Thursday, June 26, 2008

Forbidden places in San Diego

The USS George Washington, a Nimitz class aircraft carrier, is in port for several months. This is the one that made the news because there was a fire onboard somewhere off the coast of South America, and they came here for repairs. I've been driving a lot of GW (as we call it) sailors out to Coronado to the ship.

One time I heard a group discussing the forbidden list in the back seat. I asked about it, and asked if I could have a copy. They discussed the security of giving it to me, and then decided it didn't constitute a national security breach. I went through a similar thought process before deciding to publish it here.

Without further ado, here's the list the Navy gave GW sailors:

Off-limits at all times:

San Diego -- Club Mustang, Club of San Diego, Get it on Shoppe, Main Street Motel, Vulcan Baths.

National City -- Dream Crystal, Sports Auto Sales

Off-limits at specified times:

San Diego -- 2600 to 3600 block of Main St, including McDonald's and Burger King parking lots on 28th St, from 001-0500 Wed.

Chula Vista -- Denny's parking lot, 692 E St from 0100-0400 Sat and Sun

Off-limits areas from sunset to sunrise:

Otay Mesa

Willie Henderson Park / San Diego City Park

Areas of caution, especially after dark:

Naval Base San Diego (32nd St base) perimeter area.

Trolley stations, especially Palomar St and San Ysidro.


Libertad (south of Tijuana airport)

Camino Verde (south of city center)

Mariano Matamoros (southeast of city center)

Is it just me, or would a list like this given to 18-22 year-old sailors looking for excitement in port become a must-see list? That Denny's parking lot in Chula Vista must be something to see.

Ana, and going to HQ

I still haven't had the discussion with the cab company owner about Ana, the worst ride thief we've ever had. My last post about her is here.The bottom line is I avoid going to HQ like it's the plague. The problems with going to HQ are as follows:

1. I have to park several blocks away because the owner likes to come out of the HQ building and examine the car. If the car's not there, no spot inspection. Some days he's so nice it's like he's my grandfather, telling me he's glad I'm driving for the company (as an independent contractor). The next time, he'll run a finger along the quarter panel of the taxi and give a lecture about keeping the cars clean.

2. Often an office worker, usually a woman in her low 20s, will come out with a clipboard and "inspect" the car. No offense intended against young women, but y'all don't know the first thing about cars, and I don't like having my taxi evaluated by somebody with zero knowledge.

3. Often an office worker will be sent out to administer a "sniff test." I'm not making this up. A young lady will walk out and up to the car, open a door, stick in her head and sniff. If it's not up to the fragrancy standards of the corporation, the driver will be asked to clean the inside of the car and buy some air freshener. This is humiliating and I don't wish to be subjected to it -- and my car is always clean and always has a new air freshener.

4. If it's inspection day, you may get wrangled into helping clean or even repair cars. I don't mind helping out as part of the team, but if I can avoid it, I certainly will. I drive, I don't twist wrenches.

5. The "uniform". Two years ago a uniform policy was thrown at us, which basically means we need to look neat, clean, and professional. I think the official rules call for black pants and a solid color shirt with a collar. No hats unless they have no writing or promotional stuff on them. I generally conform, but I wear a San Diego baseball cap. Some days the owner sees me with it and he says nothing. Other days I get scolded. I don't take scolding very well.

Our half-joke is that the owner is bi-polar. We even try to gather intelligence as to his mood before we make an appearance at HQ. If another driver just came from there, we'll ask him about the owner's mood. If it's good, we'll rush over to do some paperwork or whatever sort of HQ business might be outstanding. It's much better to appear at HQ when the owner is in a good mood.

6. My "new" taxi, which my cab partners and I got last September with 212,000 miles on it, has had front suspension work done on it at least four times. The owner let slip a comment to me that he thinks my partners are hard on the car. They're not. Generally speaking, whatever happens to the car gets blamed on the drivers. I don't actually hold this against the owner, because we have several meatballs driving for us who have created a bad impression for all of us.

7. Any time spent at HQ is time I'm not making money on the streets. It's a waste of time.

8. Some of the office workers, like Louie, our female, night dispatcher nicknamed for the Danny DeVito character in the TV show Taxi, is in such a foul mood all the time it's a chore to be in the same room with her. This is to be avoided.

9. Our HQ is in a busy part of San Diego. Traffic is usually a mess.

If I have to visit HQ, which is usually only for dropping off work requests for the cab, I do it at 3 a.m., when only a single dispatcher is there. This strategic timing avoids all of the problems I listed above.

Also, Ana has been a model cab driver for over a month. Somebody must have leaked to her that problems were headed her way if she didn't improve. I may not have to do anything.

As Mark's World Turns -- new info

I've been following and reporting on Mark's World, as the drivers in my taxi zone call it. Here's the most recent post. THE NEW INFO: The girl and the new guy moved back East. They're gone.

To bring you up to speed a bit, Mark is a very nice guy who regularly takes taxis short distances. We don't like short rides much, but Mark is such a good guy (and he tips!), I enjoy driving him. He's a waiter at two different nearby restaurants, and he's trying to start his own, home-based graphic arts business. Most of our regulars are DUI cases, so they can't drive, at least temporarily. Given Mark's heavy drinking, I suspect that's the situation with him, but he's never said one way or the other.

Many months ago Mark broke up with his live-in girlfriend. Neither could afford to move out right away, so he had a strange time living with her while they were broken up. The reason for the breakup is the girl cheated with another regular customer, a guy who is a bartender at two different restaurants. Both men are heavy drinkers, but I'd say the new guy drinks a lot more than Mark. I can honestly say that Mark never said a single negative word about her, and I know he was upset and hurting, as you can imagine. He just shrugs and says, "It wasn't meant to be. She's a nice girl."

A few months ago I drove the girlfriend and her new man, Mark's nemesis, and learned she was pregnant.

Mark is working on a new girl, who I haven't met yet. Until he gets something going, this soap opera has stalled! I hear this new girl lives in our taxi zone, so I'll probably drive her alone sooner or later, if she doesn't have her own wheels, and maybe I can put in a good word for Mark. On second thought, is a recommendation from a cab driver going to help or hurt the guy? "Oh, well, the cabbie says your a good guy, so let's date!"

Coronado Bridge and the Voice of San Diego

I've been meaning to include Voice of San Diego on my sidebar for some time -- it's there now, in the San Diego section. I recently received an email from a writer who has published several articles there, Randy Dotinga, regarding the Coronado Bridge. He has done a number of interesting stories on the bridge (such as this one). Check out the site, and Randy's articles. I think you'll find them interesting.

My own posts that mention the Coronado Bridge are here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I got hit by a pedestrian

I picked up a man and a woman going to a Navy base. I turned a corner to find a guy standing in the middle of my lane. As I was making the turn, I saw an oncoming car turning with me, who would take the left lane, leaving me no option to change lanes to avoid the ped. Since I was driving 2mph for the turn, I just stopped the car.

Then we, my customers and I, saw two guys sprinting, racing each other, from somewhere down the road towards the guy standing in front of my hood. Apparently it was a foot race to reach the solitary, stationary guy. One of the racers tripped and fell and careened into the bumper of my car, hitting his head. He had been sprinting flat out. I was watching the guy standing still, to judge his reaction. I saw a look of horror on his face, so I put the car in park and reached for my seatbelt. I was 0% at fault, since the vehicle wasn't moving, but I still needed to get out and help, and maybe call an ambulance. Though the guy is a complete dumbass, he still deserved help.

Before I got my seatbelt undone, the guy jumped up, laughing, and him, his fellow racer, and the stationary guy all walked away into the night. My customers had all kinds of comments, like: idiot, what's wrong with them?, and, my personal favorite: "We're witnesses, it's not your fault. You weren't even moving."

Gas prices $4.48 in San Diego

The cheapest grade of fuel at the cheapest station in San Diego is $4.48 right now. I know Paradise Driver will probably laugh at my angst, but we're spending a literal fortune on fuel, and the ends aren't meeting, so to speak. I also know Europeans who read this will laugh, but it has to be considered that the American system is to keep taxes relatively low so that citizens can make their own lives, as opposed to a more socialized system, where control is largely kept by the state (public transportation, security, etc.). European gas prices are extremely high because of taxes, something Americans probably won't stand for. It was, after all, a tax dispute that resulted in the formation of the USA.

So when I popped open the San Diego Union-Tribune last week to see a front page article about the problems local taxi drivers are facing, my jaw almost hit the floor. You mean, somebody actually gives a damn about taxi drivers? Bus drivers belong to a union and have guaranteed raises and benefits. We get nothing. Trucking companies and airlines can raise prices and ad fuel surcharges at will to cope with soaring fuel costs, taxis cannot. We have to convince a government committee to meet and agree to a rate increase. And then what usually happens is the cab company owner simply raises lease rates to steal the increase in money (I mention this in more detail below).

I think it's especially interesting in San Diego -- the MTS regulates public transportation in the metro area, including buses, trolleys, and taxis. The main website is Visit that sight to see how much information is available to the public about buses and trolleys, and then see what's available for taxis. Can you say conflict of interest? I see the buses and trolleys being pushed constantly on billboards and radio and TV ads (and promotions). Taxis are a bad option for the public, according to the MTS (I base that on the advertising and their website), where our competition, buses and trolleys, are great. Taxi regulation, and the folks administering it, needs to be separate from competing forms of transportation.

Except for one big, glaring error, the Union-Tribune story was very good, and the things the MTS is supposedly going to do will help tremendously. I'll mention the error at the end of the excerpt:

    Kasem, who supports his wife and three young sons on the roughly $1,500 a month he clears in fares and tips as a driver with Orange Cab, said the $70 a day he spends on fuel has taken a big bite out of his already strained budget.


    The MTS is considering a proposal to ease the gas-pump pain with a $1 gas surcharge per trip for city cabs, as well as for taxis that operate out of the airport, which have a different fare schedule.

    The agency also expects to raise basic maximum rates from $2.60 to $2.80 for the starting fare, and increase the per-mile rate by 30 cents to $3.10 per mile for city taxis in areas regulated by the MTS, including San Diego, El Cajon, Imperial Beach, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Poway and Santee.


    Dan Chang, a San Diego cabdriver who splits a $600 weekly lease on a taxicab with another driver, said the rate increase and fuel surcharge could help.

    Then again, they could also prove a Catch-22, he said.

    Price increases tend to kill local business for a while, Chang said. And there's nothing to stop the 475 MTS taxicab permit holders, who lease cabs to drivers, from raising lease prices, which would dilute or eliminate the benefit.

Raising lease prices is a real problem. In the 3.5 years I've been driving cab, we've had two meter rate increases, immediately followed by a lease increase -- the cab company took our extra money from us. Nobody in our company has had a raise in 15 years or so. This time will be no different. I just started a pool among drivers. Will it be 30 days, 60 days, or 90 days before the owner takes our money? I wonder how the owner would feel if I organized a strike for our taxi zone? I believe I could pull it off. Hopefully it won't come to that.

Going from $2.60 per mile to $3.10 plus a $1 fuel surcharge will be very late, but very welcome -- at least until the money gets taken from us.

Here's the big error in the article. "Kasem", at the beginning of the article, says he spends $70 a day on fuel, and clears about $1500 per month. This is a massive lie. All the drivers in our zone laughed. We also appreciated that this Kasem guy is trying to make our plight seem worse than it actually is.

Here's the breakdown. Nearly all drivers in the San Diego metro area are at about 22-25%. That means we spend a daily amount on gas that is 22-25% of what the meter says. At $70 in gas, I know instantly the guy is making $350-400 per day in fares, and the average driver works six days per week. This guy is clearing $4k per month, after fuel and lease, easily. Easily. For him to say he's making $1500 is completely absurd. Our taxi zone has been extremely busy for two straight months now, and I never top $50 per shift in fuel, and sometimes I'm moving non-stop, earning as much as $400 gross, $300 net. Kasem is indeed a teller of tall tales.

I appreciate Penni Crabtree's work in putting the article together. There are hundreds of cabbies citywide who think she's a hero, but she'll need to speak to more than one driver next time to get a picture of earnings and expenses.

Ain't takin' this no more

I left early last Wednesday night out of frustration. It was busy, but I was the Town Clown, rarely getting a fare larger than $10. But it was worse than that. My first four rides not only declined a tip, they didn't have the full fare! I've never had four of those in a row.

The first fare was $7.20, and the guy professed to having only $7 on him, and, of course, he was "very sorry." I'm sorry, too, I told him, "Now get out."

Once I was called to a seedy apartment building, waited five minutes and called it a no-go. I got two miles away and was called back. The dispatcher said she explained to the customer that she was supposed to be outside waiting for the cab. The second time she actually was.

The cab driver I call Sunshine piped in on the radio: "Start your meter now, before you get there." The guy is quiet as a mouse unless there's something negative to say, then he's a magpie.
The fare was $5.20, and the bitch young lady gave me a five dollar bill and then spent what seemed like an hour digging a quarter out of her pocket. I couldn't speak, I was so pissed off.

After five hours working I had had a lot of rides, and only two broke $10, and I think I'd been tipped once. I finally gave up and went home. Thank goodness I have a job where I can disappear into the night when the barbarians are at the gates.

A failing heart

I got a nice run out to Spring Valley, up in the hills. The fare was $48.20, and I nearly had to resort to bullying to get $50 in all. When the guy, a young dude in his 20s, gave me $50, I said, "I can have all of it, or you want some back?" He said: "Oh, man, it was a long ride." I pulled out two singles and held them out, and he said, "You can keep them."

I went to the bottom of the hill (Jamacha Rd), and went through the drive-thru at Rally's, and ordered a medium coke. At the window I handed over $2.04 and got a huge bucket of soda. The damned thing wouldn't fit in my cup holder. A medium can't possibly be that large, can it? Not to dwell, but who the H drinks that much high fructose corn syrup? No wonder Americans are fatter than hell.

As I'm struggling to find a place to set a cup of soda almost as large as a coffee can, a woman came to the passenger window and asked me to "drive up the hill" for $5. It was three blocks for $5. I finished paying for the soda and was about to explain that I'm going the other way -- I'm one of few cabbies who won't pick up out of my zone. Then I noticed she was gasping for breath -- an elderly African American woman. "I can usually walk, but my chest pains are coming, and I can't make it."

It struck me at that moment that I would do anything for this woman, but there was nothing to do! Why can't medical science fix this woman? We can place a man on the moon, but we can't fix a simple pump? I knew as I drove up the hill, listening to her gasping breath, that she would not live much longer.

Her: My chest pains (gasp) are bad tonight.

Me: Do you want me to take you to a hospital?

Her: No, I can make it (gasp). I have nitro medicine at home (gasp).

Me: If you change your mind, just say so, and I'll get you to a hospital.

We made it, and she got out and handed me $5, which I declined. After I drove away I pulled over and turned on the light to inspect the back seat. I do that as a matter of routine, to see if any personal items got left behind; it's easier to return them now than later. There was a five dollar bill on the back seat.

Are you ready for some football?

I introduced (a) football to our taxi zone about four months ago. I've been meaning to mention it here, but I keep forgetting. On a whim I bought a $4, foam football from Wallgreens one afternoon. On the cab stand I tossed it to another driver. Several drivers have been playing catch for months now, every time a lull in business allows us the opportunity.

The $4 ball quickly landed on a 2nd floor condo balcony and was never seen again. Jim, our youngest and perhaps fittest driver made a brief attempt to scale a drain pipe (it was 3 a.m.) in an attempt to recover the ball, but cops were patrolling the area. Cops around our area have a notable lack of understanding and humor. I've never had a problem with them, but their reputation is no-nonsense. I decided a $4 loss was no big deal.

So I bought another $4 ball, and we still have that. The glossy, orange coating on the ball is completely gone, so it's now just a crumbly piece of foam in the rough shape of an American football. We're getting good, too. Even a few guys who were born and raised in Mexico, and so have never touched a football, love throwing it around. I had to show them how to hold and throw the ball, and how to balance the forward toss with the downward release to get the spiral.

Then I bought a real, leather ball for $20 at Target. It's a junior size NFL ball -- junior because I have fairly small hands, and throwing a full-size ball is tough.

Bringing the footballs to our zone has been a huge hit. I had no idea how popular it would be. Everyone loves it. We alternate the lightweight, foam ball with the much heavier leather ball, which is kind of entertaining. After throwing the leather ball, the foam one feels like tossing a feather. People walking along the sidewalks often join in for a while, and customers often join a circle for a few throws before we get in the car and leave.

Gotta love the ER

When a security guard at the local emergency room, with an unhappy look on his face and rubber gloves on his hands, stuffs Cousin It into the back of the cab, you know it's a bad one. The guy I had the other night looked foul, smelled foul, and he was all hair. It was long, greasy, gray hair, with matching mustache and beard, and only his beady eyes and a small nose were peaking through. He had to move his head around to look at me through all the hair. I couldn't help but smile at his appearance, and then when the smell hit me, the smile disappeared.

When he was situated in the back seat, the security guard handed me a voucher which stated SVDP as the destination. No idea what that is, and the guard didn't know, either. Cousin It said "Trolley Court." I had never heard of that, so I asked if it was the 12th and Imperial trolley station. He mumbled in the affirmative.

My radio call:

Me: 92

Dispatch: 92

Me: I've got a live one to 12th and Imperial.

Dispatch, chuckling: 10-4

Another driver: I've got some spray if you need it.

Me: That's okay. I'm going to roll through a car wash with the windows down.

I said that with Cousin It in the car, but he was barely aware of the world, so it really didn't matter. I couldn't picture him working a telephone to make a complaint.

When I was getting close to his destination, on the only road that leads in there (National to Imperial, then left), I saw that roads were closed and traffic was logjammed. A Padres game had just let out of Petco Park, which is one block from the trolley station, and traffic from the game was fierce. A traffic cop rudely told me I had to turn right, going east on Imperial, directly away from Cousin It's destination. I went one block and then pulled over and helped him out of the car.

The guy got angry and said it wasn't where he wanted to be, and I tried to explain what happened, even though he saw and heard for himself. Not wanting to repeat myself, I got him out of the car and left.

I am not a stalker

We have a regular customer who likes to drive around, then return home. He's such a weirdo that I've been paying other drivers to take him. The fee to avoid him: $5. I've mentioned this before. It's sort of a commodities market, invented by yours truly, where the commodity is idiocy.

Last night I was alone on the stand nearest the weirdo's apartment, so there was nobody around to take him off my hands. I picked him up and he wanted to drive around. I usually ignore him completely, not answering his questions unless they're pertinent to the drive, and then only with a nod or a simple yes or no.

But this time I paid attention to him, and sure enough, his drives have purpose. He's stalking somebody he has a crush on. He asked me to drive very slowly down one block, and I watched him look intently at a darkened house. He mumbled to himself, "His truck is there, but no lights are on."

Then he asked to go around the block and drive by again. After we went by the house for the third time, he asked me to stop the car and back up slowly. When I refused, he tried to get angry. "This taxi won't be used to stalk anyone," I explained to him. I told him to pick a destination or we'd return to his apartment. He was mute, so we went back to his place, where he paid me -- with a $2 tip -- without saying a word. Is it any wonder I pay to avoid people like this?

I always wonder if these characters suspect that a lot of haggling goes on, and hard cash exchanged, just to avoid them.

Albertson's blues (unfounded)

I was belled to Albertson's, and it was a time of day when an elderly lady usually calls for a cab. I don't know her name, but I've had her a few times. She is a real handful, for the following reasons:

+ mean as a wolverine
+ smells bad
+ poor sight and hearing
+ is always cold; insists on heat, even when it's hot outside!
+ has a lot of groceries, which the cabbie gets to load into the car, unload, and carry up two flights of stairs to a ratty little apartment
+ ten cent tip

So I slowly ambled over to Albertson's, being in no hurry for a humiliating torture session, and found a large tour bus blocking the entrance. If the lady was there, she would not be able to see me. I might have to park a long ways away and walk in -- more problems. Then a guy in a shirt and tie ran up to me and said the bus was going to try backing up because he was bottoming out, and could I please move? I could. I was wondering who "tries" to back up? Shouldn't he just back up?

To make room for the bus, I had to back up through a parking lot full of moving vehicles and pedestrians (who don't look out for large, metallic objects that could possibly run them over and flatten them like pancakes -- if I had half a peso for every ped who was careless with their life I'd be a very rich man.).

When I had positioned myself well clear of the bus, which was, of course, backing out at .0001 mph, a young black guy with a single bag of groceries came running up to the car.

Him: I need to go to the 32nd St. Naval Base.

Me: Did you call?

Him: Yes.

Me: Man am I glad to see you.

He gave me an odd look, so I explained that most calls to that grocery store at that hour are pure hell, and the fact that he was ambulatory and anything but a pain in the ass was pure magic to me. He was mildly amused, but didn't seem to understand. Maybe it's a cabbie thing.

The moral of the story: Take each bell as it comes, it may not be a complete turd.

Corona time

We have three Mexican-American drivers who are friends outside of work. When one of them goes home, announcing 10-21 on the radio, one of the others will say: "Corona time." Last night the first one came back with: "Tecate."

Another driver: Bud Light.

Another: Guiness.

Me: Sam Adams.

Another: Molson.

Another: Labatt's Blue.

Another: Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Another: Noooooo!

Another: Rum and coke.

Another: Scotch, neat.

Another: Scotch on the rocks.


Eventually the dispatcher came on the radio and began yelling for everyone to stop.

Broken cars, anger management

Jim had his weekly outburst on the radio. He's like most of us -- calm and collected, even when something is frustrating him, but a few nights ago he let loose on the radio. I love that kind of stuff. I don't like people who constantly tie up the radio with useless nonsense, because people need a clear radio to conduct business, but a nice, angry outburst always brings a smile to my lips. Jim lets loose about once a week, and we joke about it with him all the time.

We were busier than all get-out, and Jim's car breaks down. This is, obviously, the most aggravating time to lose a car, because on a busy night you end up losing $75 an hour, or so. I never heard what happened to the car, but Jim was off the radio for three hours. He probably had to wait for the tow truck, go to the office, and then wrangle a backup car from the owner.

Eventually I heard him on the radio again with a different car number -- a backup car. About two hours later had just cleared down in Chula when I heard the last bit of an outburst. "No I won't wait with the car! You can come and get the piece of crap! I'm going home."

The backup broke down, too! We didn't hear from Jim for the rest of the night.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A first for the ER

I do a lot of ER pickups, we all do, and I've posted a number of the experiences. I always ask: "What brought you to the ER?" That's probably rude, but I'm always too curious about how people end up in emergency rooms.

Last night somebody finally said: "None of your damned business." Does that mean gonorrhea treatment? I'll keep quizzing the ER unfortunates in the future. I've heard some very interesting stories. Be sure to check out the ER and paramedic blogs listed on my sidebar. Things range from funny to outlandish in emergency rooms.

The Iraqi and the new guy

We have one remaining Iraqi, and he's already made an enemy of our new Brazilian. That didn't take long. Ali is a ride thief and a fairly gruff guy. Despite that I really like him. He's Kurdish, from Irbil, and he's a really interesting person.

Good old Ali was up to his usual antics, swiping a ride from Vitao, who watched him do it. The new guy speaks very little English, is about 45, and is very businesslike. He is balding and professional, wearing a shirt and tie every night. He also has a big-screen portable GPS, another sign he's a serious guy. We all like him a lot. On his first day he came to me and said: "I am new here. Tell me if I do wrong. I need to learn." You can't not like a guy such as him.

So Vitao parks with a group of us on a cab stand, during a lull in business, and gets out to speak with us.

Him, in strained English: You know this Ali person?

Me: What'd he do?

Him: I want punch heem een face.

Me, smiling: Really?

Him: But I beeg person, he eez (searching for the English word) leetle person. I would keel him, so I (searching again) can not do that.

Me, smiling bigger: No, probably not.

Him: He stole! Een front of me!

Another country heard from, and another driver angry about Ali.

As a side note, not three nights ago I had to clean up one of Ali's messes. It wasn't entirely his fault, though. I got a bell from the company owner. He doesn't come on the radio unless we're really busy or there's a problem, and we weren't that busy -- so I knew somebody did something. My instructions were to go to a liquor store and pick up a guy in a black t-shirt.

Owner: Calm him down if he needs it, inform him he will get a $6 discount, and accept his credit card.

Me: 10-4.

I got there, and a black-shirted guy and a friend got in the back.

Him: Airport please, and I'm sorry you had to get involved in this.

Me: All they said was to pick up a guy in a black shirt and give him a discount. What happened?

Him: You know this Ali guy?

Me, choosing my words carefully: Yeah. He's a real character.

Him: First he refused to take my credit card, and brought me to the liquor store to use the ATM, which I agreed to. Then when I told him to stop the meter while I was inside, he refused.

Me: And he doesn't use deodorant. Did you notice that?

That's true, by the by. Both customers laughed. I knew I had "calmed him down." Every driver now has to take cards, and the owner doesn't like it when we try to tell people we don't take them. Since the owner doesn't know everything about what happens on the streets, we often lie about it, but poor old Ali got caught out on this one.

But we don't have to turn off the meter. We can, and nearly always do, charge waiting time. I never turn mine off; I would have done exactly as Ali had done. I probably would have taken the guy's card, though. It depends. If somebody asks in a begging tone, "Do you take cards, or do you need cash," I'll insist on cash. If they say, "I hope you take cards, because that's all I've got," then I'll take it.

They were happy, and I'll turn in a $6 receipt against my next lease payment. In cases like these, the owner absorbs the discount.

As Mark's World Turns

I've mentioned this little soap opera in our taxi zone before. Twice in the last three days I drove the guy who stole Mark's girl. The first time the girl was along for the ride, too. They're a couple of dim bulbs, boy. The girl was a fool to give up Mark, who is Albert Einstein compared to this guy. The happy couple were talking amongst themselves about a party they had attended the night before.

Her: I can't believe Jamie paid cash for his house. That has to be a $500,000 house.

Him: He must have done it to brag.

Her: What do you think he did, bring it in a trash bag?

Him: A big suitcase.

People, these customers think that when you say you have paid cash for a house, you brought paper money.

The second time I drove the guy, who is really a nice guy despite his dim wits (even Mark, who lost his live-in girlfriend to him, admits the guy is fundamentally nice), he was on his way home from the bar he tends. He needed me to stop at an Albertson's grocery store.

Him: I have to get one of those little chickens, the ones that are pre-cooked.

Me: A rotisserie chicken?

Him: Yeah.

Me: Those are good.

Him: I don't like 'em, but I got my new girlfiend pregnant, and she's having cravings. Gotta get her what she wants.

I laughed. It's safe to say he doesn't use condoms, but Mark does -- he lived with her for at least a year, and no baby! I wonder if the soon-to-be father knows that at least 20 cab drivers are closely following the strange love triangle between him, this girl, and poor old Mark? Do you think he knows his love life is on the web?

As for Mark, he's working on a new girl. I drove him a few days ago from the restaurant (he's a waiter) to his house. He was with a girl, and we dropped her off first. On the way to his place, he said he's working on that girl's roommate, who couldn't come out drinking that particular evening. He said he'd let me know how it goes. And when I know, you'll know.

UPDATE: I just learned from another driver that the pregnant girl and the new boyfriend moved to the East Coast.


I've mentioned this a few times in the past, but I'd like to say it again. Working the streets gives one an interesting perspective of a city. We get a feel for what's going on, and where.

For instance, a few weeks ago I brought two officers to the Stennis on the Coronado Naval Air Station (Stennis is a Nimitz class aircraft carrier -- one of the big boys). I had heard from other, enlisted, sailors that the ship was due to leave in a day or two. They're not supposed to leak that kind of info, but it happens. I knew it was coming because for two straight nights I had Stennis guys (and girls, too) who had no curfew. The night it changes to a curfew, which they complain about and discuss, means the ship will leave the next morning.

While bringing the officers back, one man and one woman, the man asked what was happening in San Diego in mid-June. I told him I hadn't heard of anything. He said he was asking because they tried to reserve a hotel room for that time frame, but every room in the city is booked.

Now I know the Stennis is returning in mid-June, which will give us a slight bump in income. When 5-7000 people show up on a single ship, all needing transportation, you feel it. Also, I know something spectacular is happening in mid-June, probably a massive business conference at the downtown Convention Center. I'll check online about that later. Meantime, I know that when all rooms in the city are booked for a week, I'll have several nights of $400 or more, which is a real boon. I'm looking forward to that.

I hope the convention isn't for "action sports", skateboarding and surfing, or comic books. We make almost nothing on those demographics. It's a simple fact of life that people who have metal piercings in their face don't have a nickel to spend on a taxi (and when they do take a cab, they find something to complain about and usually "forget' to tip). We make more money on 1/10th as many doctors or lawyers.

UPDATE: The big things happening in San Diego in mid June are the U.S. Open golf tournament, which ended this afternoon with a Tiger Woods victory. Also, Bio International is having its annual convention here. And, the U.S.S. Nimitz came into port recently, and I'm still eagerly awaiting the Stennis. Also, the George Washington is here for an extended stay to repair fire damage. The taxi recession is officially over, at least temporarily.

Gas prices

People in Europe, try to understand that Americans are entitled to cheap gasoline. I'm only kidding, but to see gas go from just over a buck to $4.50 for the cheapest grade of fuel in fifteen years is pure, unadulterated bullshit. I've been lax in calling the cab company owner to inquire about a rate increase, but I'm going to do it this week.

We went from 10% cars to 25% cars in two years. What I mean by that is: if we made $200 on the meter during a shift two years ago, it would cost about $20 in gas to fill the tank, which is 10%. Now it costs $40 or $50 on that same $200 earned. It galls me that every other form of transportation in America can ad fuel surcharges, luggage fees, or simply raise rates at will, but not taxis. We have to appeal to a committee at the county level, and it's nearly impossible to get them to agree to an in crease.


After just over three years of driving cab, I now have an address that I will not respond to. Four of the last five calls to that house resulted in no-gos. They're young kids in their 20s who throw parties several times a week, and car 92 no longer goes there. Last night was the last time.

I just decided, as I'm writing this, that I'm going to anonymously call the police on their parties whenever I become aware of them. I'll be an angry neighbor. Somebody has to get even with them, and it may as well be me.


Last night I caught an out-of-zone cab picking up my bell (wildcatting). And it was in a residential area. I don't know how he could have been driving around that area. We have caught enemies in our area with hand-held scanners before, so this guy might have been listening to our radio dispatches, and then racing us to our bells (pickups). Basically, if an out-of-zone cab is in our area, they'll be on the main thoroughfares, dropping at restaurants and shops, and then hoping to do a little wildcatting on their way out. This guy might have been dropping at a residence, and by pure luck saw my guy. More likely he had a scanner.

I was two blocks away, and it was 1:30 a.m. (dark), when I saw the enemy zip by perpendicular to me. I immediately got on my radio and said: "Who is picking up my bell? I see you." I said that because it might have been one of our guys. We have some slimey thieves working for us (like Ana).

I jammed the gas and may have blown a stop sign, but not officially, and caught up to him. It was an enemy cab. I pulled about a quarter inch off his bumper as he waited at a red light, and switched on my high beams as a way of saying, "Hello, dirtbag." To my surprise, the back door opened, and a youngish kid got out and came to my car. He got in and told me the other guy was apologetic and nice, and insisted he get out and ride with me.

For about two blocks I was smiling at my victory. Then the kid told me where he was going. Only two more blocks! The enemy cab driver suckered me! I wrote down the guy's cab company and car number. I'll have an opportunity to pay him back eventually. I always get even with my enemies.

Silver Strand stupidity

I've begun to hate driving out to Loew's Coronado. It's a nice resort/spa on the Silver Strand highway; the strand is a thin strip of land that connects Coronado with Imperial Beach to the south. Every time I get on the strand, I'm surrounded by people who won't speed up when the limit goes from 45 to 65.

I think I'll take my personal car out there on my day off -- you know, a vehicle that doesn't have my boss's phone number on it -- just so I can flip people off and put my window down and inform them that their existence is infuriating. Why do people drive 10 to 20 mph below the speed limit in the fast lane? These people should be shot.


"Peds" means pedestrians, and I hate them. At least twice a week a full-grown human being walks in front of my car without looking. Note that the car is the largest passenger sedan available in the United States of America. Also note that it's canary yellow in color. And please note that it never drives above the speed limit in residential areas or busy commercial areas.

How do these people survive to adulthood? I've had people in their 20s, 80s, and everywhere in between just stroll on out into traffic. What gives? I have a stock line I use with my customers for these occasions: "I don't care if the guy wants to commit suicide, I just wish he'd do it on somebody else's taxi."

The $7 idiot

There is something to be said for a job that trains you to look at a complete stranger and, before a word is uttered, know his character. I recognized an idiot just by the way he looked at me and walked across the street to my taxi. He told me where he was going, and I knew it would be a $7 ride.

En route I discover he's extremely drunk (I had picked him up outside a dive bar), and he was lamenting an $82 bar tab. He was quite a small, skinny guy, too. How could he have swilled down $82 in beer? Unless maybe he included some bar friends on the tab? I always pay attention to people who say how much they spent, which happens surprisingly often, so I can bring it up when they decide not to tip me. As in: "You have $82 to spend getting drunk, but can't spare a few dollars for a tip?" I never ask for a tip except when drunks are concerned. They won't complain to HQ.

To digress a bit, I recently discovered that when people are fallen down drunk, they can't read the meter, which just happens to be clearly and brightly lit. I told a drunk the fare was $22, when the meter said $7, and he gave me $22 and started to get out. I quickly told him I made a mistake, and gave him the correct change. I don't steal, but I wonder if any of our other drivers have tried this? I'll ask around.

Anyway, the $7 idiot tells me he needs an ATM, and then he'd like to stop by a 24-hr McDonald's. A $7 ride became a $15-20 ride, and I'm in better spirits. I stop at the curb in front of an ATM, and he gets out. When he returns to the car, he comes to my window instead of getting in. I already know what has happened, but I failed to fully grasp the depths of his idiocy.

Him: I lost my card.

Me: How much cash do you have?

Him: I lost my card.

Me, adopting the voice I use with toddlers: I heard you the first time. How much cash do you have?

Him: I think I left it at the bar.

Me: Hello?! How much cash do you have?

He opened his wallet, and I could see it was empty. I started the engine and drove off. I could hear, "Hey! Hey!" get fainter and fainter as I got farther away from the idiot.

Where do people like that come from? I've spent plenty of nights (long ago, I would like to mention) where I was wasted, and needed a cab. I was always courteous to the driver and I always had money.