Thursday, January 31, 2008

Technology in the car

Last September the old Falcon was retired, and my cab partners and I were given a *new* Ford Crown Victoria taxi. New to our company means a 1995 with 212,000 miles on it. I bought the old Falcon for my personal use, and am enjoying it, but I don't drive more than about 20 miles per week with it. Most of my driving is done with the taxi, even for personal use. Things like movies, buying groceries, and all that. I usually only take one day off per week, and that's when I might crank up the old Falcon.

When we switched to the new taxi, the cab company owner forbid me to put a laptop mount in the new car. The stated reason was: the car is too cluttered. That's hogwash. The fact is, the owner is a Luddite. So for several months I've been without my GPS on a 15-inch screen, the internet where I can look up places of interest for customers, and all of my custom-made local maps. It's really absurd that I'm not allowed to use the specialized gear. I may install everything in the new car and let the chips fall where they may.

Anyway, at the time of the switch I worked out a deal with the owner regarding the Kenwood stereo I put in the old car. He said to leave the stereo in the old car, which became my personal car, and then take the new taxi to Best Buy and he would pay for the same or a similar stereo to be installed in the new one. Despite being a Luddite, he can be a very nice guy.

I decided to be nice about it, too, and recognized that I don't need a good system in my personal car -- 20 miles per week hardly warrants good tunes. So I finally changed stereos, and it took all of five minutes and no tools. Each stereo has the adapter plugs wired for the mid 1990s Crown Vic, so all I had to do was pull them out, unplug, switch, replug, and push back in. End result: I now have the Kenwood in the new taxi, which is a bonus because it has the line-in jack (that's an iPod jack, for noobs). I won't ever use an FM transmitter again because I've had nothing but problems with them, so the hard-wired jack is perfect. The only problem is that I can't use my laptop in the car at present, which holds my music and is, basically, my iPod.

Since I don't yet have a portable MP3 player, I had to resort to ancient and inferior technology: CDs. I swore I'd never use these cumbersome things again. I finally broke down and made two CDs, one with misc "cool stuff" which has everything from the Star Wars main battle theme to dueling banjos to medieval chanting, and one with some AC/DC tracks. It's irritating that I have thousands and thousands of songs on my laptop, but can't use it. Now I have to screw around with CDs that only hold 20 songs each. It's a major step back. Even an MP3 player will be a step back from a laptop.

Marzetti II is dead

The dead pool on Marzetti II was handily won by the driver who guessed Jan. 15, 2008. We hadn't received a call from the old guy since Jan. 14 or so, and that was the source of much speculation. The guy who chose 1/15 was particularly eager to find out the news, so he went to the guy's favorite restaurant and learned he was dead. Then the driver went to the guy's condo complex and asked the doorman, just for good measure, and confirmed. A previous post on Marzetti II is here.

The book's dates, in the order I recorded them:

12/16/11 (this guy was ridiculed)

It cost $5 to enter, so the winner received the $30 kitty.

Next up: Gollum. She's a cantankerous old woman who not only resembles Gollum in appearance and voice, but seems to hate everything and everyone. At least Gollum liked something -- a ring. She walks at .00000001 mile per hour, and it takes her what seems like five minutes to make an entry to or exit from a taxicab. Despite that, she seems to be in better health than the deceased Marzetti II. A previous post on Gollum is here.

Dates for the pool on Gollum:

12/16/17 (same guy who picked 2011 for Marzetti)

Wednesday night rides

I had a few memorable rides, though none that were terribly interesting. The first was a group of Scottish businessmen who were going to a South Bay hotel. They asked what the make and model of the taxi was, and about the engine. When I said 4.6 liter V8, they were astonished. "Why?!" they asked. My answer, "Because," sparked a good spirited discussion about the merits of capitalism versus socialism, mostly because I suggested that there's no reason not to have a large engine, except possibly for the pollution.

They consider the UK to be somewhere between France's socialism and America's capitalism. For what it's worth, I agreed. High gas taxes in the UK are used for all sorts of things, and the somewhat socialist society that gives rise to such high taxes removes some responsibility from citizens, but it also provides a great social safety net. For instance, I have no health insurance, and I'm fairly certain nobody in Britain can make that claim, but I also get to keep more of my money. And here's a secret: it would cost $90 per month for me to get a really good health insurance policy, including dental. I checked. I wonder what the UK health system works out to, per month, per person.

Back to the car... The passenger in the front seat asked if he could drive it. I think he was kidding, but I wasn't sure. I declined, but not after we all joked about that, too. I told him I would get a couple of drinks at the bar I picked them up at, and when they got to their hotel, they should make an honest effort to find somebody coming back towards the bar -- the car could be driven back to me. It would be nice to have customers do all the work.

I also drove some Canadians who said they were amazed to see some San Diego natives wearing parkas and boots. When the night time temps get down to around 50, I explained, the natives consider it a frigid winter night. They were incredulous.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I learned late last night that I need to have a copy of my driving record, which California calls an H6 form, to HQ by Wednesday. No real problem there, as my driving record is spotless. It's just that going to the DMV is about as much fun as getting hit in the head with a hammer. I'll have to spend an hour in line, if I'm lucky, to get a simple printout. And why, again, don't I have an online account with the DMV? Why can't this be done without an office visit? Is it because the DMV is still in the stone age and they employ workers who care nothing about efficiency and customer service?

Taxi drivers and gay questions

Last night a driver picked up a fare and asked: "Does anybody know where an all male strip club is in San Diego?"

Dead silence.

Even if somebody knew, they would risk being labeled gay if they answered. I had to resist the urge to respond: "I thought you would know."

Later at a cab stand we were all laughing about the radio silence. Most of the other drivers said they picked up their mic, as I did, and then thought better of making a joke. Turns out, nobody does know where an all male strip club is. Maybe there aren't any around here. If I ever find out where one is, I'm certainly never going to say so on the radio...

Lost and Found

Had an interesting one last night.

I picked up a lady north of downtown who wanted to go to somewhere around 805 and Imperial. I didn't know if 94 had an 805 south exit, so I asked her, and she didn't know. No problem, we'd find the way.

The area south of 94 and east of the 5, going 10 miles or so, and north of the 54, is a blank spot for me. I've only been in the area a couple of times. Usually I can wing it and find a good route on the fly. And I don't have GPS since I've been forbidden to make a laptop mount in my new taxi -- for reasons that have never been explained. I have a mapbook, but after using GPS I feel like using a paper book is beneath me. Call it technology snobbery.

I took 5 south to 94 east and when I came to the 15 south exit, I asked her again how her feelings were about an 805 south exit, because if there isn't one, I could try 15. She said 15 "is better," just exit Imperial from there. So I took 15 south to discover there's no Imperial exit.

It's incredibly rare for me to get lost, and in truth, I don't get lost, it's more like having no clue of how to get from where I am to a precise destination. I've never actually come to a spot where I didn't know where I was. All the same, I got a sinking feeling. I know many other cab drivers, and to a man they would all laugh at me for feeling bad about not getting somebody straightaway to their destination. They're a fairly careless bunch, not minding how a customer might feel. Perhaps I'm too caring. Who knows? I always felt that when a meter is running at more than $2 per mile, I have an obligation to find a good route, especially when, as easy as that usually is, it's the trickiest part of the job (meaning it's so damned easy it should at least be done well.) I feel like I should know the best way, or at least some damned way, and don't like it when I don't. Enough said.

When I took Ocean View, not finding the Imperial exit, and knowing there would be little chance of getting back up to Imperial if we went any further, she politely objected. I had to explain that it was Ocean View or we might run into the 5 and then we've wasted major amounts of time; it would basically be a do-over.

Explaining and recapping everything we had already talked about, and giving her my reasoning, she said: "Oh." I went east on Ocean View, knowing the 805 is to the east and Imperial was not far to the north. She immediately said she recognized where she was and to just keep going on Imperial. When I told her we're on Ocean View, not Imperial, she politely disagreed.

She continued to give directions the rest of the way, which I ignored entirely. The somewhat lost is not well served by listening to the entirely lost. When we arrived at her destination I gave her $5 off the meter amount, saying I should have known better and the problems were my fault. She was very nice and thanked me for a safe ride.

I discovered later that there is an 805 south exit from the 94. Live and learn -- and I'll try to plead my case about getting my technology back into my car. The cab company owner is a Luddite. I'll work on him.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Seeing the light

My present car was bestowed upon my cab partners and I last September. At 212,000 miles, it was the newest, nicest car in the fleet. We have 235,000 on it now, and it's still probably the best car. Since day one the dash lights haven't worked. I took note of the needle position in daytime driving and then, because the needle is just barely visible with the street lights, used that to gage my speed at night. For instance, freeway speed limits in San Diego are 65, and the needle is straight up at 65. At night I can see the outline of the needle and just put it straight up on the freeway at night, or a little to the right if I'm in a hurry.

You get used to it, and there's part of me that secretly enjoys that my customers never know how fast we're traveling. Nobody can complain that I'm driving too fast or too slow when they don't know the speed. If it's a slow night, and I don't need to rush back to a cab stand to pick up another customer, I can amble along below the speed limit to save gas. On a busy night I can fly like the wind. As long as I'm smooth, nobody's the wiser.

Tonight the dash lights were working. It was strange knowing my exact speed at night. I wonder if my daytime cab partner had the car serviced. That's doubtful, as new problems usually appear after our mechanic touches a car, and everything seems fine.

'Driving in circles'

Tonight was dog slow, but I was the lucky guy. Sometimes I'm the Town Clown, but tonight when everybody else was getting $6 rides, I was getting $25 rides, and towards the end of the evening, had four that went to $35 and above. I even went way down to Club Caribe, which is in Bonita, not far from the Mexican border. I felt vindicated for the fork problems earlier.

I learned from another driver that the Russian Whore has a sister, who is also believed to be a hooker. I've only driven the "old" one, who is about 25. The younger one is supposed to be even better looking. The last time I drove her (the only time so far), she asked why I have to announce my destination on the radio -- dead giveaway, along with her destinations, as to her profession. I mentioned this to another driver tonight, and he said he started doing what I had planned to -- to say a general neighborhood when he calls in the ride, rather than an exact address. Anything to help two stunningly attractive Russian hookers.

I should mention that driver speculation is wrong on occasion. We thought the Iraqis got fired, and that wasn't true. Maybe these are just really attractive young women who go to different residential addresses every night to play scrabble. And maybe I'm the Pope.

One of my last rides of the night was interesting. I was on a naval base for a pickup at a building I'd never heard of before. The navy gives all buildings a number, and while I could find one number up and one down, I was having trouble finding the exact building. While I circled the two nearby ones, a siren and cherries lit up behind me. Navy cops pulled me over. A gruff civilian cop (contracted to work on base -- not a San Diego cop) demanded my license, cab permit and navy permit. He wrote my name into a small notebook. And, as this was going on, my fare spotted me and started walking towards the car. He said to her rather meanly: "I need you to wait over there. Don't approach the car."

Him: You know why I pulled you over?

Last time it was for "unsafe operation of a motor vehicle" after I was spotted with six inches of seat belt hanging out of the back door. I believe even the Navy would call that chickenshit.

Me: No.

Him: Driving in circles.

Me, after picking my jaw up off the ground: Is that illegal?

I was almost ready to tell him to keep my navy badge because this was going to be my last trip onto a base. All the petty nonsense we have to deal with is almost unbelievable. I love the US Navy, but the administrative side of it is FUBAR, and that's no exaggeration.

Him: It's legal. I'm trying to help you. Which building do you need?

In the end I didn't need his "help" because his siren and lights caught the attention of my customer, a young woman who was completely baffled by the officer's behavior, as I was.

I called in my ride on the two-way radio, per protocol:

Me: I picked up going to the Gaslamp Quarter. And for all drivers, apparently it's illegal to, quote, drive in circles, unquote, on federal property.

Another driver: You've gotta quit whippin' donuts.

Me: Copy that.

My last ride of the night involved the police, too. This one was what we refer to as a police call, where the police call for a cab to drive home some unfortunate soul who has run afoul of the law. These are usually long rides and even though the customers are never too happy at losing their car to the police or whatever their troubles may be, they're usually nice to me. They always have some interesting story to tell, too.

This one was for a young woman, maybe 25, who was pulled over for driving 55 in a 50 zone. Seems unlikely, but that's what she said. She was breathalized (sp?), and passed, but she said she was too shaken by the situation to drive home. She wasn't paralyzed with fear or anything, but she said she had been drinking, and who knows? Maybe another cop will pull her over and the blood alcohol level will show up differently? It was a $27 ride, $30 with tip.

A plastic fork situation

Today started bad, but it did improve. It began with a trip to the East Village Albertson's, where I meticulously constructed a salad from the salad bar, only to find the bar had no plastic forks. I brought the salad up to the deli where a young man said the deli was out of forks, too. When I suggested he check in the back or something, he sighed and said maybe I could just use a spoon? It was my first time using coercion in a grocery store setting. The now unhappy young man went away and returned with a fork.

I drove around for several minutes to find a good place to park and eat. I rarely eat in a restaurant; I prefer to get food to go and then eat in the car. This lets me avoid screaming brats, uncomfortable chairs and any other problems with dining in. If I'm near a beach, I'll watch the ocean while eating.

Parking and eating is not as simple as it sounds. The East Village is the homeless capital of San Diego, and I don't want to be pestered for money by some rancid smelling guy every three minutes while I'm eating and, on principle, I don't contribute to anybody's Listerine fund. I'm not wholly without a heart for the downtrodden, but I'm pretty sure getting drunk on mouthwash is a bad idea. I could just drive to another neighborhood, but I'm hungry, and would rather deal with a little bum avoidance than wait a long time to eat. Also, if I park on a busy street, people will ask me for rides, which is usually a good thing, but not when I'm eating. After a while I settled on a good spot, parked, reclined the seat, turned on the stereo, and put the windows down.

No plastic fork.

Ladies and gentlemen, I nearly lost control of myself. Ever have a rage attack? After the pains I took to get a fork, it had simply vanished. How the hell could that happen? Could it possibly be any more difficult to just eat a meal? I know it wasn't entirely rational to get that mad, but boy was I mad. I actually had to wipe spittle from the steering wheel, and I said a few things that would have gotten a bar of Irish Spring stuffed in my mouth if I'd uttered them 25 years ago.

After the anger subsided (a little), I went to one of the East Village 711s to get one (and what a plague on society these 711s are). They didn't have any -- only spoons and knives. It started to feel like a fork conspiracy.

I asked the kid at the counter if he had any forks, and he gestured to the rack containing the spoons and knives, so I had to explain there were no forks. It wasn't good enough for the chubby little whelp, so he went and checked, then came back and announced they don't have any. For the second time in less than an hour I had to suggest to a slacker that perhaps a teensy weensy bit of extra effort might be in order. He restated that they don't have forks. I said to him: "That's two punks in one day," and stormed out.

For some reason, I was really angry. Irrationally angry, I'll admit. When I got to my car, which was conveniently in view of the large windows of the 711, I threw the whole salad, plastic container and all, onto the sidewalk and sped away. I would have to go hungry because it's too much trouble for people to get me a fork, and when I do succeed in that, it mysteriously disappears anyway.

I got to our taxi zone around 4:30 p.m., later than I like. Still angry, I posted up on a cab stand, got out and decided to have a cigarette to relax a bit. No lighter. No matches. No flint or tinder, for that matter. For the first time, I tried the car's cigarette lighter, and it doesn't work. I'm a longtime smoker and for no good reason I left home with no fire! Geez. Ask any smoker how it feels to be jonesing for a cigarette and to be without any means of lighting up. I was third in line, which is too close to first place for me to leave and get a lighter. I could miss a $25 run and I need that even more than I need lung cancer.

Soon car 70 pulls up behind me, a good guy. He asked what my black mood was about, so I explained the fork conspiracy, and the more recent fire conspiracy. He laughed and opened his glove box. There were several plastic forks, some ketchup and salt and pepper packets, some soy sauce packets, napkins, and a book of matches that seemed to be gleaming and practically calling my name. What a guy 70 is. Always prepared.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


Last night was really slow, which is unusual for a Friday. The rain is keeping business away. Only the hardcore alcoholics were going out to bars. It's kind of funny, if you were to ride with me through our taxi zone, I could point out where the alcoholics live: "There's one, another one here, on the corner in the alley apartment is another."

With so few customers there aren't many interesting rides to mention. The only memorable ride last night was driving two very nice Chinese ladies who spoke English well. They went to a hotel in Old Town and thought $.40 was a sufficient tip for the $24.60 ride.

Tonight is Saturday night, with more rain, so I expect another slow night.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Return of the Iraqis

After weeks of speculation that all the Iraqis had been fired (with nobody willing to ask the cab company owner), one has returned and was quite amused that we thought he had been fired. Ali, of Sports Arena fame, returned this week after several weeks off. He didn't see any point to working in December when most nights are break-even money. That's clever enough.

After hand shakes and "welcome back"s, the first thing he said was: "I see Louie hasn't changed." Louie is our female dispatcher who works at night, nicknamed for Danny DeVito's character on the old show Taxi.

LA taxi scams

The NBC affiliate in Los Angeles did an interesting story on taxi corruption, dated November 2007. It seems a lot of cabbies are overcharging, either by having an illegal shop tamper with their meters or by charging meter rates to LAX, when the law requires a $35 flat fee. Video here.

Among our cabbies I've only heard of a few minor problems. Sometimes our drivers will fill a car with younger people, usually drunk, who are going a short distance. Instead of using the meter, they'll say, "$3 each." That might give them $12 instead of $5. The regulations are clear: always use the meter and charge the exact amount shown. I deviate routinely, but only because I don't deal with coins. If the meter says $10.40, I tell the customer the fee is $10.00. Only if there's 80 cents, as in $14.80, will I round up and say, "It's $15.00." I'm not scamming anyone.

I wouldn't know how to tamper with a meter, and I have no desire to learn. If I ever want to make more money than driving a taxi in an honest manner, I'll probably go back to the real world and enslave myself take an office job.

Our meters are inspected annually by the County of San Diego (I think the Weights & Measures department, or somesuch), and then they're sealed with a metal wire and a lead seal, and then an adhesive label is put on the side of the meter, which, theoretically, would be destroyed if the meter is tampered with.

The meter inspections involve a county employee sitting in the passenger seat and asking us to drive a pre-planned route, usually about two miles. The guy has a stopwatch and monitors the meter closely. He makes a few marks on a clipboard. One inspector told me to avoid putting a cell phone close to the meter. When I asked why, he said, "It can affect its operation."

Another interesting thing is a sticker appearing in all of our cabs showing the air pressure and size of the rear tires at the time of the meter inspection. The cars are rear drive, and the meter must be tied to them, which would be affected by changing the size and pressure of the rear tires.

I've never heard of any cabbies around here messing with any of that stuff. The most common thing is to offer somebody less than the expected meter amount. Supposedly this is illegal, even though it reduces the cost for the customer. Drivers will do this if the person is undecided about taking the cab because it's too expensive. Customers routinely offer a low, flat rate to save money, too. Some drivers accept the reduced amount, but only on a slow day.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year's leap off Coronado Bridge

The San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting that a driver who led police on a slow speed chase stopped on top of the Coronado Bridge and jumped off. It's 200 feet down, and almost always fatal. This guy survived.

    Less than an hour later, Byron exited I-5 at the bridge and stopped his GMC pick-up truck near the highest point and got out. Sadler released Stryker, whom police said bit Byron and pulled him to the ground. Byron then allegedly grabbed the dog and jumped over the concrete barrier into the bay, where he was rescued by harbor police, according to authorities.

I saw part of this unfold last night after dropping customers at the Hotel del Coronado. I was on top of the bridge heading for San Diego when I saw a small truck coming up the other side with four or five police cars following, all with their cherries going. The truck wasn't going very fast. Shortly afterward the bridge was closed.

Today I asked two fellow cab drivers and two customers what they thought about the event, especially the part about the police dog being killed. Both cab drivers said it was ridiculous that a man would be charged for killing a police officer (a local radio news update said a K9 unit is treated like an officer, and killing one is similar to killing a human police officer under law). The customers I asked, a man and a woman from Canada, said the guy who killed the dog should be shot. They were sort of kidding, but were adamant that killing the dog was a serious crime. Interesting difference of opinion.

Here's another post about jumping from the bridge. And here's from an interesting story in the San Diego Reader from the year 2000:

    With the exception of one man in 1992, the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office has identified all 202 people known to have committed suicide (by jumping from the Coronado Bridge). Each year the number varies: from none in 1985 to 16 in 1980. About 25 percent of the victims are women -- a breakdown that roughly approximates national statistics for suicide. Most people drive on the bridge, but some walk.

The same story says at least 10 people have survived the jump. The bridge was built in 1969, and the article is from 2000, so the data covers 31 years. With 202 suicides in 31 years, that breaks down to 6.5 per year, on average, or about one every other month. Grim numbers.

Here's something interesting about the Skyway Bridge in St. Petersburg, Florida:

    The Skyway has the reputation of being a magnet for suicides. It's the third-deadliest bridge in the country for suicides, after San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and San Diego's Coronado Bridge.

    But some who jump off the Skyway survive.

    Records show that five people have survived their leaps since the bridge opened in 1987.