Friday, December 28, 2007

'She shot the wrong person'

You've gotta love Texans. I had a trio from Houston who wanted a ride from their hotel out to the Hotel del Coronado on the island. En route one of them asked if I knew anything about The Del being haunted. I've heard something about it, but didn't know the details. One of the ladies in the back, who I marked as a Texan by her accent, said she read on the web that a young woman checked in under a false name in the 1890s. She had recently found out her husband was cheating on her, and in her room at The Del, shot herself with a Deringer. Apparently her ghost haunts that room and the corridor leading up to it.

Me: Interesting tale. I don't know if I believe in ghosts.

Her: Me neither. And what is really sad is, she shot the wrong person. She should have shot the cheating husband.

I laughed.

Her: We're from Texas. That's how it would be done there.

She was probably 50 years old, and she said all of it deadpan. She wasn't looking for a laugh.

Holiday drivers

The driving on San Diego freeways and surface streets is appalling right now. It's never good, but this week it's as bad as I've seen. Several times tonight, and last night and the night before, I've had at least three near crashes caused by total incompetence.

Why is this? I know a lot of people are off of work this week. I never worked the last week of the year when I had a real job (read: had paid days off). Are these the weekend warriors? The people who normally don't drive much, or the out-of-towners? Traffic is light, but it's dangerous.

It's also slow, even though it's light. So many cars I see are driving half the posted speed limit. This should be a jailable offense. Thirty days for upsetting the thirty drivers stacked up behind you while you amble along in total oblivion. That's fair. One day behind bars for each person your existence has infuriated. Not you. You know what I mean. Them. Half the posted limit? That's sadism, isn't it?

Two bad ones tonight, which combined slow and dangerous, were Pennsylvania drivers. Each car tried to change lanes directly into my GIGANTIC, BRIGHT FUCKING YELLOW car, and I had to swerve and honk to avoid a major accident. Each car had a PA plate. Two incidents amounts to statistical insignificance, but I'm starting to form a hunch about Pennsylvania drivers. I'll give them plenty of room from now on. I'll be watchful for the "This ain't nothin' like Philly" blank stare. No offense to Philadelphians, but the drivers you've been sending out here are worse than native Californians, and that is not a compliment. Out here the bottle blondes snap their gum, chat on the cell phone, and somehow forget there are other people in the world.

A non-PA driver did what I think is the worst thing a driver can do. It has probably happened ten times so far this year, and it's harrowing every time. I'm following a guy on a surface street, with plenty of space between us. Speed limit is 25mph. Traffic is medium. He's going 15-18mph: anger level 5 out of 10. Head of driver is not swiveling back and forth (he doesn't appear lost or looking for an address). He pulls over to the curb. I speed up, as the driving lane is now clear. Just as I mash the gas, the guy pulls a U-turn right in front of me. I thank the ABS god as I come to a stop about six inches from his door. Who makes a U-ee without looking? Anger level is 10 out of 10 -- and I can't do or say anything or the guy will call the number on the side of the car and complain, and the company owner follows up on complaints.

I would truly love to have a switch on the dash that would, upon flipping, make the phone number and cab company name on the side of my car disappear for a minute or two. I'm going to grow a few extra middle fingers the day I get a button like that. The only positive thing was that the guy's eyes were the size of dinner plates when he realized I was going to T-bone him at 25mph. A 3750-lb car was going to smash into the driver door, with him sitting just on the other side. Fortunately, we didn't collide. He looked to be about 30 years old. It's a wonder he has survived to that age.

Now before you say, "This Ted Martin is a raving lunatic. Why doesn't he just relax a bit?" My insurance deductible is $1000. Crashing my car means a probable loss of two days wages, which, on average is...well...more than I can be without. Even if it's not my fault, the cab company owner usually does two things when he loses a car, even temporarily. No. 1, the driver gets a passive aggressive, demeaning treatment at the office. There's often a condescending speech about "How could we have possibly avoided this one?" No. 2, drivers involved in crashes generally get the worst car in the fleet, sometimes for the next year. It's godawful. The owner can be very petty about a crash, regardless of who's at fault, and I don't blame him. He loses so many cars, and has so many legal and insurance battles with the parties involved (it's actually a constant), that's he's tired of it. Rightfully so. On the other hand, the driver who will eventually smash me (it happened to me two years ago), files an insurance claim, gets a loaner car paid for by insurance, hires a lawyer who expertly makes his client's idiocy seem like a figment of my imagination, and goes about his merry life.

I can't wait for the true commuters to come back onto the streets and the holiday traffic to disappear from whence it came. Traffic is heavier with the regulars around, but a lower percentage of them try to take my life and livelihood.

Man, it's great to have a blog for venting. Now that it's all out of my system...

Countdown to cash

Only a couple of days until New Year's eve, our biggest single money maker of the year. Drivers are giddy about it. A lot of people are counting on that night to make their entire January 1 rent payment after a dismal December. I know my landlord is counting on me having a good New Year's eve, though he doesn't know it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Anonymous Santa

I spoke with one of our drivers last night, who told me about a $200 ride he had on Christmas eve. He picked up an older gentleman from a residential address and brought him to the East Village, on the east side of downtown San Diego. This is the homeless capital of the city. The customer asked our driver to stop on every corner and wait while he got out and handed out $20 bills. After an hour and a half, the driver brought him home and was given $200.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas in a car

I don't feel so bad about spending Christmas in a taxi. Fox News:

    The 77-year-old Des Moines man got stuck in his septic tank.

    "It wasn't good, I'll tell you what," Schoff told the Des Moines Register. "It was the worst Christmas Eve I've ever had."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

No white Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone. It's 70 degrees and sunny in San Diego. Shorts, a T-shirt, and sunglasses are the uniform of the day as I go out to work.

Last night -- Christmas Eve -- was better than I expected. I grossed a little over a hundred bucks. We only had five cabs or so as the evening wore on, which helped.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Russian Whore

I finally got the Russian Whore. Other drivers have been talking about her for weeks. She's blonde and has a thick Russian accent -- very exotic. She is beautiful, and I would guess in her early 20s. Other drivers think she's a whore because she goes to different (and expensive) condo buildings in the downtown area. This isn't definitive, but it's fairly easy to spot patterns with regular customers.

When I got the bell on the radio I already knew who she was -- other drivers had mentioned her address several times, such as, "Ted, have you gotten the Russian whore yet? She's at 1234 ABC St."

She got in and asked for -- you guessed it -- an upscale condo building downtown. As is standard procedure, I called dispatch and reported my destination.

Her: Why do you call in like that (with the sexiest accent I've ever heard)?

Me: It's standard. We have to call in our destination every time. It's for driver safety (which is partly true).

Her: Oh.

When I was on a cab stand two hours later, a driver walked up to me: "You finally got the Russian Whore." He patted my shoulder, like I had just been initiated into a club.

Holiday Bowl

Tonight I drove Robert Gustavis, offensive guard for the Arizona State Sun Devils, No. 73. He's in town early to play in the Holiday Bowl this coming Thursday. He was a very nice guy. I asked if he was going to play in the NFL, and he said, "I sure hope so."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

From the ER

Last night I picked up a guy from an emergency room who smelled awful. I won't describe the smell, as it'll induce nausea (for me, anyway). A security guard was standing with him near the ambulance dropoff/pickup area to make sure he got into the car. That's a bad sign. Often a regular staff worker or a doc will be with them, and sometimes they're alone. Security usually means trouble. I asked the guard softly if this was a "live one," and he just shrugged and handed me a payment voucher.

The guy's stench was so foul that I had to put all the windows down and replace my usual San Diego baseball cap with a knit cap -- something I don't often do in San Diego. But it was about 60 degrees out, so it was chilly with the windows down. The guy immediately complained that he was freezing, and put his window up. I put it down and locked out the window switches. "You smell too bad for the windows to be up."

I asked him why he was in the hospital, which I always ask. It may be a bit rude, but curiosity always wins out. "I had a seizure, I guess," he said. I asked if he was epileptic, and he said, "No, I'm alcoholic. Whenever I quit drinking I have seizures."

He complained all the way to East Village, which, rather sadly, is our version of LA's Skid Row. There isn't any "dumping" of homeless people around here, as far as I know, but East Village is where most of the charity missions are set up. This guy wanted 10th & B, which has a Del Taco and Burger King on the corner, but no charities.

Later, I was belled to another ER. This guy smelled considerably better than the last one. When I asked where he was going, he said "Dallas, Texas." Most ER people are ... how to say it delicately? ... complete loons. He seemed to fit the bill. After a moment of silence, he gave me a street address in San Diego, in Mission Valley near Qualcomm Stadium.

As I began driving, he explained that he ended up in the ER after going into insulin shock and having a seizure just as he was boarding a plane to Dallas. He said he was going there to take his mother off of a respirator at a hospital. It was time to "let her go," he said. Now he was frustrated because all flights are overbooked for Christmas travel, and his mother would have to wait.

Our conversation was good after we made it over the hump of the mother situation. I could tell he was upset, but calming down somewhat. He lives in central Wyoming on 20,000 acres, and he's in San Diego temporarily, doing some consulting work. I didn't ask what sort of work. When we arrived at his apartment, which he complained about ($2k/mo was a lot of money, he said, for a tiny little place; not at all like Wyoming), he gave me $40 for a $32 fare and said, "Keep it. Merry Christmas." I wished him the same and said I was sorry about his mother.

So here I am whining about my financial situation for two months straight, and I've just met one homeless guy who ends up in an ER when he tries to quit drinking, and one guy with a serious diabetes problem who is unable to fly half way across the country to end his mother's life. The first guy will spend Christmas alone, outside, hoping for a free meal and probably a bottle of cheap wine. The second guy will be spending Christmas alone in a small apartment, far from home, probably thinking about saying goodbye to his mother and burying her next week.

I'm thinking of these ER rides as much needed perspective at Christmas time.

Welcome National Geographic readers

This blog has been listed at the San Diego Destination Guide at National Geographic's website. Their paragraph:

    Night-shift cabbie Ted Martin keeps this entertaining blog "from the (not so) mean streets with a laptop and mobile internet connection." Compelling stories of Martin's customers and photos of downtown street scenes.

I'm quite honored. Welcome to any and all readers who were referred by National Geographic.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The baseball scandal

The baseball drug scandal has hit the international press. BBC:

    Football may be America's biggest sport, but baseball remains its national pastime, and nothing reminds us of that so much as the hand-wringing response to the Mitchell report, whose comprehensive tally of abusers of performance-enhancing drugs shines a spotlight on new names, but hardly on anything that the American public didn't already know.

    Baseball will survive this scandal, because it's a great game, one that still represents America as it should be, if not is.

I've never really cared for baseball. It's too boring. It's as exciting as watching grass grow. And I realize it's almost sacrilegious to say that. I'm a NASCAR fan, so I can relate to sports that appear boring on the surface, but still. Baseball? Everyone knows they're juicers. Same with other sports. NASCAR suspends drivers on the first failed drug test, then permanently bans on the second. I'm not sure how often drivers are tested.

Fear and loathing

Forgive my theft of Hunter S. Thompson. Several drivers and I were on stand last night with nothing to do. We've been breaking even most nights -- just covering the lease and fuel, making ZERO for ourselves. Last night I walked away from the discussion at about 2:30 a.m. after the bar rush turned out to be a dud, again. It was late, dark, and no cars had driven by in half an hour. I took a leak. I rarely do this. I'm still civilized, meaning I use a public restroom. However, nature dictated that I couldn't make it, and since nobody was round, I didn't think it was a big deal. It's nice to be a guy some times!

When I mosied back to the cars and the drivers standing around, one laughed at what I had just done. He's a newer driver. That launched a discussion about one of our greatest fears, as cabbies. We've noticed that most of our older drivers, the guys who have been driving for 10 years or more, are all oddballs. They're either psychopathically antisocial, or they're so mean you can't get near them, or they have some other psychological problem. The fear is that the job might make people like that, and will it happen to us? The other angle is that perhaps the weirdos end up as cabbies, as there are few other jobs a freak can do. Since we are all fairly normal right now, does that mean our future is doomed? Who knows for sure?

My pissing in the bushes brought on an interesting case study. We know of one driver who regularly takes a leak right outside his car, at night, when nobody is around. That's much worse than me (I went to the bushes and hid). Then somebody mentioned Catheter Cab, who keeps a milk carton in his car. He doesn't even get out! Then there's Carey, who I saw take a leak in a bush at high noon with people walking on the sidewalk. He told me to whistle if anybody walks towards him.

The length of service (years of driving) goes up with each of these drivers. I've been driving less than two years. The guy who goes right outside his car has about five years. Carey has about 10 years, and Catheter Cab is over 10 years. The pattern is clear. The drivers concluded that when you hit twenty years of driving cab, you'll probably be wearing some kind of adult diaper. Depends or something like that. The future is bleak.

Avoiding Marzetti II

One of our drivers is doing battle with Marzetti II, the old fogey who gets on everyone's nerves (see this post for info on him). When this driver is unfortunate enough to get him, he leaves the right rear window down and turns off the global window switch.

Apparently Marzetti II swears up a storm. He can't handle the wind blowing on him. The driver tells him the window is broken and can't be raised. It took two trips before Marzetti II took note of the cab No. and, when he calls our HQ for a taxi, he's now saying he'll ride in any car except that one. The driver is a little worried he'll call the owner, but if that happens he'll just say the window is intermittant. When/if they call him in to get it fixed, they won't find anything wrong with it. Heads will be scratched, and he'll get off without too much trouble.

Now that I think of it... Yeah, my windows are giving me trouble, too. So is the trunk, for that matter, and anything else to get me out of driving Marzetti II.

Looking into my crystal ball, I can see the future clearly. Over the course of a month, word will get around, and everyone's windows will stop functioning, mysteriously, when Marzetti II needs a ride. The cab company owner will put it together and get on the two-way radio to announce that all drivers will be picking him up or face dire consequences. I've seen this kind of thing before. Something similar happened with Reed.

The Dead Pool

As a side note, Marzetti II has to be in his 90s, and he's in poor health. A couple of weeks ago I started a dead pool on him, and we presently have five drivers with a guess recorded as to the date of the man's death. This is morbid, and perhaps sick, and that's just the way it is. One driver, when I approached him with my little spiral notebook and pen, said he wouldn't be part of something like that. I explained that he wouldn't have to put money in if he didn't want to. It could be "just for fun", and that way he might avoid a trip to Hell. He still refused.

Gollum has been added to the list, as well. Even though Gollum has a full, four-point walker and moves at .0001 mph (I can read about six pages of a novel in the time it takes her to get from the front door to the curb), most have her hanging on for another two to three years. (More on Gollum here and here.)

Accusations and hysterics

I was accused of theft last night. Here's the scenario: A female customer with two friends asked to be driven to a hotel. It was a $14 ride, and I got her there with no trouble. She held out a credit card.

Me: I'm sorry, I don't take credit cards. I'm cash only.

Her: You do take credit cards.

Me: No, I don't.

Her: That's not true. You're lying to rip off your company (she was angry and serious). I rode in one of these cabs this morning and he took my credit card, so don't give me this crap about not taking credit cards.

Me: It's cash, or I'm calling the police.

Her: How dare you!

Me: What's is gonna be?

Her, hysterical: I want your name! I want your cab number! I want your employee number!

So often the qualities of meanness and stupidity are manifest in the same individual. I've seen it countless times. So I handed her my cab permit, which has everything except an employee number. As a 1099 independent contractor, I'm not an employee, and thus no number. She refused to believe that, too. She eventually gave me $20 and said to keep the change, and demanded a receipt, which I gave her. She said she would be calling the cab company to expose my theft "forthwith". I cheerfully suggested, "You do that, honey."

I went away feeling great, especially because Louie was working dispatch and would be answering the phone when she called. Louie is actually a woman, but she's so mean we call her Louie, after the Danny DeVito character on the old show, Taxi. I've actually never met a woman quite like her, but that's a story for another day. Louie never needs a reason to rip somebody's head off, and when this uppity customer called, there is no doubt Louie let her have it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Marzetti II

Marzetti was a very difficult customer, who thought a quarter was a good tip. I railed on him countless times (see here), and felt a tiny bit of guilt when he passed away. We have another 90+ gentleman living in our taxi zone now, and he goes a short distance, every single night, and thinks $.20 is a good tip. Just like freakin' Marzetti. Nobody has even asked the new guy's name. We call him Marzetti II. One driver joked a few nights ago: "Marzetti's not even cold, and now we've got another one."

I finally listened to the radio sufficiently to see Marzetti II's pattern. He calls for a cab at 5:30-5:40 p.m. Monday through Friday. Then he calls for the return trip anywhere from 6:30 to 7. And I'm not the only one paying attention -- that cab stand basically empties five minutes before he calls.

Last night Marzetti II was not looking good. He could hardly breathe, and he asked me not to talk to him because he didn't feel well. That's not a problem. I had this sad feeling like he, too, might be close to death. He's extremely old. I felt bad for him as I took him to his favorite restaurant, for $4.80. He gave me a $5 and invited me to keep the change. What is the matter with these people?

When I relayed his health deterioration (and still no tip) to several drivers sitting on our busiest cab stand, somebody suggested we each chip in $5 on a dead pool (okay, it was my idea). One driver has him going as early as Jan. 15, 2008. He actually called it "wishful thinking." I still believe this job is fun and easy, but it could possibly damage the psyche.

Slow holiday season

It's the hard-core drinking holiday season, and San Diego is a ghost town. Not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse...

Last night I worked 10 hours, and grossed $60. The cab lease is $50 per day, and it cost $12 to fill the gas tank at the end of the shift. Nightly earnings: -$2.

The immediate future is looking better. The San Diego Convention Center has the following events coming up:

World of Warcraft tournament, 1000 attendees

California School Boards Assn, 4k

Home Design & Remodeling show, 25k

Nat'l Council for Social Studies, 4k

Sports for Exceptional Athletes, 1500

Monday, November 19, 2007

A few shots from last week

This guy was picketing in front of NBC TV studios at 3rd and Broadway. He's not happy about the San Diego Chargers or their coach, Norv Turner.

Mishap on Coronado Island.

On the bay last weekend

Old and new: Star of India, which the San Diego Maritime Museum claims is the oldest operational sailing vessel in the world, with the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz in the background.

HMS Surprise, the replica ship used in the movie Master and Commander.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The customer is always "right"

I've mentioned this before, but last night I had a customer who brought it all back to me. Generally, when people give me an address, cross streets, business name, or other destination, they sit back and let me choose a route. Sometimes, probably 1 in 5, they tell me which way to go, because they "know the best way." They never do. In over two years and more than 4000 rides, nobody has ever suggested a route that was better than the one I would have taken. That's not ego, because, trust me, cabbies don't have those. It's simple fact. Some people are just trying to avoid being taken the long way, but that's laughable, as their way is the long way.

Here's a pop quiz. You're driving a taxi through Bario Logan when a flag steps into the street. It's 4 p.m. He wants to go out to El Cajon (City, not Blvd). That's a great ride, by the by. What is the best route?

If you answered, "Why, Ted, I would get on the 5 southbound, underneath the Coronado Bridge, then take the 15 north, to the 94 east, to the 125 north, to the 8 east," give yourself a prize!

If you answered, "Why, Ted, I would get on surface streets to the eastbound 94 entrance ramp, near Market St. After waiting for all the traffic and lights, we'd finally get on the freeway. Then we would sit in total gridlock with the people flowing from downtown onto the 94 east. We'd be upset that we had to do that. Then we would take the 805/15 to the 8 east, where that traffic is nearly as bad as the beginning of I-94," you were probably a recent customer of mine.

I realize few people know the roads as well as people who drive them for a living. Still, my route is all basic freeway stuff. A quick glance at any map would show somebody how to get around the city. But people get ideas in their head, and what's worse, they think their ideas are good.

I never know how to react to people like that. I almost always say, "Sure," and follow their bad directions. I make more money their way, but I'd rather go the best route. And, as I mentioned in that earlier post on this subject, trying to inform them of a better way only makes things worse.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Iraqis

Our three Iraqis are still missing. Tonight another driver, a Polish guy, said he believes they all got fired. There's no way to confirm it, seeing as the owner never talks about that sort of info. Eventually we'll see them driving cabs from other companies, somewhere in the city, and we'll have a chance to ask them. Sometimes an office worker will let something slip, but it's rare. It's kind of too bad, they were all nice guys. Cut-throats and thieves behind the wheel, but nice to talk to at cab stands. I always appreciated their views on the Iraq War. One was from Basra, another from some town in western Iraq, and the other was Kurdish, from somewhere close to Mosul. Each had fled Saddam's rule and were granted asylum in the US.

Thursday night rides

British guy notices bad driving

I picked up a British guy going to the airport. He's in San Diego for a conference, and is going to LA this evening to give a speech at another conference, then flying back. His airline ticket said American Airlines, but usually when people go from San Diego to LA, it's American Eagle, the commuter version of American. Since the ticket said American, I dropped him off at the American gate at terminal two, but I waited as he tried to check his bag at the curbside check in, just in case.

A few seconds later he turned and looked at me, then came back with his bag. It was the commuter terminal, according to the skycaps. Odd that the ticket didn't say American Eagle. Anyway, en route from T2 to the commuter terminal, a shuttle van turned into us. I saw him coming, honked, and gave him some room.

Guy: That's the third time somebody did that to us on this trip. Does that happen a lot?

Me: Unfortunately, yes. Sometimes they signal, and then swerve into you, but usually they don't even bother signalling. I always drive with my thumb on the horn button.

Near collision with Mr. Fire Hydrant

On the way back to our taxi zone from the airport, I was doing 65 in the fast lane on I-5 southbound, with no traffic in front of me. The limit is 65, so I always drive it when there's room. A Red Cab was driving much slower, probably 40, in the next lane over. As I zoomed up on him, he moved into my lane. I had to slam on the brakes, not quite hard enough to start the ABS. The huge yellow hood of the Crown Vic dove straight down. The Police Interceptor didn't do that.

I moved one lane to the right and went by. As I pulled even with him, I saw him looking at me and waving in a friendly manner. It was Mr. Fire Hydrant, our driver who had gotten himself fired for running over a hydrant. This is the guy who couldn't find a Marriott hotel after working for weeks. Once an idiot, always an idiot. (Hydrant incident here; navigational challenges here)

The "trampoline"

I picked up a sailor from a bar, and noticed he was walking with a limp, and one hand was in a cast. He said he was on leave, back home in Michigan, two months ago, when he got in a bar fight. It was him and his brother against two other guys. He had a broken hand and ankle.

Me: Doesn't the Navy punish you for that, too?

Him: Normally they would, but I told them I fell off a trampoline.

That's clever. He said he didn't mind getting hurt because the Navy goes easy on injured personnel. After 30 days medical leave, he was put on duty, but all he had to do was 3-hours per day "watch", where he kept an eye on the Navy drunk tank, making sure nobody injured themselves.

Customer on the radio

I drove another Navy guy, with two Navy buddies. After I started driving, he picked up my mic and said: "What is this, car 92?" I cringed.

Guy: 92

Dispatch: 92

Guy: 92 to the Star Bar, downtown.

Dispatch: 10-4

It was a flawless example of radio usage. The guy handed me the mic and said: "This ain't my first rodeo." That was damned funny.

A few blocks later we passed a group of women walking along the sidewalk. The guy said to his buddies: "Those are whores. Fifty bucks each, probably." I said: "That's cheaper than dating." The guy: "You're all right. What's your name?"

Stan, a real ass

My last ride was a real winner. It was Stan, a regular, about 35, alcoholic, usually going from one or another dive bar to his condo in downtown San Diego. I've driven him 10 times or so, and he never remembers me. It's usually a $16 ride, and he rarely tips. This time I was belled to a residential address and was surprised to see Stan stagger out to the car. He's usually at a bar. He was on his cellie, and when he got in the back seat, he left the door opened and asked me to wait a minute.

Him, to phone: Am I staying or going?

Woman's voice, from phone: You better just go.

Him: I want to spend the night with you.

Woman: Well I'm not spending the night with you, so you better go.

Him, to me: I guess we can go.

He wanted to stop at an all-night diner to get food to-go. I stopped and said I'd be happy to wait. He went inside, then came out and asked me if I wanted anything. "Anything you want," he said. "It's on me." After thinking for a few seconds, I said, "How about a Coke?" He went back inside to add that to the order. He came back out, presumably to wait with me, rather than inside.

Him: I'm not paying for you to wait here, am I?

Me: Yeah. It's only $5 for 15 minutes. It's not much.

Him: I'm not paying for waiting.

I pointed to the sign on the dash that says "Waiting time, $20 per hour"

Him: I'm taking the cost of breakfast off the tab.

Me: What do you mean by that?

Him: You heard me.

Me: Are you saying you're not going to pay the full meter amount?

Him: You got it.

Me: Then I'm not driving you home.

He ignored me and walked into the diner. Not five seconds later he came back out and got in the cab. "Take me home," he said.

Me: What about the food?

Him: Don't worry about it. And I'm not paying for the waiting.

Me: You have to pay what the meter says.

Him: Fuck you, I'm not paying.

By now I was two blocks from the diner. I pulled over.

Me: If you're going to say 'fuck you', you can get out right here.

Him: That's what I'm going to do. Fuck you.

Me: That'll be $5.60 (the amount showing on the meter)

Him: Fuck you.

Me: I'm calling the police.

Him: Go ahead, fuck you.

I got out of my car as he started to walk away, down the sidewalk. Just then a cop drove by going the other direction. I whistled and held out my arm: "Officer!" He swung a u-turn and pulled in behind me and jumped out.

Cop: What's wrong?

Me: I've got a refusal to pay.

Cop: Close your door and stand on the sidewalk.

Another squad car pulled in behind the first one, and that cop got out and spoke with the first cop and Stan. The second one came over to me and asked what he owes, and I said $5.60. He went back, and he made Stan get out his wallet and get some money out. He walked back to me and gave me a $10 bill. I gave him $5 and said the guy could keep the change. Then I left.

I got on the radio immediately and let the other drivers know that Stan wasn't in a paying mood tonight, so they should think carefully before picking him up when he calls again.

I went 10-21 (radio code for "gone for the day") right after the Stan incident. It was 2:40 a.m., about my usual quitting time. I left the radio on as I drove home, just in case Stan attempted to get another cab. As I was filling my gas tank at the station near my apartment, I heard one of our drivers announce a flag from XYZ diner to downtown. That had to be Stan. It was our driver who is such an asshole a lot of regulars refuse to ride with him. I never thought I'd find somebody who refused to ride with me, but was okay with the asshole. Tomorrow night I'll ask if he had any problems getting paid.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Enemy cabs

Tonight I got belled to a popular restaurant in our taxi zone. I was parked at a cab stand with another driver, and when he heard the bell on his radio, he jumped out of the car and said: "I just saw two enemy cabs heading that way to drop off. You better get over there, quick."

I did. I did not break any speed limits, officially, but a sports car could not have made the journey in less time. Just as I pulled up, customers were loading into an enemy cab. I got out and waved my arms. Right away the driver told the people they would have to get out and ride with me.

My customers thought I was a jerk for causing the commotion, until I explained why I had to do it. They, like everyone who learns about San Diego licensing, thought the rules made things worse for taxi customers. They're right. There should be one metro-area license for San Diego and suburbs.

And I used to love autumn

Cabbies watch for events around town that will make us money. These include Padres and Charges games (baseball and football, for my European guests), and especially large trade shows at the Convention Center. All of us cabbies were eager for the "37th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience", which began Nov. 3, and ended today. Various websites said that somewhere between 32,000 and 58,000 attendees were expected, and all cabbies know that doctors are the cab crowd, as opposed to the bus crowd (see Comic-Con, an annual San Diego event drawing 125k of the cheapest people on earth).

So we all anticipated making a killing between, roughly, Nov. 2 and Nov. 9, seeing as some people arrive early to these trade shows and some stay late. And we got robbed. My biggest day during the whole show was probably $250, and that's gross. If you subtract the cab lease and the obscene amount of gas a Ford Crown Victoria sucks down, I never cleared more than $175. Now that the conference is over, I'm wondering how a minimum of 32,000 people, all with expense accounts, hardly ever rode around in taxis. I'm also kinda wondering how the hell I'm going to pay all my bills this month. I'll be spending Christmas in a taxi this year.

A lot of smaller events were cancelled because of our wildfires from a couple of weeks ago, which dropped my income to about $80/day, and now the neurology folks were nothing but a pipe dream. And all this right before the holidays, which represents the slowest time of year for us. Grim is the word.

Here's a confession. I'm in a bit of a financial crisis, the worst one in several years. I'll find a way out of it, but it's going to rough. I got two months behind on my motorcycle payments, and received a surprisingly friendly "right to cure" letter from my creditor. It's embarassing to let something like that happen. But here's the kicker. The bike was repossessed about six weeks ago, or so I thought. I was really bummed out about that, considering I have (correction, had) good credit. But I just received a bill from the creditor, and nothing was mentioned about repaying a deficiency balance, post-auction, etc. WTF?

I called them, and they didn't reapossess the fucking bike! My bike was stolen six weeks ago and I never even called the fucking cops because I thought the goddamn creditor took it! It's nearly certain that some Mexican bastard is riding my awesome, dual-purpose dirt machine in the desert somewhere south of Tijuana. San Diego has a bit of an auto theft problem, with most stolen vehicles disappearing into Mexico forever. I wonder if the guy rides my bike around while wearing a sombrero? Bastards. I now have a large bill and the bike is gone. Naturally I only carry liability insurance on it, so I'm out, oh, around $3,000.

Contributing to all these problems is the price of gas. It's above $3.30 even at the cheap stations! The situation has gone from price gouging to full-on rape. On a good day my car gets 15 miles per gallon, and if I need to run the AC it will drop below 14. It's madness, I tell ya. What really pisses me off is that America is THE market for oil. We consume more of it than half the globe combined. That means we should command the cheapest price. We're the Wal Mart of the oil consuming world. Know what I mean? Wal Mart stiff-arms suppliers to get the absolute lowest prices. We should be doing that with Middle East oil. If we stopped buying from them, the sultans would be trading in their Bentleys for Volkswagens. Gas should be $1 per gallon, period.

Completely unrelated: the Iraqis have disappeared. Our three Iraqi drivers disappeared from the streets three weeks ago, and with the possible exception of the cab company owner, nobody knows where they are. Two of them are known to disappear for a month at a time doing CIA contracts -- translation work, as they're fluent in Arabic and English. The third never does this kind of work; his English is rudimentary at best. Nobody feels like asking the owner because we know he'll never tell. He never does. The only time he ever gives out personal information about other drivers is when they croak, which happens about twice a year.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


Lots of entertaining rides on Halloween night. It was busy, but not too crazy.

SEAL hunt

I picked up four women who are in San Diego for a business conference. They wanted to know where they can meet Navy SEALS. This is not an uncommon request. I brought them out to Coronado Island to show them the Naval Amphibious Base, where they train. Then I brought them to McP's Irish Pub, where they drink. Before they got out of the cab they were examining each other's hair and making sure they look good. I think their families back home would be surprised at their evening entertainment.


I drove a young couple, just married, from Tulsa, Okla. They were marveling at real estate costs in San Diego, after having paid $89,000 for a 2,000 sq. ft. house in Tulsa. That, and another $300k gets you a similar house in San Diego, with a much smaller yard. The newleyweds were in San Diego primarily to visit Ikea, which they apparently don't have in Tulsa.

Interesting Halloween costume

A couple of hours after dark, when the Halloween partying was in full swing, I picked up a man, maybe 25, wearing a casual suit and sunglasses. He also had a large, red gift box with a bow on top.

"Take me somewhere I can buy a dildo," he said.

I brought him to the Hustler store downtown, and en route he explained that he is dressed up as Dick in a Box, which he said is a famous SNL bit. I had never heard of it. After sitting anxiously in a red zone, beside a fire hydrant, I saw him come out of Hustler with a large bulge inside of his coat. When he got in the cab he pulled out a mammoth, lifelike dildo.

Me: Whoa! I didn't know you were going to get such a big one.

Him: It's a Ron Jeremy. I'm sparing no expense this Halloween.

Stereotypical cab driver

Around 1 a.m. I was sitting with a few other drivers on a stand, across the street from a bar, when a man and woman came walking towards the cabs. The first guy in line was sitting in his car, and the rest of us were standing near his driver window.

Guy: Are you available?

Our driver: No, I'm sitting here for my goddamn health!

Guy: What?

Our driver: No, I'm sitting here for my goddam health!

The customers looked at those of us who were standing around, and we just shrugged. They got in and they left.

That driver gets several refusals from locals every night. We found out why. We'll hear a driver get on the radio and say: "I picked up a flag at XYZ going to XYZ." Dispatch will respond: "Isn't driver ABC there with you? He should be first in line." The driver will say: "He took one look at ABC and said he's not riding with him."

Monday, October 29, 2007

A few photos

A lot of people are wearing masks these days, with the smoke and soot in the air. This 711 store on 30th St in North Park doesn't want them inside.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Latest fire update

Thanks, everyone, for the kind comments on the last post. I'm watching the local news right now (10 a.m. PST), and Air Force One just dropped off President Bush at MCAS (Marine Core Air Station) Miramar, of Top Gun fame. He was with Dianne Feinstein, one of California's senators, and was met by Gov. Schwarzenegger. He and the Governator jumped in Marine One, the presidential chopper, to tour the fire areas.

I'm still working, although I did miss a couple of days because the soot went into my lungs. When I can't breathe, I can't sleep, and when I can't sleep, I can't safely drive. When I've been awake for 30 or 40 hours, I start hallucinating. Not a pretty picture.

Last night I was out working, and we're still busy. Traffic is very light, but there are still a lot of business conferences happening in San Diego. All of the out-of-town travelers are quiet and respectful and offering condolences, etc. There's a brown, smoky haze over the city, and the air smells like a camp fire.

Last night I drove a firefighter stationed on the U.S.S. Lincoln, a Nimitz class aircraft carrier HQ'd in Washington State. It has been here for a week, scheduled to leave this morning. He said he and some fellow firefighters asked their superiors for permission to go out and help the local firefighters, but permission was denied. They're needed on the ship. This makes sense -- a Nimitz carrier has a crew of more than 5,000, and is really a floating city. It can't be without firefighters. I thanked him.

Latest stats, as of this morning:

  • 1400 homes lost in San Diego County

  • 520,000 people evacuated in SD

  • Total fire destruction area, for all of Southern California, is the size of Great Britain. That seems doubtful, but it's possible.

  • Three people have died as a direct result of the fires, plus another eight in "related incidents". Maybe car accidents, fleeing? Another 20 have been injured, including some severely burned fire fighters.

  • Arson is blamed for two of the fires.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

San Diego wildfire

I went out towards Mt. San Miguel, about 14 miles east of downtown San Diego. Still shots are below the video.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fire update

It's 10 a.m. and the fires around the city are up to 100,000 acres with 0% containment. More than 250,000 people have been evacuated. The mayor of San Diego, Jerry Sanders, said on live TV that nobody should leave home unless they absolutely must. Most shelters are full, so the city opened Qualcomm Stadium for evacuees. One news report just came out that said some people are showing up at Qualcomm corporate headquarters instead of the stadium. These are probably the same ones who think professional wrestling isn't fixed.

And it gets worse. From AP:

    In many cases, crews couldn't begin to fight the fires because they were too busy rescuing residents who refused to leave, fire officials said.

    "They didn't evacuate at all, or delayed until it was too late," said Bill Metcalf, chief of the North County Fire Protection District. "And those folks who are making those decisions are actually stripping fire resources."

    One blaze devoured more than 5,000 acres in northern San Diego County and forced the evacuation of the community of Ramona, which has a population of about 36,000. Several structures were burned on the edge of town and sheriff's deputies called residents to alert them the fire was approaching the city, San Diego sheriff's Lt. Phil Brust said.

    "The winds are up, it's very, very dangerous conditions," San Diego County spokeswoman Lesley Kirk said. "Fires are popping up all over the place."

I've always been sensitive to the Santa Ana winds. I'm allergic to the particulate matter that floats in off the eastern deserts. With the smoke on top of the dust, I'm basically down for the count. I can't breath, and as a result can't sleep. I haven't been to sleep since the day before yesterday. I sneeze every sixty seconds. My cell phone isn't working due to high volume, and this internet connection is crawling because it uses the cell system. My problems are nothing compared to the people who are losing all their worldly possessions, so I'll curtail the whining now.

The high winds mean the fires can't even be fought. No aircraft can get airborne because the winds are 20-30mph with gusts of 50-70mph. Ground crews are not fighting the fires, either. They're evacuating people in front of the fires and also hosing down houses. We're all just waiting for the winds to stop, which isn't expected until tomorrow or the day after.

There are still no reports on injuries or the numbers of houses lost, except that one person is known to have burned to death in the Harris fire. He is believed to have been an illegal immigrant who had just walked in from Mexico.

Apparently fire crews are coming here from around the state. Los Angeles is getting hit hard, too. The Governator is scheduled to visit San Diego to assess the problem this morning. He has already labeled seven California counties as disaster areas, which opens the federal money tap.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday on fire

Today is a scheduled day off, so I stayed up late Saturday night and slept late. I woke up after dark and went outside to my car, planning to make a run to Ralph's grocery store. I knew something was wrong -- there was a strong smell of smoke in the air, and a haze was all around. As I drove down Pershing on the way to the downtown Ralph's I turned on the radio and heard that the northeast suburbs are on fire. San Diego doesn't get hurricanes or tornadoes, and large earthquakes are extremely rare, but the one natural disaster we see are the wildfires. It's part of living in a desert.

We're having Santa Ana winds again, which means an east wind off the desert. Normally we get a cool, westerly breeze from the ocean, but when a high pressure system is around, the winds change direction. It's hot and very dry, which makes for dangerous fire conditions. Several sprang up this afternoon and went out of control. The towns in the foothills and mountains, like Ramona and Julian, are close to a raging inferno, with at least one dead and many injuries. Several homes have burned to the ground. The affected areas are being evacuated, and the schools have been closed for tomorrow. The Santa Ana winds are predicted to continue at least through tomorrow, which is very bad news.

Google Map here

The worst of the fires is being called the Witch Fire, named for its point of origin, near Witch Creek. It's an apt name, with Halloween 10 days away. Another big fire, called the Harris Fire, is along the USA-Mexico border near Tecate. It has crossed into Mexico, and the Tecate border crossing is closed.

I know most of the mountainous areas like the back of my hand. It's some of the best motorcycling territory around -- both on-road and off. I'm in the North Park neighborhood, right in San Diego, which is about a 1.5hr drive to the Witch Fire. Note: San Diego's mountains aren't huge like the Sierras or Rockies. The tallest point is about 7,000 feet (2100 meters). Snow falls in winter in the high elevations, but not enough for skiing and snowboarding.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

    An out-of-control wildfire burned more than 8,000 acres between Ramona and Santa Ysabel Sunday, and fire officials were requesting more resources to battle it.

    Two air tankers and 60 engines with 350 firefighters were battling the blaze, which has been named the Witch Fire, said Cal Fire spokeswoman Audrey Hagen. It earlier was called the Highway 78 Fire.

    State fire officials have requested 1,000 more firefighters be assigned to the blaze.

Compounding the problems with evacuations are the horses and livestock that people in the mountains keep. Everyone up there is used to fires, and they know how to pack and leave quickly, but packing up the large animals takes time. Traffic is thick, too.

This reminds me of the Cedar Fire from 2003. That was the last time I walked outside to see (and smell) smoke and ash. That fire destroyed around 2200 homes and took 15 lives. It was the worst fire in San Diego history.

From the Union-Tribune story:

    “This is almost a deja vu of the Cedar Fire,” Scales said, referring to the weather conditions. The Cedar Fire killed 15 people, destroyed more than 2,200 homes and burned more than 280,000 acres in October 2003.

    Many residents who live near Witch Creek and San Diego Country Estates have been evacuated, and residents are being told to go to a Red Cross shelter at Poway High School on Espola Road at Titan Way, county emergency officials said.

The weather forecast for tomorrow looks extremely bad, with 9% humidity expected around noon. The winds will be down around 10 mph.

San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego weather forecast
Cedar Fire memorial, with statistics

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Thursday had a little of everything. With the exception of customer interaction, it's a good example of a day in the life of a cabbie.

Paying the lease

One of my cab partners usually pays the weekly cab lease, but this week he's off, so it fell to me. Thursday afternoon I arrived at HQ for the first time in weeks. I normally avoid the place like the plague. The owner likes to come into the yard and inspect the cars, searching for anything wrong. It's better to stay away than be treated to an irrational outburst. I keep my car clean, inside and out, and I don't need anybody inspecting it.

I hate paying the lease partly because I have to show myself at HQ, and partly because I have to deal with Al, the guy who accepts the cash. Al is a great guy -- he's funny, well educated, has traveled the world, and I enjoy speaking with him. The problem is that he's about 300 years of age. It takes him FOREVER to count the damned money and even longer to hand write a nearly illegible receipt (the owner is a Luddite, so it's on paper). He takes the stack of bills in his left hand, then peels off the top one with his right, s-l-o-w-l-y brings it up to his nose so he can read the number, then s-l-o-w-l-y lowers it to his desk. Repeat a couple hundred times.

When I first started driving, I saw the lease payment as a good opportunity to unload my ones and fives. After watching Al count them at an average of three seconds per bill, I quickly changed to 50s and 100s just to speed up the process. Now I buy all of my groceries with 1s and 5s.

This Thursday I had collected money from my two cab partners before going to HQ, put it together with my own, and dumped it on Al's desk. I noticed my partners choose large bills, too. They're not stupid. But there were also several vouchers in the mix, which slows down Al even more. ER fares typically come with a hospital voucher, which we turn in with, and place against, the lease. We had no less than seven vouchers this time, which is probably a record. I saw Al look at the huge stack of money and paper and I knew I could kiss my afternoon goodbye. Okay, it's not quite that bad, but it's excruciating to watch a man spend a half hour counting a stack of money that I can count in 30 seconds.

Surprise inspections

While at HQ I saw Fred the mechanic, who is usually hidden away at the secret mechanic location, doing small spot repairs to several cars. He was doing headlights and mirrors and I saw a headliner ready to go into one car. Another had a wheel off. All of this is done out of doors, under San Diego's perfect, sunny sky. Fred was moving a hundred miles an hour, and looked flustered. He said the city called a couple of hours earlier and announced they would be conducting inspections the next day, including some "snap" inspections on the street. That's a first. For as long as anybody can remember, inspections occur the first week of January. I suspect a city council member got a ride with one of our dirtier drivers (maybe Catheter Cab). That would have led to a snap inspection. Fred had to prepare a lot of cars with almost no notice. Feeling bad for him, I changed a few brake light bulbs and tried to install the headliner, and failed. It's harder than it looks.

Fred asked me if my car needed anything. Since I'd been through inspections a couple of times before, he didn't need to inspect my car himself, he could just ask.

    1. Parking brake
    2. Horn
    3. Velcro on the dash, which holds the permit and a lost-and-found notice for customers, fell off
    4. Missing lug nut -- it's amazing how often lug nuts fall off of taxis

He jumped in my car and stepped on the parking brake. It's the old style foot pedal, not a pull handle in the middle like almost all other cars. I saw him grab the wheel tightly and strain, apparently with all his strength, against the pedal. Once he was satisfied, he started the car and put it in Drive, then Reverse. It didn't move. He deemed it okay. Note: it's not okay, but it'll pass inspection.

Then he grabbed a ratchet and a 1/2-inch socket and slid under the front of the car. In a moment he came out with my horn in his hand. He turned it over and a cup of water poured out. "Bad location," he said. "When it rains, water from the road gets splashed inside." I gestured to a row of crashed cabs being stored, for cannibalization, at HQ. "All the horns are gone," he said. "And I don't have time to go to Ford."

One of the crashed cars. A large truck backed into this one, breaking the
windshield and sending shattered glass onto one of our Brazilian drivers.

I suggested that I could go to my house and pull the horn from the Falcon, which I bought a few weeks ago. "Great idea," he said. I explained that he could only have it on the condition that I get it back right after the inspection. I don't want to go hornless with my civilian car. Before I could leave, he remembered he had a horn sitting in his work vehicle.

He quickly installed the horn, velcro on the dash (on the airbag cover on the passenger side), and a new lug nut.

By the time all of this was done, Al had counted the lease money. He said we were $40 over. I had to make a bunch of calls to find out why that might be. One of my cab partners, as it turns out, had rear-ended some civilian a few months ago with a loaner car (I would have known about it if it had happened with our taxi), and was paying the cab company owner $40 per week to pay off a $900 repair bill (the owner had paid off the civilian).

The last thing required to get my car through inspections was easy: remove a small, handwritten note taped to the dash. It says "Don't use overdrive. Drive gently." shortly after we got the car, maybe a month ago, we discovered the transmission was going out. Rather than getting the tranny repaired or replaced, we got that note. Since I don't want the city to know the car has a bad transmission, I decided the note had to go.

Gambling debt

When I was getting ready to leave, I noticed Fred was gone. Then I heard some yelling. Serious, angry yelling. Fred was out past the gate, on the street, getting yelled at by some guy I had never seen before. The tongue lashing was so severe I thought Fred was going to get killed. Fred is short and skinny, and would probably lose a fight. I started walking towards them, thinking of offering backup. I'm not much of a fighter, but Fred and I together could take him, if it came down to that.

Before I got there, Fred turned from the guy and walked past me. I caught up to him and asked what the hell that was about.

Fred: I owe him $200 and he wants it.

Me: Does it have anything to do with your trips to the casinos? (I know him well enough to ask.)

Fred: Yeah. And he knows I get paid today. He can't wait two hours for his fucking money.

With reservations I pulled my wad out and gave him $200 in 20s. "I'll pay you back tomorrow," Fred told me. I'm sure he's good for it. I also think it's kind of funny that I paid somebody's gambling debt. I should have offered the guy on the street $150 to buy the debt. Anyway, there would be no violence at HQ that day.

Drunk bicycler

A few hours later, I'm in our zone sitting at a cab stand. I'm parked, along with two other cabbies. We were standing on the sidewalk beside my car, talking. As a sort of tangent, Carey asked me if I'd driven the guy in the old condo buildings yet. I had. He's in his 90s and only recently moved into our zone. He uses cabs for the four-block journey to a restaurant for dinner, on occasion. I've already been listening to the radio to learn the pattern, if there is one, so I can avoid the cab stand by his condo around the time he leaves or comes back.

Carey: Marzetti's not even cold yet and we've got another.

Me: Yeah, but at least this guy isn't an asshole.

Carey: And he tips.

While we were talking, we all turned to see what was making an odd noise in the street. A guy was riding a bike with a fully laden shopping cart in tow -- pulled with his hand. The cart's wheels were making an awful racket on the pavement.

As he went by my car, we heard a scraping noise. I ran around to the driver's side and saw the mirror was broken off and hanging by the wires (it's electronically adjustible and heated). "Hey!" I yelled. The guy looked over his shoulder but didn't stop. I jumped in my car, cursing, and gave chase. He pulled into a hotel entrance about 100 yards in front of where he hit me, and I followed him in. I came up behind him and honked. He finally stopped. I got out pointed to the mirror and said he would be paying for it.

I saw right away he was drunk, and the cart was full of cases of Budweiser. He immediately apologized and said he thought the mirror had simply folded. That's reasonable, as it did look folded, rather than broken. "Well," I said, "it's broken, and if you don't pay I'm calling the cops." He begged me not to, and also said he was broke after buying all the beer. He held up a case of Bud. "I can give you this," he said. "I hate Bud," I said.

I called the company owner and explained the situation.

Me: I have a question for you.

Him: Does it involve Fred and $200? (How the hell did he find out about that?)

Me: No, actually, I've had an ... incident ... and I don't really know what to do.

I explained the situation, expecting him to get angry because the car wouldn't pass tomorrow's inspection, and Fred was surely gone for the night. He asked several questions, aimed at determining our liability. When I told him I wasn't driving the car, or even in it, and that the guy wasn't injured, he said: "Tell the guy he's getting a gift. I have enough problems right now; I don't need another one. I'll have Fred install a new mirror in the morning before the inspections. Don't worry about it." I asked if he was interested in a case of Budweiser, and he hung up. Maybe he doesn't like Bud, either.

Update: Friday morning. I worked straight through until 7 a.m., when Fred would be back at HQ, and brought him the cab so he could replace the mirror. Fred came up to me and asked if he could pay $100 of the money he owes me now, and $100 next week. Sure, I said. He turned his back to the windows of the office and pulled out five 20s and handed them to me. "If the owner asks," he said, "tell him I gave you $200." Then he drove me home in my cab, dropped me off, and brought the car back to HQ. When I woke up for my Friday night shift, the car was in my driveway.

There is no longer any doubt in my mind that this is the strangest (and most entertaining) job I've ever had.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

ER nonsense

I'm starting to loathe emergency rooms. Whenever I get belled to an ER, it's a worthless experience. I do make some money, so it's not completely worthless, but I'd gladly give up the money in exchange for never picking up bums. Last night I got a live one -- an Hispanic male, perhaps 50, almost too drunk to speak, and that was after he had been "cleaned up", including a washing and a new set of clothes. I wouldn't have wanted to see him before the alleged cleaning.

The ER doc asked me what the fare would be to San Ysidro, which is right along the border with Mexico. It's around $45. "Okay," she said. "This gentleman has $90 in his pocket. He'll pay cash." She and an orderly went back into the hospital, and the "gentleman" sat in the back seat.

Him: How much gonna be?

Me: $45 or so.

Him: Bullshit.

Me: You have to pay, or you don't go home.

Him: Bullshit.

I turned the car off and went into the hospital. I informed the ER doc that he refused payment. Obviously, I'm not driving anyone free of charge. So she gave me a hospital voucher, meaning they'll cover the cost.

The ride itself was uneventful, except that he kept babbling. Initially I made an effort to understand him, but it was fruitless. I put on some talk radio and turned it up loud enough to drown him out. Reception wasn't good way down there, but static was better than his babbling.

I got him to his address, which was a residential house in San Ysidro. Surprisingly, he recognized it. Sometimes they can't. In those cases I usually point at a house and just say, "Go." This one was slightly better. No tip, but at least I'll get the fare from the hospital.

Bicycle incident

Last night one of our cabs was hit by a bicycler. Our guy was turning into a hotel entrance when he heard a noise. It was late at night, and the cycler was wearing dark clothes and had no headlight (violation of law). He was okay, declining medical attention. The forks on the bike were broken. It was a close call, but it seems everything will be alright, and hopefully no lawsuits. I spoke with the cop at the scene, and he said it appears the cycler was not only running without a headlight at night, but he was traveling too fast.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A few photos

BNSF train in front of Petco Park.

El Cajon Blvd, North Park

A few interesting rides tonight

I drove a woman from Northern Ireland who has been living in the US for 15 years. She said at the time she left, gun shots on the streets were the norm. She said it took years of living in the US for her to not dive on the ground when a car backfires. She recently went back to Ireland for the first time in a long time, and it was a very different place. No gunfire. And she said it was the first time she ever saw streets empty of soldiers.

I also drove a US Navy guy who works in public relations. He was recently in San Francisco for Fleet Week, spending most of his time answering the public's questions about the use of sonar and its effect on whales. He's in San Diego now for the military air show, which is at Miramar this weekend. "I don't expect any questions about whales in San Diego," he said. For those who don't read a lot of news, San Fran has an anti-military reputation. In the last few months the city has forbidden the Marines from filming a commercial there, and the city council tried to prevent the Blue Angels from flying (citing safety reasons...). Last year the head of the city council said, on live national TV, that he thinks the US should not have a military.

On a lighter note, our cab drivers are still making jokes about the infamous fire hydrant. Whenever a driver gets belled to that restaurant, somebody comes on the radio and warns him not to run over any hydrants. That is fast becoming legend.

Lastly, our graveyard dispatcher, who has an IQ several points below my steering wheel, disappeared for a few days earlier this week. He didn't call in. Everyone was hoping (praying?) that we'd never see him again. Tonight, he was back, to our great disappointment.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Photos in lieu of writing

I've been down with some kind of flu for a few days, so there's nothing to write about. I have a catalog of photos from the last 10 days:

CHP officer at a Shell gas station.

After Petco Park went up (Padres baseball stadium) a few years ago, a lot of nearby business altered their names to park themes.

Convention Center in the background.

There seems to be a small, authentic Mexican restaurant on every corner in San Diego. I've gained a few pounds because of them. This is one of the few with a 24-hr drive-thru.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

BBQ and cowboy boots

I drove an Irish expat, perhap 60 years of age, who was in San Diego for a business convention. He has lived in Texas for many years, and said he loves it. I didn't ask exactly how long he had lived in the US, but, judging by his barely discernible accent, I'd say he's been here a long time. He had two interesting observations:

1. "I have never met a Texan who didn't like barbecue, no matter how bad it tasted," he said. When I asked if he thought any BBQ was good: "I can't stand it." Apparently Ireland isn't a BBQ kind of place.

2. His friends have been trying to get him to wear cowboy boots for years. "I can't stand them, either."

F1 video

Here's the video that nearly caused the FIA to act irrationally over last week's Japanese Grand Prix. It shows Lewis Hamilton pulling alongside the safety car, then slowly rapidly, off to the side. This was a factor in the resultant crash. As a side note, it's unfortunate that the only interesting F1 races are in the wet.

Thanks to filmmaniak28 for posting the video at YouTube.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Coronado Beach

Saturday, September 29, 2007

German goodness

M5: a nice machine

Worth a second look

Argument over Reed

I got Reed tonight, a regular customer who is semi-psychotic, smells bad, and throws a Class A fit (in public) if his hand is not held while he shuffles from the restaurant to the taxi. You can read about Reed here. I'd really like to smack the hell out of him. I can't do that, of course, but I can fantasize.

Tonight I was on a lucrative stand that was producing $30 rides all night. It was busy and everyone was making money. It's more than that, though. There was a good rhythm. I was getting great rides that were quick and mostly freeway. Then I'd return to our zone and get another one within five or ten minutes. Some nights we sit for hours between fares, dreaming of nights like tonight.

Then Reed came along, the bastard.

He provoked a radio fight from me, which is extremely rare. I believe it was my second in over two years of driving. I was second on the stand that was moving, and the first guy up got belled to pick up Reed. It was a definitive bell: "Pick up Reed at XYZ restaurant." The rules say you must pick up the fare you're assigned to (it's actually a law). If a driver wants to refuse, all he has to do is say so on the radio, and the punishment is banishment from service for one hour, after which time he can check back in on the radio.

Naturally, the first guy up didn't do it that way. Instead he called that he picked up a flag at that same restaurant, but it wasn't Reed, "and can you please send the next cab for Reed." The dispatcher called my number. I took issue with that. Refusing a bell is a one hour banishment. Of course, the driver tried to circumvent this by claiming to have picked up a flag. He was lying. We call it a ghost ride, where you call in a fare when you're actually driving around empty, staying to streets where it's unlikely to see our cabs.

I asked for a rule clarification on the radio: "Is there no penalty for picking up a flag when you've been given a specific bell?"

The dispatcher kept saying "10-9?", which is the code for, "Please repeat, I can't make out what you're saying."

The barbarians were in league against me. So I said, on air, "If there are no penalties, then I'm getting a flag too, and can you please send the next cab for Reed?" I then immediately went and picked up Reed. As much as I hate the bastard with a burning passion, he still deserves a ride home. While I was watching him, unamused, shuffle at a snail's pace toward my taxi, I went in and spoke with the bartender. I confirmed that no other cabs had stopped there. None all night, in fact.

I drove Reed for the entire $4 distance and wished him well. The poor weirdo has no idea the sorts of battles that occur among drivers just so they can avoid him.

A couple of hours later I found myself parked behind the driver who called in the ghost ride (and fucked me). I got out of my car; he got out of his. A third driver was already outside, and when he saw us get out, he said: "Round 1, ding!" The driver immediately tried to explain. They all do that. They act like barbarian scum behind the wheel, never hesitating to steal money from the next guy, but on stand they're perfect gentlemen. I told him he was scum and I don't appreciate him messing around with me and costing me money. He tried to protest, but I went back to my car and got in.

There's no point trying to force someone with bad character to behave in a civilized manner. And, the last guy who popped a scum like him ended up losing his job and paying $10k in medical bills (broken nose that required two surgeries). Avoiding Reed isn't worth that.

The streets are mostly lawless, and there isn't a whole lot I can do about it.

Three drunken sailors

I picked up three drunken navy guys from a bar, and it quickly became apparent that two were together, and the third guy, far and away the most drunk, was on his own. He was also incoherent and looked on the verge of passing out. I asked the other two if they minded sharing a cab. They didn't. The next puzzle was the third guy's destination.

The two were going out to Coronado where they're stationed on the U.S.S. Lincoln (Nimitz class aircraft carrier in from Washington). They ended up getting out the guy's wallet and finding his military ID card. It said "72", which is the Lincoln's CVN number. So off we went.

I got them to the Lincoln and cocked my head a little to wait for the fare. Instead, they got out and one of them came to my window and paid. I thanked them and left. Halfway back to the Coronado Bridge, I heard some groaning from the back seat. The super drunk guy never got out! I thought he had. I had to bring him all the way back onto the base and to his ship. After some yelling to roust him, he stumbled out to the waiting arms of the MAs (Master at Arms, navy security).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Washing my office

If I'm not using the Body Beautiful car wash on Harbor and Grape, I'm at this one, which is located on University Ave near Florida St.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Local TV weatherman in live, on-air scuffle

This is our local ABC affiliate. I didn't see this live, but I've heard people talking about it, so I dug it out of YouTube. Apparently there's a labor dispute KGTV (channel 10). Protesters disrupted a live weather report from the waterfront in downtown San Diego. I thought it funny that the first thing the weatherman said, on live TV, was: "Get lost."

San Diego Union-Tribune story
KGTV 10 News

The Bay from Coronado

After dropping off at 1st and Orange, Coronado Island, I snapped a few pictures of the Bay and downtown. The pylons are for the upcoming air races. All shots taken from Coronado's Centennial Park.


...on my part. No excuses, although there were mitigating factors! I was waiting for an Amtrak train to pass in front of the car on Grape St just east of Harbor Drive (between downtown and the airport) when the railroad crossing guard smacked onto the roof of the taxi. I had no customers in the car at the time. That is just plain dumb. I felt like a fool.

I was stopped in the middle of a five-block traffic jam, a little ways back from a double set of tracks. When the bells and red lights went off, indicating a train was coming, the cars that had stopped on the tracks quickly pulled forward and to the side. I was well back, so I stayed. After what seemed like a long time, I realized the guard hadn't come down, so I started looking around for it. Just then the bar hit the roof.

I have a few small scrapes on the roof. And I did the right thing -- I drove the car to HQ and showed it to the owner. He shrugged and said he'd try to get me into our regular paint shop the next time he sends a car for a complete paint job. There was no talk about paying for the damage.

That was my first error as a driver in 2.5 years and over 4,000 rides. Very stupid, though.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Anonymous battle at the library

I mentioned the library situation yesterday, as part of a long, rambling post. I thought it deserved its own post, so here it is again.

With no laptop in the car, I've been reading novels to pass the down time. I'm still moving through Griffin's Brotherhood of War series. It's about seven books long, and I have been trying to get book 4 from the library for a few weeks now. It's a pain to interrupt a series to wait for somebody else to return a book. There's only one set at the library in my taxi zone, and I've determined that one other person is moving through the same series, one book ahead of me, at a slower pace.

So I'm trying to turn the tables on him (I'm assuming it's a man who is reading a war series). I checked out the next book, the one after the one I need. He'll need that one next. I'm going to hang onto it and make him wait for it. Meanwhile he'll return the book I need, and I'm going to read it and the one I'm hanging onto. I'll pay any late fines just to show the bastard. I'm going to beat this guy, whatever it takes. The ne'er do well can wait for me for a change. I might even leave a note in his next book to taunt him. (Can you tell I've put too much thought into this?)

It even occurred to me that the guy could be one of the older folks in my zone who think a $.10 tip is generous. Marzetti is dead, so he's off the hook.

Bringing drunks to Jack in the Box

For the uninitiated, Jack in the Box is a McDonald's style, fast food place. Most drive-thrus are open 24 hours. And it's common for drunks to ask for a trip to Jack's for a late night meal of hot grease. Tonight was such a night.

I picked up two drunk guys, probably in their late 20s or early 30s, at a nice hotel. They had been visiting friends who were staying there. En route I learned that one of the guys owned a condo in the area, which was a weekend place for when he was in from Phoenix, Ariz. The other guy was his friend from AZ, who often came with to enjoy the mild weather and attractions of San Diego.

Before going to the condo, they wanted Jack's. I pulled forward so the rear window was beside the menus and order station. A harried sounding guy with a strong Spanish (Mexican) accent asked if he could help them. They were drunkenly considering their options while the guy was asking if they were ready. After a lot of friendly arguing and discussion, they had a complex order ready to go. It began: "Large fries." Then there was a long pause while the drunks re-hashed what they wanted, even asking me if I wanted anything. A small coke would be fine, I said.

When the one guy turned back to the order stand, he laboriously explained everything they wanted, to the last detail. Then there was silence. He began to repeat it, then stopped to ask if anybody was listening. He was drunk and if not rude, certainly not polite. After a long delay, maybe five minutes, the employee came back on and said: "Okay, a large fries. Anything else?"

The drunks laughed uncontrollably, partly because they had spent a lot of time for nothing, and also because they had mostly forgotten their large order. So they had to re-create it on the fly while the employee kept asking the routine questions -- what size soda? A No. 2 in medium or large size? Was that a large fries on the side? Did you say Diet Coke or regular Coke?

The employee was getting more and more frustrated. When the drunk said: "I also need a double cheeseburger," the employee said, "I don't sell double cheeseburgers. Look at the menu!"

This is where I spoke up. "Gentlemen, I believe the man has reached his breaking point." They agreed and said to the microphone: "Whatever you have down is good enough." I sped forward before the employee could say anything else.

You kind of had to be there. It was a good time, and I got a free coke out of it.

On the ride to the condo we all agreed that we'd never heard a fast-food worker yell at the top of his lungs: "Look at the menu!" Poor guy was working bar rush by himself. After taking orders he went in the back to cook the food himself. I felt bad for him, but it was still funny.