Day Cabbie

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


I picked up a guy at a house in Potrero Hill. He was going to the Sunset. He said

"I have to pick up a friend from the airport a little later and bring her back to the city. Do you want that job?"


"She arrives at 12:30."

"That works for me."

"You're not a full-time cab driver, are you? You seem too young to be doing that."

"No, I just drive part-time."

"Are you an artist?"


"What kind of art?"

"I paint with acrylics."

He told me about a famous San Francisco artist he knows who I should contact for business advice. He also said that he owns several of his paintings and that I should come inside and see them later when I pick him up to go to the airport.

I dropped him off in the Sunset and agreed to meet him back at his house in Potrero Hill at 12:30. When I showed up at 12:30, he was in the garage. He invited me in to look at the paintings. They were all colorful, of a big sky with a little bit of ocean on the bottom. I liked them. He gave me the artist's card so that I could call him and maybe be mentored.

I looked around this guy's house. It was big, at least three bedrooms, I would say, with a huge kitchen, a huge living-room, a deck and a view of the San Francisco bay. I thought to myself "Do people actually live in houses in San Francisco? I guess they do. This guy does." It's hard for me to wrap my head around that sometimes, considering that sometimes I'm afraid I can't even afford my little studio.

"You have a very nice house."

"Thank you."

"How long have you lived here?"

"About four years."

Wow, I thought. He must have bought it right when real estate prices were at their highest. Or close to it.

In the car on the way to the airport--we were still in Potrero Hill--I said

"Owning a house in Potrero Hill is one of my biggest dreams. But it's also one I have a hard time imagining ever coming true."

"Well, somebody has got to live here."

"That's true."

"And all the people that live here got the money somehow."

"That's true! They all got the money somehow."

Somehow, the idea that all the people who own the Potrero Hill houses got the money somehow, that gave me all the hope in the world.

Thanksgiving Day

I had to work on Thanksgiving Day to make up for some recent time off I had taken. Because holidays tend to be much slower than business days, the leasing fee for the day was only $50. I normally pay $96 to have the car for the day.

It was indeed a rather slow day, and I took several knitting breaks and one to call my dad, whose birthday it was. An interesting development that day was that the valet/doorman at a hotel asked for my card. I gave it to him, and he called me four or five times that day to have me pick up fares at the hotel. If it hadn't been for his calls, I would have been very bored that day.

Somehow I ended up making more money than on any day before this one. I think it was because people were much more generous with their tips. It was Thanksgiving, and many people felt like giving thanks to the poor cab drivers who had to work on Thanksgiving. I actually didn't feel sorry for myself at all for having to drive. I was having a blast driving on Thanksgiving Day. It was a gorgeous day, there was no traffic anywhere and the road was all mine, all my passengers were in great moods because they were with their families and friends, and like I said, the tips were way above average. And I was done at 4:30pm, just in time to go to my friend's house for dinner.

My first 'meter and a half' fare

I was sent to a big apartment complex at Lombard and Montgomery. I had been there a couple of times before. It's on the very short section of Lombard, where it continues east of Telegraph Hill for a couple of blocks until it ends at the Embarcardero.

A woman came out. She was short, had dark hair and an accent and was probably in her 40's.

“I need to go to Palo Alto.”

“Okay.” I got extremely excited. Palo Alto is, like, far.

“Do you take credit cards?”

“No.” I said dejectedly.

“Well, then, I guess, just take me to the train station.”



“Okay.” I was super bummed. I really needed to do something about not accepting credit cards.

“Or we could stop at an ATM, ” I tried.

“Okay, sure. There is actually a Wells Fargo ATM right where I'm going, in Palo Alto.”

“Cool.” I was excited again. We were going to Palo Alto! This was the longest fare I had ever had!

“How much do you think it'll be?”

“Let me ask.”

I asked the dispatcher how much it was to Palo Alto. He explained to me that since it was more than 25 miles from San Francisco, it would be one and a half times the meter rate, and that that would come to about $115.

The woman and I chatted the whole way to Palo Alto. She was from the Philippines and had eight brothers and sisters, all of whom except for one live in the United States. Her parents live in the Philippines though. We also talked about Burning Man. She had heard about it and had been very curious about it. She asked me all kinds of questions. She said “I really think I need to go there.”

It took about 45 minutes to get to Palo Alto. She directed me to the Wells Fargo Bank there. The meter was $88.40. I told her that since it's 'meter and a half', she had to pay “about $130.” She went to the ATM and came back. She gave me eight twenties and asked for a ten back. I was happy.

When I turned in my car a few hours later, that happiness was dampened by things the other cab drivers said. They knew that I had had a Palo Alto fare because I had discussed how much it was with the dispatcher on the air. And now they felt the need to talk to me about it.

At the gas pump:

“You went to Palo Alto today?”

“Yep. Isn't that awesome?”

“Sure. Was it a radio call?”

“Yeah, I got it over the radio.”

“Wow. It must have fallen through the cracks then.”

“What do you mean?”

“I haven't gotten a long fare like that over the radio in twelve years.”


“It must have fallen through the cracks.”

“Are you saying that I wasn't supposed to get that fare?”

“Well, normally when there is a fare like that, the dispatcher will call his friends on the phone and ask where they are and then give it to one of them.”

“Oh.” I was feeling angry. That seems fucked up. No wonder I had never gotten a long-distance fare before.

Inside the office I was approached again:

“You know, I have seen you slip in an envelope with money at the window. That's actually illegal. It's not fair to the other drivers and it's actually illegal.”


“Even if you have a really good fare, you shouldn't give the dispatcher any extra money. Just the standard tip is enough.”

“I see.”

“It's not fair to the other drivers. We don't want a bidding war to start here.”

“Well. The reason I started doing the envelope is that one time, I left a tip, and the dispatcher had already changed to the night dispatcher, and the cashier said 'Do you want some of this to go to the day dispatcher?' And I said yes, and she said that I should turn in an envelope for him.”

“I see. Well, I'm just saying.”

I was really bummed after having these two conversations. I felt like you just can't win in the taxi industry. You don't tip the dispatcher, you don't get airport fares. You don't befriend the dispatcher, you don't get Palo Alto fares. And when you do tip the dispatcher, the drivers who don't like to tip will scold you about it. But I think what bothered me the most that day was the word corruption. I could not get that word out of my head. I suppose that by tipping the dispatcher according to my own earnings, I play a role in the corruption game because yes, it's true, I do hope that it will encourage him to give me good fares again next time. But I also see it as a way to share the wealth. I see it as sharing and giving, rather than corrupting. But maybe I'm just as much a moving part in this corruption machine as the next guy. That bothers me.

Another junkie

He was standing at the corner of 9th and Market. I was about to make a left on Market when I saw him waving at me. I hesitated for a moment because he looked like a homeless person. I asked myself "Where does a homeless person get the money for a cab?" But I decided that clearly he wouldn't be hailing a cab if he didn't have the money to pay for it. So I picked him up.

He said "Thank you so much for stopping." People always say that when they have been waiting for a while. I was sure that he had been passed up by quite a few empty cabs.

"I'm going to 25th and York."


"You could have made a left there." We were going west on Market at 11th Street.

"No, I couldn't. There are no left turns off of Market until Valencia."

"Okay, that's fine, sweetie. Do what you have to. I've got money today."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah, I sold a lot of payments today."


"Yeah. Paynments."



"What are painments?"

"No. Pain. Meds."

"Ahhhh. Pain medication."

"Yeah. I sold $200 worth today."

"Where do you get them from?"

"I have a prescription. But I don't sell them to drug addicts. That's my rule."


"Blah blah blah methadone."

"You're on methadone?"

"Yeah. I'm on a treatment program."

"How long have you been on it?"

"About two years."

"And how long had you been addicted to heroin?"

"Oh. A long time."

"Since you were a teenager?"

"Pretty much. I was having a really hard time. I was diagnosed as mentally ill when I was 9 years old."

"What kind of mental illness?"

"I don't know. But when I was 13, I was diagnosed as a psychopath. And ever since then, nobody has let me do anything."

"You were diagnosed as a psychopath? Wow."

"Yeah, isn't that horrible? I was only 13 and they told me I was a psychopath."

"That is horrible."

"They put me in the military to do experiments on me in the 70's."

"Really? What kind of experiments?"

"Experiments with medication."


"Blah blah blah HIV positive."

"You're a HIV positive?"

"I have full-blown AIDS, honey."

"Oh. Did you get it from sharing needles?"

"No. I was raped once."

"In the military?"


He had me stop at Rose, a liquor store on Potrero, so he could "pay his phone bill." He gave me a $20 before he left the cab. I waited in the cab. At one point I looked inside the liquor store and saw my passenger in front of the cash register, bowing with hands clasped and thanking somebody.

When I dropped him off at 25th and York, it was raining. He said "Thanks so much, sweetie. Have a good day now, okay?" I saw what was left of his teeth, and it looked like they were being eaten by his gums.

Another girl cabbie convention

Another girl cabbie convention
Originally uploaded by Verabug.

My friend Susan and I met up at Ritual for coffee during our respective taxi shifts today. It was awesome. Around 9am, she called me and said "Where are you?" I said "Mission and 24th. And you?" "15th and Valencia. Should we meet at Atlas?" I said "Let's meet at Ritual."

A couple of junkies

I pulled up at the corner of Turk and Taylor where I had been told somebody had been waiting for a cab for a while. A couple was getting into a Luxor cab. But when they saw me, they gesticulated with the Luxor driver and then walked towards my cab. They had called my company and decided to get into the cab they had actually called. I appreciated this since it meant that I hadn't shown up for nothing. But I did feel bad for the Luxor driver. I'm sure it was frustrating for him to be flagged and then let go.

"We're going to the methadone treatment center in Bayview."

"You're on methadone, huh?"

"Yeah, we've been on this program for ten years now." The guy was talking.

"Both of you?"


"So you haven't done heroin in ten years."

"I didn't say that."


"But I haven't been in a jail for a long time."

"What were you in jail for?"

"Well, you know, you're a junkie, what do you do?"

"Steal stuff?"


"So you stole stuff."

"Yeah. Never from people though. Only from businesses."


"Big businesses. Like Macy's."

They were going to the methadone treatment center to get their "take home" methadone. Both of them were talking at the same time for most of the ride. They were talking over each other constantly, but neither of them seemed to be bothered by this.

"I'm Ron and this is Shannon."

"Nice to meet you guys."

"Do you have a card?"

"I do."

"Do you wanna do a deal where you do round-trips for like $35?"

"Sure. Just give me a call next time."

When we got to the methadone center, they had me wait outside for them. They said it would take ten minutes tops. They were right.

When they got back in the cab, Shannon was crying.

"They screwed her over," Ron said.

"They did?"

"Yeah, they wouldn't give me my take-home," Shannon sobbed.

"Why not?"

"'Get it from your MD,' they said. Your MD!" Shannon was sobbing.


"I told them I needed something for my leg because my leg has been acting all weird. But they wouldn't give it to me. They said I need a new letter first."

"A new letter, huh?"

"Yeah, from the doctor."

Ron and Shannon spent the rest of the ride back talking shit about doctors and social workers and rehab counselors. According to their perspective, none of them knew what they were doing and were constantly screwing them over. While before I had been actively engaging in conversation with them, all I could muster now was an "uh-huh" every ten or so seconds. Their conspiracy theories were exhausting to listen to, but I did think that they were both nice people. And I felt honored to meet some real-life junkies. I find addiction fascinating and have been reading books and watching movies about heroin addiction for many years. I don't want to say that it was "nice" to meet some junkies because their predicament certainly isn't nice, but it was definitely interesting, and I appreciate the experience. I would have liked to ask them lots more questions, not about their social workers but about their addiction.

The first SF girl cabbie convention

Yesterday I met up with my friend Susan. A few months ago she had asked me all kinds of questions about my taxi driving. She had said "I think I want to do that too. It sounds like fun." She has now been driving for Luxor for a few weeks. So yesterday we got together to share some of our experiences. Overheard in our conversation were things like

"I had my first crackhead the other day."

"Do you ever get weird guys hitting on you?"

"The more hung-over I am, the more tips I get."

"I love the flexibility and freedom you have as a cab driver."

"We should take a break together while we're both driving this Saturday."

It was a fun little convention, and I'm sure we'll have another one soon. We're also talking about doing a zine. And opening our own girly pink taxi company. I'm so happy that there is another cool* young girl cab driver out there, and that she loves it as much as I do.

*Yes, I am presuming that Susan and I are both cool. Because we are.

Sometimes things just go wrong

By 7:30 this morning I had been driving for an hour and a half and had only had one fare. That in itself was pretty bad. That's when I was dispatched to an address on the really steep part of Kearny, above Broadway. It's a very famous block. At 29.8% incline, it's one of the steepest blocks in San Francisco.

It's so steep that you are not even allowed to drive up there. You can only climb up the steps. I left the car at the bottom of the hill. Then I walked up the steps. The address I was looking for was towards the top, on the left. Unfortunately I couldn't find it. I was looking for xx63 but all I saw was xx51 and xx75. So I walked back down the steps.

I sat in the car and talked to the dispatcher.

"DeSoto 2090 over."

"Go ahead, 2090."

"Did you say xx63 Kearny?"

"Yes, xx63."


"Yes, x, x, 6, 3."

"I don't see it. I only see xx51 and xx75."

The dispatcher ignored me. He was very busy. That's when I saw a guy with two pieces of luggage hurrying down the steps, looking at me. He was definitely headed my way. I let out a sigh of relief.

"I'm running very late. I have to catch a plane at 8:30. I called a long time ago." It was now 7:46.

"I'm sorry, I couldn't find your address. I walked up there but didn't see it. I only saw xx51 and xx75."

"xx63 is in the same building as xx51. They are connected."

"Really? Argh."

"People usually wait at the top of the hill. Or they take the alley."

"Ah. I'm sorry. So what's the best way to get to the freeway from here?" I said as I pulled away from the curb.

"Take this alley." It was too late.

"Argh. Sorry."

"That's okay. Make a right on Columbus. We can turn around another way."

I made a right on Columbus. That's when my cup of Chai that I had sat on the floor of the van--and had forgotten about when the guy started talking about how much a hurry he was in--tipped over. The lid came off and the Chai spilled all over the floor of the van.

"Shit!" I said.

"Make a right on Grant."

"Okay. Shit!" I made a right on Grant.

"And now just make a right on Montgomery and take it all the way down." the guy said very calmly as I kept freaking out about the spillage. A huge puddle was growing on the floor of the van.

"Do you have any paper towels?"


"But you have that box of tissues."

I handed the guy the box of tissues. He started wiping up some of the Chai with tissues.


When were were on Montgomery going towards the freeway, I started calming down. I appreciated how calm the guy was staying despite his lateness and the puddle in the van.

"That's quite the block you live on." I said.

"Yes." he said.

We were at the airport by 8:15. I never found out if he made his flight.