Tag Archives: san francisco

Taking Grandma to the Crack Store

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After dropping a fare in the Richmond District late one night, I head toward Haight Street. With low expectations and the 7-Noriega in front of me, I cruise past Milk Bar, Murio’s and The Alembic. At Cole, I manage to overtake the bus.

Outside of Club Deluxe a short, elderly woman sidesteps a group of smoking hepcats and hisses, “Cabbie!”

I hit the brakes.

She approaches my window with a crumpled $20 bill and mumbles, “Downtown.”

“Sure. Get in,” I say, cringing as the bus barrels down on me and she’s slowly climbing into the back of my cab. When she shuts the door it doesn’t close all the way. I take off anyway.

“Where downtown are you going?” I ask.

She responds in an unintelligible garble.

“Where?”

She mumbles something several times before I finally realize she’s saying, “Walgreens.”

“Which one?” I inquire.

“Downtown.”

“But there are so many.”

“Downtown!”

“OK.” I take a left at Ashbury.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

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A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

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When it’s raining, people like to complain. As if, once the waterworks start, you can’t hold back the deluge …

Heading to the Dogpatch down 16th Street, I take full advantage of the new taxi/bus lanes, while the girl behind me talks about growing up in San Francisco.

“I remember being a kid and going to my grandparents’ house,” she says. “Right where you’re taking me now. 16th was a completely different street back then. My grandfather built the house right after the earthquake and fire in 1906. Over the years, the area got worse, but he never left. Since then, it’s all changed, and I often wonder what he would think of what’s become of this neighborhood …”

She takes a long pause. It’s hard to know what to say. As the windshield wipers scrape across the glass, I look around at the ultramodern condos, the state-of-the-art UCSF Medical Center and children’s hospital and, looming in the distance, the menacing shell of the new Warriors stadium in mid-construction.

What do you say about unbridled progress?

“I’m sure he would have hated it,” she asserts.

Read the rest here.

Canary in the Coal Mine

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I was talking with a journalist recently about the inevitable death of the taxi industry. He seemed surprised by my response, that taxis aren’t going anywhere.

“They may not look the same in the future,” I said, “or function the same, but when the day comes that a retired couple from Omaha flying into SFO is required to not only possess a smartphone but also download an app, give a third-party company their personal information, agree to terms of service that allow them to track their movements and then sell that information to other companies for marketing purposes just to get a ride into The City is the day you can officially say San Francisco has lost its soul.”

We were at The Orbit Room, and while he wrote down my comment, one of those old streetcars from Vienna clattered past on Market Street.

No, taxis aren’t going anywhere. And automated vehicles are a long, long way off. In San Francisco, anyway. Unless The City invests millions of dollars in public infrastructure.

Several months ago, I drove two guys who picked my brain about which streets in The City were the worst to drive on. As soon as I found out they worked for Ford, I challenged them on the issue of self-driving cars.

“You know they’ll never work here, don’t you?” I demanded. “It’s hard enough for a human to drive in this city, much less a computer. Besides potholes the size of Lake Merritt, many streets don’t even have clearly marked lanes. How are lasers supposed to detect something that’s not there? It’s impossible, right?”

Both guys nodded.

No, taxis aren’t going anywhere.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

The Rain, The Conference and the Inbound Shuffle

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Slowly, as the holiday season recedes like a bad memory and 2018 offers a plethora of new reasons to be outraged, San Francisco begins to show signs of life again. The weekends are still quiet, and there’s not much action in any particular neighborhood, but at least you get the sense that The City is not officially dormant. Yet.

Last week, the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference rolled through town, with several thousand deep-pocketed attendees who seemed to have no problem throwing money around. I was only able to take advantage of one day of the convention, but if my experience on Wednesday was any indication of the previous two, the event more than made up for a lackluster New Year’s Eve and the dismal December that preceded it.

Most rides are short, but as one fare ends, another begins. And a light drizzle means even more potential rides. All those $7 and $10 rides quickly add up. Then, just as I’m feeling lucky, I get pushed out of the loop and wind up in the Mission.

OK. Just a minor setback, I tell myself. It’s not like I’m going to turn down fares …

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Any Which Way But Downtown

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Last Friday, I start my shift like I always do these days: at the Hyatt Regency. And like most days, I circle the block four or five times before there’s room to squeeze into the line of cabs without blocking the bus lane.

Fortunately, demand is high. Within a few minutes, a large group of people are splitting their party into my taxi and the USA cab in front of me.

They’re going to Union Square, the kid in the passenger seat tells me. The adults have strong accents, and he’s obviously the interpreter.

Even though I’m not a fan of shadowing other drivers, I follow the other cab to keep everyone together.

When the USA driver takes a left onto Sacramento, I think, Good call. Up the hill to the Stockton Tunnel and we’re golden. But he turns onto Davis. OK, so Market then … That’ll work. At the light, though, he veers onto Pine. What the hell? Bad call, dude! Bad call!

It’s all I can do not to protest aloud. You can clearly see the traffic backed up on the incline …

As we approach Kearny, the USA cab cuts to the right. Going to California instead? No. Just trying to cut off some cars at the light.

While slowly ascending the hill, it’s apparent he plans to take Powell, which is, of course, jam-packed.

After little to no movement through several light cycles, I’ve had enough. I head to Mason and down to Post. As I make the left, I see the USA cab behind me.

I pull over before the corner and explain to the kid that the rest of their party will be along shortly.

“That’s Union Square,” I say, pointing at the giant Christmas tree.

Now, I’m in the thick of Yuletide insanity. As I consider my limited options, the St. Francis doorman’s whistle is like a foghorn in the brume, directing me into the cabstand, where fares are eagerly waiting. I get a nice couple from Redding going to Ruth’s Chris.

From there, a Flywheel order sends me to less congested pastures in the Castro. But it’s not long before I’m pulled back into the Union Square vortex …

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

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]

The Perfect Recipe for Gridlock

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about the one thing you can always count on when driving in San Francisco…

Thursday afternoon. The Financial District is popping. In Google Maps, downtown San Francisco looks like an open wound. Every street that leads to the freeway is bathed in blood.

For several hours, the Hyatt Regency is load-and-go.

According to one of my passengers, there was a 900-person conference at the hotel and, apparently, everyone left at the same time. With that kind of spike in demand, all car services are maxed out.

The doorman’s whistle never stops blowing. As I’m trying to make a U-turn on Drumm, the doorman singles me out:

“Veterans 233!”

I pull into the driveway, angering a large crowd waiting on the curb with their arms out.

Sorry, folks, but the hotel’s needs come first. It’s their taxi stand.

Since most people are going out to dinner or drinks, the rides are short enough for me to drop them off and return to the Hyatt within a few minutes.

After a while, the doorman starts getting friendly with me. He even lets me wait in the driveway when I pull in preemptively, asking everyone who walks through the door if they need a taxi. Several wrinkle their brows.

As if …

While I’m taking a fare to the Fairmont, a lady tries to flag me at Sacramento and Drumm. I point to a Yellow cab in the Regency taxi stand.

“By the time I cross the street, they’re always taken,” she says.

“Just wait for the next one,” I reply.

“That’s OK. I’ll just call an Uber.”

“Good luck with that,” the guy in back says. He tells me the wait time was more than 20 minutes for a Lyft.

Even Flywheel is showing signs of life. A few seconds after dropping at Tosca Cafe and turning on the app, an order comes in. It says nine minutes from Broadway and Montgomery to Sacramento and Front. But I make it in four.

The woman I pick up tells me she’d been trying to get a ride for half an hour.

Finally, a fare to 42nd and Judah spins me out of the metro area. From the Outer Sunset, I head to SFO …

Read the rest of the column here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]