Saturday, March 31, 2007

$$$ Saturday night $$$

I started at 3:00 p.m. and it has been moving steadily. At least two big events are happening in San Diego tonight:

EasyRiders Custom Bike Show at the Convention Center, bringing hogs from all over the region. Some of the riders are hogs, too. I've seen some morbidly obese guys in leathers, blasting around downtown. Fortunately most have parked the motorcycles for the night and are taking cabs.

The other thing is the U.S.S. Nimitz is preparing for a long deployment starting early next week. It's a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, one of the biggest. The crew is about 5500. Sailors are getting one of their last nights out as free people.

I'm at 300 clams, and the night is still young.

And I made a great discovery tonight. I was in dire need of java, but couldn't find any good coffee shops that were both open and had parking available. So I finally went to 7-11. Whaddya know? They have drinkable coffee now. I didn't say "good", but the stuff they're selling now doesn't make me ralph. Booo-ya. I can go a few more hours.

Offering battle to the enemy

I often speak of other cabs as enemies; these are the ones not licensed to pick up in my zone. But there is a bigger enemy -- hotel shuttle vans. These guys, by the nature of their jobs, cost cabbies a fortune.

This afternoon I had a pleasant duel with one of these bastards.

After dropping off at the airport I was on Harbor Drive heading back to my zone. Harbor is four lanes wide for a while, then just after a light the right lane ends. I always take that lane, and when the light goes green, give it some extra gas to get far enough in front to merge left.

Today at the red light a shuttle van from my zone was in the lane beside me. We exchanged glances, the light went green, and the van driver floored the accelerator. Bastard.

I accelerated at 3/4 throttle, which was enough to get in front of him and make my merge. He moved left and punched it again, obviously intent on racing me.

As we approached the red light camera of death at Hawthorne and Grape, the line was 2 1/2 blocks long, with the van arriving first. So I pulled a Chicago. I don't know where that name came from, but it works quite well. I took a right on red, whipped a U-turn and caught the green going back to the left.

There's no doubt the van driver was watching. As I went through the intersection I saw him way back in line, and went nice and slow while waving to him.

He had no chance of catching me, and I never exceeded the speed limit. Victory is sweet.

A few interesting fares tonight

  • Two sailors who graduated BUDS training today. The training isn't quite as intense as SEALs, but it's a big accomplishment nonetheless. I congratulated them. They went from a South Bay suburb all the way to the Sand Bar in the Mission Beach neighborhood; $40 after tip. I should have comped them as a way of saying "thank you." From now on, any new graduate of SEAL, SEARs, or BUDS gets a free ride.

  • Married couple in their 40s from a fairly nice Italian restaurant in Little Italy (our Little Italy is nothing compared to NYC or San Fran, but it is nice). They admitted to having a bottle of wine with dinner straightaway. They were from Tennessee, and spoke with a sharp Southern drawl. The guy told woman jokes all the way to their hotel, and the wife laughed at all of them.

    "If we weren't fucking them, it would be open season on them."

    I enjoy a good female joke as much as the next guy, but I failed to see any humor in that one. I told my favorite, which they enjoyed: "Have you heard that Japanese engineers have made a camera with a shutter fast enough to photograph a woman with her mouth shut?"

  • Another Southern couple, this time from North Carolina. I asked if they had spotted any NASCAR drivers in the area, and they said they used to live in the same building as Brian Vickers (Condos?). Vickers used to drive for Hendrick, and is now the top-ranked Toyota driver. They said he was a very nice guy.

    I mentioned that I once drove a couple from North Carolina who used to live next door to Tony Stewart. They reported that Stewart was just as much of an ass in person as he is on the race track.

    Each was a big fan of auto racing. She likes Harvick and the 29 team, and he likes Jeff Gordon, team 24. Since I'm a Gordon fan, we made fun of Harvick for most of the trip -- good natured, not mean.
  • The battle for Marzetti

    There was an interesting radio battle over Marzetti tonight. To be more precise, it was a battle between two drivers trying their best to avoid the bastard.

    One was belled to a hotel, and the cab second in line went in first, rattling the first driver. Dispatch came on the radio and belled the second driver to Marzetti, and he came back with: "But the hotel is a no-go, send the first car to Marzetti."

    The first car explained that he hadn't even arrived at the hotel yet. So, dispatch sent the second car for Marzetti. He refused, so dispatch removed him from all line-ups for an hour -- the standard punishment. I never heard from him again. Apparently he was angry enough to leave for the night.

    Unfortunately, I got Marzetti on the way back from his favorite restaurant. The last three times I got him, I have tried to convince him to request pickup in the back so we don't have to tie up traffic on the main thoroughfare. The first time he refused, saying he doesn't care about causing traffic jams. "They have no business driving around here," the bastard said. Tonight he actually said he would think about it. Next time I'll suggest he try it for a week, and if he doesn't like it, he can continue being a bastard using the front.

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    How it feels to drive Marzetti

    Friday night photos

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    Cops nabbed someone across from a cab stand

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    The strip near Belmont Park, Mission Beach neighborhood.
    I dropped two sailors who graduated BUDS training today.
    BUDS is very tough training. I gave them a hearty congratulations.
    Fare to Mission Beach: $40

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    Friday, March 30, 2007

    Crash on Pacific Highway

    This happened just before I went through the intersection of Pacific Highway and Grape St. -- one block from the dreaded red light camera. I don't know the driver; it's a different company. Body Beautiful is the car wash I use.

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    Driving a taxi from the grave

    Today a fellow driver, Carey, told me he was worried about getting a ticket from one of the few red light cameras in San Diego. He drove through an intersection recently, and the camera's flash bulb went off.

    He has good reason to worry, since it's the camera at Hawthorne and Grape, close to the airport. We all have to run the gauntlet making the turn onto Grape. It's so predatory that if the green arrow is lit when you cross the line, entering the intersection, but turns yellow just after, you cannot make it out without the flash bulb going off. During the day you never know if you've been photographed, but at night the intersection looks like paparazzi.

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    The despised red light camera at Grape and Hawthorne

    We hate it and curse the city. There is absolutely no chance the camera is there for anything other than sucking cash from ordinary citizens. Interestingly, the first time San Diego put up red light cams, the city was sued and found guilty of putting up the cameras just to make money, not for the stated purpose of reducing accidents. All 290 tickets issued by that first set of cameras were thrown out. More info here.

    The cameras disappeared for a few years, but they came back. There's no stopping government from taking money from us, is there?

    Carey was sufficiently worried that he called the cab company owner, who said not to worry about it. I don't know, maybe the camera misses a lot of them. The owner would be in a position to know that. But Carey had another theory, which I found amusing.

    "Why not just put the ticket on Donnie?" Donnie was an older driver who had a stroke several months ago, and died about one month ago. I met him once, but since he was a morning driver I hadn't seen him in over a year.

    The owner of the cab company, according to the worried driver, could tell the city Donnie was driving. No matter how hard I tried to demolish this theory, I couldn't.

    The camera gets the front of the car, including the license plate and the driver. The city must issue a ticket based on the plate number, and then mail it to the car's owner, who is the owner of the cab company. The city isn't sophisticated enough to do a facial recognition search -- they don't know who was driving.

    The camera also has the ability to photograph the rear of vehicles, but that rules out the face altogether.

    Carey isn't going to ask the owner, and I wouldn't do that either. If this is what's happening, we could inadvertently stop the practice just by inquiring. Best to let sleeping dogs lie.

    We immediately set about telling morbid jokes, of course, like "Donnie is more of a company man now than when he was alive" and "Donnie's a team player even from the grave."

    Thursday, March 29, 2007

    Waiting game

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    First in line at a hotel cab stand

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    Thursday photos

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    Harbor Drive near the Civic Center

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    Art at Broadway and Harbor

    Why me?

    I just drove Marzetti, despite my best efforts to avoid him. I made the mistake of remaining on point at the stand near the restaurant where he dines. The stand was moving briskly, so there was a good chance of getting a decent ride, but no such luck.

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    Cabs on that stand are like a group of penguins standing by the water. Eventually one falls in and gets eaten.

    Two great rides

    Thursday afternoon has given us perfect San Diego weather. It has been cool and windy, with occasional rain, but today is back to 75 and sunny.

    First ride was a short run from a hotel to the Broadway Pier ferry terminal. They were a couple from the Wimbledon area near London. I asked about the British soldiers detained in Iran and they were fairly neutral on the subject. Concerned rather than angry.

    The second ride was from the same hotel to the same ferry terminal. Three guys from Virginia, half way between Dover and Richmond. I mentioned that's NASCAR territory. One was a fan who usually goes to East Coast races. The the other two were making fun of him -- it's still considered a Southern redneck sport.

    First DVR transfers successful

    Things are looking up. Today I have two new MPEGs to watch during slow times, thanks to the first successful transfers from DVR to laptop. All those trips to Radio Shack paid off. I have the latest A1GP race and the movie, The Brothers MacMullen.

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    I thought this was the Wireless Age!!

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    Wednesday, March 28, 2007

    'Reed' detail

    I was just belled to a restaurant to pick up Reed, a regular customer. Poor reed means well, but often comes up short. He's probably 50, and he likes to eat at one of two restaurants every night. Because of this I can't easily avoid him, unlike Marzetti who goes to the same restaurant every night.

    The problem with Reed is that he's a man-child, almost to the point where I believe something may be wrong with him. He likes to offer $4 for a $4.60 fare, for starters, and he insists on having his hand held and being walked to the door.

    I hate to sound like a homophobe, but I don't hold another man's hand. Never have, never will.

    I started out refusing to hold his hand or walk him, and he would throw a fit, complete with crying and whining. That's fairly amusing when you're parked on a crowded street and people are watching.

    Eventually I bucked up and just helped him. If he has problems, then we should help him. That and I could easily end up like Reed, and I would probably want some help. I let him hold my arm, like a woman might hold a man's arm when they're walking, so I can help him without holding his goddamned hand.

    On the other side of the coin, he's doing it for attention. He walks just fine. I've seen him do it plenty of times, so it's frustrating. We have plenty of drivers who refuse to drive him, or if they do, they refuse to hold his hand.

    The other oddity about Reed is that he has to sit in the front seat -- or, you guessed it, he cries and throws a fit. Cabbies don't like front seat company unless the back seat is full. It's just one of those things. You're a customer, not our buddy.

    For the last few months I've been working on him. If I can just get him to buy a cane, the problems are solved. The first time I brought it up he just shrugged. I'm always very polite about it, telling him most people are happy to lend a hand to a nice guy (and he is a nice guy), but a lot of people would rather not.

    A month ago he actually said "maybe" to the cane idea. There will come a time when I buy Reed his cane and give it to him. They're only $20 at Rite Aid; I checked.

    I don't know what to do about getting him to sit in back. I'll probably lock the front door and tell him it's broken. That's easier than a confrontation. Soon he'll be armed with a cane.

    A ray of 'Sunshine'

    Not much is happening tonight. Most of our cabs went 10-21. I plan to stay around until midnight or 1:00 a.m. to see what I can get. Since I have nothing else to do, I'll tell you about Sunshine.

    On my first day on the job I was sitting on stand, chatting with my new co-workers, when Sunshine came on the radio. He was calling one of our Iraqis a "raghead" and inviting him to go back to his own country. I was so amused, I said, "Boy, he's a ray of sunshine, isn't he?" It stuck.

    Sunshine may have mental problems, because more than once I've been behind him on stand and witnessed a strange thing -- he slaps the top of his head rapidly, for about 30 seconds. He was out of control. I've always wondered if he does that with customers in his cab?

    Anyway, I've been on the receiving end of his charm twice in two years.

    The first was a two-cab bell to a Marriott, me and Sunshine. He got there first and pulled away just as I was loading. We were going to the Charthouse seafood restaurant in Seaport Village just behind the Hyatt on the waterfront. It may have changed names, but we still call it Charthouse.

    After an uneventful ride, I dropped in the Charthouse's parking lot. My doors were still open, with the customers climbing out, when Sunshine roared up beside me with his widow down. He had been waiting for me.

    "What did you do, take the long way around?" he yelled, then took off. It was deliberately loud enough for my people to hear.

    The second run-in with Sunshine involved dropping at a restaurant complex that is also a cab stand. I didn't see any cabs around, so I called on the radio, "clear", before my people got out. I was stopped, paid, and waiting for them to finish exiting. I was stretching my hood, but not by much.

    Protocol is to get paid, have the customers leave and close the doors before you clear. Then you call in and take a place on a stand (dispatch line).

    Sunshine got on the radio. "Ninety-five, you need to clear before you call 'clear'." What a bastard. He had been off in the shadows on the far side of the parking lot, waiting for his chance to cause trouble. Most drivers clear at least two blocks from the drop.

    Town Clown tonight

    I'm getting all short rides today. Mostly tourists, two by two, going 10 blocks or less. Some days are like this...

    Before I came out I stopped by the 32nd St. Navy base to renew my base permit, but I was 10 minutes too late. That will be my last bit of administrative mumbo jumbo for a while. Well, until Fred the mechanic calls. I still need the mysterious thumping sound fixed. I put in a work request on the last lease day, which was six days ago. It sounds like cords broke in the front left wheel. But it's more pronounced under braking, so it could be a warped rotor.

    After the navy base I stopped at Body Beautiful, a full-service car wash on Pacific Highway and Grape. Taxis pay $8 for a thorough scrubbing, inside and out.

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    I also picked up the last thing I need to transfer files from the DVR to the laptop at home (and returned the webcam). This will expand my entertainment in the car.

    Tuesday, March 27, 2007

    Tuesday photos

    First ride of the day: a Navy base to Horton Plaza in the Gaslamp Quarter, downtown. After dropping, I snapped a few shots in and around the Gaslamp.

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    Broadway St

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    6th Ave

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    E St, central library on left, central post office on right

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    Coronado Bridge

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    Mosaic on an East Village building

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    Admin in the afternoon

    Heavy load of administrative tasks today, and managed to complete all of them.
    • CA DMV for H6 (copy of driving record). Amazingly, I waited only 15 minutes. It's a world record. I have sat in that line for 2 1/2 hours before. Cost: $5.

    • Passport photos at Walgreens, $12.

    • Renew cab permit at police dept., $16. They said it will be ready tomorrow, which would be another world record. Ten days is about average.

    • Tested webcam in car: what a joke! The camera is such low quality the recordings are useless. Back to the drawing board.
    The DMV:

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    Taxi news: Cairo

    This isn't news, but an interesting BBC story about taxis in Cairo, Egypt. It's from 2002:

      First, let's meet the Egyptian taxicab and familiarize ourselves with it. In every city in Egypt, taxicabs are a different colour. Only in Alexandria are they the trademark yellow you might have seen in the USA. In Cairo and Giza, they're black and white. The standard cab will be missing any or all of the following: headlights, bumpers, at least one body panel, hubcaps, and either the bonnet, or the boot panel. Some of these parts may secured with rope or bungee cords. The horn, however, always works and appears to be wired to the steering wheel, and the brake, accelerator, and clutch pedals simultaneously.

      If you're arriving at night, be forewarned that Egyptians consider it rude to drive with the headlights on. They remain firmly off unless the need to overtake another car arises, particularly if travelling down a two-way street and it becomes necessary to pass through a space of one-car width. In this case, the car that flashes its lights first is supposed to go through first, although the possibility that the headlights may not work (see above) makes this game all the more interesting. Egyptian taxi drivers also have an alarming habit of driving with no hands on the wheel, or of turning completely around in the seat to talk to someone in the back while the car is in motion. There is also the legendary driver who sleeps while the car is in motion, but this tends to be more of a rural phenomena.

      Despite these quirks, fatalities in taxicabs are rare. You will arrive at your destination, perhaps white-knuckled and huddled on the floor in a shaking, sobbing heap, but you will get there.

    No customer riding in my taxi has arrived "at your destination, perhaps white-knuckled and huddled on the floor in a shaking, sobbing heap", but there's always tomorrow.

    Taxi news: New York City

    From New York Daily News:

      Hail, no! The city's taxi commissioner dismissed a plan yesterday to place yellow cab stands in boroughs outside Manhattan, insisting drivers won't travel that far.

      "The demand is there, but the cabs won't go," Taxi and Limousine Commissioner Matthew Daus told the City Council.

      Council members are considering a bill that would set up 10 city-run yellow cab stands throughout the boroughs for a three-year pilot project.

      Passengers could line up at the stands to catch a cab, much as they do now at a handful of stands at the two Queens airports, the Port Authority's midtown bus terminal, Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station and in Flushing.

    Monday, March 26, 2007

    Random stuff, and a blast from the past

    I almost always work Sundays, but today was the exception. I couldn't get to sleep until 9:00 a.m., so I slept the day away, then fired up the DVR and spent the evening watching auto racing. It's a hard life.

    Around 5:00 p.m. I went to the Point Loma Radio Shack and dropped $30 on a webcam and got some cabling for transfering recordings from my DVR to the laptop. I'd like to use the camera to make driving videos. Not for recording customers, but to capture bad driving on the streets of San Diego. I drive enough to see some insane behavior every day. Hopefully I can record some of this, edit the files in MovieMaker, then post the clips here. It all hinges on the camera quality.

    And now onto another bad customer. I pulled this one from the journal I kept last year. I think this is the worst ride I've had so far.

    One and done

    July 14, 2006

    My first (and only) bell today was to a residential address just outside downtown. When I got close, I discovered the street was closed for resurfacing. I had to park about four blocks away and walk in. I knocked on the door and after several minutes an older lady opened the door. One look at her and I knew this was going to be a waste of fuel.

    Step 1: Take $200 cash and an unpaid bill to the post office where I was to buy a money order for $123.75. I can't even remember what it was for. Cable TV or something.

    Step 2: Make out the money order to her creditor and mail.

    Step 3: Travel to (wait for it...) the liquor store, where I was to use the change from the money order to get a mammoth bottle of gin, some tonic (I wonder what she's gonna do tonight?), a half gallon of milk, and several smaller items, like cigarettes, pretzels and a bag of dried fruit, of all things.

    She had given me a handwritten list. I shouldn't need it, she told me, because she called the liquor store and they would have everything ready for me. "Just pay and leave," she said.

    Step 4: Return with vices, dried fruit, and all receipts.

    Where would she be while I was touring California on her behalf? Chain smoking Pall Malls and watching Oprah Winfrey in the comfort of her hovel.

    I trekked back to the cab, started the meter and sped away. It's fairly rare to do that without a passenger in the back seat. I felt like a dolt holding her shopping list.

    Please also remember that refusing a ride, or even this fiasco, gets the owner of the cab company extremely riled. Getting fired might be a stretch, but the bottom line was I had to do it or else. I've seen what happens to drivers who refuse rides. They get transferred to run down cabs or end up with horrific cab partners.

    The post office is run by the federal government, so it's always a dreadful experience to walk inside of one. The woman in front of me in line took ages to decide between stamps with little Santa Clauses on them or the American flag. Who wants Santa stamps in July? I almost made the decision for her -- neither, and never come back. Use email. Pay bills online. The world changed 10 years ago. Jerry Springer must have mentioned something.

    The liquor store was another interesting affair. The two Iranians behind the counter vehemently denied getting a call from the old bag. Had I dreamt the "just pay and leave" scenario? I had to walk around with her list and collect every last item myself.

    At this point I think we can call the ride "outlandish".

    The fare was $24.40 on the meter. She gave me $25 and said to go ahead and keep the change. I stopped her from shutting the door on me.

    For the first time I told a customer the tip was unacceptable. She had absolutely no clue why not. She wasn't rude about it, just didn't have any grasp whatsoever. This is very common with people over 60.

    I told her $10 would be more reasonable, and she paid it with a bewildered look in her eyes. I walked back to my cab with a bewildered look in mine. That was all I could stand for one day, so I went home.

    Sunday, March 25, 2007

    Pure venting

    If you're squeamish about complaining, just move along. Nothing to see here.

    After getting hung out to dry by Mrs. Lance Armstrong, my next bell was to the same bar. Same nonsense occurred -- nobody claimed the cab. The car is yellow, the size of Texas, and my hazards were blinking like a Christmas tree. Only a turd drunk calls for a cab and then doesn't show the slightest interest in finding it and getting a ride home. This time around I left to go back on point at the same hotel.

    Bell No. 3: to a fairly remote hotel, which will remain unnamed. I was half way there and dispatch called again. "The hotel called to cancel." This particular hotel has a long history of stuffing fares into enemy cabs (not licensed to pick up in my zone), so I stood on the gas and made for the hotel at speeds only Stephen Hawking can describe.

    Sure enough, just as I arrived an enemy cab driven by a Middle Easterner rolled out with my fare stuffed in the back seat. I made sure he saw me pick up my cell phone. I didn't dial, but he didn't know that. He was risking a $2400 ticket and /or revocation of his hack license. Instilling in him a healthy fear of Allah felt good, sort of. I wrote down his car number and cab company name. I always get even with my enemies.

    A fantastic Saturday night had spiraled into the sewer. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times? Go home. I went 10-21 to go drown my sorrow with a pizza and a recorded NASCAR race.

    I'm glad I started this blog. I feel better already.

    Saturday, March 24, 2007

    Idiocy in Three Acts

    Act I

    I was sent to a bar to pick up a lady, and I waited more than five minutes; I called inside to the bartender, who was drunk off his ass. He probably didn't know his own name, let alone who might have called for a taxi. So I waited some more. There were people milling about the parking lot, but nobody stepped forward. By this time I was trying to reach dispatch to report a no-go so I could get another ride. The night dispatcher is a *unique* individual; he was probably cuffing the governor instead of listening to the radio. I started to leave.

    Then, and only then, did the lady approach the car. She had been in the crowd in plain sight of me the entire time. She wasted a lot of my time and for some mysterious reason wouldn't indicate she wanted a cab until I was leaving.

    Act II

    When we arrived at her house, she wanted to pay the $5 fare by check because she didn't have any cash. Who writes checks these days? I wouldn't take a check from God.

    Eureka! She'll just go inside and get some money. Except that she didn't have her keys. We were going to have to wait for her husband to ride his bicycle home from the same bar. He had left about the same time we did. And he had had some drinks with old Navy buddies, so there was no telling how long it would take the drunken Lance Armstrong to appear.

    Act III

    I finally told her I wasn't going to wait any longer. The ride was on me. Have a nice evening, Ma'am. She insisted on taking my cell number and promised to call tomorrow so I could drop by and get my $5. Will I drive a car that guzzles gas the way I once guzzled beer to her house for five whole dollars?

    She did everything in the most aggravating way possible for a cabbie, except for rudeness. If I had waited around for Lance Armstrong, I'm sure I would have been stiffed on the tip. Or I'd still be waiting there when George Bush XI is president.

    I really felt like reading her the riot act.

    UPDATE: Gotta love the web. I found the actual riot act from which we get the expression.

      Our sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the King.

    Here's an updated version:

      Our sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all taxi patrons, being assembled, immediately to cease and desist being a dumbass, and peacably to depart to their habitations, or anywhere far away from exasperated cabbies, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George Bush, for preventing general idiocy. God save the King.

    Officer to Lakeside

    I had a great ride a little while ago -- a Navy Lieutenant going from the downtown area all the way out to Lakeside. It's a nice drive; 94 to 125 to the 8, then up into the hills overlooking El Cajon. It was a nice drive and a nice conversation. The guy is ready to retire, having put in his 20 years with the Navy. He said he was up for promotion to Lieutenant Commander, so he may stay for that and then retire in two years. That would make his penis pension bigger.

    On the way back I opted for the 8 all the way down through Mission Valley, which is a fun drive at night. The freeway winds downhill along the valley floor all the way from El Cajon almost to the Pacific Ocean.

    Saturday afternoon photos

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    I got this one and the next two after dropping off in Coronado

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    A Burlington Northern Santa Fe train in downtown San Diego

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    News van by the harbor

    The Layguide

    Another driver, who shall remain anonymous, confided in me that he figured out how to get laid constantly. As a general rule, drivers are more interesting than even the weirdest customer. Anyways.

    He bought a book last week called "The Layguide." Apparently it works. He says he has three dates lined up already. I borrowed it for a couple of hours this afternoon. The first chapter is "The Ten Rules of Seduction". A few of the more interesting sections:

    Always be in control
    Be the alpha male
    Never be a nice guy
    Never go on a date
    There's always another woman


    Saturday night is moving

    My first ride today had a special request. "Can you drive really fast?" It was a young couple who needed to go from a southern suburb to the Berkeley, a museum ship moored along Harbor Drive in downtown, for a wedding. They had 15 minutes to get there, and it's a 20 minute drive. So I unleashed the Police Interceptor (breaking no laws that I'll admit to). Suffice it to say a 4.6 liter engine will carve a six lane freeway like a Thanksgiving turkey.

    The next ride was a Marine Corps officer with his British wife. She told me her father is a London cabbie who drives one of the classic black taxis. After a great conversation about London cab rides, the cheap bastards stiffed me.

    I remember all the addresses of worthless sons of bitches who stiff me. They tend to wait a very long time for their next cab ride. I wonder if they're smart enough to figure out why?

    Busted a smuggler tonight

    I caught a new driver smuggling tonight, and busted him on the radio. He drives 105, and was parked first at a hotel stand. I was 2nd. Four guys piled into his car and he left. Maybe 20 seconds later dispatch called him with a bell and he said 10-4. Idiot.

    Friday, March 23, 2007

    The rock pile

    I picked up a drunk guy in a suit who was in San Diego for a business conference. He was going from a suburban Olive Garden restaurant to the Hyatt Grand Manchester on Harbor Drive. Traffic on I5 was light, but downtown was a different story. It was getting busy with people looking for a good time on a Friday night.

    We were stuck in a line of traffic when, out of the blue, he told me his marriage is good, but he constantly cheats on his wife. He seemed to feel genuinely bad. "I can't control myself," he said. "I'd fuck a rock pile if I thought a woman was underneath it."

    I'm a good samaritan

    I just had a chance to do my civic duty.

    I'm on point outside a hotel right now, and I was just outside the cab smoking a cigarette. I guy in military fatigues came walking down the sidewalk and stopped. "I'm in the Army, and I'm new around here," he said. "Where's the best place for a guy to get laid?"

    So I told him. The best place is Tijuana. Take the trolley or a cab to the border, walk across and hop in a Tijuana cab and tell them to take you to Adelide's or Chicago's. I haven't tried it, I told him, but everyone around here agrees those are the two cleanest, most reputable whorehouses in TJ. The rates vary, but I've heard you can get them down to $40.

    Wow, was his response.

    I also told him that if he wants to try his luck at the bars, Pacific Beach is the best place. He thanked me.

    Blast from the past

    Before I started this blog, I kept a journal. Here's an entry...

    Saturday, March 4, 2006

    After almost a year of driving cab I finally broke my cherry. An idiot on the highway called the phone number emblazoned on the rear of the Crown Vic. This was bound to happen sooner or later. It was all his fault, of course. An older guy in a mini van (stereotypes apply), attempted to merge into me on Harbor Drive. I tapped my horn, which caused the idiot to hold down his own horn and shake his miserable fist at me. In response, I raised my right hand, palm up, fingers extended, as a way of asking, "What are you thinking?"

    Within five minutes I received a radio transmission from the company owner, "95 landline the office". The idiot said I flipped him off. No big deal, especially since the accusation was false, and I've never had a complaint before. In fact, my M.O. is to drive calmly and safely -- which makes me stand out among the animalistic cabbies of San Diego. I consider myself a gem among the Barbarians At the Wheel.

    The incident brings to mind one of the worst aspects of Southern California drivers. Almost nobody signals, and on the rare instance someone does turn on a blinker, they think right of way has been granted. The guy this afternoon had this mentality. He wasn't able to bully me into changing lanes, so he put on his blinker and simply moved into me.

    My fury stems not only from poor driving habits of Southern Californians, but from the inequity -- my boss's phone number is boldly displayed on my vehicle. But who can I call when civilians screw the pooch? The California Highway Patrol, the fabled CHP, that's who. From this point forward, whenever somebody complains about my driving, I'm calling 911 and reporting them as a drunk driver. If they lie about me, they're in for a big headache.

    Mr. Marzetti is a real bastard

    Marzetti goes from his house to the same restaurant at the same time every day, Monday through Friday. He's like a Swiss watch, except most Swiss watches aren't bastards. He's an older gentleman, and he uses his age as an excuse to be an ass.

    He goes six blocks and thinks a cab driver needs second-by-second instructions, even though everyone has driven him 100 times. He claims he has had drivers who don't know the way. He's lying. The restaurant is on the same street as his house, and it's just down the road. It can't be driven improperly.

    He always calls for a cab at 4:25 p.m., and everyone on the stand nearest his house vacates and goes elsewhere at 4:20 just to avoid him. Today I got him on the way back, which is tricky to prevent because he calls at different times for the return trip. And some bells off that stand are lucrative. It's kind of a game. Do I risk Marzetti, or don't I?

    When I pick him up he asks, "Who have I got tonight?" He says he can't drive any longer because his eyesight is poor. Now a little background is in order. Whenever I drop him, he says, "Thanks. You're a good driver." Once or twice he said, "I'd ask for you by name when I call, but whenever I do that, somebody else comes. Nobody seems to care." He hit the nail right on the head. We don't care. We're not mean, we're just trying to make a living, and we can't do that with a bastard.

    Since he wants a regular driver, which is common for regular customers -- we call it personalizing a customer, maybe I could give him one. So, whenever he asks, "Who have I got tonight?" I give the name of a driver I don't like, since he can't recognize me. Then I drive him well and treat him nicely so he'll be inclined to ask for "me" the next time. Sometimes I suggest that he does call for "me". It minimizes my exposure to him and it thwarts my enemies at the same time. That's a win-win.

    Now for the punch line. The fare is always $5.60, and after handing over a 5, he digs through his pockets looking for three quarters. He gives a FIFTEEN CENT TIP. This is another case of an older person having lost all touch with reality. Don't misunderstand me. Marzetti is as sharp as a tack. There is no dementia or Alzheimer's. I'd bet ... $.15 on that. Oh, and you have to take his tips in perspective. We pick him up at a $2 or $3 million home that he has owned for more than 30 years. It's paid off. He's rich, and tips $.15 on $5.60.

    I wonder what Marzetti tips the serving staff at that restaurant? How many unsavory things has he ingested, unknowingly, because he's a cheap bastard?

    UPDATE: I thought of something weird. Marzetti always drops a 5 in the window, then asks, "Is that a five?" He's always right, which means he can see well enough. He is probably having the last laugh when I give him the names of my enemies. What a bastard. You know, I've been driving two years. You'd think it might have occurred to me earlier. This blog is giving me a whole new perspective on bastards.

    Slow start, hoping for better

    I slept in very late today, and just now took my first ride (5:30 p.m.). They were locals, with a short ride. I recognized one of the guys and asked him if he worked at a hotel. He said yes, but he got fired about a year ago. When I asked why, he said, "Because I'm short."

    Well, he was short, but I doubt if that's why he got fired. He declined to elaborate. He was just tall enough to give me a decent tip.

    I made a small mistake with him, though. I told him and his friend that even after two years I still don't know his neighborhood very well. It was off of Sweetwater Rd, and I don't get in there too often. He understood me as saying I don't know the entire city, and tried to give me turn by turn directions. I had to clarify that not knowing his particular street doesn't mean I'm an idiot.

    Worrying for nothing

    My good name didn't need restoring (see earlier post for details). Vito refused my money, shook my hand, and said he knows it was an honest mistake. All is good in paradise.

    Casino gold

    I hit a lucky ride, in more ways than one. I got a flag from a hotel near downtown San Diego going out to Barona Casino. It's an $80 fare, when my average is around $20. It turned into a round trip, plus waiting time and tip, giving me $200 for the ride. But that's not the best part. I threw $20 into a slot machine and, on the 12th pull, hit $100. I hit the Cash Out button so fast I thought I sprained my shoulder.

    Naturally, there's a problem. I stole the ride...accidentally.

    I had been sitting outside the hotel where I eventually picked up, and 70 said, "95 get in here, quick." I did, and passed the other driver coming out. He said there are two ladies for Barona. All seemed fine. I picked up, called "Flag from Hilton to Barona," turned my radio off -- when somebody gets a long ride the idiots like to ham it up on the radio, and I don't want my customers to hear it -- and the rest happened like I described above.

    I spoke with 70 when I got back, a few hours later, and he said he made a mistake by calling me into the hotel in the first place. Cab 131, a Brazilian named Vito, was first for bells*. I hadn't been keeping track of my spot, and there's no real reason to, since dispatch will call my number when I'm first and there's a customer ready to go. When 70 called me in, I instantly assumed I was first. Oops.

    To make things worse, I had turned my radio off immediately after calling in the flag, and didn't hear that 131 was raising hell on the radio for having a really good flag stolen. He uses a lively combination of English and Portuguese. He's so animated that we have a special name for it: radio Vito. I can only imagine what he was saying, or trying to say.

    When I get back on the streets I'll go to Vito and offer him an apology and $40. I need to get my good name back.

    *When we return, empty, to our primary zone, we call dispatch and choose a spot on a stand, which is maintained by dispatch. This is for bells (calls sent to us via radio). There is a second line, which is the physical placement of cars in line, used for flags who walk up to the cars. To recap: we have a dispatch (bell) line and a flag line. Confused? Vito usually is, too.

    Cab blogs added to sidebar

    I added several cab blogs to my sidebar. These guys and girls are fun to read. I hope you like them as much as I do.

    Paradise Driver (Hawaii)
    All in a Day's Work (London)
    DC Cab Rider (Wash D.C.)
    Cablog (Sydney)
    New York Hack
    Taxi Tales (Cumbria, UK)
    Taxi Vignettes (San Jose, CA)
    This Fare City (Portland, OR)

    Thursday, March 22, 2007

    Difficult ride

    I just dropped off in the Gaslamp Quarter with another cab. It was a party of six, so they needed two cars. The other driver was from the Middle East, and his driving would reveal that to anyone who didn't already know. Twice we were in freeway lanes that were ending -- clearly marked as such. Each time the guy waited until the lane actually ended, then hit his brakes and fucked around to make his merge. I did the sensible thing, merging right away.

    He dropped off first, and left right away. After my guys got out and paid, the people he had driven came to my car and said he side-swiped a parked car when he left.

    I asked if they were sure because I couldn't see any damage to the parked car. They seemed fairly upset, saying it's illegal to leave the scene of an accident. I was hoping they would just drop it. One of them got out his cell phone and said he was inputting the licence number of the parked car.

    Not sure what they're planning on doing. I said I'd talk to the other driver.

    The problem is that if I turn the guy in, all the cabbies in town will turn against me. Also, he's just going to deny it, which should be safe considering I couldn't see any damage to the car he allegedly hit. I'm going to leave it be.

    The Great Depression is over, lady

    My first ride was a pleasant, older woman. After a couple of quick stops we ended up at a mall. The fare was $8.60, and she gave me $9. "Keep the change," she said. Gee, thanks. Maybe I'll buy 1/300th of a share in Google.

    I have no gripes with old people. My membership in that club is assured, after all. The problem is most of them tip in the $.10-$.60 range. That can only be explained by having lost touch with the value of money. Does the nice lady I just dropped off realize that I would need six more tips of that size to buy a measly cup of coffee? Does she know that I wouldn't bend down to pick up that much change on the sidewalk?

    "The Great Depression is over," I wanted to say. "Forty cents may have been a generous tip when you retired 35 years ago, but now it's just insulting." For the record, I keep the mouth zipped in situations like this. I was very nice to her, held the door, and all that.

    The French are even more insulting. I still haven't received a tip from a French person, and I have driven many. That affects the level of service to all future frogs. I wont' take them the long way round or do anything else unethical, but there is no chatting or acting as tour guide. "Je m'appelle Slabbe de Granite." Tipping cabbies in France is the norm, by the way.

    Japanese usually tip, when tipping cab drivers in Japan is not the norm.

    The only set of people who always get it right are American businesspeople. No cheap bastards, no hassles.

    Tough start to a beautiful day

    Yesterday was cool with a bit of rain in San Diego. Today is partly sunny and 65 or so. No complaints... but...

    I forgot to get my lease cash to my cab partner, so it fell to me to travel to HQ and pay for all three of us. That's not a big deal, except I wasn't expecting it, and woke up about 30 minutes before the payment deadline. One of my favorite things about driving cab is there is no stress, or scrambling, or deadlines (or expectations!). I guess once in a while won't hurt me.

    Now that all the administrative duties are complete, and I'm "working", all the stress and problems have melted away. I really enjoy having a low stress job.

    Ghost town

    As far as taxis are concerned, San Diego is a ghost town tonight. It's 1:00 a.m. and I've been first in line at a hotel cab stand for an hour and a half. Cabs have been dropping like flies -- giving up and going home. That's one of the perks of driving a taxi; you can come and go as you please, as long as your lease is paid.

    I've occupied myself by reading a few doctor blogs, which, for some weird reason, I find engrossing. I guess it's the lingo, and the fact that these people are doing something that has a huge, and almost always positive, impact on people's lives. The blogs are a window onto what are usually interesting lives.

    Doc Around the Clock
    Aggravated DocSurg

    Then I read an article on police interrogation tactics at How Stuff Works. Note to self: lawyer up if ever in trouble with the law.

    I also perused the BBC and learned N Korea talks close to collapse and Police deaths in Mexico jump 50%. The latter was interesting, considering I live 17 miles from Mexico and spend time there occasionally. I once went through a military checkpoint deep in Baja, manned by 10 machine-gun toting guys in cammo. They looked in my trunk and were curious about my huge, pointed tent stakes. I couldn't really convince them that ordinary tent stakes don't work well in the desert. In the end, they shrugged and motioned, with the machine guns, for me to move along.

    The two lead stories at Google News (and I have no clue how stories are ranked) show the 100-year-old struggle between socialists and capitalists, with Bush vows fight as subpoenas authorized and Gore tells Congress of 'crisis'.

    I just drove a Navy guy from a bar to a base. He was a nice guy, drunk but coherent. We passed a McDonald's on base and I commented that I've seen one on every military base I've been to. He claimed that "every U.S. military base in the world has a McDonald's." Apparently they have a deal with the military. He also told me that part of the Mickey D's / Navy deal is that if you're dishonorably discharged you can never get a job at McDonald's. Surely that's not an incentive to be a good sailor? Who could possibly care?

    He also mentioned he's from the Northeast and this was his first winter in San Diego. It was his first winter without snow. He said it was very strange. The fare was $9 on the meter; he gave me a 20.

    Wednesday, March 21, 2007

    Spring break means no money

    Late March was slow last year, and it's no different this year. I think it's because companies don't schedule business conferences around Spring break time. A few of my rides so far tonight:
    • Hotel to a restaurant three blocks away. Young couple with good legs.

    • Two naval officers going to a military base

    • Numerous locals
    Gripe of the night: I went to the Del Taco drive thru and ordered a "Del Beef Taco" and a medium Coke. I was told they don't have a "Del Beef Taco". WTF? I mentioned that it's on the menu. She was confused by that. So I asked for a bean and cheese burrito instead. She also asked if I wanted a Dr. Pepper just as I drove away from the ordering station. I got a beef burrito and a Coke.

    It's sad that somebody could be too dumb to work as a cashier at a fast food joint. I mean, what's below that?

    I almost laugh at myself, because the taco fiasco is my biggest problem right now. Heh heh.

    Tuesday, March 20, 2007

    Taking two

    I always take Mondays off because for most of my adult life (DOB 1965) I've worked M-F, 8-5, and, as everyone knows, Mondays are the worst day of the week. More heart attacks occur on Mondays than any other day on account of this. On principle, and because I can, I no longer work on the dreadful day.

    Tuesday is 50/50, but lately I've been taking all of them off. Like today. Where I use Mondays to catch up on chores, Tuesdays are pure laziness. I sleep until three in the afternoon, put on a pot of coffee, take a decadently long, hot shower, and catch up on DVR recordings. The people who invented cable TV should get the civilian equivalent of the Medal of Honor.

    Monday, March 19, 2007

    Paperwork blues

    The owner of the cab company called and explained that the car now has temporary registration until the official license plate sticker arrives. She claimed California never mailed her the new one, even though she paid. I've decided not to reveal details about her on this blog. Suffice it to say that she has a good heart and character, and is good at what she does. And anyone who can manage cab drivers deserves tremendous respect. It's like herding cats (exceedingly dumb ones).

    I left a note for Tom*, the morning driver, to call the owner today and inquire about the sticker. I also suggested he pick up some oil and turn in a work order -- the car is making a thumping sound and there's a shimmy, more pronounced under braking. "Thump" and "shimmy" are official taxi lingo.

    Also, my cab permit and Navy permit expire soon. I already took a mandatory drug test, and still need to get passport photos and a DMV printout of my driving record. It's absurd that, in 2007, I have to go to a DMV office and wait for three hours for an idiot clerk to press "print" on a keyboard. This should all be available on the web.

    I also need to visit Navy offices for a new base I.D. Sailors tell me all the time how inefficient and downright idiotic the Navy can be, but compared to the California DMV, they're miraculous.

    * I have changed all names on this blog to protect the guilty for privacy reasons. Also, I drive nights, and two other guys, Tom and Andrew, take turns driving the morning shift. Tom is a guy in his 20s, and he's funnier than hell; Andrew is in his 30s, married with children. Oddly, Tom is considerably more responsible. I can't get Andrew to check the oil or wash the car, but Tom takes care of business without being asked.


    Merriam Webster's defines gall as "1. a: bile obtained from an animal and used in the arts or medicine b : something bitter to endure c : bitterness of spirit," and "2: brazen boldness coupled with impudent assurance and insolence."

    I had a customer last night who fits all definitions. He was around 50, dressed in a suit, pleasant, if quiet, and needed a ride from one expensive hotel to another. When I pulled into the hotel circle and stopped, he asked for a receipt. The fare was $35. "I need your handwriting on the receipt," he said. "Put the date on it and make it for $50."

    Generally I don't fill out receipts; I give them out as blanks, because 99.9% of customers wish to defraud the accounting department. A $15 tip is great, so I happily complied. He then pocketed the receipt, handed me $35 and jumped out. The son of a bitch enlisted me to defraud his employer, then stiffed me.

    I know cabbies who would have physically detained him for such things. Fortunately for him, I'm not one of those.

    Sunday, March 18, 2007

    Severe winter storm...

    ... San Diego style. Fifty-eight degrees and overcast with light rain.

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    Cruise ship on San Diego Bay

    My last fare included a squat, bald man who reminded me of George Costanza from Seinfeld. He spoke with a depressed voice, but he was funny -- clearly not depressed. He commented that with the cool, rainy weather, the people of San Diego must be jumping off buildings. We're almost there, but not yet. Sunny and 75 will return!

    Bad as the weather is (for San Diego), I picked up Costanza and his two colleagues from a golf course where they had just finished 18 holes.

    They're in San Diego for a Prudential Realty conference at the Convention Center downtown. Six thousand people are expected, but many will be stranded back East with the snowy weather. This is what I mean by getting a feel for the city. The job allows me to know who's in town and what's going on.

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    Downtown from Harbor Island

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    The perfect ride

    I was working again by 2:30 p.m. or so, and my first call was to the KFC at the NAS Naval base. KFC is across the street from the pier where the U.S.S. Nimitz is tied off. It's a mammoth ship, with the number "68" emblazoned several stories above street level. The History Channel and Military Channel show footage of these Nimitz class aircraft carriers all the time, but TV doesn't do justice to their size and majesty. One thought enters my mind whenever I'm this close to one: we're invincible (we'll discuss supercavitating torpedoes later).

    My camera is with me, as usual, but I'm not so foolish as to take photos inside a Naval facility. Others can try that.

    I picked up two young ladies who wanted a trip to Wal-Mart. They were from Florida originally, and were friendly and talkative. Fare: $38 plus a $2 tip.

    It was the perfect ride.

    SIDEBAR: I tried calling the owner of the cab today to get the registration stickers for the license plates (see last post), but she isn't working today. I'm risking a ticket again.

    It must be noted that in my two years of driving cab, I've only been pulled over twice -- once for having a headlight out, and then last night for expired registration. Each time I had no prior knowledge of the problem. San Diego police didn't notice, but U.S. Navy police were on it. Good for them.

    First puker

    3685 is the lucky number. In almost two years of driving cab I've never had a puker, until I picked up some drunken sailors tonight. Fortunately the guy jumped out at a red light when the time came. When all was said and done, he gave me $70 for a ride that came to $18 on the meter. He was ride No. 3685 since I've been driving a taxi (started April 1, 2005). Considering the big tip, I'd have to say puking is lucky.

    Here's the screen grab of my Access table. Puke-boy was 3685.

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    Oddity of the evening: After I dropped off the sailors -- my last ride for the night -- Navy police pulled me over. I have expired registration! As the driver I'm required to have current license tags, but still! Me and the two guys I share the cab with spend around $2500 per month for the cab lease, and I expect administrative details to be handled by headquarters. I was let off without a ticket.

    UPDATE 3/22/07: The puker was ride No. 3586, not 3685. It was record ID 3685, but the 3586th record. The numbers are coincidentally similar. There have been many deleted records, accounting for the difference between the two numbers (once a record is placed in an Access table, it is assigned an ID, which doesn't change, even if records before or after it are deleted).

    So, Puke Boy was ride No. 3586.

    Saturday, March 17, 2007

    Big bucks tonight

    Business is booming. It's about 8:30 p.m. and everybody's going to the Gaslamp Quarter.

    St. Patrick's Day begins

    It's 5:15 p.m. in San Diego, 68 degrees with a crisp wind and clear blue sky, and I'm sitting at a cab stand waiting for the games to begin. There's nothing like being a cab driver waiting for a drinking holiday to get rolling.

    It's slow now, so I'm surfing the web, catching up on weekend events. I'm avoiding most news sites for fear of finding out who won Formula 1 and the NASCAR Busch race. They're going to be waiting for me on DVR when I get home early tomorrow morning. I drive a car all evening, then go home to watch other people drive cars...

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    Compaq still working well after two years

    Today is a mixture of greed and good feelings -- greed for the money I expect to make, and good feelings because I'll be driving a lot of drunks, potentially saving some lives.

    I should make $400 after lease and gas, after about nine hours of non-work. If only I could do that every day! And to think that there are so many dishonest attorneys (excuse the redundancy) making $400 per hour. My only consolation is that they have $100k in student loans or daddy owns them for many years, and they actually have to work for their money.

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    Downtown is visible

    Friday, March 16, 2007

    The Plank

    The beachside bar in Imperial Beach, The Plank, is a popular destination from places in and around downtown San Diego. I found a guy curbside who had missed his bus, heading for The Plank. I asked him if he was Navy, and he had been until a few years ago. He said he liked the experience for the discipline it taught him, but didn't care for the hours, low pay, and lack of freedom.

    He said his only gripe with life right now was that he was in his upper 20s and wasn't married with children. I suggested he might find his future bride at The Plank tonight. He laughed. "I hope not." We got a good chuckle at the poor endorsement for the bar.

    Twenty-five bucks lighter, he's at The Plank now. Maybe he will find his bride to be.

    Replacement for London's black cabs

    Apparently these are selling like hotcakes in the UK:

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    The image and following excerpt are from Easier Motoring:

      Monthly sales of the new TX4 taxi, launched by manufacturer LTI Vehicles last October, are expected to top 400 for the first time in March.

      The widespread praise for the latest incarnation of the iconic London-style taxi, which retains the distinctive black cab shape, has led to a leap in demand from drivers wanting an 07-plated vehicle.

    I can't imagine driving such a car. I'm used to the large, powerful Crown Vic.

    British cabbie murder

    Taxi news from the UK: A third man allegedly involved in the murder of a taxi driver has been arrested. BBC:

      A third man has been arrested over the death of a taxi driver in Sheffield.

      Father-of-five Younis Khan, 53, was shot as he drove along Scott Road, Pitsmoor, in the early hours of Wednesday.

      South Yorkshire Police said the man, from Sheffield, who is in his mid-20s, was arrested on Thursday night.

      Two other men, aged 23 and 27, who were arrested in Upperthorpe and Middlewood on Thursday morning have since been released on bail.

      A post-mortem examination revealed Mr Khan died from a single gunshot to the chest, fired from a handgun.

      Police have increased patrols in Pitsmoor.

    Navy evening

    It's very slow for a Friday night; I've only had two rides since 5:00 p.m. or so. The first was from NAB Coronado, the base where Navy SEALS are made, to the 32nd St. Naval Base in San Diego. It was a black female in the Army, who explained in detail how her home town was too cold (Chicago). I commiserated with her, understanding fully how Southern California was nicer, weatherwise.

    The second was from the Coronado ferry terminal to North Island Naval Air Station (NAS). A guy was going to a reception for the captain of the U.S.S. Nimitz.

    The guy commented that he rarely hears classical guitar music in a taxi -- I had on Christopher Parkening. I decided not to mention I also have a lot of AC/DC and Metallica with me.

    It's all about the weather

    Where is the best weather in the world? Some say the Canary Islands, some say Costa Rica, Hawaii, or even a flyspeck town in Australia. These places do have great climates, but there are key differences between them and a place I prefer, San Diego, Calif.
    • San Diego is a semi-arid desert, with only 9.5 inches of rain per year. Some of the others are tropical, with some humidity and more rainfall.
    • San Diego is a major U.S. city, with the hoopla accompanying such cities: great infrastructure, roaring economy with oodles of jobs, professional and uncorrupt police force, and an international airport.
    • San Diego is close to some fairly interesting things: the adventure that is Mexico, Los Angeles, the Pacific Ocean, and several types of deserts ranging to the east.
    San Diego is far from perfect, as anyone who lives here will tell you. On occasion, we're way too hot in the summer, and in winter it can be cold (55 degrees F), windy, and rainy. So why call it paradise? Because there's a 99.9% chance the weather here is much better than wherever you are. That's not a slam, it's statistics. The weather here is considerably better than Miami or Key West, better than Hawaii, Phoenix, or even nearby Los Angeles. There's just something about this exact spot that gives mild weather year round.

    The only drawbacks are wildfires, earthquakes, and real estate prices. The first two are exciting anomalies, the third is a real ball breaker. In the Midwest, everybody with my income owns property, but here it's a modest rental.

    Life on the streets

    Okay, driving cab is not the same as being a police officer. I haven't seen too many bloody accidents or shoot-outs on the streets. But there's a certain ebb and flow to the streets that's kind of amazing -- and difficult to explain.

    I've developed a feel for the streets of San Diego. Strangely, a metropolitan area of three million people has a collective mood, and I sense it instantly. Did the Chargers win? Are the wildfires getting close to the city limits? Can the Padres beat the Yankees tonight? Did you say the Mayor just resigned, and his replacement was arrested on corruption charges?

    Thursday, March 15, 2007

    Technology in the car

    UPDATE 9-9-2007: The old car, 95 (the Falcon) is retired, and so is my laptop mount. I'm riding without much technology in the new car right now.

    Note: my laptop screen is always closed while driving unless I'm using GPS.

    Since the beginning (April 2005) I have used a Compaq Presario 2200 with a 1.3 GHz mobile processor and 512MB RAM in the car. I made a mount for it with a $40 center console and another $40 in plastic sheeting and miscellaneous hardware.

    UPDATE 6-17-2007: I now have an HP dv6365 laptop, 1.85GHz Intel Core Duo T5600 with 2GB RAM and Vista. More info on the new setup can be found here.

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    Access database that tracks all fares with to/from, date, time, fare, and whether it was a flag or bell. It was my first time using Access, and considering there is only one table, it was easy. I wrote a few basic queries, like daily income, monthly income, annual income, etc. Many more are in the works.

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    GPS navigation with Microsoft Streets & Trips. I purchased S&T as a package with the GPS receiver, which plugs into the laptop via USB. It was about $110 at Best Buy. It acts like an in-dash GPS system, with a car icon on the map, and voice directions. Every address in the U.S. and Canada is included, and there is a library of hotels and places of interest. The S&T interface includes a compass and speedometer.

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    GPS receiver sits on dash

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    Internet with cellular (EVDO) service. I use a PC card for a dedicated, unlimited internet connection anywhere I go -- service is $60 per month. It's the perfect complement to GPS. For instance, if a customer inquires about a sushi restaurant in a certain area, I can check the web, and if there is one, click on "map", or dump the address into Streets & Trips. I also use my cell phone to make reservations for customers. This is a customer service business, after all. Not all cabbies are surly bastards who learned to drive in Cairo and prefer grunting to the Queen's English.

    I also surf the web for entertainment during slow times, including updating this blog. Like a lot of people, I touch on dozens of newspapers and news sources, worldwide, every week. The main ones I hit every day are BBC, Google News, Yahoo News, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. I also enjoy reading blogs, magazines and tech sites.

    Games, like Sim City IV


    A laptop is the ultimate iPod. I connect the audio-out jack to the auxiliary jack on the front of a recently purchased Kenwood deck. This is vastly superior to an FM transmitter, which I used for a while. I have a lot of MP3s sitting on an external hard drive at home, and I transfer files to the laptop via USB. Also, I have a flash drive for transfers. Flash is good to swap music and video files among drivers, too -- several other drivers got laptops after seeing my setup.

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    Card reader and flash drive -- uses SD cards from my camera


    DVDs and downloaded movies, and recorded TV shows. I rent DVDs, and check them out from libraries, and I use a movie download service, Movielink, for renting movies directly onto the hard drive. At home I have a USB TV-in box, which lets me record cable TV shows to the HD; I watch them the following day while sitting on cab stands. Audio runs through the car stereo, just like the music.


    I keep a 5mp, 12x opti-zoom digital camera with me in the car. I transfer photos directly to the laptop, and use Photoshop to edit.

    Tuesday, March 13, 2007

    Taxi lingo and a few tricks of the trade

    I want you all to understand that I don't do any of the dishonest things I discuss below. Seriously. I may be the only completely honest cabbie in San Diego.

    Bells and flags

    A bell is when the dispatcher calls on the radio and sends a driver for a pickup. A flag is when someone on the street flags you down.

    Stretching your hood

    Lying to dispatch about your location. Examples include saying you're closer to an incoming call than you actually are. Another is saying you're clear well in advance of clearing, which lets you get in line (virtual line maintained by dispatch) earlier. Also, drivers will claim to be entering one of our pickup zones when they're still miles away -- same reason, we get in line upon returning to our pickup zones.

    Ghost ride

    Calling dispatch and announcing you've just picked up a flag, when you haven't. This is used when a driver suspects the next call from dispatch will send him to a bad customer (a drunk, short ride, etc.). Drivers would rather give up their place in line than pick up some of these creeps. He'll wait 10 minutes, then call dispatch saying he's clear, and get back in line at a cab stand.


    Driving customers without notifying dispatch. A driver can get a free ride this way, without losing his place in line. Most drivers dishonest enough to smuggle will only do so if no other cabs are in sight, for fear of getting busted. Some do it anyway, and if another driver complains on the radio, they radio in, "I forgot to mention I got a flag going from A to B" or "Didn't I call that in?"


    Similar to smuggling. Driver makes up an excuse for refusing a call (which riles the cab company owner to no end). Examples include flat tires, returning a forgotten cell phone (or medication or a hat) to a customer. Sometimes a driver will simply ignore the radio. He'll call in later asking if dispatch has been trying to reach him, then apologize for accidentally having his radio volume too low.

    I've seen people get burned by claiming a flat tire because HQ wants to get involved.


    Picking up a flag in a city or zone you're not licensed for. San Diego and certain suburbs have banded together to offer a single pickup license, but the airport has its own license, as do some suburbs. A cabbie can only pick up where he's licensed; he can drop off anywhere except Mexico (for insurance reasons). Slightly off topic, we had a new guy drop off in Tijuana, then spend three hours in the car line getting back across the border. Nobody was amused.

    The fine for wildcatting is $2400, issued by the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS). I've heard that you can bargain down for a first offense. Cops can catch you, enemy cabs can turn you in, and the MTS has undercover agents watching for it, especially in the Gaslamp Quarter and the airport. People look around carefully before picking up.

    A few of us have a novel way of dealing with airport security. A few times a year San Diego gets so busy that airport security begs you to pick up. They've run out of cabs! "MTS suspended the rules for today, we need you to pick up," they whine. "In your dreams," we say. I'd rather give up a ride and whatever money might be had just to screw them. They watch us threateningly 363 days a year, then beg us for help. Forget it! The airport can fuck off for all I care.

    With licenses starting at around $20,000 (lasts a lifetime, and is transferable) for small suburbs, and going up steeply from there, cities don't want unlicensed cabs picking up. Cities want their slice of the pie.

    Every driver I've spoken with wildcats every day. Our guys pick up illegally, and I see enemy cabs picking up in my zone constantly. I only bust enemy cabs if I see them wildcatting routinely.

    Ride theft

    Stealing a fare from another cabbie. A driver will hear a bell come across the radio, know the position of the car who got the bell, and beat him to the pickup. Obviously, this is a smuggled ride.

    When I first started driving we had one driver steal a ride from another, and he got his nose broken as punishment. The pugilist ended up losing his job.

    Lying to dispatch

    Lying is involved with many of these tactics, but there's one specific lie that's funny. A driver might pick up a fare who says he's going a short distance, but you lie to dispatch, saying it's a long ride. It is done to ram home the awful luck of the Town Clown (see below), hoping he'll get frustrated and leave for the day. Fewer cabs on the streets means more money for the rest.

    Town Clown

    The unlucky guy who gets one short, local ride after another. This is really frustrating, especially when other drivers are getting great rides all around you. I have a general rule: four locals in a row and I'm done for the day.

    Give 'em the tour

    Driving people the long way round to pump up the meter. This is the age old problem with taking taxis in a city you're not familiar with. As I stated above, I never do this, but we have drivers who do. Our Polish drivers take people on half hour rides just to get them four blocks down the road.

    This happens because some cabbies are animals, but also because customers almost never lodge complaints. By law, all cabs must have a car number and cab company name in the car, visible to the customer. If you think you've been given the tour, make the complaint, or shut your lobster hole.

    Radio tricks for thwarting enemies and increasing income
    • Click the mic to disrupt transmissions.

    • Impersonate dispatcher or driver voices.

    • Use a rubber band to hold down the mic button, killing all communication. Town Clowns and victims of theft use this one sometimes because they're so angry. One time somebody did this while playing The Flintstone's theme song on the CD player.

    • Stretch your hood (see above).

    • Give bad directions to the new guy. It's common for new drivers to ask for directions on the radio, and a lot of veterans like to frustrate these guys so they'll quit -- fewer drivers means more money for the rest.
    Racing back to the stand (or zone)

    If two cabs drop off at the same spot, they might race back to our zone to get in line ahead of the other guy. Racing poses an interesting challenge, as the car is yellow and easy to see, plus the boss's phone number is on the side. Civilians like to call that number and complain. I've been passed on the freeway by two racing cabs doing what seemed like twice my speed.

    Monday, March 12, 2007

    The Millennium Falcon

    UPDATE 9-9-2007: The Falcon is retired, and I'm now driving a 1995 Ford Crown Victoria LX. It was never a police car. I purchased the Falcon and am now driving it as a personal car.

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    She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid.

    I drive a 1994 Ford Crown Victoria, Police Interceptor edition, with a 1999 Mustang GT engine under the hood. I call it the Millennium Falcon because, like Han Solo's space ship, "She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid." There are no smuggling compartments, but smuggling does play a role in driving a cab.

    Cab companies use the Crown Vic for some of the same reasons police do -- they're big, comfortable, and have plenty of power. And they're durable and easy to work on.

    It's an old style American car in every sense -- it has a frame, as opposed to unitized construction, it's rear drive -- the way cars should be, and it's very large with an automatic transmission, shift on the column.

    After the original Crown Vic engine blew up last year, our mechanic installed the Mustang engine. Competition for used engines is fierce, considering police and cabs are always looking for them, so sometimes it's easier to pay a little more for a Mustang than wait for a Crown Vic engine to show up on the market. He said it bolts right in, considering the GT and Crown Vic use mostly the same drive train. The only change he had to make were the exhaust manifolds -- the GT manifolds are larger and give the car a little bit more oomph.

    The mechanic, Fred, did such a nice job with the new motor, I gave him $40 and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black as a tip.

    The power difference between the new and old engine was absurd. I hadn't realized how downtrodden the old powerplant was. I had been taking it out of overdrive when driving up hills. The new engine doesn't need any help.

    Shortly after I got the replacement engine, the transmission let go. The company had an outside shop rebuild it for $900.

    In addition to the engine and transmission, I've had many other fixes in the almost two years I've had it: fuel tank, battery, ignition switch, key assembly, starter, etc. Considering the car has been driven almost around the clock for more than 12 years, I have no complaints.

    The Falcon is a Police Interceptor edition, having been purchased many years ago from a police auction. The package includes anti-roll bars, heavy duty brakes, an engine oil cooler and transmission oil cooler, positraction differential, shift-kit for the trans, dual exhaust, plus a few other goodies to make it haul ass. The days of the old Checkered Cabs are long gone. I'm usually the fastest thing around.

    The '99 GT engine is 4.6-liters, just like the Crown Vic, and has 260 horsepower and 302 pounds/feet of torque. The original engine had 230hp with 260 torque. The specs for a 1999 GT are 0-60 in 5.4 seconds and 1/4 mile in 14.1 seconds. The GT weighs 3243 lbs., while the Crown Vic is 3780. So, the cab would be a little slower than the GT.

    The drawbacks? Eighteen miles per gallon on a good day. That's very bad, considering I have to pay for my own gasoline. So I usually drive it gently for the best mileage. In fact, the only challenge to driving a taxi, in my mind, is finding the fastest route, moving through traffic quickly, all the while burning as little fuel as possible.

    The Falcon is what cabbies (in San Diego, at any rate) call a 10% car, meaning the fuel bill is 10% of the meter take. Presently (March 2007) gasoline is back above $3/gallon, so it's probably a 12-14% car right now.

    I'm conducting an interesting social experiment with Tom and Andrew, the guys who split the morning shift in my car. I never told them the speedometer reads 7mph fast. Generally, they're driving slower than they realize, probably under the speed limit. After two months of driving with them, Andrew said, "Ted, this car is better than 10%. It's great!" Now why would I spoil it for him? Let's let him think he's got the world by the balls. Fewer speeding tickets, too. I should get a medal.

    I keep all the required safety gear in the trunk -- fire extinguisher, hazard triangles, first aid kit, and a full size spare tire. I also have along a modest set of tools, spare fluids, and a flashlight.

    I swapped the idiotic scissor jack for a good floor jack. You would not believe how many flat tires I get. When you drive for many hours, day in and day out, tires get chewed up. You drive over curbs occasionally, and nails, and small children all manner of debris. I can change a tire almost as fast as a Formula 1 team.

    The Falcon is more than a car. It's my office.