Tag Archives: union square

An Accidental Tub-thumper

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In this week’s column for the S.F. Examiner, I pick up a family who’s exposed to San Francisco’s ugly side on 6th Street, AKA, the Dirty Six. Instead of letting them think the worst, I try to help them understand the consequences of the city’s epic income disparity.

As I wait for the light to change at Mission, a bedraggled woman on the corner is flailing her arms and bitching out the sky.

“Oh my god.” The lady behind me gasps. “What’s wrong with her?”

As I continue down, she points out the motley cast of characters hanging out on the sidewalks and expresses shock at the various displays of mental illness.

“How close are we to your neighborhood?” she asks her son. “I’m really not comfortable with you living around all this squalor.”

“It’s not my neighborhood,” he replies with obvious annoyance.

“It doesn’t look safe here at all,” she intones.

“Mom, I never even come down here!”

As they go back and forth on how much danger she thinks he’s being exposed to, despite his protestations, I feel the need to interrupt. Not that I’m feeling like much of a booster for San Francisco these days, but … someone has to do it.

Read the entire column here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

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The Rascally Couple Looking for Late Night Snacks and Adventure

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“Always say yes.”

During a recent Recitation of the Waybill, a bunch of us were standing around the National office as Late Night Larry offered up some of his incontrovertible advice.

“No matter the question,” he snarled. “The answer is always yes.”

I’ve implemented many of Larry’s words of wisdom over the years, but sometimes it’s my own rules that save the day. Like that Friday night when I was inbound on Columbus at 3 a.m., waiting for the light to change at Pacific.

Behind me, the neon lights of Broadway are diffused in the fog like the setup to a Scooby-Doo mystery, while stragglers lurk in dark corners.

Just as the signal turns green, a young black guy and an older white woman approach my cab. Besides the overwhelming stench of booze that’s almost palpable, their eyes are spinning in their sockets, suggesting other intoxicants.

“Hey! You’re cute!” the woman screeches at me. “Can I touch your hair?”

Less of a request and more of a warning, I try to dodge her grasp.

“Let’s not molest the driver,” the guy says with a giggle. “Yet.”

“Uhhh … Where to?” I ask hesitantly.

“We need snacks!” the woman shouts. “Pronto!”

“Driver, do you know where we can get some snacks?” the guy asks calmly, as if his companion’s exclamation wasn’t clear enough.

I suggest Union Square. With several 24-hour diners, fast food and a 7-Eleven, it covers all the bases for late night snack options. And close enough to get this rascally duo out of my cab. Pronto.

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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What Makes a Cab Driver an Asshole?

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My column in the S.F. Examiner this week is about getting into a fight with an Uber driver in Union Square

The longer I drive a cab, the more I realize I need to be more of an asshole.

Like the night I drove this guy from Eleventh Street to his apartment in Pac Heights. He was friendly and we had a good time. In front of his beaux arts building, he tells me his life story. I listen patiently, $15.05 on the meter, thinking he’s going to give me a decent tip for being an impromptu therapist. But after half an hour of jabbering on, he opens the door, says goodbye and walks away.

“Hey!” I yell after him. “Aren’t you going to pay me?”

“Nope. Sorry.”

What was I supposed to do? Run after him and tackle him to the ground? Call 9-1-1 and wait for the cops to show up and point to the door where he entered? Lotta good that would do me…

Or what about the bartender at Raven who flagged me down and deposited an intoxicated woman in the back of my cab, assured me she wouldn’t throw up and told me her address. Mindful of my last experience with a puker, I demanded payment up front. They gave me $20. But when I pulled up to her place in the Mission, she passed out cold. I couldn’t wake her up. When I threatened to take her to the police station around the corner, she came to long enough so I could get her on her feet, but then the problem got worse. I had to somehow get her up two flights of stairs as she leaned against the building and passed out again.

Fortunately, her neighbor, or someone who claimed to be her neighbor, showed up and rescued me, but I still wasted 45 minutes of prime time driving dealing with this drunk girl…

Or the guy who approached my cab with a bottle of beer and I told him not to throw it out because it’s legal to drink in the back of a cab, but not on the street. After his debit card was declined, he told me he was going to run up to his apartment to get cash and had me hold onto his bank card. Ten minutes later, I realized he wasn’t coming back and that the card probably didn’t even belong to him…

I could go on and on listing the indignities that I’ve suffered as a cab driver and why I might have a sour disposition about it all…

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Anyway, read the column here.

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Photo by Trevor Johnson.

Poor George: The Other Uber Driver

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While cruising through the Duboce Triangle, I get a request on Market Street. Pick up a middle-aged tourist guy and his twenty-something daughter. They’re in town from Texas. Ron and Lisa. They ask if I know George.

“Who?”

“George was our other Uber driver before you,” Ron tells me.

“I don’t really know any other drivers,” I say. “We basically stay in our cars.”

“George drives for Uber to support his wife and three kids,” Lisa says. “He never has time to even see them because he drives all the time. Not like you. You’re probably just doing this to support your marijuana habit.”

“What’d you say?” I ask with an uncomfortable laugh.

She doesn’t reply.

“Poor George,” Ron goes on. “He probably saw us together, father and daughter, and felt jealous of our close relationship.”

Lisa scoffs. “Well, looks can be deceiving.

Ron keeps making small talk with me. They’re Airbnbing a place in Telegraph Hill. Spent the day going around town drinking and shopping. I’m taking them to the Macy’s on Union Square where Lisa saw a purse she liked earlier but didn’t buy.

“It’s a tote!” she clarifies.

Traffic around Union Square is always the perfect example of a clusterfuck. On Saturdays, it’s the epitome of a clusterfuck.

I point out the traffic when we’re two blocks away.

“Don’t worry about it,” Ron tells me. “We’re in no hurry. Long as the purse is still there.”

“It’s a tote!”

Five minutes later, about a block away from Macy’s, I tell him, “It’s gonna take forever to get there with all this traffic. Macy’s is right there.”

I point at the giant sign looming over the street.

“I suppose we can walk one block,” Ron says. “Maybe hit up this place over here… Johnny Foley’s.” He reads the sign on the Irish pub across the street.

I take a left on Powell and a right on Ellis. Go offline and drive away from downtown as quickly as possible. I’ve made the mistake of trying to get rides downtown on a Saturday before. Never again. Let the cab drivers have the business. They can take all of downtown as far as I’m concerned. Since all the one-way streets are split into taxi and bus lanes, it’s designed for cabs anyway, not regular cars.

I go back online after I cross Van Ness. Pick up a guy going to the Haight. Drop him off and track down a woman with an accent and her gentleman friend.

“Oh, is this your bag on the seat?” she asks.

“Bag?”

I reach around. It’s a paper shopping bag from a boutique. Look inside. See a scarf and a flask. Instantly realize that girl Lisa must have left it behind. I remember she had several bags when she got in.

“I know who this belongs to,” I say.

“What’s in the bag?” asks the gentleman. “Lingerie?”

“No, a scarf.”

“Boring. ”

I drop them off in the Mission and email Uber. Parked on 24th, I look through the bag for the receipts to see if it has her name on them. There’s a stuffed porcupine and a swimsuit bottom as well as the scarf and flask. About $100 worth of stuff. I feel bad. She must be freaking out. She seemed too uptight not to have a cow over losing her hard-earned purchases.

Oh well. There’s a link on the confirmation email from Uber to click if you think you might have lost something in a car. Perhaps she’ll notice it when she realizes she’s one bag short.

I put the bag in my trunk. Smoke a cigarette. I’m about to go back online when my phone rings. The generic Uber number.

“Is this Kelly?”

“Yeah, Lauren?”

“Lisa.”

“Right. I have your bag.”

“Oh, thank god!”

I get her address in Telegraph Hill and her phone number, just in case. “I’m in the Mission, so it’ll take a little while to get there. I have to drive all the way across town.”

“That’s fine.”

I take Cesar Chavez to Guerrero, cruise to Market Street, down to Franklin, up and over Pac Heights to Broadway, through the tunnel and into Chinatown. I forget to turn on Powell, so I have to circle around on Kearney to Columbus. My phone rings. It’s Lisa.

“Just checking to make sure you didn’t get lost.”

Uhmmm… Is that another stoner crack?

“Sorry. It took a while to get to North Beach from the Mission. I’m just a few minutes away.”

Slowly, I head up the hills, dodging several rambunctious taxis and maneuvering around lost tourists.

Lisa meets me outside the apartment building.

“Nice view you got here,” I say. Take the bag out of my trunk.

Lisa thanks me and hands me a folded ten dollar bill.

I acknowledge the tip. “Happy to help.”

Ten’s alright, I think as I make a five point conversion out of the dead end. A twenty would have been even better…