Scenes of San Francisco and the Bay Area from behind the wheel:
I’m inbound on Market. At Guerrero, a Luxor, a Citywide and a Vina are already waiting at the signal. Toplights blazing. When I roll up, two girls charge across the street from the Orbit Room and jump into my cab.
“We’ll be right there,” one screams into her phone. “We just got in an Uber.”
Later, outside the W hotel, I pull up next to a Citywide. Out of nowhere, a guy makes a beeline for my cab.
“I’m not going far,” he says. “Do you know the Mint Plaza?”
I might feel bad about sideloading if the fares weren’t all crap.
After a futile loop through the Financial, I’m outbound on Sutter. There’s a Flywheel cab in front of me. Toplight on. Which doesn’t mean shit anymore. Even though their fancy new TaxiOS meters are supposed to revolutionize the taxi industry, they still haven’t figured out how to make the toplight go out automatically when they have a fare.
As we approach Stockton, the Flywheel moves to the center lane. I pull up next to him at the light. When the doorman at the Grand Hyatt blows his whistle, my Pavlovian response is to inch forward. I look over at the Flywheel driver. He’s actually empty, glaring at me. I can tell he’s salivating, too.
He may have been in pole position, but he changed lanes. That fare is mine. He’d have to do something cra—. What? He’s got his left turn indicator on? Oh, hell no! I inch forward. He inches forward. I inch forward a little more.
When the light turns green, I gun it and pull up to the hotel with the Flywheel hot on my tail. Sorry, Charlie. I avoid eye contact as he drives away.
Read the rest here.
[photo by Christian Lewis]
I’m heading inbound on Market, trying to prevent a Yellow cab in the right lane from getting the jump on me, when a guy flags me at the Seventh Street Muni island stop. He opens my front door, and I quickly grab my bag and stow it under my seat. He asks how much to Ocean Beach. I tell him around $20.
“Let’s do it,” he says.
I turn right on Sixth and start driving west.
His name is Hugh. He’s from Sydney, in San Francisco working on some project for a tech firm. Spent the past two weeks sequestered in an incubator in the Mission. This is the first time he’s been free to venture out and explore The City.
“So what have you been up to?” I ask.
“Well, I just lost $300 trying to buy weed.”
“Why’d you think you could buy pot around here?” I ask, more nonplussed than he seems to be. They only sell crack and heroin in mid-Market. Some pot dealers hang out by Jones Street, but they usually close up shop early.
Hugh shrugs. “I just wanted to celebrate turning in the first part of my project this morning.”
This week’s column is about buying drugs on the street in San Francisco… It’s not always easy…
Read it here.
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.
Photo by Christian Lewis.
My column for the S.F. Examiner this week is about driving on Easter weekend. Things did not go well…
Sometimes I really fucking hate driving a cab.
If it’s not the back seat drivers (“38th and Anza. Take a left, I’ll direct you the rest of the way.”), it’s the fares who act like they’re your long lost friends, but at the end of the ride, stiff you on the tip.
If it’s not the horrible drivers on the road, doing everything they can to make your job more difficult, it’s the passengers who get out and forget to pay. (“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought this was Uber.”)
Or the passengers who ask me, “Have you ever thought about going back to school?”
Then there are fellow cab drivers who don’t adhere to proper road etiquette. Yeah, I know we’re all competing for limited number of rides, but if I’m driving down the street and a hand goes up in front of me, cutting across two lanes of traffic to swoop in and snake the fare out from under me is not just bad form, it’s proof that there are still way too many scumbags driving cabs.
“We’re all hungry,” a driver told me once.
Okay, but does that mean you’re free to steal food out of someone else’s hands?
I don’t want to point fingers, cause I know they have the largest fleet in The City and thus are the most ubiquitous, but the biggest culprits of this type of activity are almost always Yellow cab drivers.
I’ve taken to calling them the wolf pack, with their shark-like toppers on the roofs of their cabs. At least it’s easy to see them from a distance and try to avoid their potential bad behavior.
And hey, no offense to all the great Yellow drivers out there, but seriously, why can’t management over there put a sign up in the office? Something as simple as, “Don’t be an asshole to your fellow cab drivers.”
Okay. I know I sound bitter this week. I ended my shift on Saturday night with a fare who puked inside my cab. And no I didn’t collect my $100 cleaning fee. My night was ruined and I drove back to the National yard and cleaned a stranger’s vomit out of my cab.
To add insult to injury, earlier that night, I was bragging to some passengers about how lucky I’ve been to have not had anyone puke inside my cab in two years of driving for hire. I even went so far as to boast about my skills at preventing potential pukers by taking precautions…
Too bad there was no wood in the taxi to knock on…
Anyway, read the column here.
photo by Colin Marcoux
This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about the frustrations of app-based transportation and an exploration of the many reasons why a cab might pass up a fare…
When passengers tell me they were never able to order a cab, I usually ask which company they’d call. Almost always it was Yellow. Or Luxor. Or DeSoto. The three cab companies with the largest fleets. But what about the smaller companies? National’s motto is “We answer the phone!”
Read the rest here.
It’s inevitable. Now that I drive a taxi, I regularly field the inquiry: “So… have you thought about driving for Uber?” When I tell my passengers that I did the Lyft and Uber thing before switching to taxi driving, they’re usually shocked. “Don’t you make more money with Lyft and Uber?” Maybe some do, I’ll say, but I never did. After eleven months of mostly full time driving, my bank account was overdrawn, my credit cards were maxed out, the backseat of my car looked like I’d been transporting farm animals and I was riddled with self-loathing. I was basically subsidizing multi-million—or, in Uber’s case, multi-billion—dollar companies. And for what? Empty promises and a sense of community? What bullshit. I never felt like anything but an underpaid, untrained and unregulated cab driver.
I could go on ad nauseam, detailing the moral bankruptcy of the Lyft and Uber systems, but now that I’ve been a real taxi driver for two months, I try to deflect the Uber/Lyft question. It’s boring. I’m sick of talking about fucking Uber in my cab! And to be honest, I’m not proud to have driven for them as long as I did. In fact, I’m ashamed of it.
From the beginning, I was appalled by the self-entitled culture that spawned the phenomenon of “ridesharing” and the consequences it’s had on the livelihoods of cab drivers, most of whom are longtime San Francisco residents. It wasn’t easy participating in the destruction of a blue-collar industry. After all, I’m a descendent of coal miners, janitors, store clerks and army grunts. In college, I was required to read The Communist Manifesto three times. Being an Uber/Lyft driver is not in my nature. To be successful at it requires personality traits I will never possess: the ability to cheat and scam. And a complete lack of conscience. Since the only time you make decent money is during surge pricing, you have to take pride in ripping people off. The rest of the time, you’re barely making minimum wage, so you need to be somewhat stupid as well. You’re basically running your personal car into the ground and hoping to luck out with a ride that’s more than five bucks. Some drivers have figured out how to make the system work for them and earn more money referring drivers than they do actually driving themselves, but isn’t that just a bizarro take on the pyramid scheme?
Despite Uber’s political spin or Lyft’s cheerful advertising campaign, using your personal car as a taxi is not sustainable. Each time I got behind the wheel of my Jetta and turned on the apps, I had to overlook the absurdity of what I was doing. It never ceased to amaze me that people would be so willing to ride in some random dude’s car. But since my passengers acted as if the activity were perfectly normal, I went along with it.
Once I realized what I’d gotten myself into, I wanted to document the exploitative nature of this predatory business model. I wanted to expose the inherent risks associated with inadequate insurance, the lack of training and the vulnerability of not having anyone to contact in an emergency. I wanted to shed light on the reality of being a driver, dealing with constant fare cuts, enforced jingoism and the tyranny of an unfair rating system. I wanted to reveal the lies. All the dirty lies. I started a blog and even published two zines about my experiences.
Naïvely, I thought reporting on these issues from the perspective of a driver would make a difference. I was wrong. People hold on to their faith in the corporate spirit even when it’s against their best interest. That’s what I figured out from all this. Oh, and that I really like driving the streets of San Francisco. So I signed up for taxi school and went pro. Now I make more money, feel more relaxed and no longer have to worry about declaring bankruptcy if I get into an accident.
Plus, I’m a taxi driver.
In San Francisco!
I haven’t felt this connected to a place through a job since I was a cook in New Orleans.