Driving highlights

Berret? Eh?

I drove 3 shifts in the past 3 days. One of them starts early at 5 am, the other two are graveyard shifts starting at 1 am. Each lasts 11 hours.

During my shifts

  • I picked up two young, professional nice guys downtown on Market Street. They wanted to go out to the Golden Gate Bridge. I politely warned them that it might be a bit pricey, $15 or so, but they didn’t seem to mind.

    One of them held dual American and Japanese citizenship, the other was a Japanese national. They both worked for a Japanese company in the City doing IT work.

    We had a long chat about Nova, a former “big four” private English teaching school in Japan. My one visit to Japan was to visit a girlfriend who at the time worked for Nova in a suburb of Tokyo.

    My passengers summed up the drama of Nova — in short Nova used sleazy tactics forcing students to pay for gigantic class packages with steep cancellation fees. The Japanese government stepped in and stopped this sleaze, but, of course, as a result Nova didn’t earn enough revenue to cover costs. Instead of warning their employees, customers and other stakeholders, Nova kept operating business as usual until they simply ran out of money, unable to pay employee wages.

    Nova’s English teaching employees were American or from Commonwealth countries. Their Japanese was often limited, some spoke next to none. This vulnerable immigrant population was left with up to 2 months unpaid wages and eviction notices from their company owned housing with little or no resources to find alternate employment or housing. The Nova Wikipedia entry nicely summarizes this debacle.

  • The Golden Gate Bridge is far from prime ‘pickup’ points. Most of the time after dropping at the Bridge I’ll head back on Doyle Drive, an expressway of sorts, until I get back to civilization. This time, I decided to loop through the slower, scenic route via the Presidio to Crissy Field and then the Marina Green. Although these aren’t normally good ‘cruising’ streets for cabs, sometimes it pays off to take this slower route. On a nice, sunny day there are many walkers, bikers, runners and tourists along the road. Since most cabs don’t come by very often, a stranded tourist or tired hiker can be very glad indeed to see a vacant taxi.
  • My scenic route back from the Golden Gate Bridge paid off well.

    An older French lady hailed my cab. She had walked all the way across the Bridge and was in the process of walking back but the journey was proving a bit too much. I was amazed she had made it so far.

    Her English wasn’t great, a trait that seems common among the older French, while the younger Frenchies seem to have English injected in their bloodstream at an early age.

    I lived in France the summer of 2000 on a sort of exchange program while I was in high school. I lived with a host family, the matriarch of which was a retired nurse who spent her free time as an elected official on the local town board of governors. She and her husband were gracious hosts, offering as much love and care as could my own family. So, when I found out this lady in my cab was a French nurse, my warm memories of that summer in France came flooding back and I naturally projected a lot of these same feelings toward her. This helped lower my guard of embarrassment that usually surrounds my self-critical attempts at speaking French as my grammar and accent have disintegrated faster than I could have ever imagined.

    We had a great conversation, some in English and some in French as our skills in each other’s language were roughly matched. I rattled on at length about the City, we chatted at length about the shared climate of Bretagne where I stayed and the San Francisco Bay Area, and talked a bit about where she lives in Nice.

    I really enjoyed my time with her. Thanks, French lady. You really made my day.

  • I keep asking myself what makes me continue to drive a taxi. This is the longest I’ve ever held a job. The answer is, in part, the freedom. I choose how much and which days I wish to drive (although not the hours).

    But a deeper answer is probably closer to this: each time someone gets in my cab a god of some sorts throws cosmic dice. Will it be a man, a woman, an American, a drunk, a druggie, a murderer, a mother, a father, friends, lovers, a gabby student, a mute commuter, a gracious tipper, an elderly grandmother, or even a friend of mine? Will they head down the street, across town, through rush-hour traffic, to the neighborhood bar, to SFO, OAK, or even Cupertino? Perhaps it’s the same core addiction faced by gamblers, but deeper and more insidious, as it’s a gamble for personal connections and not simply the fare.

  • I had more than the recent usual number of international young tourists in my cab. While nothing more than unsupported conjecture, it appears that the low value of the dollar is really drawing people to come visit the USA. The young travelers spoke at length about the amount of shopping they have planned in the City during their stay.
  • After dropping one of my three fares to Pier 33, I picked up a father and son who were waiting for a cab. They were heading to a hotel downtown. They were planning to move to the City. The mother of the family was being transferred to the City from Iowa. We talked about about my midwest roots (always a winner, by the way) and my transition to San Francisco life. They were bristled by the high cost of real estate. Their expectations for Iowan quality of life won’t be directly translated to the same level in San Francisco. They seemed to have smelled their first whiff of this already in their short stay. Good luck, Iowans.
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2 Responses to Driving highlights

  1. Julius says:

    I think you’re probably right about the reasoning for why you keep driving a cab. Honestly, the chance and randomness of the encounters keeps things interesting. I think that the interaction keeps you engaged since you’re able to chat with these people and get a slice of life look at the world you’re living in. Plus, with the free time you have thanks to your flexible schedule, there’s plenty of time for you to pursue things that you’re actually interested in doing, and you’re self-motivated enough to actually do those things rather than talk about doing them for a while and then failing to follow through. Plus, work doesn’t follow you home and you don’t have to worry about it encroaching on your personal time, which would be the case if you were working for a large company or doing what I do where I have a fair amount of free time, but I can be interrupted at any moment with a huge emergency or sometimes even on an evening or weekend (in which case I’ve learned better and don’t answer the phone or even take it with me anymore after work hours).

  2. kfarr says:

    @Juluis: Cabbing does have a great work/life balance.

    I also find it fun. I imagine if I were in my college phase where income wasn’t an issue, I would still have enjoyed doing this a day or two a week. It’s a gigantic game! Drive around town, try to get the most fares. The radio adds another whole level of complexity and interest: bidding against other cab drivers for orders is a nuanced art. You can’t bid too far away, but if you don’t bid and you’re close then you lose out on orders you could otherwise have had.

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