Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Marzetti II

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

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

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

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

Slow holiday season

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

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

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

World of Warcraft tournament, 1000 attendees

California School Boards Assn, 4k

Home Design & Remodeling show, 25k

Nat'l Council for Social Studies, 4k

Sports for Exceptional Athletes, 1500

Monday, November 19, 2007

A few shots from last week

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

Mishap on Coronado Island.

On the bay last weekend

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The customer is always "right"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Iraqis

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

Thursday night rides

British guy notices bad driving

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

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

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

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

Near collision with Mr. Fire Hydrant

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

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

The "trampoline"

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

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

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

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

Customer on the radio

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

Guy: 92

Dispatch: 92

Guy: 92 to the Star Bar, downtown.

Dispatch: 10-4

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

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

Stan, a real ass

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

Him, to phone: Am I staying or going?

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

Him: I want to spend the night with you.

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

Him, to me: I guess we can go.

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

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

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

Him: I'm not paying for waiting.

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

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

Me: What do you mean by that?

Him: You heard me.

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

Him: You got it.

Me: Then I'm not driving you home.

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

Me: What about the food?

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

Me: You have to pay what the meter says.

Him: Fuck you, I'm not paying.

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

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

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

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

Him: Fuck you.

Me: I'm calling the police.

Him: Go ahead, fuck you.

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

Cop: What's wrong?

Me: I've got a refusal to pay.

Cop: Close your door and stand on the sidewalk.

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

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

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

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Enemy cabs

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

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

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

And I used to love autumn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 1, 2007


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

SEAL hunt

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


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

Interesting Halloween costume

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

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

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

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

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

Stereotypical cab driver

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

Guy: Are you available?

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

Guy: What?

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

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

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