Non sequitur intro:
San Francisco, 8th & Market, a hand rises in the air.
A Citizen’s Cab rolling west, 1015, hits his flashers, and pulls to a stop up in the lane alongside.
Out scrambling jumps its driver, folding, stowing his fare’s walker, his passenger hobbled by an unwieldy boot cast.
As passenger he hop, skips and shuffles settling in the back, before ever so casually, matter of fact…
“How you doin’ taday, drivah?”
Driver, “Can’t complain… Yourself?”
Passenger, “Dey took five my toes yestaday.”
Passenger, “I hate dat.”
Passenger, “Aneeway, Larkin ‘n Eddy, drivah. I gahtta get my check.”
Driver, “Larkin and Eddy. Your check.”
It’s been a pretty quiet early morning. And I need it to not be. Hell, I ALWAYS need it to not be quiet!
However, of late, I have been diving into a lot more reading of various Buddhist texts, and ACTUALLY meditating. AND delving deeper into Ramana Maharshi! Working on ego abandonment, clearing out the monkey mind, and focusing on the Here & Now has really been helping a lot to quell my internalized stresses about my finances and (snicker, snicker.) career path. I mean, rent is paid in the Now. Besides, if there is no “Alex” to even BE responsible for paying rent, well then… NAMASTE’, BITCHES!!!
“CHA-CHING! CHA-CHING! – 2020 Webster. Sheldon.”
My Cabulous taxi app-hail smartphone rings to life with an order just two blocks away from me up here on Fillmore, in well-to-do Pacific Heights.
And, I ‘Accept’ the order.
I turn the corner, and begin slowly cruising down Webster. This is ground zero for a cluster of medical buildings. Oh, and that chaplain housing complex. I commonly drive these young chaplains from a wide variety of religions off to pay their dues sitting at someone’s hospital bedside. But, never through the Cabulous app. Hmm.
Suddenly, a guy with short dark hair, glasses, and a sport coat – open collar, about my age, steps out from the sidewalk, at the corner of California. And dude’s waving his phone at me.
Well. Sheldon, I presume.
I zoom to the corner and unlock 1015’s doors. And Sheldon settles in back.
Sheldon, “Oakland airport. Southwest, driver.”
Odd, he doesn’t have any luggage.
Or, uh… damn. Wrestling with the peak of rush hour coming back over the Bay Bridge on the return is going to be a nightmare! An hour of crawling through traffic, if I’m lucky. Well… Oakland is significantly further away than SFO. It’s like a $70 meter from here. So, I guess this’ll still be a win. Anyway, where’s Sheldon’s luggage? Eh, whatever.
Sheldon, “What do you think the Bridge will be like heading out to OAK at this time? Do you think we’ll do alright?”
Driver, “Yeah. We’ll be doing the reverse commute. You should be fine.”
Sheldon, “You cabbie’s just LOVE airport rides, eh?”
Driver, “Yeah. It’s going to be a little sticky getting back over the Bridge on my return. But, it’s worth it.” Now fishing, “I’m just curious, though. Why Oakland airport? It’s a longer fare. And we tack on the $6 for the Bridge Toll. Maybe one of twenty of my airports are an Oakland. I’m always a little curious what the calculation is.”
Sheldon, “Oh, I LOVE OAK! I do it ALL the time! The flight times are much more convenient. And it’s almost the same distance as SFO.”
Uh… NOT!! SFO would be around a $45 meter, versus this roughly $70 OAK. What are you smoking, dude??
We ride with NPR in the background, as weaving our way across the city’s back surface streets – in an effort to avoid the now thickening traffic. And Sheldon is inspired by the radio fare, as he sits up straightening his back, and begins waxing political on the state of San Francisco’s taxi industry. And of course, Uber and Lyft. And Sheldon knows ALL. (Or, so he thinks.)
Sheldon, “I NEVER take Uber or Lyft. Can’t stand the corruption, and their lack of morals, and corporate shenanigans. Besides, when they’re price surging, the cost of a taxi is about the same. Or sometimes cheaper! Anyway, I checked this morning before hailing you. They’re price surging now. I bet it’s all a scam. Anyway, every time I take one, they have absolutely NO idea where they’re going!”
As we roll onto the Octavia on-ramp, bound for the Bay Bridge, Sheldon expounds.
“But, I have to say that they did light a fire under the taxi industry. You guys have really stepped up your game since you got all that competition. And I DO think the taxi industry is WAY overregulated. You guys should get the same deal as the Ubers and Lyfts. Free market, baby!”
Driver, “Actually, I don’t know any cab drivers that have changed anything on account of the ‘rideshares.’ It was just coincidental that as Uber and Lyft were first hitting the streets, The City had the color schemes all phasing out the old Crown Vics to be replaced by a new, green taxi fleet. The MTA has a regulation that 90% of SF’s cabs have to be hybrid, electric, or natural gas. I should mention, there is no such regulation on rideshares. I see Dodge Caravans and Cadillac Escalades, and the like, all the time doing Uber and Lyft in the city.
I hear what you’re saying, though. A lot of Cabulous passengers comment how we have upped our game in response. Really, though, I think it’s just a function of the app. You have a central dispatch tapping 80% of SF’s taxis, and you pay with your credit card on file. This precludes all the old, bad drivers who wouldn’t take a credit card before, because they didn’t have a bank account to receive payments. And, it precludes any driver that is not tech savvy. Which is probably a demographic you don’t want to be riding with, anyway.
Mainly, there just weren’t enough cabs on the streets before, though. The MTA has taxis capped at 1700. This, probably to see that taxi drivers were making a living, but probably more out of environmental impact considerations. There is no cap on rideshares, it should be noted. And City Hall says there are 45,000 of them out there now, and counting! That’s a 25-1 ratio with taxis! The traffic downtown is a TOTAL shit show these days. Every block on Market is filled with scab cabs blocking the green lights on Market now, with some asshole that just HAD to make the yellow crossing over DESPITE the gridlock clearly visible RIGHT in front of them!
Anyway, with all the Ubers and Lyfts that have flooded the streets, of course it’s going to be easier to get a taxi now, regardless of the 1700 cap. Supply and demand.”
Sheldon, “I don’t see that these guys are blocking traffic. I don’t see it. Really, there should be no limit on any of the numbers of rides on the streets. You guys would all be cleaning up! Deregulate ALL of it and level the playing field! And that whole environment thing is just hype.”
Driver, “Uh, I dunno… In any event, both Uber AND Lyft are subsidizing half the cost of their rides in an effort to gain market share, and put the taxi industry under. Uber lost $3 billion last year, with $1.5 billion of that attributed to the cost of subsidized rides. These artificially cheap rides have been hurting BART and MUNI big time, too. And I do NOT think these unicorn investors are looking to lose money in the long run. God help everyone if they DO become a monopoly, and get to set the prices all free market!
This all REALLY screwed any taxi driver who took out a loan for a $350K medallion just before Ed Lee unleashed all these Ayn Randian gypsy cabs on the city. And the world, for that matter! Used to be it was a $5000 fine and your car impounded if you were caught playing cabbie. But, not when the Mayor’s son-in-law is working high up in Lyft, I guess. Ed Lee’s son-in-law and Lyft were the first to blatantly skirt the law with their ‘carpooling for a suggested donation’ scheme.
Yeah, cabbies are defaulting on their medallion loans left and right, now that they’ve been completely devalued, with the amount of their monthly payouts from the color schemes to associate with them having gone down the toilet.”
Sheldon, “Yeah, god help us if these guys end up holding all the cards. They’re all corrupt. The free market is the answer to all of it. Deregulate, and everyone will be making money. And it’ll be good for the consumer, too! Man, I watched when Ed Lee started selling the medallions to drivers, and wiping away their retirements. He totally screwed you guys.”
It was Gavin Newsom as Mayor who started selling the medallions and killed the waiting list, which saw them handed out for some nominal fee, based on seniority, serving as some kind of pseudo retirement. (Medallion holders got paid a decent monthly ($3K, or so) by a given color scheme to associate with them, with the holder only having to drive a token amount of hours a year to keep their medallion. Death, or miss those minimal hours, and the medallion went down to the next guy on the list having waited fourteen, or so, years.)
And the math is simple, more rides available means a race to the bottom, both with pricing and competition for limited ridership.
What the HELL is Sheldon smoking!?
Sheldon, continuing, “I’ve been very seriously thinking about running for Mayor of San Francisco. I think I have the answers to what this town needs. I mean, it’s not rocket science. Free market. I’m Jewish. And I’m fiscally conservative. But, I’m socially liberal. I’ve been VERY seriously considering a run. Sheldon Katz is the name, driver. You remember that.”
A free market, deregulating, fiscally conservative, Jew (well, not sure if that matters) thinking he has a snowball’s chance at getting elected MAYOR of SAN FRANCISCO?
What the FUCK is this guy SMOKING!?!
Driver, “Wow! I’m driving the NEXT MAYOR of San Francisco! Sheldon Katz!! I WILL remember that name, sir! You can count on MY vote!
Hey, do you mind if I ask what you think about Trump?”
Sheldon, back even straighter and even more proud, “Well, I voted for him. And I should tell you that my parents live in Trump Tower, too, driver. I come from money.
But, I do have to say I am pretty disappointed in Trump right now. I mean, the man is his own worst enemy. With all the damn tweets. And he’s been declaring war on his own party. His OWN people! I fear he has destroyed himself with all of the personal issues, and fighting with the Republicans in congress.
Still, I don’t regret my vote. I would have NEVER voted for Hillary. She’s completely corrupt!”
We’re over the bridge now, and rolling 880 south, halfway to Oakland airport. Should I? I generally like keeping cool with my passengers. After all, I am the host of this taxi. And they are my guest. Professionalism, and all. And really, doing 80 speeding down a highway inside a two-ton metal box with a stranger at arm’s reach is no situation within which one should be risking bad blood!
Driver, “Well, I should put my cards on the table, and let you know that I am a liberal. I was no Hillary fan. But, Trump is EASILY the most corrupt, morally bankrupt, sociopathic, ignorant, treasonous, mentally unstable moron that America has EVER seen, either INSIDE or OUTSIDE of government, let alone the presidency.
Corrupt? How about the scam he has going on taking foreign money through the Old Post Office, just blocks from the White House. And completely contrary to the terms of the lease. How about not divesting himself of interests both foreign AND domestic that EVERY decision he makes as President results affecting his finances? The Emoluments Clause? That house he sold to some Russian oligarch down in Florida for millions over what Trump had paid for it just the year prior? And the oligarch never moved in! Hell, Mueller has the NY Attorney General working with him to follow the trail of Russian money laundered through Trump’s Manhattan real estate holdings, as we speak! Trump University?? TRUMP UNIVERSITY!?
And that’s JUST the corruption! Forget about all the bankruptcies, stiffing his contractors, lying about being a billionaire, collusion with Russia, and not releasing his tax returns!”
Sheldon, “You’re a liberal? Really?? Hmm. Well, whatever.
But, HILLARY. And, The CLINTON Foundation! Without a doubt the MOST corrupt organization in modern American history!
Anyway, we don’t need to see Trump’s tax returns. We KNOW he’s a billionaire.”
Driver, all Cheshire Cat, “Well, maybe he is NOW! Trump lies relentlessly. Back in 2006, Trump sued a New York Times reporter over his book Trump Nation on account of that it laid out in detail that Trump is NO billionaire, that he’s basically a flim-flam man who mostly licenses his name, and is just kicking a can of borrowed money down the road.
Well, Trump ended up suing that reporter for just SAYING he wasn’t a billionaire. And Donnie had to go under oath for the case in court. Well, when the judge asked Trump straight up to detail his net worth. And Trump just dithered and obfuscated on the judge’s request, and WOULDN’T give a STRAIGHT answer! Not only that, but under oath, he gave significantly lower, contrary to his previous declarations on dollar amounts for a whole host of income. It was on Trump’s own testimony that the judge ordered the case dismissed, and the lawsuit dropped!”
Sheldon, “Of course, he lies. Everyone does. You don’t think HILLARY lies?? Anyway, look. You just have to think of Trump as a regular, blue collar guy. Think of him as… your mechanic. The guy changing your oil. Washington was BEGGING for a shake up!”
Driver, “Uh, not long ago, we put the guy in office that we ‘wanted to have a beer with.’ I’m not sure that that worked out so good, then. But now, I’m supposed to hand over my health care – a fifth of the American economy?? AND the NUCLEAR CODES!? To the guy who’s CHANGING MY OIL!?!
Anyway, uh, I really appreciate your perspective on all of this, Sheldon. We’re, uh, cool. Yeah?”
Sheldon, “Oh, yeah! I LOVE a good debate! And like I said, I am not too pleased with him at this moment. It’s just that there was NO OTHER OPTION in the election!”
Driver, “Whew! I’m glad we can talk about this and not get all personal and heated, Sheldon. I LOVE a good debate, too!
So then, I have to ask, I know that all Trump voters are not ALL racists. But, when you hear all the stuff coming from him like Obama’s a secret Kenyan Muslim, ban all Muslims, Mexicans are rapists and criminals, and he’s regularly re-tweeting erroneous crime stats from white supremacists, and Anti-Semitic memes, after getting endorsed by the KKK… uh, how exactly, um, does that register to, say, someone like you?”
Sheldon, “Ah, Trump’s not a racist. He just SAYS stuff. You CAN’T take him seriously!”
Driver, “Well, he WAS successfully sued by the government, along with his dad, for the secret coding of all apartment applications filled out by blacks, before telling them ‘no vacancy’ when any dared follow up.”
Sheldon, jumping out of his seat, “He SETTLED that case!!!”
Sheldon, continuing, “Anyway, his policies are what I’m attracted to. And he’s going to drain the swamp. And the tax breaks will get this sluggish economy REALLY rolling again! IF he can stop with all the damn tweeting and attacking Mitch McConnell, that is.
Whatever happens, thank GOD we DON’T have HILLARY!”
And with this impasse, we pull into OAK and SWA. The meter on ‘ol Citizen’s Cab #1015 is up to a respectable $73, which Sheldon boasts proudly will have added a 15% tip, plus a tacked on $6 for the bridge toll home.
(That toll, um, which Citizen’s is covering now. But, ONLY after upping our gate (cab rental) a dollar, to $83! As explained, to shift all responsibility for tolls to the company, as photos of that rare cab snapped crossing the Bay or Golden Gate come in via the mail.)
As Sheldon opens his door to exit, he turns back to me with an exhilarated smile, and thanks me for the conversation. I reach out for his hand, to shake. And again, I gush.
“Sheldon Katz. I’ll remember the name! A future mayor of SAN FRANCISCO! In MY taxi!!”
Please SHARE if so inclined, folks!
Photo by Alex SacK
If you like this stuff enough to want to help me pay rent, visit my new Patreon page to support! Hell, if a lot of dough comes in, I’ve got big plans to make a crazy SF Taxi movie!