Tag Archives: taxi driver

Taxi Driving is More than a Job

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On this, the occasion of my 100th column, I can’t help but feel somewhat reflective. Almost two years have passed since the San Francisco Examiner gave me an opportunity to tell my stories of The City’s streets in 700 words, give or take. While writing about driving a taxi comes easy, actually driving a taxi can be a real drag sometimes. Particularly on those slow, mind-numbing nights, during excruciatingly slow weeks, in painfully slow months.

Taxi driving is more than a job. It’s a form of punishment for all the bad decisions you’ve ever made. Instead of pursuing the 9 to 5, you became an artist, played in bands, wrote books, traveled or just enjoyed life — all the unrealistic distractions your parents, teachers and guidance counselors said would only lead to poverty that somehow became sustainable through driving a taxi. Until one day, it was no longer viable, once some eggheads created a centralized dispatch app, and the cab companies were too busy squabbling over brand recognition to retain any relevance. But in the stupidity of it all, there was still a sense of freedom.

Taxi driving is still the closest you can get to the swashbuckling adventures of a pirate. With no bosses around and no supervisors breathing down your neck, it’s just you, your cab, the streets and the general public. How you navigate those obstacles is up to you. Even if you don’t have what it takes. Thankfully, the meek get lucky, too.

Read the rest here.

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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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 Lure of Taxi Driving is No Match for a Newborn

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From the pages of the S.F. Examiner:

It’s been more than two weeks since I last drove a taxi. I’ll be on paternity leave for a little while longer, until life with a newborn becomes less of a freak show. Or the money runs out …

I’m not used to taking this much time off. I’m starting to worry I’ll forget how to navigate the maddening streets of San Francisco once I get back to work. I mean, what happens when I pick up my first fare at Caltrain and they’re going to, say, Hyde and Vallejo, and I totally blank on how to get there?

Is cab driving like riding a bike?

Not that it matters. I don’t even know if I can still ride a bike.

In the meantime, I’m on diaper-duty. And between feedings, I cradle little Tèa and entertain her with my best Charles Mingus impression.

Read the rest of the column here.

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Top photo by author. Bottom photo by Christian Lewis.

Winter Storms Bring Winter Babies

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about the birth of my daughter and the prospect of raising a child in the Bay Area as a taxi driver:

In the taxi industry, I’m surrounded by men who’ve raised both daughters and sons in The City, who’ve provided for their families, bought houses, paid for college, and still do, as taxi drivers.

Sure, it’s next to impossible to even imagine now that the profession has been diluted by the egghead sector, i.e., the “tech” community, who believe robots can do any job better, and the millennials who bemoan the lack of decent jobs and yet embrace the systematic dismantling of one decent job after another in their constant pursuit of convenience…

Point all the fingers you want, kiddos, but it’s not the baby boomers who’ve made taxi driving the less than profitable enterprise it once was.

Which is why I thank the stars my daughter was born under Obama’s administration, so we could not just afford maternity care, but qualify for it, through the ACA. Otherwise, what? Google how to give a DIY caesarean?

Read the rest of the column here.

 

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.)

Playlists, Profanity and Other Tricks of the Trade

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Originally published on October 16, 2015 in the S.F. Examiner

Tonight I’m all alone in my cab. Although I may not be the only one prowling the streets of San Francisco playing the Modern Lovers, if I don’t get a fare soon, I just might go insane.

It’s still early but I’m a little cranky from waking up at nine in the morning to a cacophony of power tools drilling into concrete and slicing through wood. Coming off my second 12-hour shift in a row, I was tired as hell, but there was no way to sleep through the noise.

In the two years I’ve been in this apartment, I’ve suffered one construction project after another. But that’s the price you pay for living in an “up-and-coming” neighborhood.

I began my shift that afternoon by dialing in a Pandora station based on a playlist of garage and noise rock bands. A proud Luddite, I only recently discovered streaming music through my iPhone. I started with the free service, but once the Lyft ads became overbearing, I upgraded.

As I troll the Embarcadero for a fare, “Astral Plane” segues nicely into Thee Oh Sees.

I don’t get a flag until I’m on Jefferson. Two guys going to the Best Western Americana. About two-thirds into the ride, one of the guys asks me in a German accent why we don’t have partitions like New York cabs.

“Cause we’re fucking friendly in California!” I shout.

My feeble sarcasm doesn’t translate well and we spend the next several blocks in awkward silence as the Wooden Shjips drone on in the background.

So much for taking Late Night Larry’s advice.

Last week, at the National barbeque, Larry was telling me how to break the ice with passengers.

“I ask every person who gets in my cab, ‘How the fuck are you?’ Unless they’re the sophisticated type. Then I ask, ‘How the hell are you?’”

I was dubious about using profanity with my passengers, but several other drivers nodded their heads in agreement.

Even though I’m constantly soliciting tricks of the trade from experienced cab drivers—like creating a soundtrack for the cab—as I head up Seventh Street to see if the Orpheum is breaking, I wonder if they were just pulling my leg this time.

Of course, it’s easy for Larry to pull off a faux-surly attitude with his passengers. He already comes across like a college football coach. Before driving a cab, he was the house dick at the St. Francis. Before that, an MP homicide detective in Vietnam. At some point he was involved in banking.

It’s difficult to keep track of Larry’s myriad adventures and his long history, which began in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, when his family moved to California from St. Louis to start a riverboat company on the American River.

Like most native San Franciscans, nothing shocks Larry. When he tells a story, whether it’s about driving a cab or solving a murder, he punctuates the most gruesome aspects with sadistic laughter.

Or the night he had two pukers and never seemed happier.

“Two!” he shouted gleefully. “In one night! What are the odds? I made an extra $200.00!”

“Yeah, but the puke…” I pointed out.

“Ah, I know how to clean up puke,” he said, brushing away the insignificant detail.

At the Orpheum, I get a short ride to the Hilton, where I pick up a couple going to Ashbury Heights. Then a flag on Divisadero to the Hotel Kabuki.

I cruise down O’Farrell just as the Shannon and the Clams show at the Great American is breaking. With King Kahn and the Shrines blasting, I pull behind a Yellow cab and wait for a like-minded fare.

After the initial wave has dissipated, I watch the remaining concertgoers stand around holding their phones and looking up and down the street for their Ubers and Lyfts. Somebody gets into the Yellow cab in front of me, but I sit empty until it’s just the roadies and me.

I give up and turn left onto Larkin. Outside New Century, I immediately get flagged. A guy climbs into my backseat.

Before he can tell me where he’s going, I turn around and ask him, “How the fuck are you doing tonight?”

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Top photo still from Night on Earth. Bottom photo from set of Taxi Driver via