Day Cabbie

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

For the record

Though I don't have any interesting stories to tell from that day, I just wanted to state for the record that on Halloween Day I drove a taxi dressed up as Rainbow Brite.

I made an assumption of prostitution

This morning around 7:30 I picked up a guy near Polk and Turk. He was the kind of person that makes me just a little bit uneasy. He was white and wearing baggy clothes. He may or may not have worn a baseball cap. His hair was brown and he had scars on his face. Something about him was fidgety and shifty. I thought he was in his 20's but he told me later that he was 33.



"Fulton and Cole."


I have to admit that for a moment I wondered if this was going to be the first passenger to ever rob me. I thought to myself: I'll try to be his friend. That way he can't rob me. That's what I have done with wild animals in my nightmares ever since I was a child. Make friends with the menacing creature, and they won't harm you.

"How is your day going so far?" he asked chattily.

"Pretty good. How about yours?"

"It's getting better." Getting better? It was only 7:30 in the morning. When had this guy's day started that there had already been enough time for improvement?

"Are you going to work?"

"Nah, I don't work right now."

"Good for you."

I now wondered if he was a drug dealer. Why else would he be going somewhere at 7:30 in the morning? Any normal person who doesn't work would still be sleeping.

"Well, I don't know if it's good.. I'm unemployed right now. My business went under."

"What kind of business?"


"What kind of work?"



"But I'm going to start another one real soon."

"Another construction company?"


I tried to keep the conversation going. I figured the more we talk, the more he would feel like he knows me, and the less likely he would be to rob me. Actually, I didn't really think he was going to rob me. But just to be safe.

"Are you sure that Fulton and Cole cross?" I asked. We were going west on Fulton near Buchanan.


"Where do they cross? Near Stanyan?"

"I don't know but I was just there yesterday. It was at Fulton and Cole."


The guy was typing on his cell phone during the ride. One time he responded to me with an absent-minded "Uh-huh?" because he hadn't really listened to me because he was too distracted by his phone. He told me he has lived in San Francisco all of his life. I told him that that was very rare. Another passenger had told me just last week how rare it was. He had been one of the rare ones as well.

I made a left on Cole. The house was on the left. A guy in pyjama pants came down the stairs. He had short dark curly hair and dark eyes, 35-ish.

The guy in my cab said "Ah, there he is."

The guy coming down the stairs looked at me with suspicion. He handed me a $20 bill, avoiding eye contact with me. He asked the guy in my cab "How much is it?" The fare was $8.25. The guy in my cab said "Ten dollars." I gave the guy in pyjama pants $10 change.

The guy in my cab got out of the cab and wished me a nice day. Both of them walked up the steps of the house that the guy in pyjama pants had come out of.


The other day my own car was in the shop so I had to take a cab to work. It was a driver I hadn't met. I told him that I had been driving for about six months and that I really liked it. He warned me not to get stuck in it. He said there was nothing in it for the future. This amused me because he was in his 50's or 60's and still driving a cab. He told me his theory of the kind of person who will stay in cab driving forever. He said it's someone who values flexibility and freedom. It's someone who doesn't really fit into the office world. And, he said, it helps to be married to somebody with a steady job and health insurance.

Then he told me something that really struck me. He said

"The only time it really makes sense to drive a cab is if you have some kind of great passion. If you have a great passion for art or writing, then by all means, it makes sense to drive a cab while you're working on your passion."

When he said that, I stopped breathing for a moment. Then I leaned back, smiling and satisfied. It was perfect. I have a great passion. I have a great passion for art AND writing and also for other things like counseling and spirituality. What he said was exactly what I needed to hear.

Familiar faces on every corner

The other day I was driving my own car and I was parked at a light. Somebody in the lane next to me tried to get my attention but I didn't look. I tend to not do that. Finally I heard

"Not working today, huh?"

I looked over and it was another cab driver from the company I drive for. He was in his own car as well, a BMW. I laughed and said "No, not today."

One time I saw my friend Jayne crossing the street while driving a cab near Union Square. I said "Jayne!" She said "Vera!" We hugged through the car window.

One time I saw my former co-worker Mark on a street corner downtown. I said

"Do you need a ride?"

"Nah, I'm just going a couple of blocks."


One time I pulled over to pick up a flag, and it was this guy Matt from the office I was doing freelance work at. I was like "Hi Matt!" He was like "No way. I guess you're not coming into the office today, huh?" I said "Nope." I took him to our office.

The other day I saw my friend Bret walking down the street while driving a cab. The same day I saw my friend Mycho biking down Valencia. I also saw this guy who I had seen at clubs and who fascinates me because he has a very unique look.

This morning I was walking near my house to get a Saturday morning bagel, and I heard a car honk. Normally I don't pay attention to such auditory pollution, but something made me look this time. And it was Larry from the dispatch office, in his own car, smiling widely. I said "Larry!"

I love this little town I live in where I seem to know everybody and everybody seems to know me. It almost feels as small as the little town of 10,000 people that I grew up in, where everybody knew me as well. Except that somehow it didn't feel as good then; I didn't feel as comfortable and as accepted. But it feels really good now. This concept makes me so happy, I could cry.

In the little town I grew up in, I felt judged at every corner. Not so much by the older, more conservative generation but by my own age group. In this city, I don't feel judged. I also don't feel judged as a cab driver. I know many cab drivers feel judged and looked down upon by some of their passengers. I don't. I get the feeling that everybody thinks it's great that I'm a cab driver. And that's because I think it's great.

These are the kinds of conversations that leave me floating



"I'm going to 14th and Valencia."

"14th and Valencia, okay."

"Busy today?"

"No, actually. I'm surprised because yesterday was the last day of the big Oracle conference. Did you hear about that? 45,000 people were in town. I figured that a lot of them would be going to the airport today. But it has been really slow."

"Yeah, I heard about the conference. It seems so boring."

"I know. But a lot of the people there probably have really boring jobs."

"Yeah. Well, so do I."

"What do you do?"

"Computer stuff."

"You're a programmer?"


"How long have you been doing it?"

"About five years. I think I'm burnt out or something."

"Yeah, I've been there. I used to do programming too and I got burnt out, so I quit."

"Really? Well, I almost turned my back on programming permanently not too long ago."

"What would you like to do instead?"

"Music. But I couldn't figure out how to make a living with that. The only thing I could imagine doing, since I don't even have much experience yet, is to intern somewhere. And my programming salary is hard to beat. So I stuck with the programming."

"Yeah, I have been struggling with that as well. I had gotten used to that nice programmer salary as well. But there are other ways to make that kind of money."

"So now that you quit, did you have to move into a smaller place?"

"No. In fact, I moved into a bigger place right before I quit, and I'm still there. Somehow I have been able to make it."

"Really? Wow."

"Yeah, it's definitely possible. Just don't give up."


"Sometimes you have to close a door in order for other doors to open. You know what I mean? I have found that to be very much true lately. If you always keep the door open that you don't really want to be open—the programming in your case—then you don't give other doors the chance to open. They won't open until you close that one."

"Hm. I think you might be right."

"Just don't give up, okay?"

"I won't."

He left my cab pensively but upbeat. Sometimes I feel like I'm some kind of ambassador, an ambassador for the "other side" where everybody does what they love and everybody is happy.


My favorite dispatcher is Buzz. He has a soothing voice. It's the kind of voice that you could listen to all day. It helps when a taxi dispatcher has that kind of a voice because I have to, well, listen to it all day.

Sometimes, on slow days, he says soothing things like "Things will pick up, don't despair." Today was one of those days.

Buzz likes to make coffee references throughout the day. I like coffee references. He'll say things like "I haven't had enough coffee today." Or he'll say "Too much coffee" and then he'll excuse himself for a couple of minutes. I love coffee and I love the buzz it gives me, and so I love it when other people express their love for coffee. Today he said "Better living through coffee." And sometimes I wonder if that's where Buzz got his name, from the coffee buzz.

Like I said, Buzz has a soothing voice. I like the way he says "Broadway and Battery" or "California and Battery." The word Battery will always have a nice ring to it for me now.

So the way the radio dispatch system works is that the dispatcher can hear what all the cab drivers are saying into their microphones, but the cab drivers can only hear the dispatcher and not each other. Sometimes Buzz is chuckling while talking so you know something just made him laugh but you have no idea what. Whenever I hear him chuckle, I can't help but chuckle too. One time I was the one who made him chuckle. It made me feel really good. I felt the way I did back in school whenever I had said something that had made the whole class laugh.

Whenever Buzz doesn't get a response from a driver, he says "Roger, yoohoo?" or "Yoohoo, 472?" He says yoohoo. I mean, that is just cute.

On my first day driving after Burning Man, Buzz said to me over the radio

"Where have you been?"
"I've been at Burning Man!" I said proudly.
"Ah, Burning Man. [Blah blah blah blah blah]?"
"What? I didn't hear what you just said."
"We'll talk later."

We never did talk about it later, but sometimes when I run into him in person (not over the radio), he will talk to me about Kraftwerk, or about how he used to go to this coffee shop in North Beach where all the Beatnik poets hung out, or about the new VW bus that's supposed to come out. It seems that there are layers and layers of interesting stuff underneath his dispatcher shell.

Apologies about comments

Last night I discovered that many of you have been leaving comments on this blog. My comment settings were screwed up in that all those comments had been waiting for approval by me, but I was never notified that they were there! But now that I found them (thanks to a friend who complained that his comment never showed up), I approved them all and also changed the settings so that comments don't have to be approved anymore; from now on they will just show up!

I apologize that your comments didn't show up until now, and that I haven't responded to any of them.

I am delighted that so many of you have been commenting, and I hope to see many more going forward.


I rang the door bell near Buena Vista Park. After the second ring, he came running down the stairs, but he took the last three with one jump. He was wearing pyjama pants. He said

"I need to go to Emeryville. But I'm not ready yet."
"I'll wait." (Emeryville is on the other side of the Bay Bridge and thus one of the longer fares I would get that day.)
"But you have other fares to tend to."
"You're a fare. A pretty good one too."
"You're right. Do you want to come up?"

I followed him into his apartment. He had a lot of cats. I saw at least four. Most of them were black. I lied belly-down on his couch while he took a shower. Then I watched him pack, mostly black things. They looked like girl's clothes. He was very tall and skinny. Some weird slow music was playing in his living-room. It had no beat.

When he was ready, we walked down and got in the cab. He sat in the front. Nobody ever does that. I took him to his office in Emeryville. The fare was $29.85. He gave me $40. That's 34% and definitely above average.

"Do you want a tour of the office?"
"Okay, for a second. I have fares to pick up."

He showed me his office. All the walls were painted black, and the ceilings were very high. He made his computer play some Justin Timberlake. He also told me that Going Back to Cali is not actually by the Beastie Boys but by LL Cool J. I felt slightly embarrassed. I looked at the colors on his computer. Black background with blue and green and pink text.

"I should go."
"Yes, you should."

He walked me out of the office.

"Thanks for the ride."
"My pleasure."

Breakfast and lunch

I picked up a guy on Market Street. He had a bag of food with him.

"You don't mind if I eat in here, do you?"


"I'm going to 18th and Harrison."


He ate throughout the entire ride. My nose kept detecting different kinds of delicious food smells. I was about to ask him what he was eating but I didn't. A Beastie Boys song was playing on the radio. The guy said

"I love the Beastie Boys."

"I know, me too."

"I think they were way ahead of their time."



"What's your favorite Beastie Boys song?" I asked.

"Back to Cali."

"Oh yeah? I don't know that one. Which album is it from?"

"That I don't know."

"Is it from their earlier stuff or their later stuff?"


"Ah, haha."


"My favorite song is So Whatcha Want." I continued.


"So Whatcha Want. You know, so whatcha whatcha whatcha want?"

"Ah, that one, yes."

"I also really like Sabotage."



"Back to Cali goes like this. I'm going back to Cali I'm going back to Cali I don't think so."

"What? Hahaha. I don't think so?"

"Yeah. Haha."


"This is so depressing. I ate lunch and breakfast in a cab today."


"Yeah, just now. I just didn't have enough time today."

"You just ate breakfast AND lunch? Right now?"


"Breakfast AND lunch? Both in a row?"

"Yeah, that's what I did."

"That. Is. So. Funny. Breakfast AND lunch."

"I think it's depressing."

"I think it's hilarious."

And in that moment I knew that he was going to be the fare I was going to write about today.

Friday the Thirteenth

This is how my day started out:

Me: Joe!
Joe (the gas man): Vera!
Me: Do you know if somebody puked in this car?
Joe: Two days ago.
Me: Two days ago?
Joe: Yeah.
Me: It still smells.
Joe: Yeah.
Me: I think I'll get an air freshener.
Joe: I would give you one if I had one but I don't have one.
Me: Thanks.

Luckily I had a vanilla air freshener in my bag. I had just been waiting for the right moment to use it. I also went by my place and picked up the air freshener spray I sometimes use at home. I sprayed it in the car throughout the day, but sometimes I still caught a whiff of the puke that had been deposited two days ago.

None of my customers complained though.

Towards the end of my shift I picked up three Australians at a hotel near Fisherman's Wharf. Two women and one man. The man stood outside the car for a minute, staring at me through the driver side window, smiling big.

"It's a girl driver! Isn't that something."

"Yeah, that's really something."

He kept staring and smiling. Finally he got in the car. One of the women said

"It's a girl driver and it smells really good in here too."

"It smells good in here? I'm so glad."

Violator Day

The car I drove today had a CD player. I played Violator by Depeche Mode all day long. Several people commented on it.

The middle-aged carpenter with frizzy hair said

"Nice music. It reminds me of Burning Man."

"Oh yeah? Did you go this year?"


"I did too."


"Yeah, I was there."


"Near Center Camp with Pinhole Camp."


The quirky thirty-or-forty-something-year-old woman who was wearing my favorite perfume Angel sang along to a song and said

"This is the best music I have heard in a cab in a looooooong time."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. It's not elevator music."

"Elevator music? Is that what other cab drivers play?"

"Yeah, it's like this really slow jazz that's not even really jazz. It's elevator music."

"That is whack."

"Yeah. Or some of them just listen to the dispatcher all day."

"Ah yes. Sometimes I do that too but I turn him down almost all the way when I have a customer."

"And there is this one guy in the mornings who just yells at everybody all day."

"A dispatcher? Yep, I know who you mean."

"I'm really sensitive to yelling."

"I think it's interesting that one of our customers is noticing that one of our dispatchers yells at everybody all day. Very interesting."

I said to the homeless-looking woman with the two trash bags

"Do you know this music?"


"Depeche Mode? Do you like it?"

"Yeah. I like rock'n'roll."

"All right."

"I don't really like rap."

"You don't like rap?"

"No, not really. It's disrespectful."

"Yeah, especially to women, right?"

"You bet."

"Yeah, I think rap usually sounds really good, but when you actually listen to what they're saying, it can be quite appalling."

"Yeah, it makes me wonder what we're teaching our kids."

An Indian-looking guy flagged me down on Geary and said

"What's your name?"

"Vera. What's yours?"

"You can call me Suki."


"Yeah, Suki."

"That sounds nice."

"Sounds Japanese, doesn't it?"

"Yeah. But you're not Japanese."

"No, I am not. I am Indian actually."

"But you have a British accent."

"Yeah. I'm Indian but I live in England."

"Yeah, I have heard of that."

"Yeah, there are a few of us."

Several blocks and many words exchanged later, he said

"Ah, Depeche Mode - nice tune, eh?"


"I used to listen to that way back."

"Yeah, I did that too. But I still listen to it now too."

Pee opportunities and two things that made me grin today

When I'm driving a taxi, I sometimes have to pee. It's safe to say that in a given shift, I have to pee about three times. Sometimes I combine the peeing with getting something to eat or drink. It works well. I buy a Chai at Starbucks, I use their bathroom. I buy a Mocha at Philz, I use his bathroom. I buy a bagel at Terra Cotta, I use the bathroom there. But sometimes I'm not hungry or thirsty, and I still have to pee. In that case, I have to figure something out. Sometimes, if I'm in the neighborhood, I use the bathroom at my own house. But there are also a number of places littered all over the city where I know I can just sneak in and use the bathroom, and nothing bad will happen. I know that because I have done it many times. Here are some of those places:

- 600 Townsend (at 7th Street). I used to work in that building. I know where the bathrooms are. I walk straight in and go to the bathroom, and people think I know what I'm doing. That's because I do know what I'm doing. And I usually say hi to Michael who runs the coffee stand in the building.
- CCAC, the art school at 8th Street and 16th Street. I used to get coffee there when I worked in that building at 7th and Townsend.
- An office building on Union and Battery. I do freelance work there on the days I don't drive a taxi. If somebody I know sees me, they think I'm working there that day. But I'm just there to pee.
- The Levi's building at Battery and Filbert. It's really close to the office building on Union and Battery, so I know how it works in there.
- The Marriott on Columbus and Bay. One really early morning I just walked in there, right past the valets, and used their bathroom, and I have been coming back ever since.
- The Wells Fargo/Starbucks combination on Geary and 20th Avenue. The Starbucks employees think I'm there to see a teller. The bank employees think I'm there to get some Starbucks. So everybody leaves me alone.
- The Wells Fargo/Starbucks combination on Van Ness and California. Same deal.

I'm probably forgetting some places, like the Argent Hotel where I have peed once or twice, but that's okay.

Anyway. Today I decided to stop by the art school to pee and to get something to eat. While I was walking towards the art school, a boy and a girl walked by me. I smiled at the boy, and he smiled at me. After I was done peeing and eating at the art school, I drove 16th Street all the way down to Valencia, then drove Valencia all the way down to 26th Street, then took 26th Street to Mission, and as I was driving on Mission near 24th Street, there was a call on the radio for an order at De Haro and 24th. I decided to check in for the order and was assigned to it. I picked up an Australian woman and her probably-about-two-year-old daughter. They were going to Montgomery and Jackson. I took De Haro back towards 16th Street. And at the corner of 16th and De Haro, there were the boy and the girl I had seen earlier near the art school! They were standing on the corner waiting to cross the street. I stopped to let them go. They both looked at me, and I smiled at them. The boy recognized me from earlier. He smiled back and waved. And then he grinned. And then I grinned too. I grinned for a whole block.

So then I was driving that woman and her little daughter. The woman asked me how long I had been driving a cab (six months). She asked me if I liked it (YES). She asked me if I made enough money doing it (NO). I told her that because it doesn't pay that well, I am only doing it two days a week. She asked me what else I did besides driving a cab. I told her that I was a psychic counselor. She asked me a lot of questions about that. She took my business card. Then she asked me more questions, and I answered them.

"Can I have another business card?"


"She just ate the one you gave me."


I turned around. The little girl looked at me and my business card was folded in half and sticking out of her mouth. It made me grin, in a good way. Again, I grinned for a whole block.

"This reminds me of when I used to eat paper as a kid," the woman continued.

"You ate paper too?"

"Yeah, I did it well into my teens."

"Did you swallow it too?"