Tag Archives: san francisco

The Hooligans of Market Street

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about getting accosted by a bunch of kids on Market Street. The situation got pretty tense, but I was able to deescalate things and escape harm.

Interestingly, almost two years ago to the day, I wrote a post for Broke-Ass Stuart.com about taxi drivers getting accosted. I found this passage relevant and still applicable today:

As a new cab driver, I adhere to the principle that taxi driving is an inclusive public service, even though maintaining an open door policy exposes me to certain occupational hazards.  I know the chances of getting robbed or attacked are slim, but the fear still lurks deep in the recesses of my lizard brain.

It’s been over two years since I started driving a taxi and I still maintain an open door policy. Which means I sometimes get in sticky situations, but the alternative – profiling each passenger before I pick them up – is even less appealing.

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With “Hamilton” and “Into the Woods” breaking around the same time, Market Street at 10:50 p.m. is flooded with theatergoers. For taxis, it’s a feeding frenzy. After dropping off a family at the Marine’s Memorial Club, I shoot down Mason for another quick load.

As I turn right onto Market, a girl is standing on the curb with her arm up. Two cabs drive right past her. I pull over.

She opens the back door, turns and yells, “Hey! I got a taxi!”

Upon her exclamation, a group of kids emerge from the shadows and bum-rush my cab.

“Hold up, now!” I shout as they surround me.

The battalion of brats ranges in age, from the full-grown teenagers squeezing themselves into the backseat, to some goofy-looking adolescents pounding on my trunk and climbing onto the roof, to a precocious 9-year-old in the front seat trying to grab everything in sight: my iPhone, the Flywheel phone clipped to the vent, my Square reader and even the dispatch tablet mounted on the dash.

Read the rest of the column here.

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At 2 a.m., there’s only one Jack in the Box

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“Taxi!”

It’s been 20 minutes since the bars let out, and I’m just driving around empty. My eye twitches as I try to locate the source of the call reverberating down Sutter Street. I’m exhausted. Since my ten week old has already started teething, sleep is now an abstract concept.

“Taxi!”

Cater-corner on Powell, a woman is waving. As soon as I acknowledge her, she barges into traffic, prompting me to stop in the crosswalk behind a police cruiser outside Lori’s.

“It’s fucking impossible to get a cab down here,” she says after climbing into my backseat. “Now… where can I get some food?”

“Well, there’s —” I start to take off, but miscalculate the distance between my front end and the back of the police cruiser. Even though it’s just a tap, the cop car jolts forward. My heart jumps out of my chest.

“Anywhere but fucking Lori’s,” the woman snaps.

“Sure…” Fortunately, the cop car is empty. Seizing the lucky break, I drive away. “What about Cafe Mason? Grubstake?”

“Fuck all that. Take me to Jack in the Box.”

As I turn onto Mason, I check my rearview and see a black-and-white SUV make an illegal left off Powell. Oh shit! Did they see anything? My chest starts pounding again.

Meanwhile, the woman is yelling into her phone: “I’m in a fucking taxi! Go to Jack in the Box. Tell your driver… What the fuck do you mean, ‘which one?’ There’s only one!” She hangs up. “Which Jack in the Box … You gotta be fucking kidding me.”

“There’s one on Bayshore and—”

“And one in Bakersfield, too,” she says brusquely, in that distinctive Frisco accent: all daggers, dripping with sarcasm. “Not much good it does us seeing as how we live in Pac-fucking-Heights.”

“Fair enough.” I keep checking my rearview for flashing lights, navigating the congestion of cars and pedestrians in front of Ruby Skye. I pull over next to Jack in the Box, where the sidewalk is teeming with drunken revelers, spectators and hustlers.

“You’ll wait for me, right?” the woman asks, though it doesn’t feel like much of a request.

“Sure.” I’m still preoccupied with justifying my tap and run … It’s not like the cruiser was in pristine condition. If there’s one fleet in The City more rickety than National/Vets, it’s the San Francisco Police Department.

As soon as she walks away, a guy with a pizza box tries to get in my cab.

“I’m waiting for someone,” I tell him nicely through the window. “Grab another one.”

I point towards the row of cabs streaming by on Geary with top lights blazing.

Just then, Hester pulls up in Metro 1557. It looks like he has a load but when the guy goes to his window, he hesitates and wanders back towards me, confused.

“There’s another cab!” I shout as a Flywheel Taxi roll past. “Put your hand out!”

“They’re not stopping,” he complains.

“That’s one’s not a cab. Wait for a second.”

A few seconds later, Hester gets out of his cab and peers into the windows of Jack in the Box.

I join him. “What’s up?”

“I just picked up this girl from New Century who tried to pass a fake C-note. I told her no way, and she got uppity. Said she was going into Jack in the Box to break it and prove me wrong. Left a jacket as collateral. Claimed it was worth $200, but it’s from The Gap.”

“Is she in there now?”

“Nah, she’s probably long gone.”

“So why didn’t you take that guy?” I gesture towards the guy who’s still in the street trying to flag down random cars.

“Him? He’s going to the fucking Marriott.”

“On Sutter?”

“Two blocks. Fuck him.”

“Yeah, fuck him.”

Read the rest in the condensed version here.

[image by Christian Lewis]

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The Mysterious Assailants from Chicago

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My column this week is about a “fight” outside a bar in the Mission, told from the perspectives of both participants and witnesses, all of whom were passengers in my taxi. Rashomon on wheels.

On the corner of 16th and Valencia, two guys jump in my taxi going to Molotov’s.

As I take 15th Street to Church Street, one asks the other, “Hey, did you hear about that fight outside Delirium tonight?”

“Tonight?”

“Yeah. Cops showed up and everything.”

“What’s with all the violence in the Mission lately?” his friend wonders.

“These tech bros are out of control,” the first one says. “They make all this money, but it’s not enough to get them laid so they start fights.”

“Losers.”

A short while later, I drop at the 500 Club and pull over on 17th to count my money. Out of the darkness, a guy wobbles toward my cab and climbs into my backseat.

“Do you know where the Orange Village Hostel is?” Young and somewhat bedraggled, he struggles with the door. His right arm is injured, forcing him to reach over with his left.

“What happened to you?” I ask, heading to Union Square.

He snorts. “I was attacked by a bunch of assholes from Chicago.”

“Where were you?” I inquire, thinking about the fight outside Delirium earlier.

“Don’t know. Don’t care. The cops were at least able to see both sides. Even if they were from Chicago, too.”

Chicago?

“I may need to go to the hospital,” he says casually. “But I have to stop by my hotel first. My phone’s dead.”

I offer him a charger.

“It won’t get enough of a charge!” he shouts and then howls in pain.

I look over my shoulder. “Dude! Your arm is completely bent in the wrong direction. You seriously need a doctor.”

“I know that, son!” He barks.

“Hey now!”

“Look, I know this must seem sensational to you, but this isn’t my first rodeo.”

“Whatever.” Just another night driving taxi on the mean streets of San Francisco…

Read the rest of the column here.

Domestic Disturbances in Transit

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I’m determined to get a ride out of the Great American Music Hall after the Murder City Devils show. Or watch the last rocker wander off into the Tenderloin night.

I’ve been waiting for almost fifteen minutes when my door opens and a guy shoves a girl roughly into the backseat.

“I swear to god, Jill!” the guy says. “I can’t take you anywhere!”

“I don’t understand why you’re making a big deal out of this?”

He recounts the incident for her: They were in the mosh pit when some girl told Jill her boyfriend grabbed her ass. Knowing this to be a lie, Jill slapped the girl. A row ensued, and the band stopped playing. Just as the lead singer had smoothed things over, Jill ran up to the girl and socked her in the eye.

“I knocked that bitch the hell out!” Jill laughs.

“You just don’t get it! I’m sick of you getting into fights!”

“Is that why you never fuck me anymore?”

“What are you talking about?”

As things get more personal, I cringe internally. Still, this couple’s squabble isn’t as bad as the that time I drove a couple all the way to Milpitas as they broke up in my backseat. I was pushing the cab as fast as it would go down 880 before the guy started crying. And then we hit traffic.

This guy, on the other hand, is definitely the aggressor. I want to tell him to chill out so badly. Dude, go home and make love to your girlfriend like you used to, back when you got off on her beating up other girls.

Read the rest here.

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Marilyn Monroe exiting a NY cab in 1956

The Gypsy Cab That’s One Step Ahead

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Wouldn’t it be nice… to run a taxi without paying gates or commercial insurance or any permits to the city… think of all the cash you’d be raking in. Well, the guy who’s running this illegal taxi has been doing just that. And getting away with it.

I first spotted him on October 8, 2016, outside the night club Mighty on Utah at 15th Street. Once I saw the taximeter on the dash, the official looking ad topper that adorns most Yellow SUVs and a brightly lit toplight that clearly read TAXI, I confronted the driver, asking if he was running a gypsy cab. He promptly told me to fuck off. So I took these pictures. I tried to take some video of passengers getting into his illegal taxi andhis top light going out when he hit the meter, but my phone didn’t cooperate.

The medallion numbers on the side 983 don’t belong to a working Yellow Cab, according to the Yellow taxi company (we checked). So this is obviously a decommissioned taxi from their fleet that the driver probably bought in an auction. Or he may be a former driver for Yellow, or a mechanic. It would seem that he has some experience in the taxi industry.

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Most of the markings have been removed. The permits, obviously, the “SAN FRANCISCO TAXICAB,” along with Yellow’s logo and phone number. The license plate is not associated with a Yellow cab, even though it’s a commercial plate. More on that later though…

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In December 2016, taxi driver Barry Taranto took this picture of the same illegal cab. Notice the license plate is different.

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A Fog City Cab driver took this next photo of the illegal taxi parked in the Tenderloin with a license plate in the dash, which matches the plates on the first photos I took.

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Over the past several months, the SFMTA taxi division was notified. Since the driver usually parks the vehicles in the TL, without any concern of getting in trouble, an enforcement officer with the SFMTA went by and left a note under the windshield wiper with his number. The gypsy cab driver, surprise, surprise, didn’t call.

Since then, drivers continue to report seeing the illegal cab all over town, as well as consistently parked in the TL, near where the driver apparently lives.

Last week, on Larkin, I saw the cab parked outside New Century Theater and noticed he’d covered the medallion numbers with electrical tape.

Barry Taranto took the following photos outside Badlands on 18th Street in The Castro on February 13, 2016. Notice the license plate is different again, although still a commercial plate. So we know he has at least three plates.

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Despite covering the medallion number and the YoTaxi markings on the bumper, he still has the same ad topper and…

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A functioning taximeter on the dash.

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Out of curiosity, a taxi driver looked up the license plates on the DMV site. Two came back without a match, but the first one has $700 worth of fines associated with it.

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BTW, this is the real Medallion 983. It’s a Flywheel taxicab. According the SFMTA database of medallion owners, 983 belongs to Samra Bikramjit.

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So what does any of this amount to? Not much, according to the SFMTA taxi division. Not much, according to the cops and parking control officers, who just keep adding on tickets. Would the DMV give a shit? Would City Hall? Would anyone?

Essentially, this a lesson to all aspiring scofflaws in this city. You can do whatever the fuck you want and never face the consequences. Why lease a taxi from a cab company? Why pay gates? Why pay for permits? Why do anything but get a decommissioned cab with a taximeter and a toplight and go make some serious cash on the streets of San Francisco?

If this guy can do it, why can’t you? Hell, why can’t any of us?

It’s not like you’d ever get busted. After all, we’ve known about him for at least 5 months. Who knows how longs he’s been at it and how long he’ll continue to get away with it until someone stops him.

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]

Let Old Death Threats Be Forgot…

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about driving a cab on New Year’s Eve…

The days leading up to the new year are grim. Wednesday is a wash. Thursday is somewhat better, as more people return to The City. But Friday, the penultimate day of the year, is worse than the previous two.

Saturday is New Year’s Eve. If I’ve learned anything about the taxi biz, it’s best to prepare for the alleged big nights like any other shift: with the lowest possible expectations.

Read the rest of the column here.

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(Top photo by Barney Peterson, from the San Francisco Chronicle, November 25, 1960, showing a cable car accident on Powell Street, north of Bush Street in San Francisco.)