Tag Archives: pedestrians

Jaywalking and Other Poor Life Decisions

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Originally published on August 28, 2015 in the S.F. Examiner

So I almost killed this guy the other day. I was heading inbound on California at dusk, still adjusting to the change in light, when he darted in front of my cab.

The second I saw the figure in my periphery, I slammed on the brakes. But I was on the cable car tracks and my tires slid a little. I stopped about four feet from his kneecaps as he bolted past me without a lick of concern for his safety or my blood pressure, which hit triple digits in the process. I immediately rolled down the passenger side window and let the expletives fly.

We were both lucky. Him more than me, obviously. Still, I really do not want to cause anyone, even a moron, bodily harm.

I often joke that my job as a cab driver in San Francisco isn’t about driving so much as it is not hitting anything or anyone. You have to be hyper alert to keep track of all the movements in the street.

While searching for the increasingly elusive street hails, I’m constantly on the lookout for double-parked Uber-Lyfts. I anticipate the erratic maneuvers of out-of-town drivers, most of whom are also Uber-Lyfts. I navigate various sink holes and construction zones. I maintain a safe distance from bicyclists. I dodge suicidal pigeons and cantankerous seagulls. And most of all, I try not to hit the omnipresent jaywalkers.

It’s no wonder my eyes get so sore after my shifts.

Yeah, I know jaywalking in a San Francisco tradition. It’s part of the pedestrian culture of The City.

As a native Angeleno, I’ve always marveled at the differences between the two places when it comes to walking.

In LA, you don’t jaywalk. Period. Besides a potential ticket, you’ll get run over. Walking in LA can be a blood sport. You have to look both ways 50 times before even crossing on the green, in case some douchebag in a Porsche is trying to outrun oncoming traffic. Everyone knows cars have the right of way there.

In San Francisco, the accepted practice used to be crossing once there were no more cars coming, regardless of whether the light was red or green. The stoplights here are brutal. Not a single car will be on the road and yet the signals continue to play out their lazy patterns. Plus, it’s usually chilly. Standing on a corner waiting for a green light in the cold is absurd.

These days, though, Vision Zero is being interpreted, literally, as the right to not look before stepping off the curb. Or to casually stroll into crosswalks with two seconds left, staring at a phone. Or, like my guy on California, to just walk in front of moving vehicles with the assumption they’ll stop because, “Hey, I’m walking here.”

Jaywalking isn’t confined to one demographic or one part of The City either. Whether driving through the Tenderloin, where swerving around zombies in the streets is par for the course, or the Marina, where people are like squirrels on a country road, jumping into traffic, freezing up for a second as you slam on your brakes and then carrying on like nothing happened. You need to have an eagle eye for wanton perambulators at all times.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Of course the taxi driver wants to blame traffic-related injuries on the victims. And it’s true I’d like to see most major streets in this city restricted to commercial vehicles only. But as bewildering as jaywalking is to me, at the end of the day, who am I to judge people who wander into traffic? I am the king of poor life decisions.

Recently, I thought it was a good idea to get drunk, work on my laptop, talk on the phone and text at the same time. Now I’m facing a $1200 bill from Apple for replacing the vodka drenched logic board. Without a computer, I’m writing my column on a manual typewriter and dictating it over the phone to my friend Stasia, who is a medical transcriptionist, and she emails me a copy to send right before my deadline.

And that’s just one example of my stupidity. I have a long list of regrettable activities over the past two months as my life has taken the drastic twists and turns of separation and inevitable divorce.

But I stay out of traffic.

As reckless as I may be, I don’t want to end it all splayed out on the hood of a Prius. I still have some dignity left.

 

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My Rating Weighs A Ton

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As an Uber/Lyft driver, you live and die by the rating system, which is, at best, dysfunctional. We are constantly at the whim of passengers who may or may not be in their right minds when asked to select a number of stars. When it comes to the late night drunkies, we can only hope they wait until morning to finish the transaction. But in the middle of the day, somebody pissed off at the world could easily shift frustration to a driver. Bad day at work? That’s a star. Not getting along with the girlfriend/boyfriend? Another star. Lost the high score on the that new video game? Sayonara star. Boss being a jerk? One star for you!

I usually know when I’m about to get hit with a bad rating. Like this Thursday night a few weeks ago…

I pick up a guy from a burger joint in the Marina. He’s carrying a take-out bag. Drive him to Pac Heights. Nice dude. But the smell of his crappy fast food is nauseating. I love a cheap, greasy burger, except trapped inside a car the smell seems to metastasize until my head is swimming in a toxic stew. I have these Febreeze air freshener cartridges that clip onto the vents. I hit recirculate to help mask the odor.

After dropping him off, I roll down the windows. Immediately, I get another request. Drive back towards the Marina worrying about the stench lodged in my olfactory nerves like an act of shame. I’m certain my next passengers will think I’m the one who reeked up the car.

To my surprise, the pinned location is Roam, an artisan burger restaurant on Union. What luck!

Two girls get in the back. I tell the one who requested the ride, “I just picked up this guy from another burger joint and was trying to air my car out. I’m so relieved you’re at a burger place too!”

“Sorry,” she says snidely.

Uhhh… “No, it’s a good thing.”

She grunts. Obviously wasted. The stench of secondhand alcohol merges with the lingering cheap burger stink to create a noxious miasma of putridness. And it’s only 9:30! I stopped driving the late shift a month ago because I was sick of dealing with the drunkie shit show. And the subsequent hits to my rating.

“Alhambra and Pierce. Take Fillmore.”

“Alright.” I take off but hesitate before starting the ride on the app. Sometimes I wait until I’m sure the passenger is not going to be a problem. I’d rather lose a fare than risk a low rating.

During the short drive, she talks to her friend about some interpersonal bullshit that makes no sense to me. Drunken advice. The worst kind of advice. How the girl should do this and not do that. But the girl doesn’t take too kindly to the counseling. They start arguing. When I pull up to the apartment building at Alhambra and Pierce, they’re calling each other bitches.

I try to be cool and end the ride with my usual, “Have a good night.” And then, in the most sincere tone I can muster, “Take care now.”

That “take care now” is my standard closer. It’s proven to be an effective way to leave things with passengers. Especially the silent ones. My way of exuding respect and bonhomie. But I can tell from her repugnant snort that it misses its mark this time. She chases after her friend who is careening down the street.

“Where the fuck are you going, bitch?”

I get out of there fast. Wonder what I could have done differently… I know she was in a foul mood when I first interacted with her. I probably shouldn’t have said anything, but how could I have known? There’s just no telling with people…

An hour later, just as I suspected, my rating goes down a hundredth of a decimal point. Yeah, not that big of a deal, but those four star ratings can really add up fast. It sucks. I performed my job without a glitch and yet I’m penalized because this girl was having a bad night?

I do a lot to keep my rating high. I clean my Jetta weekly and spot clean it the rest of the time. I use Armor-All on the leather seats. Before the price cuts, I went to a hand wash place here in Oakland. After that, I did it myself at a self-serve. Then I found a drive-thru car wash that only charges eight bucks. They have a parking area with vacuums. There are usually plenty of towncars and taxis around.

One thing I’ve learned about ridesharing is to always look for the cab drivers. They know the best spots to get gas, where to piss late at night and which streets to drive. If I’m on a street and there are no cabs, I’m on the wrong street. I have nothing but respect for cab drivers. All drivers should respect cab drivers. Just don’t drive like one. That’s not what the rideshare passenger wants. They want to feel baller. And there’s nothing baller about recklessly turning corners and laying on the horn whenever another car is going too slow.

I drive with purpose. I keep a close watch on my blind spots, errant pedestrians and speeding bicyclists. I take my corners easy. Use my lower gears to get up hills. Maintain the speed limit. Come to full and complete stops. And when faced with an idiot behind the wheel, I use my high beams. Way more annoying than a horn, I think. I flash them real fast, like strobe lights. Freaks the tourists out. Big time.

I try to be accommodating to my passengers, but I don’t open doors. I don’t give out candy or water. And I don’t try to come off as anything I am not. I wear short sleeve t-shirts that expose my tattoos. I keep my hair down. I play punk, post-punk and hard rock with the speakers faded to the front. I have a built-in iPod jack and no auxiliary port. If passengers want to listen to the radio, I’ll fiddle with the dial a little.

Although I never force an interaction, I refuse to be treated like an invisible servant. I talk to myself while I drive. I tap the steering wheel. I make comments about traffic. If passengers are chatting to each other about a topic and I feel like interjecting, I don’t hesitate to make my presence known. I may look like a stoner metalhead, but if somebody needs advice or an opinion, I’m not afraid to offer my services.

When it comes to high ratings, what matters most is how you drive. And I drive like a motherfucker. I know the streets. I know short cuts and alternate routes. I don’t rely on navigation and only use Waze if traffic is really bad or I’m going to the suburbs. Though I usually just make passengers direct me.

I keep my eyes on the road at all times. Even when my passengers talk to me. At stoplights I’ll glance in the rear view, but I’ve had full-on conversations with people I only looked in the eye when I said goodbye.

I know the city. Its history. Hot spots. I know the hotels and how to access their driveways so the valets can open the doors for my passengers. I know most of the bars and as many restaurants as I can remember with what’s left of my feeble mind. Sometimes I need my memory jogged, but that just gives me an opportunity to crack a joke about being old and feeble minded. Maybe start a conversation.

I make a point of letting my passengers know right away that I’m one of the good guys.

I always keep my cool. No matter how long a passenger makes me wait, jerks me around or acts self-entitled. I don’t let it get to me.

I accept all requests. Even if the passenger’s rating is 4.4. I believe in second chances.

I cancel requests all the time. If I don’t like where somebody wants to be picked up, I cancel. If they request again, I accept and cancel a second time. If I’m not fighting traffic, I’ll text them, “Bad pick-up location.” And then cancel. Eventually they’ll figure it out.

Rideshare passengers are not dumb. They tend to be assholes, but they’re not dumb.

The trick is maintaining authority. From the moment I start dealing with a passenger I exert control. Otherwise they walk all over you. But I also know that exerting control sometimes means letting the passenger think they are the ones in control.

I learn from my rides. I try to never make the same mistake twice.

What I don’t know I pretend to know.

Every day I figure out more about the city streets. I suggest routes to passengers. I tell them how the app wants me to go and offer an alternative. Most of the time, when asked, they tell me which way they prefer to go. Even if they give me bad directions, I go where they want. The passenger is always right. Especially when they’re wrong. The way I figure it, I’m going to be driving no matter what way we go.

I never chase the surge. And when I have a passenger who has been hit with a higher rate, I’ll end the ride a few blocks from their destination. To “offset the surge a little,” I tell them. It’s not much, but it makes the passenger feel better about being gouged.

I know which side of the street has even numbers and which side has the odd numbers. Or at least I think I do.

I know I don’t know enough.

I yield to pedestrians, joggers, bicyclists, jaywalkers, taxis, town cars, Ubers, Lyfts, buses, raccoons and suicidal pigeons. But confused tourists are fair game.

I refer to the turn by turn in the app, but I tend to deviate. The passenger can see that blue line on the screen of your iPhone. And if they’re going home or to work, every driver before me has used the same route. So I switch it up, based on what I’ve learned about the neighborhood.

My attitude is always the same: sit down, relax and leave the driving to me.

I never take the freeway unless I’m going to the airport or the southern quadrants. I stick to the streets. Particularly the brightly like ones.

When I drive a girl alone, I suggest the most illuminated direction and let her decide how she wants to get there.

I tell passengers, when they ask, that I like to drive. And I’m not lying. If they ask whether I like Uber or Lyft, I tell them, “I like driving.”

Fair enough?

I can’t count how many times passengers have told me, “You’re the best Uber/Lyft driver I’ve ever had!”

Or, “You’re like a New York cab driver!”

Or, “I can’t believe you know where to go with just the cross streets.”

Or, they get out of my car and mention to their companions, “Now that was a five star driver.”

You get the point…

I wish I didn’t have such a high rating. It’s too much pressure. A high rating is untenable. One day I will inevitably deal with a passenger who rates me low for no particular reason. Maybe even one-stars me, sending my rating down more than a hundredth of a decimal point. And it’ll bum me out to no end. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.

Until then, all I can do is keep driving like I always do.

Like a motherfucker.

San Franciscan Pedestrians are the Worst

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An all too common scenario:

I’m at a busy intersection. Say, South Van Ness and 24th. I’m on 24th. Turning right onto Van Ness.

The light is green.

My signal is flashing. As I wait for the pedestrians to cross, I watch the car turning left in the middle of the intersection. We both have traffic lined up behind us. I glance in my side mirror. A girl in a Sentra looks distressed. No doubt wondering if she’s going to make the light. I’m wondering the exact same thing as an endless column of pedestrians moves past.

Mr. Left Turner’s face is full of determination. I’m already pulled as far to the right as I can go without entering the crosswalk. Who’s going to make it first? Me or him? The crowd is thinning. The last pedestrian, an old lady with two oversized bags, is almost in the middle of the street as the number next to the flashing red hand ticks down.

Seven seconds.

Six seconds.

I’m ready. So is Mr. Left Turner. The girl behind me inches closer to my bumper. Once the old lady is a few feet from the curb, I’m going for it. Mr. Left Turner’s just gonna have to wait.

Three seconds.

Just as I’m about to remove my foot from the brake and take off, I see a guy in tight raw denim jeans and a hoodie, staring at his iPhone, enter the crosswalk. Two seconds to go. The old lady is about to step on the curb as Tight Jeans slowly makes his way across the street, never once taking his face out of his phone.

One second.

Mr. Left Turner charges through the intersection, beating Tight Jeans to the middle of the street as the light turns red. Not exactly the safest maneuver, but at least he got through the light. My front end is blocking the right lane on Van Ness. We’re all waiting for Tight Pants MaGoo to finish sauntering across the street.

“Show some fucking hustle,” I mumble. “Motherfucker.”

I curse his pants.

I curse his hoodie.

I curse his very existence.

Of course, he can’t hear me with earbuds blocking out the world and sealing in the oblivion.

I fantasize about hitting the gas. Just plowing into the crosswalk and taking out this self-entitled douchebag. I wonder if I could generate enough speed to get him airborne? I’d really like to see him fly through the air, flip off the grill of my car, smash into my windshield, roll over the roof and tumble to the pavement with two broken legs and several cracked ribs. Maybe then he’d finally realize he doesn’t own the world just cause he makes a hundred grand a year at a bullshit start-up and dresses like a middle-schooler.

Once Tight Pants MaGoo is out of harm’s way, the cars move past me, flashing dirty looks, like I’m the asshole who screwed up traffic.

Fuck, I hate that guy.

I know that there’s a strong tradition of jaywalking in San Francisco. It’s part of the pedestrian culture of the city. People who’ve lived in LA and San Francisco will always marvel at the difference between walking in the two cities.

In LA, you don’t jaywalk. Period. Besides possibly getting a ticket, you’ll get run over. Walking in LA is a blood sport. You look both ways fifty times before you even cross on the green in case some dickwad in a Porsche is trying to outrun oncoming traffic. Cars have the right of way. After all, only a nobody walks in LA. So you better fucking watch out.

In San Francisco, the accepted practice is to cross once there are no more cars coming, regardless of whether the light is red or green. The stoplights here are brutal. Even when there’s not a single car on the road, the lights play out their pattern. And it’s usually chilly. So standing on a corner waiting for a walk signal is absurd. But these new transplants, in their infinite need to feel like they have more rights than the rest of us, take this custom of pedestrian rights to the ultimate degree. They incorporate it into their general attitude of entitlement.

And people wonder why pedestrians are getting run over all the time…