Tag Archives: taxi driver

The Art of Driving a Taxi

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When done properly, no two cab rides should ever be alike …

Last month, during the Fancy Foods Show, I was posted up outside 888 Brannan, where an after party associated with the convention was winding down.

Despite the apparent lack of need for taxis — according to Hackers, they’re all Phonies inside — I’d just dropped at Lennon Studios a few blocks away and, well, not much else is going on.

A few minutes later, a woman approaches my cab and taps on my window.

“Do you take credit cards?” she asks.

“Of course!” I respond enthusiastically.

“Great! My Lyft app is acting up. It won’t let me request a ride.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” I say, feigning concern.

On the drive to the St. Francis, she gives me the lowdown on the specialty food convention. Then asks if I drive for Lyft as well.

Now, regular readers of this column may remember my stock response to this frequent inquiry is to claim not to own a car. Or to point out that the risks associated with operating a vehicle for hire with inadequate insurance and limited safeguards are too foolhardy, even for a lummox like me. Only on the rarest occasions will I mention my background as an Uber/Lyft driver, and that, from my own experience, using your personal car as a taxicab is less sustainable than driving a real one.

This time, though, instead of my usual attempt to suppress the subject outright, all this talk of artisanal cuisine and the farm-to-table movement offers such an ideal opportunity for a slew of metaphors that I can’t resist …

“Well, it’s like comparing small-batch ice cream, chocolate, cheese or whisky to mass-produced food and booze that all tastes the same,” I say. “Uber and Lyft offer a homogenous stale experience. That’s the point, isn’t it? No matter where you go, instead of figuring out the local modus operandi, you just open the app and it’s like you never left home. They’re the McDonald’s of transportation. Taxi driving is the opposite of that. As my friend Colin puts it, we’re — I cough for effect — ‘artisan transportation engineers.’”

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

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A Taxi-Driving Hero Ain’t Nothing to Be

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As a general rule, I never read comments. Especially comments on my own stuff, either on the Examiner site or social media. But when someone tags you in a Facebook post, it’s hard to avoid the nastiness so common when there’s a computer or smart phone screen in the way.

That’s how I stumble upon this bitter perspective:

“I guess writing this column is the only reason you still drive.”

I instantly click reply, “What the fuck does that even mean? As opposed to doing what? Getting back on track with my fledging astrophysics gig?”

Does this person think I’m independently wealthy? That the Examiner is paying me the big bucks for my 700 words a week, which I invariably turn in late because I’m too exhausted from driving a taxi all week to write about driving a taxi?

Before clicking submit, though, I delete the response. Type out, “You sound like my wife.” Then replace “wife” with “mother-in-law.” And delete that, too.

Instead, I turn off my phone and roll over. As I watch my daughter sleep under the muted glow of a nightlight, my mind spins, processing this notion that I’m supposed to be more than a taxi driver. Why? Because I’m white? American? Male? College-educated?

Who makes up these rules?

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

Where Have All the Good Rides Gone?

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Without the fireworks and traffic along The Embarcadero, last Sunday night would have felt like any other weekend night. That it was New Year’s Eve only seemed incidental…

By midnight, I’ve already forgotten about the holiday. Walking into the Hilton on O’Farrell, I’m taken aback by the small but rowdy crowd in the bar/reception area counting backwards.

In the restroom, it hits me.

“Oh yeah,” I say aloud, my voice echoing off the tile.

I’m not alone though, as a flushing toilet drowns out the cheers from the lobby.

Back on the street, the doorman at the Nikko flags me and deposits an older couple in my backseat.

“What’s going on?” the gentleman in the leather suit asks me.

“It’s the New Year,” I reply.

“Yes.” He laughs. “But where are all the people?”

“Still home for the holidays?” I suggest.

They’d been at Bix, where they’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve for the past 20 years.

“We always book months ahead of time,” he says. “But this year, the bar was only half full.”

“It was very odd,” the woman adds. “We left early, thinking the traffic would be dreadful.”

Ahead of us, Market Street is wide open, hardly a vehicle on the road and barely a soul on the sidewalk.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

A Taxi Driver and His Cab

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This week’s column is about the Taxi Commandment: thou shalt not covet another taxi driver’s cab.

From my earliest days at National, I fought tooth and nail to get a regular cab that was clean and ran well. I cajoled and begged the cashiers, happily paying extra for National 182, a Ford Fusion that met the above criteria and didn’t have a regular driver. For almost two years, 182 was my trusted ride, until the medallion owner took it out of circulation on a long-term lease.

After that, I ended up with 1462, the only National cab with an ad topper, one of numerous cabs recently acquired from Yellow. I hated driving around with a glowing advertisement above me. Plus, the speakers were broken. So when Vic, the medallion owner/day driver, switched to a 24-hour lease, I was almost relieved to be back at the mercy of the window and the varying conditions and quality of the gate and gas fleet.

Veterans 215 was the best of the worst. Even though I’m not keen on Camrys, this was Juneaux’s former cab, and due to his persnickety nature, the inside had remained mostly clean. But as long as it stayed in general circulation, it’s condition rapidly deteriorated.

Months later, Alex finally told me I would be on Veterans 233, a Fusion with low mileage, leather seats and a sunroof. For weeks, I watched the vehicle transform from a regular car into a taxi. First the paint job, then the taximeter and tablet attached to the dashboard and a top light fastened to the roof. Eventually, SFO permit stickers were affixed to the side and, after several more inspections, the day arrived when I was handed the keys and medallion.

Now that I had a regular cab, my next battle was to make sure other drivers didn’t trash it. Because no matter how cherry a taxi is, most cab drivers seem intent on running a good taxi into the ground.

Read the rest here.

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

 

Welcome to Pleasanton

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Always get the money up front…

My column this week is about deserting a regular fare for a meter-and-a-half ride that goes horribly wrong. I guess you can say I got my just deserts.

“Alright,” the guy says, getting out of the cab. “Thanks for the ride.”

“Wait a second!”

The woman gets out of the cab slowly. I watch as she teeters on the high heels and careens toward a parked car, bounces off the trunk and falls to the ground. Just as quickly, though, she’s back on her feet.

“Who’s going to pay me?” I demand.

She wrinkles her face and stumbles away.

I get out of the cab and follow her to the door of her apartment. As she goes in, the guy emerges with a bunch of stuff that he loads into the back of a Corolla. On the windshield, there’s an Uber placard.

“I really need to get paid,” I tell him, feeling like the paperboy from the movie “Better off Dead.”

“I told you, I’m not paying. She’s a whore. Get her to pay.”

“Come on, man. I don’t want to get into the middle of this …”

“Be a man! Go get your money!” He drives away.

I knock on the door. No answer. I knock again.

Goddamn it.

I return to my cab and Google the Pleasanton Police Department. An operator picks up on the second ring.

“I don’t know if this is something you can help me with …”

Read the rest of the column here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

The Outside Lands Transportation Shit Show

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On my way to the city to work Outside Lands

I just completed my fourth Outside Lands as a driver, which prompted me to reevaluate my previous reportage on working the three day music festival in Golden Gate Park. 

My first OSL was in 2014 as an Uber/Lyft driver. I covered that experience here.

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My second OSL was in a taxi and I wrote about it here

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Since I didn’t publish anything about my third year working Outside Lands in 2016, I searched my computer for any notes I may have written and found this:

The tide is turning as anti-Uber backlash surges…

Passengers are starting to realize that Uber and Lyft drivers, the majority of whom aren’t from the area, are creating most of the traffic congestion in The City, especially during major festivals.

That’s what happened during Outside Lands.

I wasn’t making any money driving people home from the festival. With all the congestion getting back to the park for another load, it just wasn’t worth my time…

Next week, my column will be about working Outside Lands for the fourth time. And no, it’s not going to be pretty…

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