It’s been a slow week for cabbing. Real slow. And really something of a head job. By random strokes of luck, each morning I’ll crack my (gas, gate, tips, bribes) nut by 10am – the litmus test for figuring how my day will, well, figure. But then everything will fall off a cliff for a couple hours or so, with me and Citizen’s Cab #1015 circling San Francisco empty, spinning wheels and having lost the lead.
These nuevo California drought days have been clear, sunny and beautiful, too. Which makes the bust seem somehow… dreamlike. But yeah, sorry to bitch, passengers – and throw out a trite metaphor; it’s been more like a nightmare. Death by a thousand cuts. And salt in these wounds, Michael Krasny on KQED’s Forum (SF’s NPR) is doing a half hour program this morning on the death of the San Francisco taxi industry at the hands of Uber and Lyft. Just what I needed to lift my spirits. At least it’s only a half hour segment.
Sure the taxi industry was lacking: Not enough cabs, particularly at peak hours, or when raining. Hamid would lie about his credit card machine being broken, for lack of a bank account or in protest of the new, obscene 5% processing fees that came in when the old knuckle busters were retired. (Previously, you’d turn the credit card slips in for straight up cash at the lot at EOD, no waiting, no fee.) And no central dispatch, for you the passenger to get the closest cab to you when you called, from the whole of the city’s taxi fleet, regardless of color scheme.
The sad, and frustrating, thing about this morning’s Forum is that which has become all too predictable. Opiners calling in spitting on the taxi industry’s grave, MY grave, complaining rightfully about the pre-“rideshare” state of cabs for hire, per above. But also wrongfully citing disgraced former Uber CEO and Founder Travis Kalanick’s BS PR argument that “the asshole called taxi” (as he once so eloquently put it) was corrupt, and greasing politicians in order to keep a hold on its monopoly. No, it was precisely COMPETITION between San Francisco’s color schemes, with owners minding their individual brands, which saw the fight tooth and nail against a centralized dispatch. (Both drivers and passengers were way on board with the idea.) Wrongfully cited, as well, are the Tweets, emails and calls now coming in to Forum heralding Uber for coming along and disrupting this archaic industry with “innovation” in the form of the almighty app. Nope. Cabulous was out first; with its TAXI-hailing app.
- Centralized dispatch? CHECK.
- Pay by on file credit card? CHECK.
- Hail, then see your taxi coming on a real-time map on your smartphone? CHECK.
Praise Jesus! The last word on today’s Forum, as the music cues us out in its last seconds, is the voice of an angel. Though, understandably, a confused one.
Michael Krasny, “Let me get another caller in, with seconds left. Val, you’re on the air!”
Val, “Hi. This is Val, from San Francisco. I’m calling in support of the Cabulous app. Because it works just as beautifully as the Uber app. Um, you get licensed drivers. I’ve never had a bad experience on it. They know where they’re going. Uber drivers are often based somewhere outside of the city, and they don’t know where they’re going. I stopped using Uber about a year ago and switched exclusively to Cabulous. For all the people who are saying that, you know, cabs don’t work out for them, I urge them to try the app.”
Suddenly, as if Val had said too much, or maybe spoken a truth not for the ears of mortals – or potential consumers of taxis, Krasny abruptly cuts her off, ending the show.
I’ve been circling up and down Market, empty, once again holding a microscope up to my life. I’ve always felt a guiding hand, holding open one door as another begins closing. But no matter how I’ve turned this puzzle, over and over, I’ve had no flash, seen no direction. Once a cabbie, horizons are set. And should the straight world ever dare reach out to embrace some 47-year-old hack, caveat emptor, his constitution is set. He’s ruined for the grind. And streets run through his veins.
Waiting for the green, at Market and Front, down in the deep Financial, three Chinese dudes with clipboards and white hard hats, in matching blue oxford button downs and khakis approach from the bustling sidewalk, to prostrate at the shotgun window of Citizen’s Cab #1015.
Hodo, “Are you available, sir?”
Sir, “Sure! Get in!!”
I see their clipboards, and raise them one clipboard/waybill, and pen at the ready.
“Where you guys headed?”
Hodo’s gotten in up front. And there’s another guy about his age, maybe 40, sitting in back, behind him. But, the third body warming my cab is that of an older man, whom I can sense is the alpha, though he remains silent.
Hodo, “We are going to Moscone Center. Do you know where that is?”
Driver, “(PSHAW!) I am a professional!” Raised eyebrows amongst the youth. But in the rear view, I catch Confucius cracking a smile out of the corner of his mouth. “You guys headed to Moscone North? South? Or West? It’s all one-way streets down there. I wanna make sure I approach it to get you right where you’re going. Oh, and don’t worry. I’ll flip a U for you up at Westfield Mall, for a right down 4th Street. Er, cops willing.
Man! Whoever came up with the traffic patterns here on Market must have had a pretty sick sense of humor, what with no left turns almost the entire two miles between the Ferry Building and the Castro!”
Hodo, “We are going to 4th and Folsom.”
Driver, scratching his head, “Huh? There’s no entrances for Moscone there. That’s the back side. I can take you right where you need to be. Are you sure?”
Suddenly, a light bulb appears over my head. DOH!
Hardhats! Moscone’s under construction!!
Hodo, “4th and Folsom. The southwest corner.”
Driver, “OH! You guys are working on the Moscone Center renovation! But don’t you want to maybe get dropped off by all the construction by the carousel, by Moscone South?”
Hodo, staying the course, “No. 4th and Folsom. The southwest corner.”
In back, young Grasshopper now speaks, as chuckling, “What did you think we were doing with these hard hats? Huh?”
Driver, “To be honest, I thought you guys were in some kind of Village People tribute band. I mean, this IS San Francisco!”
The entire cab breaks out laughing. My guys have a sense of humor. AND got the reference!
Crossing Stockton on a green, just before Westfield, some fashionable Asian kid with a dyed blonde bowl cut is jaywalking, s l o w l y.
Kiki looks like he just shit his pants diving for the sidewalk. And I have done a public service. All day long, this city sees Millennials jaywalking with their heads stuck in their phones, or getting out of an Uber mid-block in speeding traffic or at a busy green, at which point they invariably wave their iPhones at you and continue on sashaying out into traffic, as if Steve Jobs himself has texted safe passage, celestially, from his throne high atop Olympus.
Yeah, Kiki might just think twice next time he challenges a frustrated cabbie rolling a two-ton vehicle through a green. Hell, I bet I just saved his life!
I scan around: Hodo is sheet white, and silent. Grasshopper pretends nothing has happened, but slightly nervous, turns to look over towards Confucius for guidance.
And Confucius? He’s cracking a smile out of the corner of his mouth, trying not to laugh.
Driver, “I have two teenage boys. I raised them to NOT walk into traffic. Taught ’em at a pretty early age. I figured it was good parenting. It BLOWS MY MIND how many people walk into traffic around San Francisco these days. Some are oblivious. But some are clearly challenging you! It did NOT used to be like this!
Tell me, did YOUR parents teach you guys not to walk into traffic when you were little?”
I look around, to note all heads shaking in the affirmative. And Confucius busting out.
He speaks, “HA! I like your spunk! It seems that we are in a REAL taxi!”
Driver, “Well, that was my quota for freaking you guys out on this ride. Er, except for this illegal U turn, HERE!!!”
I scan for cops around Westfield Mall, and…
Hoda digs his nails into the shotgun door’s armrest, as Confucius starts bellowing heartily.
Confucius, “Tell me, how have traffic patterns affected you, with the construction of the Fourth Street T Third rail tunnel to Chinatown?”
Driver, “Well, it’s all a blur. The ENTIRE city is under construction of some sort, or another! The replacement of the hundred year-old sewer system. The revamping of bus lines to roll up the middle of Van Ness. And I hear they’re going to be doing that to Geary, too! I’ve long gotten used to being shut off from Stockton in Union Square. It’s been years, now.
But I’ll tell you, I was never one to gripe about city planning decisions in the past. However, this whole push by City Hall to make SF a pedestrian and bike-friendly utopia by taking away parking and left turns, and regular traffic lanes to be replaced by all of these new bus/taxi-only lanes? I mean, there’s no reality there. You can’t choke off all of these cars on one hand, while allowing an unlimited number of Ubers and Lyfts with the other to come in from all over the state to work the more lucrative San Francisco rideshare market. Currently, City Hall has their numbers at 45,000, and rising!! Cabs are capped by the MTA at 1,700 medallions. That’s a 26-1 ratio!
Really, though, that plan they have to close off all of Market Street to anything but bikes, pedestrians, trucks, taxis and buses? To pull some kind of European community plaza deal? What do YOU GUYS think about that?”
I check the rear view, as they all look seriously at one another, and remain silent.
Driver, continuing, “I mean, er, any financial interest you guys may have aside…”
HA! HA!! Ha! HA!! HA!!! HA! Ha! Ha!! HA! HA!! HA!!! HA!!!
It seems I’ve struck a nerve.
Confucius, “It’s called Better Market Street.”
Driver, “Tell me, Confucius. With 45,000 rideshares, what happens to Mission Street when you close off Market to them AND any regular Joe out in his car?”
Driver, “Uh, HUH!”
Confucius, “You know the city. They don’t put their money where their mouth is. Better Market is at best ten years out. By then, there will be regulations.”
Driver, “Yeah, you can only pretend you’re not a cab for so long befo-”
Cruising down 4th Street, passing the Marriott Marquis, I SLAM on 1015’s brakes from in one of the middle of four lanes here, for a middle-aged bottle blonde who’s scampering into traffic and waving her arms frantically as she darts across the lanes just FEET in front of my speeding taxi!
Hodo turns white, again, and grabs the dashboard, HARD!
Middle-aged Bottle Blonde stops DEAD in front of 1015, like an Olympian figure skater at a Mike Pence meet and greet. She smiles nervously at me through the windshield, as jaw dropped, I nod for her to finish her high stakes turn at Frogger. And Middle-aged Bottle Blonde nods back, then hops off dodging and weaving between fast moving vehicles, just two lanes more to her bonus life.
We cross over Mission Street, entering into the sprawling complex of construction that is this convention center in revamp, Moscone.
I note the massive open project of concrete, steel and dirt that is Moscone South, adjacent the ornate LeRoy King Carousel, circa 1906, part of the Children’s Creativity Museum also here located.
Driver, “You sure you don’t want to get dropped off here? You want me to continue on down the block to behind Moscone? Folsom Street?”
Hodo, “Yes. The southwest corner.”
I drive, and scan the scene…
DUH! 1 + 1 is 2, isn’t it! There IS a big construction dig at that corner. It’s just not related to Moscone Center. It’s a tunnel dig. Part of the T Third rail to Chinatown!
Ooooh. These guys are high rollers. Connected. At least, Confucius is! I THOUGHT he smelled like money, and political power!
We pull up near Hodo’s preferred corner for drop, beside dump trucks and back hoes, and pile drivers all secured within the perimeter of a high chain link fence, where neon orange-vested hard-hatted busybodies busybody. And Driver gets nervous.
4th Street here is a mess of construction, with confusing diverted lanes, down to only two, weaving through traffic cones and rubble. And with no sidewalk open to pedestrians. Folsom up ahead? At Hodo’s southwest corner, there is only a scant crosswalk flanked tight by the high chain link fence, before the four one-way lanes of the Folsom Street thoroughfare.
NO WAY! Hodo would have me stop in one of only two lanes here, leaving heavy traffic stuck behind us on 4th – with all undoubtedly honking. Or, he would have me stopped facing the wrong way IN a lane ON Folsom Street! OR! He would have me turn into this very busy crosswalk, filling it, forcing pedestrians out into Folsom AND facing the wrong way towards oncoming Folsom traffic.
THESE are the only options for “Fourth and Folsom. Southwest corner.”
Still, Hodo points to the crosswalk? And he stays the course.
Driver, “I know I haven’t shown myself to be the most circumspect of cab drivers, but NO WAY!!! Sorry, guys. We’ll, uh, just have to cross over Folsom. I’ll drop you off at the bus stop there.”
Jeez. These guys are responsible for large scale projects, involving traffic patterns, and trains? With public safety paramount?
Hodo looks annoyed at my challenge. But in the rear view, Confucius bellows.
HA! HA!! HA!!!
Once safely across, all of my passengers exit Citizen’s Cab #1015, safely. Hodo and Grasshopper step back at the curb, as Confucius approaches the shotgun window, still beaming from the ride.
The meter reads $8.45. And Confucius, exercising his alpha status, hands me in a twenty, asking for ten back and a printed receipt. And as I start to comply, Confucius again laughs all heartily, and softens,
“Ah, just make it nine back. And a blank receipt. I really enjoyed the conversation, driver.”
Driver returns a warm smile, flashing Confucius a peace sign. And Driver drives on…
Please SHARE if so inclined, folks!
Photo by Alex SacK