Tag Archives: national cab co

Felicia the Freeloader

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I’m sitting on the throne at the Hilton Union Square, watching the madness of rush-hour traffic in front of the hotel as cars trying to drop off and pick up contend with a single interloper who didn’t utilize the loading zone properly, forcing every other vehicle behind him to wait in the street akimbo while the 38 bus, followed closely by a 38R, comes barreling down O’Farrell with horn blasting, and all the stymied doormen can do is push around empty luggage carts hoping that somebody — anybody — will need help checking in, but the tourists move through the bedlam fearlessly, phones held aloft, like seasoned globetrotters.

Then, Artur calls out a radio order for Market and Sixth. Since there’s a break in the congestion, I check in.

“233. O’Farrell and Mason.”

“233. Check. Go pick up Felicia.”

Artur sends the order to my tablet, and I head down Ellis to Jones. As soon as I cross Market, a woman waves me down.

“I need to go to the Travelodge on Valencia and Market,” Felicia tells me.

“Sure thing,” I say, merging into traffic and taking a right on Mission.

“Hey, aren’t you the guy who writes for the paper?”

“Oh, you read the Examiner?” I respond.

“Oh wow! I can’t believe it’s you!”

I’m never sure what to say when passengers recognize me from the column. It’s not something I advertise in the cab and rarely — if ever — bring up.

“You better not put me on blast!” she says with a protracted cackle.

“Now, why would I do something like that?” I laugh.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

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Playing the Radio

I play the radio loud. Which is the only way to decipher cross streets when Artur calls out dispatch orders in his overworked and underpaid drawl.

The Russian accent doesn’t help. Especially when the two-way starts cracking up.

Believe it or not, National/Veterans still has regular customers. And Artur will browbeat drivers on the air to get them filled, calling out orders repeatedly and even singling out cabs he can tell are nearby, like a school teacher trying to get the class to answer a question nobody knows …

Last Friday, after dropping in The Castro, I’m inbound on Market while Artur is trying to fill an order for Geary and Webster. A regular customer at the Safeway needs a ride, but there are no takers.

For the next several minutes, Artur’s voice gets increasingly choleric: “Drivers! Geary and Webster! Somebody go pick her up! This is a regular customer! Come on!”

Even though I’m not close, I check in. “This is 233. Market and Sanchez.”

“233. God bless you. Go get her, please. I’ll give you a bonus load.”

With the promise of $10 off my gate, I get in the left turn lane. I figure Steiner through the Western Addition is my best bet. But there’s an Uber with Nevada plates in front of me, and when the light goes from green to yellow and then red, the driver doesn’t move.

Read the rest here.

[photos by Christian Lewis]

A Taxi Driver and His Cab

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This week’s column is about the Taxi Commandment: thou shalt not covet another taxi driver’s cab.

From my earliest days at National, I fought tooth and nail to get a regular cab that was clean and ran well. I cajoled and begged the cashiers, happily paying extra for National 182, a Ford Fusion that met the above criteria and didn’t have a regular driver. For almost two years, 182 was my trusted ride, until the medallion owner took it out of circulation on a long-term lease.

After that, I ended up with 1462, the only National cab with an ad topper, one of numerous cabs recently acquired from Yellow. I hated driving around with a glowing advertisement above me. Plus, the speakers were broken. So when Vic, the medallion owner/day driver, switched to a 24-hour lease, I was almost relieved to be back at the mercy of the window and the varying conditions and quality of the gate and gas fleet.

Veterans 215 was the best of the worst. Even though I’m not keen on Camrys, this was Juneaux’s former cab, and due to his persnickety nature, the inside had remained mostly clean. But as long as it stayed in general circulation, it’s condition rapidly deteriorated.

Months later, Alex finally told me I would be on Veterans 233, a Fusion with low mileage, leather seats and a sunroof. For weeks, I watched the vehicle transform from a regular car into a taxi. First the paint job, then the taximeter and tablet attached to the dashboard and a top light fastened to the roof. Eventually, SFO permit stickers were affixed to the side and, after several more inspections, the day arrived when I was handed the keys and medallion.

Now that I had a regular cab, my next battle was to make sure other drivers didn’t trash it. Because no matter how cherry a taxi is, most cab drivers seem intent on running a good taxi into the ground.

Read the rest here.

The Night We Drove Old Yellow Around

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It was just like the old days. Before the taxi industry went to shit. Back when people still called cab companies when they needed a ride. Especially on Friday nights, which is when the following aberration occurred.

Of course, as a driver in the post-Uber/Lyft world, the notion of taxis being in high demand is mostly abstract, based entirely on stories form drivers who were around then and still around now.

On this particular night, though, I got a taste of that bygone era…

It happened just after last call. During the transition period between 1:45 a.m. and 2:15 a.m., when most cabs are prowling the bars in the Mission, the Castro, Polk Street, SoMa and Union Square, while others begin forming ad hoc taxi stands outside DJ clubs like Public Works, the Great Northern, Audio, the EndUp and the Cat Club.

As I’m cruising down Valencia on my way to check out the line at Public Works, the dispatch radio comes alive.

Sometimes, I forget the two-way is even there, occasionally restarting the device to make sure it’s still functioning. There are nights when the only activity is drivers asking for radio checks. So I’m surprised to hear Jesse’s voice break the silence.

“Guys, there seem to be orders on the board,” he says. “I don’t know where they’re coming from, but I have phone numbers. If anyone wants to check them out …”

He starts listing off cross streets.

Since I’m only a few blocks away, I check in for Duboce and Valencia. I pull up outside Zeitgeist and ask for a callout.

“Hold on, 182.” After a short pause, Jesse responds, “On the way out.”

“Copy that.”

A few minutes later, a guy gets in the back of my cab, and I take him to Bernal Heights. I want to ask questions, figure out what’s going on with the sudden demand for taxis, but he isn’t chatty.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Fly-by-night Outrage

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After gleefully watching the #DeleteUber movement gain traction on social media for a week, I was curious if there would be any residual effects from the boycott when I started my shift on Thursday. Even though most of the protesters were switching to Lyft, some folks did recommend Flywheel. A few even kept it old school and suggested flagging down one of the hundreds of empty cabs rolling around The City …

As I leave the National yard that afternoon, I check my Flywheel phone and get the same error: Can’t connect to server. It’s been over a week now. From what I’ve read on Hackers, it’s affecting many drivers, but only those who don’t drive for Flywheel Taxi, the cab company, that is, not the app.

Fortunately, the outage doesn’t interfere with the user end of the app. People can request rides, and drivers, especially those who work for Flywheel Taxi — again, the cab company, not the app — are still receiving orders …

Flywheel has been around since I started driving a taxi. I’ve always incorporated the app into my driving rhythm. Without it, I have no choice but to hunt down fares the old-fashioned way. I work the Financial, Union Square, SoMa and the Mission. When dropping outside the metro area, I have to remind myself not to linger, as I usually do with the Flywheel app open, and hightail it back downtown.

You don’t really notice how much business you get from the Flywheel app until it’s gone.

Read the rest of this column here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

On the Recitation of the Waybill: The National Barbecue

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Daniel the Chef, inspecting the new grill

This week’s I Drive S.F. column is about the National Barbecue:

The National Barbecue is a cross between a hobo cookout and a bunch of pirates carousing after a night of pillaging and plundering. It takes place on Sunday mornings in a junkyard, among the remains of disemboweled taxicabs and assorted automobile parts rusting outside the front office.

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Hester looking out over the junkyard

Throughout the night, people come and go, including former Veterans and Arrow drivers like Marty, Austin, Ben “I got nothing to live for!” Valis and Trevor Fucker. Mingling in the crowd is Other Larry (aka Early Morning Larry), Mathias (“a feast of rats upon you”), Steven, Willie, Byron and Glover, the only taxi driver who gets a pass for switching to Uber because he’s probably driven a cab longer than anyone else and justifies his betrayal with, “It’s all about the money, baby!”

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Marty, Late Night Larry and me

Read the rest of this week’s column.

Photos by Irina from the SF Hackers one year anniversary barbecue

For more photos from the shindig, click here