unknowingly had their drinks spiked in bars. No place is immune. Not even the Cat Club, which usually has a very sophisticated clientele.

Recently, I had a long conversation with a bartender who told me, in the 10 years she’s been in San Francisco, she’s been roofied three times.

In the past, I’ve written about dealing with situations like this as an Uber driver.

As a taxi driver I was confronted with a situation out of my control:

A few months ago, a very intoxicated and distraught young lady showed up in the National cab yard. She only had one high-heeled boot on and no idea where she lived, or where her friends went.

A cab driver brought her into the yard out of desperation after picking her up and not knowing what to do with her.

Since the cab yards are in the Bayview, it would have been natural to assume this girl was homeless and/or on drugs, but she was wearing designer jeans, her hair was done up and her nails were manicured.

While she ran around the junk piles and broken down cabs in a hysterical daze, no one knew what to do with her. That’s the problem with a woman in this condition: most men are afraid to intervene because of potentially misperceived impropriety.

But I’m relatively comfortable dealing with super intoxicated women. So I led the girl to the couch in the lounge area and tried to get her to relax. I held her hands between mine and reassured her that she was safe. I encouraged her to focus on her breathing. I reminded her repeatedly that she was going to feel better soon, that this would pass.

Just as I’d finally calmed her down, flashlights lit up the area and three large cops approached. Someone had called the cops.

I got out of their way, but I tried to mention to them that she just needed to go to the emergency room and get a bed with a blanket until whatever drug she was on wore off. But cops being cops, they surround her and begin to question her like a criminal.

When Colin and I left the yard, they had her on McKinnon sitting on the curb.

I guess they were calling an ambulance after giving her the option of going to jail or to the hospital.

That was a hard lesson learned: never call the cops unless you need a gun.

Anyway, the following is my piece on overly intoxicated women passengers , expanded from the original column published in the S.F. Examiner; as it appears in the zine Behind the Wheel 3: The Unexpurgated Columns:

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Not much is happening. Just a boring Thursday night. I pull up to the Cat Club and shoot the shit with Chucky, Liz and John, the stalwarts of the ad hoc cabstand there, until I’m on deck.

As I watch the throng of smokers for a potential fare, I get a Flywheel request for 1190 Folsom: the address of the Cat Club.

Bingo.

A few minutes later, two women approach my cab.

“This is for Gina, right?” one asks me. I nod and she opens the back door, helps the other inside and says, “Make sure she gets home safe.”

I turn around. Gina looks a little rough around the edges.

“Where to?” I ask.

She mumbles something about Battery and Jackson.

As I head towards the Financial, Gina starts to whimper slightly.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“Sure. I mean… Not really.”

“You wanna talk about it?”

She garbles something. Goes silent.

Guess not.

At each red light, I watch her in the rearview gradually keel over onto the backseat. She seems to be sleeping, even though her eyes are half open.

Since nothing about her indicates she’s consumed enough alcohol to be this wasted, I assume she’s been roofied.

It’s alarming how many women I encounter who’ve unknowingly had their drinks spiked in bars. No place is immune. Not even the Cat Club, which usually has a very sophisticated clientele.

Recently, I had a long conversation with a bartender who told me, in the ten years she’s been in San Francisco, she’s been roofied three times. Once she woke up in a strange bed, in a strange apartment, with no clue how she got there. Turned out a guy found her the night before raving like a lunatic on the median at Van Ness and Union. Since she’d lost her purse and couldn’t remember her address, he took her home, gave up his bed and slept in the office chair at his desk. A fortunate turn of events, we concurred.

Unlike two years ago, when Irina met a friend at Kingfish in Temescal for a couple drinks. After a while, Irina felt sick, went to the bathroom, threw up and walked back to our apartment four blocks away. I came home later that night and she was still asleep. Her friend, however, woke up in the emergency room.

Sadly, I’ve dealt with so many drugged women in my cab I’ve become adept at dealing with the nerve-racking process of getting them out of my taxi and into their homes.

It’s always upsetting and I’m usually paralyzed with fear that something I do may seem or come across inappropriate.

With so many news reports about Uber drivers sexually assaulting passengers, it’s terrifying to be in these vulnerable situations myself. Because I can see how easily temptation arises while transporting extremely young girls, especially when they pass out in the backseat of your car in their tiny skirts, with their legs open, or their tops in disarray and their breasts exposed… For a man with little to no willpower or possessed with an uncontrollable momentary urge, these types of opportunities would be hard to resist.

Whenever girls pass out in my backseat of my cab in a short skirt, I don’t look between their legs. Not just because I’m trying to be a gentleman, or that I’m trying to resist temptation. No, I’m respecting a woman’s body and her right to privacy, even in – especially in – a weakened state.

I keep my eyes up. I turn the lights on and roust them from their slumber. If they come to and are cognizant, I make sure they know my eyes are in the rearview mirror, where I can only see their faces. Or at the least, if they’re completely oblivious, I know in my mind that I’ve done all I can do to protect them when they’re helpless.

It’s my job to get people home safe and sound. And that’s what I do. With as much dignity as possible…

So… when I arrive at Gina’s building, I wake her up and ask if she needs help. Once she gives me permission, I open the back door and extend my arm. She stands up and wobbles, but I hold her steady.

As she gains her balance, she swings around and tries to embrace me, giggling. Sensing her inhibitions due to the drugs, I grab the strap of her shoulder bag and slowly guide her towards the building like a marionette. Along the way, she gets more playful and tries to impede the operation.

“Let’s focus, okay?” I tell her. “You need to get home.”

When we get to the front door, I ask if she has her keys.

“Right here!” She pulls them out joyfully.

I open the door for her, but there’s no way I’m crossing the threshold. “Can you make it to the elevator?”

“I’ll be fine!” she insists, though not very convincingly.

“You’re a pro!” I psych her up to make the final stretch into her apartment. “You got this.”

“I’m a pro!”

“Yeah!”

As she’s about to enter the lobby, she turns around and demands a kiss. Just then, someone emerges from the elevator and I’m able to redirect her advance.

“Quick! Get on the elevator before the doors close!”

Gina careens back inside but doesn’t reach the elevator in time. While she staggers back towards me, laughing hysterically, the girl who got off the elevator stands nearby staring into her phone.

“No! No!” I shout. “Press the button again!”

Gina follows my instructions and, when the doors open, she goes inside. As I wait for them to close, she opens them at the last moment to play peek-a-boo.

“That’s not very pro!” I tell her sternly.

Finally, the doors close and I take off.

Back in my cab, I head to the yard. I’ve had enough excitement for a boring Thursday night.

First photo  by Trevor Johnson. Second photo from Night on Earth, a film about taxi drivers around the wold, directed by Jim Jarmusch.

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.