Day Cabbie

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

Six Irish guys

On Monday I was driving two women to the Kaiser building on Geary and Divisadero. The younger one of them was pregnant, I believe, and kind of ornery. When I was waiting at the red light to make a left turn on Geary off of Divisadero, a young blond guy at the bus stop who seemed to be in a really good mood tried to get my attention. I made a circular motion with my hand and said "Go to the hospital!" The guy and several other young guys crossed the street towards the van I was driving and tried to slide open the door. When they saw the women in the back of the van they said "Oh." I said "Go to the hospital around the corner. That's where I'm taking these ladies and then I can take you."

When the light turned green, I turned left and passed the young guys walking up towards the hospital. I dropped off my passengers. Six young guys piled into the van. They were all boisterous and had accents. I said "Are you guys from Australia?" "No, Ireland," they said. The blond guy who had waved at me before was sitting next to me in the front. He said

"We're going to Broadway."

"Broadway and what?"

"Broadway and Polk."

"Are you guys all drunk?"

"A little."

"That's cool. I'm glad I get to drive around drunk people for once. I never get to do that because I only drive during the day. So it's nice that I have you guys today."

They asked me what my name was. They said that I was cute. They asked each other "Isn't she cute?" "Yeah, she is a cute taxi driver." They asked me to come have a beer with them. It would be on them. I told them that I couldn't because the cab was due back at the garage in half an hour.

When we got to Broadway and Polk, Sunday Bloody Sunday came on on the radio. The guy sitting next to me turned up the volume. He said "We have to sit here until the end of the song."

After they got out of my cab, I drove the car back to the garage. Then I decided to drive my own car back to the bar where I dropped them off. Why the hell not? They were still there. When they saw me they said "Taxi driver!" One of them said "Don't call her taxi driver. Her name is Vera." I said "You can call me taxi driver. I don't mind." They bought me a Hefeweizen. I talked to each of them a little bit and found out all of their names. Finnian, James, Enya, Vinnie, David, John.

I hung out with them for about an hour and a half. It was really fun. I can't believe I went back. I'm really glad I did. Afterwards, I felt kind of high as if I had just done something really out of the ordinary. I suppose I had.

Taxi driving is contagious

Within the last week, two friends of mine have told me that they are now seriously considering going to taxi school and becoming part-time taxi drivers. Each of them--just like me--had always thought it would be fun and now that I'm doing it, they are fully encouraged to go for it. One of them is a guy and the other is a girl. I'm so excited to be spreading the love!


Today I picked up three older people around Geary and 18th. They were two ladies and one man with a big push cart full of shopping bags, and they were all Russian. I was driving a van, and the man loaded the push cart into the back. The man and one of the ladies sat in the back and the other lady sat in the front next to me. The lady in the back said

“We are going to downtown-”


“We are going to DOWNtown, Clementina between 5th and 4th.”

“Ah, okay.”

“You know where?”

“Yep. I know where that is.”

After a few minutes, the lady in the front turned to me and smiled with her big purple teeth and said

“You young woman--and cab driver!”

“Yes. I know, it's kind of rare. But I really like it.”

“Oh, you like?”


Around Geary and Gough the lady in the back said

“You must take 5th Street and then make left on Clementina. After Ho-vard.”

“After Howard?”

“Yes. Before Folsom.”

“Thank you.”

After I had made a right on Hyde, a left on Mission, a right on 5th and a left on Clementina, the man told me to pull over by the gate. They all got out. From the sidewalk, the woman with the purple teeth smiled at me again and said

“How old you are?”


Her eyes widened and she said

“I say 25. I say 25!”

“25? Thanks.”

“Yes. 25!”

I guess she thought I was 25.

Father and son

When I was in taxi school, my teacher Mickey had told us that some taxi drivers give city tours to tourists. The going rate for that is $50 an hour, he said. This excited me, not just because of the money, but also because I thought it would be really fun to give tours of the city. When my sister came to visit me here in 2003, my favorite thing to do was driving around and showing her stuff.

A common taxi trip for tourists is to go from one of the hotels near Union Square to Fisherman's Wharf. To get to Fisherman's Wharf, I end up taking Hyde or Leavenworth a lot. And it just so happens that one of the most famous blocks in the world is between Hyde and Leavenworth--the crooked part of Lombard Street. I have made it a habit, just like Mickey had suggested in taxi school, to always point out to the tourists when we are a couple of blocks away from the crookedest street in the world and to ask them if they had seen it yet and if they would like to drive down it. Usually they are up for it, and they usually love it.

On Monday I had two farmers from Mississippi in my cab. They were a father and son pair. Their wives were shopping at Union Square and when they got into my cab, the father said "We're going to where you go to Alcatraz." On the way there, they asked me which other places they should go see while they were here. I told them about Haight-Ashbury, the Mission, the Castro. We were driving up Leavenworth when I did my little upsell about Lombard Street. They were into it. So we made a little detour onto Hyde and then drove down the crooked part. They commented on all the people taking pictures and on how beautiful Lombard Street was and asked me how much houses cost on that block.

"I don't know - 4 million? 10 million? 20 million? Something like that. Very expensive."

"You can't go too fast down this street, huh?"

"No, but have you ever seen the movie What's Up Doc, with Barbra Streisand? In that movie, some people go really fast down Lombard Street."

I took them to Pier 41 because I knew that the Alcatraz tours leave from there. When we got there, there was a very long line. The two farmers weren't too excited about waiting in line. They paid me for the fare and asked me to wait while they checked out the line. In less than a minute, they got back into my cab. I said

"Where would you like to go now?"

"How much would it cost for you to give us a tour of the city?"

"Fifty dollars an hour."

I was stoked. A dream was coming true. I asked them what they would like to see. The father said he wanted to go to Haight-Ashbury because that's where all the free spirits of his generation had been. I asked them if they had seen the Golden Gate Bridge yet. They said no, and that they would like to see it. I took the straight part of Lombard Street all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge, and we drove across it. I said that it was too bad that the sun wasn't out but that at least there was no fog, and that a lot of times the Golden Gate Bridge has so much fog around it that you can't even see the city from it. The son pointed at a golden dome in the city and said "What is that?" I said that that was the Palace of Fine Arts. The son asked me "How long did it take you to learn everything about the city?"

On the other side of the bridge, we took the Sausalito exit and drove through Sausalito back to the freeway. I love taking the taxi to Sausalito. The city looks so beautiful from there, and I pointed that out to the two farmers from Mississippi. The son took a picture.

We crossed the bridge back to the city and took 19th Avenue down through the Richmond and then Geary towards the Haight. I pointed out to them that we were now on Geary which was the same street as the one their hotel was on, but way on the other side of town. They asked me if they could take that street all the way to their hotel from here. The answer to that question is complicated but I gave them one involving "one-way street" and "O'Farrell" but I'm not sure if they understood completely.

I made a right on Stanyan and a left on Haight and we drove down Haight. When we approached the intersection of Ashbury, I pointed this out to my passengers. The son asked me to stop so that he could take a picture of where it says Haight-Ashbury on that white building. It was still morning so there wasn't much going on on Haight Street. I think the two farmers from Mississippi were disappointed because they had been looking forward to seeing some characters. They asked me "Where is a really fancy neighborhood? We want to see some mansions."

After crossing Divisadero and while explaining to them about the Upper Haight and the Lower Haight, I made a left on Scott, but then back-tracked a few blocks west to get the most exposure of Pacific Heights. I think we were on Baker or something when we turned right on Pacific. I told them that this was Pacific Avenue and that we were now going through Pacific Heights. After a few blocks, the father remarked that a block over, the houses were even bigger! So I switched over to Broadway and there was much oooh'ing and ah'ing. After the father remarked that the buildings were starting to look back to normal again, I made my way back to Union Square, so that the farmers could meet up with their wives. I dropped them off at the cable car station at Powell Street. The tour had lasted an hour and 15 minutes. After some calculation in my head, I told them that the fare was $62.50. The father gave me $80. The son said "I really enjoyed that, thanks."

After they had gotten out of my cab, I noticed that the sun had came out.


I was dispatched to an apartment building at Jones and Clay. The building had a circular driveway with a roof so you can drive right up to the door, like at some hotels. When I drove up to the door, the doorman walked towards my car. I rolled down the passenger side window and said “Hi. I'm here for #703.” The doorman said okay and went inside. When he came back, he told me that he had just moved his family from “South City to Moraga.” I assumed he meant that he had moved his family from South San Francisco to Moraga Avenue in the Sunset District of San Francisco. But I wasn't sure.

After a while a man came out of the building. He was carrying a duffel bag. I opened the trunk and put the duffel bag inside. As he got into the car, he said “I'm going to SFO, American Airlines.” He was over 50, possibly over 60, wearing glasses, slightly overweight. He struck me as the kind of person who has worked very hard all of his life and was pretty wealthy, had put several kids through college, was a member of a country club, and golfed or sailed on the weekends. When that kind of a man gets into my cab, I tense up. The reason is that that I assume he expects nothing but excellence from himself and everybody else. Mistakes are not tolerated.

The first thing that alarmed me was that I didn't immediately know which freeway entrance would be closest. I thought Shit! I certainly don't want to pick the WRONG freeway entrance, not with this person in my car. I'm not allowed to make any mistakes here. In trying to save my ass and hide my ignorance, I asked

“Do you have a preferred freeway entrance?”

“Nah, you can just go straight down 6th Street.”

6th Street, yes. There was a freeway entrance at 6th Street and Brannan. Didn't know that was the closest one, but okay. 6th Street it was. Immediately I started getting uncomfortable again. 6th Street was on the OTHER side of Market. That meant that we had to cross Market Street. And how do you cross Market at 6th Street? Taylor turns into 6th Street at Market, but Taylor is a one-way street going the WRONG way. So that was not an option. And most other streets don't allow you to cross and, much less, make a left on Market. Instead they force you to make a right, and next thing you know you're looking at a rainbow flag in the Castro. Market Street is pretty much a Bermuda Triangle for people trying to cross it.

We were coming from Jones and Clay and were now going South on Jones, towards the Bermuda Triangle. I was pretty sure I remembered from two or so years ago--when I had attempted to start figuring out which streets do go across Market and which ones don't—that Jones is not one of the good ones, that when you take Jones, Market swallows you whole.

Taylor was the next street east from Jones and was lined up with 6th but I knew it was a one way street. Next was Mason, and I thought that maybe I'd take Mason and somehow make my way over to 5th Street that way. But how? I didn't know. I prayed that I would find a way without my passenger getting mad at me.

My passenger was on the phone with whom I presumed to be his wife, talking about her parents, his parents, and various travel plans. I looked all the way down Jones towards Market and it really did not look like you could cross Market on Jones. It really didn't. So I made a left on O'Farrell. Then I made a right on Mason. I looked all the way down Mason towards Market and again, more of the same. It did not look like Mason was one of the good streets either. It looked evil, in fact. It looked like where Mason hits Market, there are actual buildings obstructing the passage.

This is when I started panicking. I did not know what to do. I wanted to ask the guy something, like “HOW AM I GOING TO GET TO SIXTH STREET FROM HERE?” or “DO YOU KNOW IF YOU CAN CROSS MARKET ON MASON?” or “WHAT DID YOU MEAN WHEN YOU SAID GO STRAIGHT DOWN SIXTH STREET?” or “CAN YOU HELP ME, PLEASE? I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO.” I didn't know what to do. But the guy was still chatting away on his phone. And I knew that interrupting his conversation would have been a definite MISTAKE. I could not make any mistakes.

So I was on my own in figuring this out. Since Mason didn't look like it was going to save us from the Bermuda Triangle, I made another left, on Eddy. And right after doing that, there was our savior, the very short street of Cyril Magnin. Several wide lanes, all going straight across Market, which then turn into 5th Street. I happily made a right on Cyril Magnin, and next thing I knew I was on 5th Street on the other side of Market. Whew! That had been close. After several blocks I made a right on Brannan, and there it was—the freeway entrance at 6th and Brannan. Miraculously, I had found a way there.

This was when my passenger got off his phone. He said to me “How are you doing? Which way are you going anyway?” I swallowed hard and stopped breathing for a second. Had I made a mistake after all? I started breathing again and said

“Um, this is 6th Street right here, the freeway entrance?”

“Yeah, but you could have just taken Jones all the way down.”

“Oh. Really?”


“You can use Jones to cross Market?”


“Oh, I did not know that. Thanks for telling me. I thought I remembered that you can't cross Market on Jones.”

“Well, at the end you make a left on Golden Gate. And then you make a quick right and you cross Market right there at 6th Street.”

Ahhhh. “GOLDEN GATE!” I said in the same way that Jerry Seinfeld has once or twice said “NEWMAN!”

We didn't talk at all the rest of the way to the airport. I was still stunned that he had only seemed mildly annoyed by my blunder, and he just looked out the window. When we arrived at the airport, he gave me a surprisingly generous tip. I said “Thanks so much. And thanks again for the tip about Jones and Golden Gate.” That seemed to please him because he quickly glanced at me in surprise one more time, nodded and smiled.


This could be a cab story but it isn't really. It's the story of my day.

I was having a bad day today. My first two fares were airport fares but it all went downhill from there. Another cab driver stole my fare in Potrero Hill; I was honked at; I was even yelled at, by a woman on a motorcycle, "What the fuck are you DOING?" I tried to pass a bus and right as I started passing it, it started driving and cut me off. I started losing hope about the crush I have. Yes, I have a crush. And no, it's not a cab driver.

By 11 am I was having a horrible day. I was tired. A lady got in my cab. A guy standing on the sidewalk said into my rolled-down window "Excuse me. You have a flat tire." I dropped the lady off and returned the car to the garage to have the tire replaced.

I sat outside the office looking at a parking lot full of cabs and a couple of freeway overpasses. The sun was shining. It felt good to sit down and stare. I was thankful for the break. I started feeling better.

Then Larry walked by. Larry is one of the order takers at the taxi company I drive for. He always waves at me. Or maybe instead of wave I should say that he twirls his hand near his head as if taking off a hat. Sometimes Larry arrives at the office around 6am with a tray full of coffees and sundaes. It makes me smile. One time Larry said when he saw me "Look, it's Pippi!" (I tend to wear pig tails.) I said "Is it?" He said "Yes, it is. You're a Pippi. Your parents may have named you Vera but they didn't know. It's not their fault. But I know." That had made me smile too.

Today Larry asked me how my day had been going. I said that it had been rather slow for me. He said that back at the office, things had been really busy. I said that maybe I had been in the wrong place at the wrong time all day. Larry said that yes, that happens. And then he said something very smart. He said "On the slowest day, somebody is going to come home rich. And on the busiest day, somebody is not going to make any money." It's so true. Larry said that it was all completely random. But I don't think it's random; I think it's something else. The universe's deliberation, maybe. Larry went back inside the office.

After a while I went inside too to see how my car was doing. It wasn't ready yet. I sat on a couch. My face was facing 90 degrees from where Larry was sitting at a table, reading a book titled Poetry. His reading glasses were falling off his nose. He told me he likes to let them fall off in public, to make kids laugh. He said that he is very good at making kids laugh. I said "Making kids laugh is a great talent to have." He nodded. Then he beamed and said "Wanna see pictures of my grandkids?" I said sure and joined him at the table. He showed me pictures of a boy and girl, almost exactly the same age, but one is his daughter's and one is his son's. They were both blond and adorable. One of them lives in San Francisco and one on Long Island.

Larry told me that he "measures" people before interacting with them. He gives them a short "reading." He said he is only wrong in about 1% of his readings. I was all ears.

He told me about this guy he picked up several years ago, at 7th and Market. He was a very muscular black guy who was frantically trying to flag down a cab. Cabs kept passing him. Larry said his radar had told him that this guy was a bouncer at a club in North Beach. He stopped to pick him up. The guy was very angry. He said "Fucking cab drivers always the same fucking fuck fucking Yellow Cab." When he stopped to take a breath, Larry asked "So where are we going?" The guy said "Broadway." Larry said "Which club?" The guy told him, then continued cursing. When the guy stopped to take another breath, Larry said "Let me tell you a story." The guy said "Sure, but like it's going to make a difference." Larry told him that one time not too long ago, he had picked up a little old lady with blue hair on Nob Hill. She had been very angry and upon getting in his cab had said "Fucking cab drivers always the same fucking fuck fucking Yellow Cab." The guy leaned back in the backseat with his hands on the back of his head. He said "You mean Yellow Cab is an equal opportunity discriminator?" Larry said "I couldn't have said it better myself." And the guy started laughing. And he laughed all the way to the club, Larry said. He gave Larry a $20 bill and didn't want any change.

Larry said "If you can take the angriest person around and change their day, that's what it's all about."

Then he got up and said "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to talk your ear off." I said "No, no, thanks for the stories. They were great." And he said "Thanks for being such a delightful person."

When my car was ready, I was ready to keep driving. My day had just gotten a whole lot better.