This was a very interesting project I participated in with a few other cab drivers. The idea, as conceived by creator Lexa Walsh, was to have people from diverging points of view get together over tea and hors d’oeuvres and talk things through.
The project gathers artists, writers, tech workers, “sharing economy” laborers (Uber and Lyft drivers, AirBnB hosts) and their critics (taxi drivers, tenants rights activists) together in a hospitable environment so each may share their positions in a safe yet open and critical dialogue. Each position will be respectfully held in the space.
Besides taxi drivers, there were supposed to be a few Uber/Lyft drivers, but she wasn’t able to find any willing to participate. So we sat around the table, drinking tea and talking about the problems we face because of the onslaught of unregulated/untrained drivers.
Some of the quotes were commemorated on plates that hung in the backroom gallery at Adobe after the talks.
I never thought having a child would help me deal with driving a taxi. But the shrieking of an infant reminds me of those impatient cab drivers who use their horns to communicate …
A few weeks ago, I’m lining up on Market Street waiting for the Orpheum to break.
Several cabs have already queued. I pull behind an unmarked SUV with its hazards on. I don’t know if it’s an Uber, so I keep my distance. A Flywheel cab gets behind me and starts blowing his horn. Several taps at first, but then he really lays on it.
Is he honking at me? I wonder. And if so, why?
Finally, the guy gets out walks to the front of my cab. He starts gesturing at the space between the SUV and me. In broken English, he tells me to pull up. I try to explain that I don’t know what the SUV is going to do and want to avoid getting stuck. But he keeps shouting at me, so I just move up grudgingly.
He bellyaches all the way back to his cab.
A few minutes later, the show lets out, and people start getting in cabs.
The Flywheel driver, who doesn’t seem to know how to work the theaters, starts blowing his horn again and trying to get around me on the left. I see people get into the taxis in front of the SUV, which, predictably, doesn’t move. As a couple heads for my cab, the Flywheel is angled on my left so that when a lady tries to get into his cab, he’s too far away and she gets into the Fog City behind him.
I hit reverse to move around the SUV to escape the melee.
When it comes to an 8-month-old, screaming pretty much gets the desired result. According to baby experts, she doesn’t understand “No!” yet and, well, we really don’t want our neighbors to hate us too much. For taxi drivers who use their horns to communicate, though, it doesn’t always pay…
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…
[photo by Irina Dessaint]
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 …
[photo by Trevor Johnson]
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.
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.
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.”
“Two blocks. Fuck him.”
“Yeah, fuck him.”
[image by Christian Lewis]