Friday, December 28, 2007

'She shot the wrong person'

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

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

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

I laughed.

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

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

Holiday drivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countdown to cash

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

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Anonymous Santa

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas in a car

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

No white Christmas

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

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

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Russian Whore

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

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

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

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

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

Her: Oh.

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

Holiday Bowl

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

Saturday, December 22, 2007

From the ER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome National Geographic readers

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

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

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

Friday, December 14, 2007

The baseball scandal

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

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

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

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

Fear and loathing

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

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

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

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

Avoiding Marzetti II

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

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

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

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

The Dead Pool

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

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

Accusations and hysterics

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

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

Her: You do take credit cards.

Me: No, I don't.

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

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

Her: How dare you!

Me: What's is gonna be?

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

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

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