Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday photos: Coronado Bridge

I don't aim the camera while driving. I just point and shoot, and see what I get later.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Trapped in the car

This afternoon I had a real winner, just as the car malfunctioned. The inner covering for the driver door has been broken and falling off for months. Fred has known about it for at least four months and it's still not fixed. Today it caused me to get trapped inside the Falcon.

I was picking up an older lady at a grocery store, and when I tried to get out, the covering slid down and caught on the bottom door sill. I couldn't open the driver door. With the center console and laptop on my right, I couldn't get over to the passenger side to get out that way, either. I was completely stuck.

That, by itself, did not herald the end of the world. It was the old lady I was picking up who made things unbearable.

She was standing beside a shopping cart that had one little bag in it. And she wouldn't move. She just stood there watching me struggle with the door.

I finally got it to open and went to get her groceries and hold the door for her.

Every time I get into one of these situations I think about all the cabs I've taken, and all the cabbies who won't get out of their cars, won't speak to customers, and don't even shower. I think about how some of them smoke in their cars, have all the windows up, and have the window switch turned off.

Why don't I operate like them? No idea. It's not in my genes, I guess.

"I really don't know what you were waiting for," she said. She knew exactly what I was "waiting" for. What a bitch. It took everything I had, all my strength of will, to keep from yelling at her. I kid you not, the "C" word was ready to go.

The bag had a single can of cat food in it -- nothing she couldn't carry.

We went a whopping seven blocks to her house. This time the door was worse. I finally karate kicked it and broke the door liner off completely. I put the broken pieces in the trunk.

Then I opened her door -- she wouldn't do that for herself.

The fare was $4.20 and she gave me four singles and four dimes. That's a $.20 tip. I threw the dimes on the sidewalk.

Her: "You don't want the money?"

Me: "I don't want dimes."

Her: "Why not?"

Me: "Because they have no value."

I left her standing in the driveway with the tell-tale bewildered look in her eyes. I wonder if she'll take to heart what she learned -- The Great Depression has been over for a long, long time, and that some inflation has occurred since then.

Saturday on the Bay

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Friday photos

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State St, looking towards C St trolley tracks

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Broadway St turning onto State. The white
building isn't really curved. I believe it's called
barrel distortion. My camera doesn't have
a great lens.

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This is Little Italy, as are the next two

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This radio shop is across the street from
"It's a Grind" in Little Italy, where
I get coffee almost every day. The
tree reminds me of Tolkien's ents.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Tough day

For a job that has almost no stress, it has been a difficult afternoon.
  • Three people tried to kill me in the first two hours; two pulled out in front of me and one stood on the brakes on the freeway with nobody in front of him. I never did figure out why he did that. His meds might have been wearing off.

  • I was behind a man who stopped for a green arrow, in a right turn lane. A tap of the horn didn't work, so I hit it again, and again, and again, and again. He shook his fist at me. As soon as the green arrow turned yellow, he reluctantly pulled out, leaving me with the red and heavy cross traffic. I'd sincerely like to know what it's like to try to function in society with an IQ of less than 80.

  • In two years I've forgotten to run the meter three times. Twice were tonight. Each time I told the customers what the fare should be, and said it was their choice whether to pay. Both paid and tipped well.

  • It has been extremely busy, and with the extra radio traffic, the animals other drivers are playing games to make things worse. They're walking on each other and ignoring the call-in order.

    We're busy because of the California Democratic Party convention at the Convention Center. It's odd to have that convention here because San Diego is the only non-liberal place in the state, with the possible exception of a libertarian enclave in Orange County. Code Pink and other far-left groups are planning to protest the convention tomorrow because the Democrats aren't sufficiently anti-war.

    There's also a medical convention at the same place. And there's an art festival in Little Italy.

  • I picked up a sailor at a Navy base who wanted to go to a park so he could beat up three guys who had beaten up his friend's little brother earlier today. "I have my brass knuckles with me," he said. He described the guys as mid-30s, dirty, and drunk. I circled the park twice to see if I could see the guys, and perhaps call 911, but I never saw them.
  • Thursday, April 26, 2007

    Thursday photos

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    Dropped off in Old Town this afternoon

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    Entering I-5 southbound from Old Town Ave.

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    A Vietnam Vet, or somebody who supports them

    Morphine: 'This is great'

    I picked up a guy at an ER dept of a large hospital. Typically these are foul smelling derelicts going to homeless shelters. Often they have hospital vouchers in lieu of cash.

    The guy I picked up tonight was "regular", meaning he was washed, articulate, and he had no voucher. I asked what he was in for, and he said he was in excruciating pain for the last 24 hours and finally had to go to the ER. An X-ray and CAT scan picked up a large kidney stone.

    "They gave me some morphine," he said. He asked if I'd ever been on it, and I said I hadn't. "I can see why people get addicted to drugs," he said. "This is great."

    Wednesday, April 25, 2007

    Wednesday photos

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    I dropped off at the Hotel del Coronado today

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    Little Italy

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    Pershing Drive in Balboa Park

    Challenging ride

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    Forgive me for complaining about a disabled person.

    Picked up at a hotel, going about a mile. Nice gentleman in a wheel chair, along with his wife. It took more than five minutes to load them and stow the chair in the trunk.

    As soon as I started driving the lady informed me she has an account with our company. Naturally I'm out of forms for recording the transaction. Almost immediately the old guy farts. As soon as the noxious fumes fill the car, the lady asks me to put the windows up, which I can't do. She wants to argue, so I laid down the law: "The windows will remain down until the man's fart has left the car."

    She just didn't get it. She wanted to argue the entire way. I ignored her.

    After getting stiffed on the tip, I opened the trunk to get the wheel chair. The lady watched me from near the back of the car.

    "Oh my god, what is that?" she asked. She was looking at the wheel chair like it was a snake ready to attack.

    "It looks sort of like a wheelchair," I said.

    "Well, it's not ours," she said.

    "Who's is it?" I asked.

    "I don't know, it must be the hotel's."

    Idiocy. Idiocy. Idiocy.

    Nobody thought to mention the wheel chair wasn't theirs when I was opening my trunk at the hotel and loading it in. Plus, no name appears on the chair.

    Since I was so nice and helpful, the lady asked my name so she could ask for me the next time. Was she joking? Am I a masochist? Just get out the cat-o-nine tails now, honey, and start whipping. I gave the name of one of my taxi enemies. The guy will refuse the "personal", as we call such a ride, so it won't cost him any money, but he'll know somebody is messing with him.

    I had to go back to the hotel and unload the chair. The doorman was amused, as he didn't know it was their chair, either. He told me to bring it in to the concierge. I said "no". He tried to cop an attitude; I left.

    I deserve a medal for not telling several people to fuck themselves.

    Sunday, April 22, 2007

    The breakup

    I had a great fight in my cab tonight. I picked up a young couple at the Hilton going out to PB. They had a paper grocery bag between them on the back seat. I took the usual route, I-5 to Grand / Garnett and stayed with Grand all the way to the beach.

    Before we got there they started arguing. The girl was drunk and antagonizing the guy. He was probably drunk, too, but he was just trying to calm her down. I heard some rustling, and the paper bag was thrown onto the guy. "This is just ridiculous that you would treat me like this," he said. At the next red light he got out and walked away.

    I asked the girl what she wanted me to do. She wanted to leave him and go straight home.

    After about four blocks she asked me to pull over and turn on the interior light. She rummaged through her purse and started to cry. I didn't know what to do or say. I didn't think she wanted to be comforted by a stranger, especially a cab driver, so I just sat there.

    The meter was running, and this was my last ride of the night, so I didn't care what happened.

    She had started crying because the boyfriend had the keys and ATM cards; she had no cash to pay me.

    We looked for him for a long time. Clearly he didn't want to be found. Eventually we did find him, and I pulled over. She got out and started cursing at him. ATM cards were thrown to the wind, and a set of keys.

    The girl collected all the stuff from the sidewalk and got back in. She wasn't crying anymore, just mad.

    We made a stop at an ATM and I got her home. It was $50 plus a $10 tip.

    Weekend photos

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    Market St. mishap

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    Marriott Marina

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    The Blue Angels

    I was shocked to hear about the recent crash of the Blue Angels jet in South Carolina. My heart goes out to everyone affected. U.S. naval aviators are among the best in the world. This incident won't dim that view.

    I've seen The Blue Angels perform many times at the annual San Diego Air Show. Here are a few pics:

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    The Frontstretch

    I drove a motorsports writer last night. Some of his work has appeared at The Frontstretch, a website covering NASCAR. We had a great conversation about the sport and the prospects for Toyota.

    Friday, April 20, 2007

    What not to say to your cab driver

    Well, so much for doing my hair.

    I actually get complaints for arriving too quickly.

    Do you know where you're going?

    When I was new at this, I'd say, "Why yes, I'm going to take Market St. to F, then hang a left, and we're there." Now I say, "No" and leave it at that.

    Do you think I'm attractive?

    Only the least attractive people ask this. As a white boy from Middle America, I often respond with "Allahu Akbar."

    Who was Caesar Chavez?

    Answer: he invented tequila. I often drive Caesar Chavez Parkway, and people ask when they see the signs.

    Are you making a lot of money tonight?

    Yeah, I am. Please point the gun at my temple when taking it from me.

    Why is the dispatcher so mean?

    I explain that she makes $8 per hour in a city where a small house in a violent neighborhood costs more than $300,000.

    Is Tijuana (or Mexico, in general) safe?

    Once I said "nobody ever returns from there." The lady just said "ooooohhh". It's safe as long as you're not involved in drugs -- police stopping the cartel, the cartel, or reporters writing stories about the cartel. The only exception is that a high-level executive gets kidnapped once in a while.

    I advise everyone to check their pockets and bags if they're walking back across the border. Once in a while somebody slips something into a bag and then they follow you through with plans on collecting.

    Why do Middle Eastern drivers go so fast and blow through stop signs?

    I get this question a few times a week. I don't know the correct answer. I suppose learning to drive in Cairo or Baghdad doesn't adequately prepare one for driving here.

    Rainy Friday

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    Rainbow's end

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    Market & 10th

    Thursday photos

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    Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) north of downtown

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    Nice old 'Stang

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    The new guy

    I tried really hard. I swear. We have a new Brazilian driver who's having a lot of trouble. When I heard the other drivers picking on him and deliberately giving him bad directions, I made a point of seeking him out at a cab stand to have a bit of a chat.

    The old-timers can be bastards, I explained. I offered him encouragement and advised him to give it a month before quitting in anger. It takes a while to learn the city (the way a cab driver needs to know it), and it takes a while for the other drivers to accept a noob. I gave him my cell # and told him to call me for directions rather than use the radio. He appreciated that, and that I say "qualeh" and "obrigado" (sp?).

    Later that same night I was dropping at a Marriott when I heard him get a bell to the same place. This is somewhat problematic because I have to tell the doorman I'm not the right cab. They don't like seeing an empty cab leave while customers are sitting around waiting. Many drivers would steal the ride, but I won't.

    So I called the new guy and asked his 20, and he replied, in seriousness, that he was lost. That's a red flag. We only have a few Marriotts and they're all very easy to find. I knew where they all were before I started driving a cab.

    Did I mention the guy has a dash-mount GPS? Why aren't the major hotels set as waypoints?

    I waited for a while and then announced I was taking the customers. They shouldn't wait because a driver gets lost on his way to a central hotel.


    Tonight I spoke with another driver, Juan, who had an interesting experience with the new guy last night. They had a two-cab call for one large party going to the same place. New Guy didn't know the destination hotel, so he said he would follow Juan. All seemed fine.

    When they dropped, New Guy said he needed to follow Juan back to our zone. That's absurd on its face, but it gets better. Juan was going 10-21 (leaving, going home), so he couldn't follow. He was on his own.

    Juan drove to a gas station near his house, and there was New Guy. He was following him home!

    I feel bad for this guy, but maybe he's not cut out to be a cab driver. If you live in a city more than 10 years and don't know where anything is, you're not the type.

    Virginia Tech massacre

    I picked up a lady at a condominium complex not far from downtown. As I loaded her suitcase into the trunk I asked where she was going, and it was to the airport. I asked where she was flying to, just to make small talk. Virginia. I asked if she lived in Blacksburg, by chance, and she doesn't.

    However, she said her son lost a close friend in the shooting and he was distraught. She tried to go back Monday night, but her son asked her not to. He wanted to be with his friends. I told her I was sorry, then clamped my mouth shut for the rest of the ride. The prospect for pleasant chit-chat was gone.

    Eventful afternoon

    I paid the entire lease today, $600, because I forgot that it was Tom's last day. What can I say? Andrew and Tom are solid guys, but we're not friends. Other than a weekly exchange of cash for the lease, I don't pay any attention to them.

    Since I forgot to get Vitao's money (our new Brazilian cab partner), it fell to me to cover it. No problem there. I can get the money later. I've known Vitao for two years -- he's already a driver. Andrew snatched him away from his current partner. Not to go on a tangent, but I was sure we would never find anyone who wanted to drive Tom's hours, which were Monday through Thursday, 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. But Andrew managed it. I owe him for that.

    While I was at HQ the owner went out to inspect the Falcon, and he pointed out a scrape on the right rear quarter panel. He took Polaroids of the damage. I had never seen it before. He said a South Bay hotel called this morning and reported that car 95 had scraped a sign. Tom was driving this morning. He didn't stop, and he didn't report the damage to me or the owner. That means any of the three drivers could get the bill if the hotel hadn't reported him. What a bastard.

    I whipped out the cell and was about to call him to rip him a new one, but the owner said to wait a day or two. He wants to give him a chance to call and admit what he did. So we're waiting.

    When I was ready to leave HQ, my car wouldn't start. Since the owner was there, I explained that the mystery electrical problem plaguing the car for six months still hasn't been fixed. Something is draining the battery. He called Fred, our mechanic, and he came over straightaway (the shop is at a different location than HQ).

    He put a new battery in the car and said it would be fine. Now that's odd, considering this was the third new battery he's installed, all in search of the elusive problem.

    He admitted the last two times he pulled junk batteries out of retired cars. He told me they were new at the time. He even laughed about it. My cab partners and I have been getting jump starts at least four times a week for six months, in less than convenient places, all because he was too cheap to replace a battery. There isn't much I can do to force people to behave well, so I told him I didn't appreciate it, and shrugged it off.

    While at HQ I filled out another work request for the thumping coming from the front left, which didn't go away after the brake job earlier this week. I tried to copy the form, in case I get in an accident and the company tries to say they were never notified, but the copier wasn't working.

    I also asked the owner about the latest problem with the Navy. They claimed I wasn't on The List. The owner rolled his eyes. "Yes, you are. I've been over this time and time again with these people." He said he'd make some calls and fix it. Meanwhile, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan is one mile off the coast, waiting to bring more than 5,000 sailors into port tomorrow at 10 a.m. and I still don't have a base permit.

    I tell ya, some times this job feels like a cartoon. Competence is a very scarce commodity in the taxi business.

    Back outside, I showed Fred a rear tire that looked low, and he had me follow him to the shop. The shop looks just like the place in the old TV show, "Taxi". I thought about getting some photos, but Fred would ask a bunch of questions that I don't feel like answering. I'll swing by some other time; perhaps Fred won't be around.

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    This was close to the shop

    While Fred fixed a leak in the tire, I asked how the brake job went the other day (I already knew, but I wanted to hear what he said). "I rebuilt the caliper and it didn't turn out too well." So he got a remanufactured one from a parts store, but forgot to install a copper washer, so it leaked. That's why Tom had to return the car twice for more work (the brakes had gone out while driving again, for a total of three times).

    Fred thought all of this was funny. I think it's miraculous nobody has been killed.

    I asked him about tire pressure (I asked long ago and promptly forgot) and he said the rears have to be at 35psi by law so the meter is accurate. The fronts, he said, "should be at 45". When I inquired as to why so much higher, he said that tires last longer at higher pressure, but the car doesn't ride quite as well. "And we don't care about comfort -- we want them to last."

    You know what that means. I stopped at the first gas station and deflated the fronts to 35. My cab partners and I pay $600 per week -- that's about $2600 per month -- for the car. For that kind of money, it will be as comfortable as possible.

    As I was leaving the shop I remembered there's a Chipotle close by, and took advantage by getting a mammoth vegetarian burrito -- black beans, rice, cheese, guacamole. I wolfed it down in record time and was on the streets in time for a nice dinner rush.

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