An addendum to driving this past weekend

Taking a much needed break from work, I attempt to finish the earlier post.

  • Now that tourists are back in town, I have a ‘last hope’ of finding a fare if the City is empty everywhere else: Fisherman’s Wharf, affectionately referred to simply as ‘the Wharf’ or the ‘Fish Wharf’ by fast-talking radio dispatchers.

    As this past weekend’s shifts were slower than usual, I fished for fares (sorry) around the Wharf more often than usual. On one such attempt I got lucky. A German father and daughter pair were heading back to their hotel in the deep Marina along Lombard and then wished to head toward the airport.

    I enjoyed their company as did they mine. The daughter was in her late teens and was on break from an American high school exchange program in the “middle of nowhere” Colorado. Her father came to visit and they decided to tour the west coast. At my high school in Indiana we encountered a surprisingly large number of German exchange students, so I was familiar with the generalities of her program and her general state of small-American-town-German-exchange-program-post-culture-shock-acceptance-stage. She had just a few months to go before returning home so she was increasingly embracing the positives of her experience inversely proportional to the remaining days of her stay.

    When I dropped them at the airport the fare was around $45. The father handed me what we both presumed was three $20 bills, at which point I customarily jumped out of the driver’s seat to fetch their luggage. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until I came to the rear hatch that he had only given me two twenties. I let him know, realizing, as did he, that it would have been better for me to confirm his payment at the point he placed it in my hand. I felt a tinge of guilt at not having confirmed his payment beforehand, which painted an air of odd feelings as we parted. Regardless, the experience was good overall.

    I’ll be sure to immediately check payments in the future, no matter how much I trust the customer.

  • Tuesdays are usually slow, but this past Tuesday was unusually slow.

    After 9am my blue taxi shark circled around Nob and Russian Hills looking for fares, keeping an ear out for radio calls in the area. Competition was fierce. I would hear a call for just a few blocks away which, during most times, I could easily snag. Not so on Tuesday.

    But, the craziest example of the fierce competition was a call for St. Francis Memorial Hospital at Pine and Hyde. I was approaching Hyde on Pine when I heard the call and immediately called “Bingo” on the radio. As often happens, my call was drowned out as many other drivers checked in.

    I pulled to the side of the intersection, not wanting to grab the hospital fare until being 100% sure that it was the hospital being called and not another residence in the surrounding block. And, I like adhering to the rules of the game and enjoy hearing a full confirmation from the dispatcher that the order is indeed assigned to my cab.

    As my foolishly process-abiding taxicab and its driver idled at the corner, another cab from my company swung around the block. The driver glanced at me in confusion, thinking, “Why the hell was this weirdo stopped right before the order?” His confusion quickly passed and did not prevent him from pulling into the hospital and effectively taking my order.

  • As I was climbing up and down Nob and Russian Hills early Monday morning searching for street hails or radio fares I received a phone call on my cell phone from a strange 415 (San Francisco area code) number.

    It turned out to be the husband of an elderly woman to whom I had once given out my number.

    Let’s pause for some context: I rarely give out my number as it symbolizes a long-term commitment to the career of driving a taxi. (I avoid long-term commitments.) Further, I become stressed driving all the way across the City for a pre-arranged direct-to-my-phone fare since there is a chance, albeit small, that the person in question won’t be there and I would have missed out on between $0 and $20 in earnings had I been open to street or radio hails.

    So it was with surprise that I answered my phone and heard a gentleman on the other end of the line saying he wanted to go to the airport in 10-15 minutes. (Yes, I was surprised both that I answered my phone AND that the man on the other end wanted to go to the airport.) He was a bit confused at first as to whom he had called. I was quick to explain I was a driver, not the dispatch line, but I also promptly assured him I could be there in 10 minutes. I was there in 7.

    I travelled swiftly to the airport with he and his wife in tow, speaking quickly but congenially to each other in an Asian language. It was a quick $40.

    Gosh, I thought then and think now, maybe I should give my number out more often.

  • While not a story from driving, this is on topic.

    A few afternoons ago, I walked through the Tenderloin on the way to a meeting and happened upon a fellow alumnus of the July 2007 class of the Flag-a-Cab Taxi School, Ahmed. (That’s not his real name as I didn’t ask nor did he give me permission to write his story. Google told me Ahmed was another common Moroccan name.)

    As you just correctly inferred, Ahmed is from Morocco. He used to work at a liquor store in the Tenderloin 7 days per week making about $10 per hour. Some friends told him about driving a cab and he looked into it, finally taking the plunge to take the taxi class.

    Now Ahmed works 7 days a week as a cab driver. He said he felt fortunate to have found an arrangement with a sublease driver such that he works 12 hour shifts each day. He brings the car to the other driver’s house and vice versa, making switch-off quick and easy. Thanks to the long shifts, I guessed he is able to make upwards of $180-200 per shift on average. He confirmed that range.

    Ahmed’s yearly income has nearly doubled driving a cab compared to the liquor store income. He now earns between $60,000 and $70,000 per year. Granted, nobody would enjoy working 7 days per week ad infinitum. He sends the majority of the money home to his immediate and extended family.

    Thoughts

    • Wow, Ahmed works a lot of hours a week. He has quite a work ethic.
    • Ahmed’s income doubled by driving a taxi. DOUBLED. That’s amazing. Cab driving is a unique profession. It requires no formal education, no consistently applied standard for minimum English proficiency (although in practice a base level is necessary to pass the taxi and police department tests). The only requirement is having held a valid CA license with no major accidents in the past few years.
    • I wonder if Ahmed pays taxes on his cab earnings. If so, on what percent? Surely not 100%.
    • How long will Ahmed do this? Surely no-one wants to work every waking hour for the rest of one’s life. Will he drive for the next year or two and then move back to live with his family? Is he helping his family through school? Contributing to day-to-day living expenses?
  • Often other cab drivers will discuss their days while waiting to pay the cashier after their shifts. I’ll engage in this discussion from time to time, but it rarely offers anything of value for either party.

    The script is usually this:
    “How was your day?”
    “[Good, I had x airports! | Bad. | Average.]”
    “[Glad to hear! | Sorry to hear. | Oh.] My day was [good, I had x airports! | bad. | average.]”
    “[Glad to hear! | Sorry to hear. | Oh.]”
    “Good luck next time.”

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