Tag Archives: san francisco international airport

The SFO Casino

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When all else fails, there’s always the SFO casino …

On most nights, deadheading to the airport is a gamble. But with taxis sandbagging every hotel, bar, strip joint and DJ club in The City, a Hail Mary seems like the only option.

On my way to the freeway, I stop by Mythic Pizza for a couple slices. Not much is happening on Haight Street. The only customers inside the restaurant are two young ladies sitting at a table having a very loud, profanity-laden conversation about their personal lives.

When my slices are ready, I look for the parmesan, but the container isn’t with the other condiments — it’s on the table where the young ladies are sitting.

I ask if they’re done with the cheese.

“Do your thing,” one says snidely.

Uh, OK. I carry it back to the counter and sprinkle the cheese liberally over my pepperoni slices.

As I’m heading out the door, the girls yell at me:

“Whoa, dude! Where’s our parmesan?”

“What?” I laugh, as if they’re fucking with me.

Their serious faces imply otherwise …

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Living in a Dream World

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about working Salesforce’s annual convention Dreamforce…

On Salesforce Sunday, when 170,000 people descend on San Francisco for Dreamforce, the largest software convention in the world, hope springs eternal in the SFO taxi holding lots. And for once, I’m going to be a part of the action … 

Before embarking on my first, full-fledged attempt to become an airport player, I hover in the shade on Loomis Street, summoning the courage to face the unknown while smoking a final cigarette and chugging an iced coffee. The night before and all that morning, I bombarded Ben and Hester with a flurry of stupid questions. Still feeling ill-prepared, but with the nicotine/caffeine combo surging through my veins, I jump on 101 south, ready to embrace the madness.

As several cabs zoom past me on the freeway, I try to keep up, eventually shadowing one into the garage and through a maze of lines and staging areas.

At first, the whole process seems chaotic, but it’s obviously designed to house 100s of vehicles until they’re ready for service …

From the Entry Lot to the Wiggle and into the Donut, taxi drivers mill around their cabs until whistles start blowing, horns start honking and everyone is shouting, “Go! Go! Go!”

In the Paid Lot, we metaphorically rev our engines and wait for the starter’s whistle. Then it’s show time!

I chase the other cabs down a ramp that leads to the arrival terminals, where passengers stand with luggage.

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After my first successful run, I deadhead back to SFO.

In the Entry Lot, Bobby comes over to my cab. I pepper him with a bunch of stupid questions.

“Don’t worry,” he says confidently. “Just follow the cab in front of you.”

A few minutes later, my row enters the Wiggle, but when the Luxor cab in front of me stops, there’s no room for me to squeeze in. Panicking, I look around, unsure of where to go and waiting for someone to yell at me. Nobody seems to care though.

When a driver finally notices my confusion and shouts directions at me, I thank him profusely.

Later, in the Donut, Bobby walks to my window and chuckles. I point out that following the cab in front of me isn’t always the ideal strategy.

“Man, it’s all good,” he drawls.

By the end of the night, with seven SFO trips under my belt, I’ve become a real airport player …

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Read the rest here.

[Photos by Douglas O’Connor]

Top: The Donut
Middle: The Wiggle
Bottom: Paid Lot

 

The SFO Open Lot Feeding Frenzy

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What am I doing at the airport? According to Ben this is where taxi drivers go when they’ve lost all hope. As I idle in a long line of taxis, my initial optimism rapidly dissipates.

I’m not even sure if this line goes anywhere. For all I know, it could lead to the exit.

I try to find a familiar face. Someone to ask, “Am I in the right place?”

The drivers around me are focused, collectively champing at the bit.

When the line moves a little, the promise of a paying fare is restored. But it’s fleeting and movement grinds to a halt.

Then the honking starts. Haphazardly as first, until it reaches a furious crescendo.

Why are they blowing their horns? There’s no indication anyone is responsible for the hold up, so what’s the point of laying on the horn?

This is open lot.

Between 12:45 a.m. to 6 a.m., taxis entering SFO aren’t required to pay the usual fee. And you don’t have to wind through the various holding lots that drivers affectionately call the Donut, the Loop and the Wiggle. None of which are as exciting as their names imply.

During open lot, you drive right up to the terminal.

Even though I’ve never worked the airport in almost three years of taxi driving, last Thursday, I decided to try my luck with open lot.

It was Ben’s idea.

Due to inclement weather, numerous flights into and out of SFO were delayed or canceled, creating a perfect storm for what Ben assured me will be a feeding frenzy …

Hesitantly, I leave The City at 12:30 and head south. Several empty cabs fly past me on the rain-slicked highway. With no clue what to expect, I follow a Flywheel taxi into the Arrivals Level and get in line.

As we continue to move forward, a Town Taxi tries to cut the line. A cacophony of honking and yelling ensues.

Based on my rudimentary observations, once a driver hears a horn, they all seem to start blowing theirs, too, either out of solidarity or a primitive pack mentality.

Finally, up ahead, cabs begin to load. As people depart the terminal, drivers grab luggage and open doors.

Once the taxi in front of me gets a fare, I see my passengers, a young couple moving up the walkway. But a Yellow cab darts over to pick them up, igniting a fury of protestations, not only from other drivers but also from the starters, the SFO employees who coordinate traffic.

The driver is persistent though. He opens the back of his Escape and tries to stow their luggage.
I stare in complete bewilderment.

Eventually, the couple is extracted and brought to my cab. They look just as flummoxed as me.
“What was that all about?” the guy asks.

“That was like being in a third-world country,” adds the girl with a chuckle. “Everyone was fighting over our luggage.”

They’re going to the Marina. A $50 ride.

After dropping them off, I head straight back to SFO. Within five minutes, I have a businessman in the backseat heading to the Palace Hotel. $45. Then, I’m back on the freeway.

My attempt to triple-dip appears futile though. As I start to regret my decision, Ben comes racing around the curve.

“There’s people at Terminal Three!” he yells.

I follow him and a few other desperate cabs. We get into line and wait for almost half an hour.

Just as things seem absolutely hopeless, two girls emerge from the terminal and get in Ben’s taxi. Now, I’m second up after a Max Cab driver.

Neither of us wants to be the last cab standing.

When a guy with a backpack walks up, the Max Cab driver offers him a ride into The City for $30.
The backpacker counters with $20.

“You want him?” the Max Cab driver asks me.

“Hell yeah!” I practically rip the guy’s backpack off and throw it in my trunk.

After dropping him at a hostel in Union Square, I head home to Oakland …

Now I know why it’s called playing the airport: You can easily end up with a $15 short to Burlingame or a $1,500 ride to Los Angeles, which is what happened to a fellow Veterans driver that same night during open lot. Some dude’s flight was canceled and he had to be in L.A. in the morning. So he took a cab.

That white whale of a ride could have happened to anyone.

“The airport game is addictive once you get a taste,” I text Ben later.

“Yeah, but it’ll eventually kill you,” he responds. “Death by airport is no joke.”

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on October 27, 2017.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]