Day Cabbie

San Francisco taxi stories from one of the very rare female drivers


It was early in the morning, around 6, and on my first call I was sent to a motel in one of the worst areas of town. "Vera, it's right at the end of 3rd Street, 6600 3rd Street, for Deb*," the dispatcher said. I was driving a van that day. The van and I pulled into the parking lot behind the motel, and there she was. She walked over to the cab with quick steps and a frown on her face. She was beautiful, thin, Asian, probably in her late 20's, long hair. But she had clearly had a rough night.

I said "Are you Deb?"


"Great. Where would you like to go?"

"Sacramento and Laguna."

"Do you have a favorite way of getting there?"

"I have no idea where I am so I don't care. This guy was supposed to come back for me and he never did."

There was a silence for a minute or so. Then I said "Yeah, it sucks when somebody says they're going to come back and they don't."

"Yeah. And he owes me some money. He almost raped me too."


"Yeah. He said 'Take off your clothes or I'll shoot you.'"

"He had a gun?"

"Yeah, and a knife too."

Deb kept sniffing her nose. I didn't think she had a cold though. She asked me if we could stop at the ATM. She also asked me if we could stop at a "Deli or something." She was "starving." We passed McDonald's and she asked me to go through the drive-through. She had me order a dollar menu McMuffin and a dollar menu McSausage. She also had me ask for a cup of water. She paid entirely with coins. When she tried to hand me the coins so I could hand them to the McDonald's cashier, she kept dropping them onto the floor of the van. When we pulled away from the McDonald's, she started eating her food.

A few blocks later I saw a US Bank. I asked her if she wanted to use the ATM. She said sure. She left her food in the van and got out to use the ATM. She was back a few seconds later. She couldn't find her ATM card. She emptied out her purse. The stuff from her purse was all over the seat and the floor. Her hair was hanging all over the stuff from her purse. She kept saying "Shit!" and "That dick!" She also said "I knew he took something else from my purse!" I said "You can't find your ATM card?" She said "No, I think he stole that from me too. Asshole." She kept searching through the stuff from her purse. She started crying. She sniffed her nose. I said "It's going to be okay."

We kept driving. She asked "Do you accept checks?" I said "Sure, I'll take a check." She smiled brightly. She had a very beautiful smile. I wanted to tell her not to get mixed up with people like that guy. She could do so much better. Instead, I said "Do you have your check book with you?" She said "Yeah, it's at my apartment. Or maybe my doorman can pay you cash, and I'll pay him back later."

She called the bank to tell them that her ATM card had been stolen. I was starting to think that I might not get any money from this girl. But I didn't care. She had been through so much; I just wanted to get her home safe. As we approached Market Street on 9th Street, she said "Take Larkin. It's faster." I took Larkin. She told me to make a left on Sacramento. When we got to her building, she got out and said "I'll be right back." I said "Okay." The meter said $24.35.

I looked behind me. Her purse was gone. The McDonald's trash and her half-full cup of water were still there. I was suddenly sure that I was never going to see her again. I started collecting the McDonald's trash into a ball and got ready to leave. Then Deb reappeared. She opened the passenger side door and handed me two $20 bills. She said "Can I just get ten back?" I gave her two fives. I said "Thanks so much. I hope your day gets a lot better." She flashed that beautiful smile at me one more time.

*Names have been changed to protect the girl whose name wasn't Deb.

It could be sexism but it doesn't have to be

My first customer on Friday was a butch girl who wore short hair, a baseball cap, a loose tank top, and loose, low-riding pants. She asked me how my day was going. I told her that I had just started my day but that it was going pretty good so far. She told me that I was the first female cab driver she had had in a year. I said that yes, we were a rare breed.

She asked if customers ever gave me a hard time because I was female, if I ever felt threatened. I said no but that sometimes I felt the cab company treated me differently because I was female, but that I wasn't sure. I said that that morning when I had arrived to pick up my car, there had been two other guys there. Then several other guys started arriving. I told her that every single one of those guys was assigned a car before they ever gave one to me. I said that it might be because I'm female or because I'm still new, or even because I have had a small accident, and that maybe they give preference to drivers who are completely accident-free, but that I was going to feel it out a little longer and then maybe one day I might say something.

She said "Yeah, I work at a bar and I'm the only female there. Whenever somebody gives me shit, I complain right away, and then it stops. Now the guys never give me a hard time because I deal with it right away."

She asked "Are you friends with any of the other cab drivers?"

I responded that some of them were really nice, but that the nicest one had just moved away to Georgia. And I said that I wondered about some of the other ones. It seemed that they didn't take care of themselves. Many of them had missing teeth or were limping. The girl suggested that sometimes what happens to older single men is that they have nobody to care that they don't take care of themselves, so they stop caring and don't take care of themselves.

I said "Yeah, that makes sense. But it's like, if I lose a tooth, I'm going to replace it, you know? I just don't understand how people can walk around with a tooth missing out of the middle of their face. You know?"

The girl started laughing loudly. She said that some older single men just don't care what happens to their bodies or what their bodies look like, that they literally are not aware of their bodies anymore. I thought that she truly had a better grasp and understanding of people who lose their teeth and don't replace them. I admired her for her compassion and understanding. What was wrong with me? Why did I have no patience for people with missing teeth?


I was dispatched to an address in the Tenderloin. Approaching the building I got a little bit nervous. There were guys sitting on the steps in front of the building next door. I don't know why but whenever I see guys sitting on steps in front of a building that does not look like a place where they work, I assume that they are recovering drug addicts. So I thought the guys were recovering drug addicts. I was afraid that the person I was about to pick up was a recovering drug addict that had relapsed and that was going to try to steal my money. These are my assumptions and prejudices, and I am not proud of them but I do have them.

A short woman with black hair came out of the building and got into my cab. She said hi and smiled. She had an accent. She said "19th and Geary, please." When I heard 19th, I immediately thought of 19th Street, but then I said "19th Avenue and Geary?" and she confirmed.

I don't remember how we started talking but somehow we did. She was telling me about her studio apartment in which she lived with her husband. She was very friendly and smiled a lot. I asked her what the place next door to her building was, the one that the guys were sitting in front of? She said it was a coffee shop. I said ahhhh. At some point I asked her where she was from. Even though she could have been South or Central American, I didn't think she was. She said "I'm from Fiji," putting extra emphasis on the word Fiji. I said "Fiji?" She said "Yes, do you know where that is?" I said "Yeah, it's an island, right?" She said yes. I said that it was a popular destination for honeymoons and such. She said yes yes. I wanted to say that I heard that Fiji was very beautiful, so why did she leave? But I had already made a lot of assumptions earlier and didn't want to make another assumption that just because a place is beautiful, it's also the perfect place to live. After all, a lot of people think that Germany is beautiful, and I left that place ten years ago.

I asked her which language she grew up speaking. She said she grew up with Fijian and English. I said "Fiji?" She said "Fijian." I said "Fijian?" She said yes. I asked her what kind of language it was, if it was related to any other languages. She said that it was kind of similar to Hawaiian. Then I asked her if people asked her the same questions that I was asking her all the time and she said "Yes, all the time." God knows people ask me the same questions when they find out where I'm from. At that point her husband called her on her cell phone and I actually got to hear what Fijian sounds like.

After she hung up, she said to me "Do you know Nick Lashay?" I said "Nick Lashay?" She said "Yeah, Nick Lashay. Do you know him?" I said "No, I don't think I do." She said "You know, the singer that used to be with Jessica Simpson?" I said "Oh, you mean Nick Lachey. Yes, I do know him." She said that she used to work at this resort in Fiji and Nick Lachey came to visit once. She said he was taking some surfing lessons but then he stopped because he was afraid of sharks. I said "Nick Lachey was afraid of sharks?" She said yes and started giggling. I started giggling too and said that she should have called up some tabloids and told them that story and the tabloids could have written about how Nick Lachey was afraid of sharks. She and I both started cracking up.

A few blocks later, she got out at 19th and Geary. She smiled and said "Nice talking to you." I said "Yeah, you too." It really was. Fiji.

The jaded girl

It was my first day as a cab driver. I was dispatched to a small alley in North Beach. Since it was a very small alley and since I was new, the dispatcher had told me which major street it was off of and which major streets it was inbetween.

I rang the door bell for number 5. It's my favorite number. An Asian girl and her White boyfriend came out. She was carrying a large silvery-gold purse that almost looked like a pet carrying container, except that it was silvery-gold and a purse. I asked her if she needed the trunk because that thing just looked so big to me. But it was just her purse and she said that no, she would keep it with her. She sat in the middle of the backseat, her boyfriend next to her, and she placed the large silver-gold purse down on the other side of her.

She said "New Montgomery and Mission, please." In an office worker context, that intersection was familiar to me. My lawyer ex-boyfriend had worked there. I assumed that she was an office worker as well, probably a sales executive or a project manager or maybe a lawyer. I was sure she didn't like her job too much.

I asked her "Do you take a cab to work every day?" I knew she was headed to work. Where else would she be going at 8:45am on the corner of New Montgomery and Mission? She said "Yes." It intrigued me that she took a cab to work every day. North Beach is really not that far from New Montgomery and Mission; surely there must be a convenient bus. But everybody has these little habits they do for themselves to make their day just a little more bearable. For some it's tea or coffee or a hot bath, for others it's cocaine or ice-cream or watching a reality TV show. For her, it was taking a cab to work.

I drove down Columbus. Her boyfriend said "Could you also take us to the Starbucks at Clay and Battery?"

"Sure, do you want to go there first?"


"Okay, so first I'll take you to the Starbucks at Clay and Battery and then I'll take you to New Montgomery and Mission?" (It was my first day.)

"Actually, I'll be getting out at the Starbucks," the guy said.

"Oh, so you don't want to go to New Montgomery and Mission?"

"No, first we're dropping him off, and then I'm continuing on to New Montgomery and Mission," the girl said.

"Got it."

I wondered if she was only in San Francisco temporarily and if her company paid for all her cab fares. I also wondered why she didn't seem to notice for a second that I was female or young and not the typical cab driver. I could have been a 60-year-old man with a beer belly, and her reaction to me wouldn't have been any different. I actually have many customers who don't react to the fact that I'm not the stereotypical cab driver, whatever that means, but for some reason I noticed it especially about this girl. She made me feel invisible.

She leaned back in the middle of the backseat, her eyes pointed towards the ceiling at an angle. Her boyfriend looked out the window. She seemed so jaded. I don't know how else to describe her. She didn't seem particularly unhappy or unfriendly, just really really jaded. It seemed like her days came one after the other in a pretty mechanical fashion, and she didn't particularly like it but she just went along for the ride.

We dropped off her boyfriend at the Starbucks at Clay and Battery. I was wondering if he was going to give me any money, but he didn't, so I assumed that the girl would take care of the whole fare. After he got out, the girl asked me "Do you mind stopping at the Wells Fargo at Bush and Montgomery?" Being a Wells Fargo customer myself, I said "No, not at all, if I can find a place to stop." I knew that the intersection of Bush and Montgomery was extremely busy, especially at this time of the day. But I pulled over and found a yellow zone. She said "I'll be back in one minute." She left her large silvery-gold purse on the backseat and ran up to the ATM. She was literally back in 30 seconds and nobody had honked at me. I said "Wow, that was fast!" She said nothing.

When I stopped to drop her off at New Montgomery and Mission, she quickly said thanks, gave me a decent tip, grabbed her large silvery-gold purse and left.

For many weeks after that I would hear her daily cab order for the little alley in North Beach announced over the radio of the cab company, but I was never in the neighborhood to pick her up again. And after a while, the calls stopped. I wondered if her assignment had ended or if she had quit her job or if she had moved to another apartment.

Somehow I have a feeling that I'm going to remember her for a long time. And I have no other reason than her very palpable jadedness.

I can't afford this job

I love driving a cab. Other jobs I have had have felt like jobs. They felt like work. They were not fun. But cab driving is fun. It doesn't feel like I'm working. It feels like I'm just driving around, which is something I have always loved to do. It feels like I am just meeting people and hearing their stories, which is also something I have always loved to do.

I had been dispatched to Valencia and 17th. The thought had crossed my mind that the person was going to come out of Good Vibrations but he didn't. He was just standing on the sidewalk with a piece of furniture. After we had heaved the piece of furniture into the back of the van, he rode shotgun.

Around 17th and South Van Ness he asked me "Do you like being a cab driver?"

"Yes, I love it. I would do it full-time but I can't afford to."

"What do you mean?"

"It pays so little that I only do it two days a week. I also have another job which pays much more, and that's how I'm able to afford driving a cab."

"Wow! I have never heard of anything like that before. So you drive a cab just for fun?"

"Yes, pretty much. It's very fun."

"So it's kind of like a hobby. Many people have jobs they don't like so that they can afford their hobbies. You're lucky your hobby pays anything."

I didn't say this to him but realized later: This is not really a hobby. This is more like a calling. I was meant to be a cab driver. But I can't afford it because it pays at a subsistence level.

Others might feel that their calling is to be a rockstar or a painter or an actor. They might not make a living from their calling though because there isn't enough work out there for them, in that particular calling. Some jobs are hard to get.

But cab driving is different. There is plenty of work out there for anybody who wants to drive a cab. On the days I work, I work long hours. But given how much money I, college-educated and having several years of experience in the software industry under my belt, can make in other jobs, there is a certain opportunity cost associated with cab driving. I literally cannot afford to do it full-time.

It makes me wonder how many other people are out there who do jobs they don't like because they can't afford to do the ones they like. How many people out there would love to work at coffee shops but work at investment banks instead? How many people out there would love to be teachers but they can't afford to because it doesn't pay enough to survive in this city?

It's hard for me to get my head around this concept. I grew up thinking that the jobs that are the hardest to get are also the ones that pay the most and are also the ones that are the most fun. Now I am here to tell you: It's not true. I seem to be able to get plenty of jobs that pay well but that are not fun. You know, corporate office jobs, the ones I went to college for so that I would never have to work in retail or at coffee shops again. Now I would love to work in a coffee shop. I would love to be a full-time cab driver. But I can't afford to.

Running late

Another cab driver I had only met once said to me in passing at the cab company office "Hi! How are you?" I said "Good. And you?" He said "Pretty good. But I'm running late." I said "So am I!" And that was that. He was off and I was off.

My second customer that morning was a white woman. She told me she had overslept but I don't remember the circumstances or where I was taking her.

Shortly after that a black woman flagged me down at the bus stop at Market and Powell. She got in and was silent for about 30 seconds. Then she said "Damn, I overslept today!" When she noticed that I was open to discussing this with her, she smiled and told me the whole story of what had happened with her alarm that morning. "Between 6:15 and 6:45 I usually hit the snooze button four times or so, and then I get up. And this morning I hit it a few times and the last time was at 6:40. And next thing I know is me waking up at 7:20! I have no idea what happened. I don't know if I turned the alarm off completely, or if the alarm kept ringing and I didn't hear it because I was sleeping, or if I kept hitting the snooze button but I don't remember it because I was sleeping." Her smile kept getting bigger and bigger as she told this story. I said that it was hard to know something like that sometimes. "It's not like I went to bed really late last night or anything, " she continued. "I went to bed at 10." I said "You're smart. You're giving yourself enough sleep." She said "Well, I have to. I can't do my job if I'm tired." I admired her for not even thinking about compensating for lack of sleep with caffeine. She worked as a security guard.

My next customer was a young Hispanic guy who flagged me down and shyly climbed into my cab. He said with a heavy accent "Eight and Clement, please." I said "Are you running late for work too? Did you oversleep today?" It was now 7:50am. He nodded and smiled, silver blinking at me from his open mouth. I made a motion with my hand, the typical gesticulating cab driver motion I had seen other drivers make before I ever became a cab driver, and exclaimed "You're the third person in my cab today that overslept! Everybody is running late today!" And I turned around and smiled at him. He smiled too. But I wasn't positive he had understood me. I wasn't even positive that he had really overslept. I said "You have to be there at 8, huh?" He said yes. We were silent for the rest of the ride to Eighth Avenue And Clement.

Later that day, half an hour before the car I was driving was due back at the cab company, the dispatcher sent me to pick up a woman at a mechanic shop at South Van Ness and Division. She was going to the Inner Sunset. I told the dispatcher that the woman he just had me pick up was going to the Inner Sunset and that that was going to make me a few minutes late in returning my car. He grumbled but didn't object. The woman going to the Inner Sunset ended up becoming a regular customer of mine.

I returned the car about ten minutes late. It had been a good day.

You don't know what you have until it's (almost) gone

On June 12 I had a very small accident while driving a taxi: I backed into a parked car when leaving a retirement community I had just dropped people off at and was now going to drive another old couple to a doctor's appointment. Luckily the woman whose car I hit came out of the building right after I hit it, so I was able to exchange information with her. From my training I remembered that I had to report any accident, no matter how small, to the taxi company, or I could lose my lease. What I didn't remember from my training was that I had to call for an accident investigator to come to the scene before I did anything else. Since I already had two new passengers in my car who were eager to go to their doctor's appointment, I exchanged information with the woman whose car I hit and then took my passengers and left. I then drove another lady somewhere else, and THEN I returned to the taxi company and said "I had an accident." That's when I found out that I was in trouble.

I was told that before my next shift I would have to speak with the general manager of the taxi company. I was pretty sure that she would give me a break because she is happy to have another female driver (we are very rare). But of course there was the chance that I would lose my lease due to a violation of one of the company's accident reporting rules.

There was a part of me that thought that losing my lease would be a blessing in disguise, and that that's what I actually wanted. It's a pain in the ass to get up so damn early to drive men in suits and bad moods to their jobs in the Financial District. It's a pain in the ass to make $10 an hour, including tips, on a good day. It's a pain in the ass to arrive at that crummy office under the freeway with the crummy-smelling bathroom and have male cab drivers either check me out or try to patronize me. It's a pain in the ass to drive a crappy car with 300,000 miles and 100 other cab drivers' sweat and tears on it. It's a pain in the ass to risk getting into another accident. It's a pain in the ass to owe the cab company $96 every single Monday and Friday. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to lose this pain in the ass job.

But that was not true actually. It would have sucked to lose this pain in the ass job. Because despite its annoyances, I love driving a taxi. As soon as I start picking people up and dropping people off and talking to them and hearing their stories, I forget all about the crummy bathroom and the crummy car I'm in and the crummy looks from other cab drivers. When I'm driving from point A to point B and chatting with passenger C about his boss or cancer survival, I remember why I'm doing this. I'm doing this for the people. And with that I present to you some of my favorite cab driving moments so far:

- When the young gay boy told me that he was on his way to Carl's Jr. were he works, to meet with his boss and his boss' boss because his boss had called him a faggot and his boss' boss didn't want him to press charges, and when the young gay boy told me that he really hopes for a happy ending because he really loves his job at Carl's Jr.
- When the black woman let out a sigh of relief after having taken off her shoes and then said "This is better than sex!"
- When the lady with the heavy Mexican accent got into my car first thing in the morning and said "This is for you!" and handed me an energy bar.
- When the three women from Indiana or some other faraway state asked me to stop at Starbucks and asked if they could get me a coffee or anything.
- When the guy with the British accent got into my car and said "Wow! This is great! You're smiling!" and would not stop talking about what a delightful and friendly driver I was.
- When the old lady told me that the cute green house in the Castro I dropped her off at had cost her and her husband $8,000 fifty years ago.
- When the guy with the walker who could barely move and who I assumed was on disability, told me that he is a lapidarian and makes one of a kind jewelry pieces "for rich people."
- When the girl from the Haight saw the name Vera on my Starbucks cup and said "Are you the dragonfly girl?" at which point we both realized that we had a mutual friend Ryan.
- When I picked up a girl who had just had an interview with the company I do freelance work for.
- When a woman and her 13-year-old daughter had me drive them to four different errands, one of them was at See's Candies, from which they brought me some milk chocolate.
- When a few weeks later I picked up the guy who lives in the house next to the woman and her 13-year-old daughter and who told me that a lot of times cab drivers won't come to pick him up because they think the cab is for that woman who lives next to him because, he said, a lot of cab drivers don't like taking her on her errands. I did though.
- When the girl I drove to a casino in Colma around noon told me that she goes there every day because she needs "something to do" and sometimes she wins a few thousand and sometimes she loses a few thousand.
- When I was driving a woman down California Street and thought to myself what a beautiful street it was and when the woman said as she got out "I'm really glad you took California. It's such a beautiful street!"
- When I suddenly had this urge to go to Battery Street and when, on the corner of Battery and Broadway, there was a man with a suitcase who needed to go to the airport and who had been unsuccessfully trying to get a cab for 20 minutes and who told me that his daughter is into Jessica Alba.
- When I drove a white man from South Africa who told me that one of the languages he speaks is Zulu.
- When a woman took my card on a Friday and then called me for two rides on Monday and talked about how "fear-based" the work environment in Corporate America is. Amen, sister.
- When one morning three or four people in a row told me that they had overslept that day.
- When friends or loved ones call me for a ride.
- When I run into people from my old office and they look at my cab and say "Wow. You're doing THAT now? Cool!"
- When the hip-looking guy who--no surprises here--usually rides a bike to work said on his way out "I like your lego tire ear rings" just to make a point of showing me that he got it, he knew that they were lego tire ear rings, not just any old tire ear rings.

I meet people from all walks of life, and everybody has an interesting story to tell, and almost everybody has been really nice. Plus, I now know the exact order of all the major streets in the city, and I know all the one-way streets and which way they are one-way. That has got to be worth something. AND when I tell friends old and new that I drive a cab, people love me. They couldn't be happier if I told them I was the inventor of sliced bread.

So the manager did give me another chance. She also kept my $500 deposit, and I had to come up with $750. And I'm really glad I'm still driving a cab.