Driving the day of the Olympic Torch run

I was not originally scheduled to work today, but I had to make up for a missed shift from earlier this week.

More to the point, I wanted to experience San Francisco during the historic procession of the Olympic Flame through our streets. What better way to feel the heart of the City than to drive a taxi today? And, I could get paid along the way.

  • I felt a general sentiment of frustration among City residents toward the balihoo surrounding the running of the Torch. I’ll be a bit more specific: I felt a general sentiment of frustration among City residents against the protests not against the Torch itself.

    A great deal of my passengers who call San Francisco home felt the demonstrations were out of hand and interfered with the spirit of the Olympic games.

    One lady said, “The summer Olympic Games should just stay in Greece from now on. Nobody ever had anything bad to say about Greece.” She was older and sat in the front as it’s easier to get in the passenger seat of the tall vans. I had picked her up from a hair appointment in the Marina and took her back home to Russian Hill.

    Another lady said, “I understand the reason behind the protests, but I don’t think it is appropriate to combine these protests with the Olympics.” She went on to suggest that the purpose of the event is to bring cultures together and that by bringing cultures together through athleticism without politics, the hosting of the Olympics by China could be a positive step to bring China toward social and political progress. She and her friend had hispanic accents. I picked them up from a hospital near Geary and Divisadero and took them home to the Mission. They had waited a long time for a taxi.

    College aged protesters said, “Free Tibet! Yay!” They were wearing lots of Tibetan flags. I took them from the planned route along the Embarcadero toward the center of the action near Beach and Van Ness.

    A group of post-college young urban professional males said (to each other), “Okay, if we’re around a big pro-China group then we’re pro-China, if we see a big group of Tibet protesters then let’s yell Free Tibet!” (This is a condensed paraphrase, but this truly represents the gist of their conversation.) I also took this group toward the revised route.

    I heard a few stories of people who tried to see the Olympic Flame for the first time in their lives during their lunch break or on their vacation, only to be foiled by the abrupt change in plans by the City’s (perhaps wise) decision to alter the route in favor of the safety of participants and spectators.

    Is it an appropriate level of demonstration if the demonstrations prevent the event from occurring in the first place? Did the protesters cause more ill will than desired political change?

  • The City’s vibrant spirit brought with it a large appetite for taxis. After about 1pm, when the Torch began its secretive relay, the demand for taxis skyrocketed past available supply. Demand did not return below supply before the end of my shift at 5pm, but walking home on Polk Street around 9pm this evening I noticed many toplights brightly broadcasting vacancy.
  • Driving a taxi can be a vastly different experience depending on shift time of day, passengers, the weather and City happenings. All these (somewhat) independent variables coagulate into the ever-important dependent variable of aggregate demand for taxicabs.

    It is the aggregate demand for taxicabs that sets the pace of your shift. Are you a hunter looking for a few camouflaged animals in the wild during the off-season when game is few and far between? Or, are you Dick Cheney with a shotgun on a ranch where quail are conveniently released prior to your arrival for easy pickin’? Today, I was Dick Cheney.

    I felt bad for customers as they told me how long they waited for a cab. Of course, they were happy to see me and were gracious that I stopped, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty that the artificial limitation of taxicabs by the City results in hardship for residents at my profit during times of extreme demand.

    Putting aside these guilty feelings, driving during these times is great fun. After dropping a fare, chances are I would get a fare on the street within a minute or two of dropping. If in an outer residential community I would turn on the radio for a few minutes and pick a fare out of the sky. It was difficult, no, impossible, for me to take a break. I did not eat save for a bagel and coffee in the morning when it was slower. Constant fares are a dangerous drug.

  • I picked up a fare midday at 7th and Market. A father and his son were heading from the BART station to Grubstake for breakfast. The father had lived in San Francisco many years back and was revisiting old haunts. He was very nostalgic about the City.

    Unfortunately, Grubstake is closed for breakfast on weekdays, so we headed for Mama’s instead via the Broadway tunnel. I love the Broadway tunnel when uncongested. It’s like flying underneath the City.

    His son read aloud most of the signs in the cab.

    “Please exit curb… curbside.”
    “Please wear seat-belts. (Dad, we’re not wearing our seat-belts.)”

    They were fun.

  • Throngs of Torch spectators packed Columbus Street sidewalks as the mass exodus headed toward beckoning media helicopters revealing the Torch’s rerouted route. I easily found a few fares from those tired of walking, and/or eager to quickly reach the action.

    This was great fun. It was something out of a movie as their sole directional guidance was, “Chase those helicopters.” Yes!

    Growing increasingly tired of pop radio, even independent pop with a beat, I recently started burning CDs with my own beats. This music added to the fun, especially as the young Torch-goers also enjoyed these beats.

    At a certain point a thought strikes me. In retrospect I imagine this thought hitting me like the opening credits of a movie where the main character is frozen for a moment such that the audience can memorize the character’s name clearly spelled out in superimposed San Serif text. The thought is this, here I am, driving as fast as is de facto permitted in San Francisco, leaping over Russian Hill in a late model Chrysler minivan taxicab, listening to techno music, getting paid to chase helicopters. Nice.

  • I received a radio call for a van ‘moving job’ on Market Street — the southern fringe of the Tenderloin. A lower income couple was moving from cheap hotel to cheap hotel. Their entire belongings were waiting patiently along with them outside.

    They said a van had come by and promptly left after a weak excuse about needing to head back to the garage. Admittedly, their pile of belongings loomed large. The larger-than-mini mini-fridge and microwave didn’t make it look any smaller.

    I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in a strangely twisted sense of fate. In this case, the part of fate was played by a taxi dispatcher a few miles south of my location. My only valid reason for not picking up a fare is if they appear to have a high likelihood of killing or robbing me. Other than that, I don’t let myself turn down a fare. I decided I would make the best of it and help them move to a new home.

    Sidetracking again, as seems to be the habit today, thank God (thank dispatcher?) that Chrysler (Christler?) designed its rear minivan seats to collapse so easily. On some van models the seats even collapse seamlessly into the floor (albeit at the expense of a user-accessible spare tire). I’ve learned how to collapse Chrysler minivan seats in seconds flat.

    Forcing myself to finish this damn post, I helped the nice folks move their apartment from Cheap Weekly Hotel A to Cheap Weekly Hotel B, four blocks away. While assisting with the unload I got some goo on my hand from the top of their microwave and hastily wiped it away. Ew.

    They tipped me well. They thanked me profusely. I said I was just answering a call from dispatch.

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