Tag Archives: fuck uber

When I Was a Newbie

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My last two columns for the S.F. Examiner were interconnected, published in two parts.

The first installment, published last week, describes a ride with two ladies who, when I tell them I’ve only been driving for three years, start calling me a “newb” and offering ridiculous advice on how to become a good horrible cab driver.

“You shouldn’t be so nice, newb,” one of the women says.

“You’re never going to make it as a cab driver with that attitude,” says the other.

Their joint laughter is cut short when I turn left onto Hyde.

“This is us over here on the right.”

I hit the hazards and the overhead light.

“I only have a credit card,” the second woman tells me.

“That’s perfectly fine,” I say, inserting the Square reader into my phone.

“Come on newb!” snaps the first woman. “You’re supposed to say your card reader is broken.”

Yeah, they were drunk and having a laugh, but, in part two, published this week, I write about how the old “cabbie ways,” as glorified by these ladies in jest, are what led to rise of Uber and Lyft. And how, when I actually was a “newb” – that is, a hapless Lyft driver – most of my passengers told me they’d started using these new ride-hail options because of all their bad experiences with taxis in the past…

… most of my passengers had these nightmare experiences dealing with The City’s taxi service that mirrored the ladies’ acerbic suggestions: not accepting credit cards, refusing non-airport rides, talking on the phone incessantly and freaking out if you questioned their route.

It seemed like you weren’t a real San Franciscan unless you had a handful of horror stories about taking taxis. People talked about missing flights, losing jobs, getting stuck in the rain and practically left for dead.

My Lyft passengers were so thrilled to have a ride they didn’t care that I barely knew how to get around. (Or refused to attach that hideous pink mustache to the grill of my Jetta.)

Of course, while Lyft and Uber may have solved some of these problems by busting up the taxi industry’s monopoly and in the process forcing out the bad apples who were only able to thrive in a field without competition that capitalized on the public’s desperate need for transportation, a new breed of sleazy operators was unleashed: Uber/Lyft drivers.

But more on that disreputable lot next week…

[photo by Christian Lewis]

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I Drive a Taxi So You Don’t Have to

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This week’s column is about growing weary of the taxi conversation, creating confusion by driving a clean cab, exhaustion from working long shifts and unconsciously eating yoghurt naked due to said exhaustion… But not necessarily in that order…

There are days when I don’t even want to think about driving a taxi. Days when I’d just as soon contemplate anything but what goes on behind the wheel of a cab at night in The City.

Today is one of those days.

Given the option, I’d rather discuss this psychotic election cycle, the hunger strike outside the Mission Police Station, the fate of Syrian refugees or even my fucked up life. Anything but taxis. But this is supposed to be a column about driving a taxi … so taxis it is. 

Read the rest here.

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Photo by Christian Lewis.

T.J. Miller of TV Show Silicon Valley Skewers Travis Kalanick

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T.J. Miller, the actor who plays Erlich Bachman on HBO’s Silicon Valley, was interviewed by Esquire recently and lambasted the tech culture of Silicon Valley for not “getting it.”

He goes on to blast Uber CEO Travis Kalanick:

At the Crunchies everyone was like, “That’s Travis Kalanick’s girlfriend.” I was like, “Who is that?” And they were like, “What!? The guy from Uber!” They’re all kind of walking around with too much money, but [they have] great ideas sometimes. But Uber is a horrible company. They’re horrible to their drivers. And because it’s a new frontier, they can play by their own rules. They just squeeze the drivers for everything. They’re just increasing the IPO so Travis Kalanick can jack off to it at night, I guess?

T.J. Miller isn’t the funniest guy, but he sure does love to rag on techies.

What Makes a Cab Driver an Asshole?

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My column in the S.F. Examiner this week is about getting into a fight with an Uber driver in Union Square

The longer I drive a cab, the more I realize I need to be more of an asshole.

Like the night I drove this guy from Eleventh Street to his apartment in Pac Heights. He was friendly and we had a good time. In front of his beaux arts building, he tells me his life story. I listen patiently, $15.05 on the meter, thinking he’s going to give me a decent tip for being an impromptu therapist. But after half an hour of jabbering on, he opens the door, says goodbye and walks away.

“Hey!” I yell after him. “Aren’t you going to pay me?”

“Nope. Sorry.”

What was I supposed to do? Run after him and tackle him to the ground? Call 9-1-1 and wait for the cops to show up and point to the door where he entered? Lotta good that would do me…

Or what about the bartender at Raven who flagged me down and deposited an intoxicated woman in the back of my cab, assured me she wouldn’t throw up and told me her address. Mindful of my last experience with a puker, I demanded payment up front. They gave me $20. But when I pulled up to her place in the Mission, she passed out cold. I couldn’t wake her up. When I threatened to take her to the police station around the corner, she came to long enough so I could get her on her feet, but then the problem got worse. I had to somehow get her up two flights of stairs as she leaned against the building and passed out again.

Fortunately, her neighbor, or someone who claimed to be her neighbor, showed up and rescued me, but I still wasted 45 minutes of prime time driving dealing with this drunk girl…

Or the guy who approached my cab with a bottle of beer and I told him not to throw it out because it’s legal to drink in the back of a cab, but not on the street. After his debit card was declined, he told me he was going to run up to his apartment to get cash and had me hold onto his bank card. Ten minutes later, I realized he wasn’t coming back and that the card probably didn’t even belong to him…

I could go on and on listing the indignities that I’ve suffered as a cab driver and why I might have a sour disposition about it all…

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Anyway, read the column here.

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Photo by Trevor Johnson.

Taxi vs. Uber: How to Level the Playing Field

top-light-taxi-crusty-ragged-christian-lewisJohn Han recently interviewed several San Francisco taxi industry leaders and taxi drivers about how to level the playing field with Uber and compiled the video below.

Of course it all comes down to regulation.

The fact is, taxi drivers CHOOSE to follow the rules, even though there is no one to enforce the laws.

TNC drivers, on the other hand, are encouraged by the Uber and Lyft to embrace the arrogance of “disruptive” culture and break the law. While they may actually think they are doing something worthwhile, they are nothing but scofflaws.

If TNCs were to compete with taxis on the same playing field, the results would be embarrassing and they would expose Uber and Lyft users as the hypocritical assholes they are.

[top image by Christian Lewis]

The Risks and the Rewards of Working Outside Lands

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It’s Monday morning. While the rest of the world is waking up and getting ready to go to work, I’m drinking vodka and eating leftover red beans and rice, thanks to Ben, who took it upon himself to feed me before I started my shift yesterday.

I don’t usually drive on Sundays. But at the barbeque the night before, Ben and several other drivers assured me that the third day of Outsides Lands would be the most profitable night of the festival.

Even though I really need the money, I waffled a bit. I was still exhausted from the previous two days of Outside Lands. I wasn’t even sure I’d have the wherewithal to drive a fourth shift that week. But Late Night Larry made it official.

“You’re working Sunday!” he snarled. “And that’s final!”

Ben picked me up at 4pm. On the way to the yard, we stopped at Hard Knox for lunch. I had a few bites of my vegetable plate and saved the rest for later. I was ready to hit the streets.

After doing the tourist trade for a couple hours, I head to the park. Since I did Outside Lands last year with Uber and Lyft, I know it’s a strategic nightmare to match drivers with riders and all the major thoroughfares get clogged with lost and confused drivers from out of town. A perfect scenario for street hails.

Each night, as the headliners take the stage, people begin to leave the park and wander through the avenues and the streets in a frenzy, desperate for a way out. There are so many exiting festivalgoers clamoring to get in my cab, I could institute my own twist on surge pricing and auction off seats to the highest bidders. But that would be unethical, right?

After I drop off a fare, I deadhead, i.e., drive empty, back to the park. The demand for cars is insatiable. Strangers share rides and get to know each other in the backseat. One fare has three stops, the last one in Ingleside Heights. When I stop the meter, it reads $45. With a $10 tip, that’s an inside the park homerun.

It’s obvious most of my fares are regular Lyft and Uber users. They approach my window and ask permission to get into my cab.

Like this young couple at 25th and Cabrillo.

“C-c-c-an you take us to the Caltrain?” the girl asks timidly from the curb.

“I drive a taxi,” I say, feigning joviality. “That’s what I do.”

They need to catch the last train to San Jose that leaves at 9:15.

It’s 8:50.

“I don’t know if we’ll make it in this traffic,” I warn them, thinking about their options if they miss the train. A cab ride to San Jose is around $200, and that’s still cheaper than a hotel room.

“You’d be our hero if we do.”

Always up for a challenge, I take off down Cabrillo, head up to Turk and race over the hill and down to Golden Gate. I start hitting lights in Civic Center so I make a right on Polk and cross Market onto 10th. I head down Folsom to 8th. I take a left on Brannan, a right on 5th, through the sign onto Townsend, and come to a dramatic stop in front of Caltrain with five minutes to spare.

“I may have just broken a record,” I gasp.

The meter reads $22. The guy gives me $25. I’m so shocked I forget to say thanks as they get out. A $3 tip on a run like that? Is that how you reward a hero? I even yelled at this poor pizza delivery guy for making me miss the light at Masonic.

Feeling less like a hero and more like a chump, I get on the Central Freeway and work the park for the rest of the evening. It’s early. There’s still a long road ahead of me before I get back to my red beans and rice.

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on August 14, 2015…

Guilty of Driving a Cab

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Originally printed in the S.F. Examiner

 

 

Driving a cab in San Francisco is like wearing a target around your neck. It’s always open season on taxis. On good days, the contempt most people have toward the taxi industry misses the mark. But on the bad days, it’s a shot straight to the heart.

In the four months I’ve been driving a cab, I’ve been disrespected as a matter of course. Honked at more times than I can count. As if I’m asking people to sacrifice their first born to let me change lanes in front of them. Nobody cuts me any slack. During rush hour, I have to fight for each one-fifth of a mile to get passengers where they’re going.

I was driving up Kearny Street last Saturday night and a guy in an Uber SUV spit on my cab. The tourists in my backseat were horrified. “Oh, just part of driving a taxi in San Francisco,” I joked.

A month ago, while picking up a fare on King Street, some joker knocked my side mirror off and drove away. I spent two hours at the police station filing a report. “Won’t be the last time,” the officer doing the paperwork nonchalantly told me.

This week I paid San Francisco $110 for “obstructing traffic” in front of a strip club at 1:30 a.m. The SFMTA mailed the citation to my cab company. Claimed I was a “drive away.” Of course I drove away. I’m a taxi driver. That’s what I do. I drive, I stop, I pick up passengers and then I drive away.

From City Hall to fresh-faced transplants, everyone hates cabs. And yet, I can’t help but wonder: What happened to the mythology of cab driving?

My earliest memory is being in a taxi. The family station wagon was in the shop. I remember sitting in the backseat with my mother. The driver was listening to news radio. Something about President Ford.

As a child of the ’70s, glued to the TV set, I never missed an episode of “Taxi.” I couldn’t wait to see what shenanigans Latka and Iggy would get into. I’d laugh as Louie berated all the drivers who hung around the garage solving each other’s problems. In “Taxi Driver,” there was Travis Bickle, the loner moving through the streets of New York like a reluctant servant to the night and all its proclivities. Even “D.C. Cab” portrayed a struggling taxi company as the ultimate underdog, with Mr. T the baddest cabdriver who ever lived.

As fascinating as cabs were to me growing up, I didn’t use them much until I moved to New Orleans, where most of the drivers doubled as tour guides, concierges of vice or therapists. I’ve sighed more than once in the back of a New Orleans cab and had the driver say, “Lay it on me, baby.”

I never thought I’d drive a taxi myself. In my illustrious career as an overeducated slacker, I’ve worked as a cook, painter, flea market vendor, book dealer and personal assistant. Taxi driving wasn’t much of a stretch. So when the wife and I ended up in Oakland last year, with no other prospects, I decided to do the Uber-Lyft thing.

Before I ever hit the road, I pinned a map of San Francisco to the wall. I studied the streets and how they intersected each other. For two weeks, the wife and I drove around The City figuring out major thoroughfares and how to get from one neighborhood to the next.

After a few months, it was obvious app-based transportation is only a simulacrum of taxi driving. But I’d learned enough to know I could do the real thing.

Switching to a taxi was an intimidating proposition, though, based on all the horrible things I’d heard from my passengers. San Franciscans love to complain about transportation. And the only thing worse than Muni and BART are taxis.

I thought it would be different for me. Despite the muddied reputation I’d inherited. I wanted to be a great taxi driver. I still do. But it doesn’t matter who’s behind the wheel. In this city, a color scheme and a top light will always be targets for disdain.