Tag Archives: taxi drivers

The way of the taxi stand

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My column for the Examiner this week is about the Hyatt Regency taxi stand, more daytime observations and a near collision with a BMW.

Usually, the EC5 cabstand moves at a decent clip. Besides the Regency and Embarcadero Centers, you get people hopping off BART and from the Ferry Building, as well as various randos.

But that’s the way of the taxi stand.

One second it’s moving, the next you’re just watching the world stream past.

After advancing two spaces, an Uber pulls over next to me. Instead of proceeding to the driveway that leads to the front of the hotel, a family of four disembarks right in the middle of Drumm Street. The driver, working hard for those five-star ratings, helps set their suitcases on the asphalt. Says goodbye and drives off. The tribe of fresh-faced tourists, slightly discombobulated, manages to gather their belongings and haul them between the line of taxis, across a jam-packed sidewalk and the driveway.

This is a common scenario at most hotels these days. As soon as visitors enter SFO, they are accosted with advertisements for Uber and Lyft, which both offer $50 in free credit for new users. Why not take advantage of an offer like that?

They’ve no doubt heard of Uber. Now they can experience it firsthand and tell their friends and family back home about the “future of transportation.”

Plus, it’s $20 from the airport into the city, which is cheaper than a cab, cheaper than BART, cheaper that Super Shuttle and almost cheaper than the bus. They still have more free rides to take. And hey… if Mom downloaded the app on her phone at the airport, can Dad also download the app and get $50 in credit? Sure he can. All the kids too!

So now tourists are taking Ubers and Lyfts instead of taxis. But what kind of experience are they having if their drivers come from Sacramento or out of state and have no clue how to assist them navigate The City? They’re essentially tourists themselves. Talk about the blind leading the naked.

And when it comes to hotels, there are many reasons why you rely on doormen. Making sure guests have — at least — the opportunity to show some class is one. Preventing fuckups is another.

A few nights back, while languishing in the Fairmont taxi stand, I saw a girl get her fingers caught in the door of a Lyft car. As her howls echoed off the façade of the luxury hotel, the clueless driver began pulling away. Her friends had to bang on the side of his car to make him stop…

Read the rest here.

[photo by Irina Dessaint]

The Luck of Juneaux

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Juneaux is the most fastidious taxi driver I know.

His cab is always spotless, inside and out. He focuses on superior customer service and, in the process, has an uncanny ability to twist fortune in his favor.

I call it “The Luck of Juneaux.”

A few weeks ago, I wake up to a salvo of texts that began at midnight.

“I’m so fucked,” Juneaux writes. “I accidentally overslept and now I only have six hours to make my nut. I’m going to end up hanging a gate.”

After several texts describing the hopelessness of the situation, his tone changes drastically.

“Dude! You’ll never believe what just happened …”

Around 3 a.m., he picks up a guy who’s lost his Lexus somewhere in SoMa and has Juneaux drive him around while he clicks his key remote. An hour later, the meter is at $34.75, and the guy realizes it’s a lost cause.

“So, he asks me, ‘Can you drive me home?’ Sure. Where’s home? ‘Half Moon Bay.’”

His good fortune doesn’t stop there. Back in The City, he gets a timed SFO through Flywheel.

His final text reads: “After gate, gas and tip, I’m $146 in the black. Not bad for starting my shift six hours late.”

While Juneaux is dubious of its veracity, I have complete faith in The Luck. So much so, I’m convinced it’s even transferable …

Read the rest of the column here.

Or click the image below for the newsprint version (with no pop-up ads):

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[photo by Trevor Johnson]

Looking for Fares in All the Wrong Places

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My column this week for the S.F. Examiner is an attempt to shed some light on one of the most confusing aspects of the taxi industry: the medallion system.

While discussing health problems and money woes, Loco and I shiver in the chilly night air and surreptitiously eyeball the BART passengers emerging from the station.

Loco has a paid medallion. As he describes the headaches and heartbreaks of paying off a $250,000 taxi medallion in the Age of Uber, his story echoes those of other paid medallion holders I’ve spoken to. It’s always tragic, since the only solution is for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to admit that the program to sell taxi medallions is a complete failure and offer financial amnesty to anyone who forked out a quarter of a million dollars for their worthless piece of tin.

The medallion was supposed to be a safety net for drivers as they got older. But for those struggling to pay off loans when the vehicle-for-hire business is in the toilet, it’s an albatross. 

Read the rest here.

[image via]

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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From the Wrong Sex Club to the Right Sex Club

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In San Francisco, you need the right cab driver to get you to the right sex club…

In this week’s column for the S.F. Examiner, I write about getting misguided passengers where they want to go:

I’m cruising down Folsom Street on a quiet Thursday night at about midnight. An arm goes up in front of Powerhouse. I pull over. A man with a strong accent gets in the back of my taxi. 

“Can you take me here?” He shows me his phone with the Google details for the Power Exchange on the screen. 

As I head up 7th Street, I ask nonchalantly, “Not the crowd you’re looking for back there, huh?” 

“Too many problems!” he exclaims. “I’m looking for women.”

“Well, you’re going to the right place now.”

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photo of the entrance to the Power Exchange courtesy of S.F. Weekly

Racing through the littered streets of the Tenderloin, I can’t help but wonder how this guy ended up at a gay cruising bar instead of the hetero sex club he was looking for. Poor communication with a cab driver? A mix up in a Google search? 

Whatever. These things happen. A few months back, I had a similar situation, albeit in reverse, while driving past the Power Exchange …

A guy flags me down and immediately tells me he’s a tourist and has ended up at the wrong place. 

“The doorman told me I should check out Blow Buddies,” he says. “Do you know where that is?”

Of course. I’m quite familiar with the place, I tell him. But instead of assuming that, as a night cabbie, I know where all the sex clubs are in San Francisco — gay and straight — he thinks I’m a regular and grills me on the details. 

“It’s all gay, right? Is it OK to just watch? Do I have to take off all my clothes? Are there condoms available? Showers?” 

“All I know is that, once you’re inside, they’ll explain everything.”

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Read the rest of the column here

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2015 Folsom Street Fair proves to be profitable for taxi drivers

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Originally published on October 2, 2015 in the S.F. Examiner

It was a good week to be a taxi driver.

With an estimated 400,000 people attending the Folsom Street Fair on Sunday, business was booming from the start of my shift on Thursday afternoon all the way to Monday morning, when I crawled home from the MacArthur BART station, my mind fried, my bones aching and my pockets bulging with cash.

Thursday started out with epic gridlock in SoMa. My first fare, from Caltrain to Bush and Gough, took 45 minutes and cost $36.

Things just kept going from there.

Friday was even busier. Each time I dropped off a passenger, another fare was waiting to get into my backseat.

“Is some event going on?” a woman asks me at one point. “Why is it surging?”

I want to remind her she was in a cab, thus I have no clue what’s going on with Uber, and while I know we’re all in an open relationship now, some of us aren’t exactly happy about the arrangement. But instead I politely tell her about the Folsom Street Fair, the AC/DC concert that night at the ballpark and TwitchCon at Moscone Center.

“I’m lucky you came along then,” she says.

“You are,” I agree, as we blow past dozens of people flagging me down.

Saturday… I don’t even remember much about what happened on Saturday after I left my apartment, stumbling down Telegraph, unsure if I would even make it to BART without face planting into the pavement.

Everything becomes a blur from the strain of multiple 12-hour shifts behind the wheel, the hassle of getting from Oakland to the National yard in Bayview and, somehow, managing to squeeze in a little shuteye.

Forget about a personal life.

After a while, I’m just a driving machine.

A muscle and a brain.

On Sunday, I start my shift and go straight to SoMa to work the Folsom Street Fair. The annual BDSM and leather subculture fair is the third largest street fair in California, after Pride and the Rose Parade.

I head in on Potrero and then up Division, which is congested. I cut across two lanes of traffic and head down Bryant. Everyone’s turning left at Seventh so I take Sixth and go west on Howard.

There are supposed to be cabstands on Eighth, but once again, I use the same techniques I did with the Dreamforce Gala and Outside Lands. I stick to the periphery—Eighth and Harrison Streets—where I have access to the best avenues of escape.

Folsom Street Fair proves to be pay dirt. And also my gayest—err, I mean, greatest—night of cab driving in San Francisco.

It felt like the old days, when the rest of The City was “Castro adjacent.”

Without a single lull, the rides kept coming and I just kept shoving the money into my chest pockets.

I transport an endless stream of festivalgoers to and from after parties, many zonked out on GHB, some fully clothed, others half-naked, most clad in leather and everything and anything else in between.

Very few passengers talk, comatose from the drugs, cavorting at the Fair and untold hours of dancing.

One guy, who flags me down on Market, spends the entire ride groaning and drooling on his wrestler’s uniform. When I pull up to Park Central, he removes two $5 bills from a striped tube sock. The fare is $12 but I don’t argue. Even though it’s in my best interest to get the hell out of Dodge, I wait to make sure he’s safe. He meanders into Third Street and then onto the sidewalk towards Market.

“You’re going the wrong way!” I yell out my window.

Eventually, he careens in the direction of his hotel.

People continue to pour out of 1015 Folsom long after the 4 AM closing time. I could keep going, too, but I have a 4:45 cab. With five minutes to spare, I hit the gas station on Army and turn in.

Three days of sleep later, I’m still wiped out.

Next weekend is the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, which should be another profitable, albeit exhausting, week of cab driving.

As things begin to look up, though, I think about what Late Night Larry told me as he dropped me off at the Civic Center BART on Monday morning:

“Don’t forget… winter is coming.”