Sunday, August 24, 2008

Gringo learns Spanish the hard way

I don't speak Spanish, but I've picked up a little bit along the way. A Hyundai Tiburon drove by a cab stand and I said the car is okay, but why does it have a nonsensical name? A Mexican-American driver said it means "shark" in Spanish. I had absolutely no idea. I thought the good folks at Hyndai had tried to invent something! Does anyone know about the Buick LaCrosse in Montreal, or the Chevy Nova in South America?

I've been using tiburon on the radio lately. We have some yellow taxis, some blue, and some white. When business is slow drivers will identify themselves as "el bandito azule" for the blue ones, etc. One guy has the ID "el mejor", meaning "the best", on account of getting long rides. When I hear these IDs, I'll say (please forgive the spelling), "Jo soy el tiburon!"

On a related theme, I remember when a Mexican driver taught me to say, "How are you?" He said, and again please forgive the spelling, "Comme es ta, culo?"

I said that to a few drivers, but thankfully not to any Mexican customers, before somebody explained that it means, "How are you, asshole?" The joke was on the gringo.

McCain by 10 points?

Most of our drivers believe John McCain will be our next president. A few think it will be Obama, and one still thinks it might be GWB again, after a coup sets him up as dictator. From cabstand discussions, it seems our drivers believe experience will give McCain an edge.

We seem evenly split on left and right wing -- we have a number of people who are liberal, and a few conservatives. Some are independent, and there's an odd libertarian. Most want a smaller federal government, but with a strong military. Most believe energy independence is America's biggest need, which isn't too surprising considering fuel is not included in the cab lease.

Border blues

We have a few Mexican drivers who live in Tijuana. They're always complaining about the long line to cross the border into the USA. It takes 1-3 hours. I mentioned to one of them that for $300 or so, per year, he can get an express pass. It's supposed to be much quicker (I read about it in the paper). He said, "I don't want to give money to the U.S. government." An American couldn't have said it better!

Another driver had an idea: Why don't you just run across the desert like everybody else?

The Mexican guy laughed, taking the joke in stride.

Big Marcy

I apologize up front for the upcoming crude language about large ladies. While I harbor no ill will for the bigguns, I decided to write this in the way it was discussed. Remember that we are, after all, cabbies!

After midnight our informal cab stands form across the street from any number of bars. One such stand has generated a regular customer: Big Marcy. Her qualities include the following:

+ 300 lbs or more
+ dumb
+ lazy
+ mean
+ alcoholic
+ needs alcohol rehabs and Weight Watchers.

She likes to curse, especially at cab drivers and her skinny husband. She treats him like a slave, barking orders at him. Also, Big Marcy is a short ride and she doesn't tip. Despite all this, I'm sure she's a fine woman. I'm the Pope, by the way.

Because people can't smoke in bars in California, there's usually a crowd of smokers in front of bars. Like hawks we watch these crowds for a raised hand or the yell, "Taxi!" Some people just give The Look, as if that's sufficient. When we get a taker, the guy first in line will start his car, do a U-turn, and pull around to the bar. We also watch these crowds for pukers and other undesirables. Fortunately for us, Big Marcy is easy to spot.

Standing around with other drivers, somebody will yell, "Marcy!" and the first driver will get in his car, readying to leave the stand if she wants a cab. Sometimes drivers get belled to her, meaning she called HQ from her cell. If the driver refuses the bell, he loses the next hour's worth of bells, making refusal a bad option. He might get an angry call from the cab company owner, too, and that's not pleasant.

Last night Marcy came out of a bar and jiggled her way through the throng of smokers and came to rest at the curb. We became anxious. From our vantage point across the street, we saw her raise a chubby arm. We all looked away, pretending not to see.

The arm waved with vigor, and the jokes commenced:

    She's burning a lot of calories waving that arm around. We shouldn't spoil her workout by picking her up.

    These old taxis don't have suspensions that can handle a girl like that.

    I don't like it when my tailpipe drags on the ground.

    Do you think she'd fit in the trunk?

    They don't need a cab. The skinny little husband can give her a piggy-back ride.

    Too bad there's not a Jenny Craig around here. We could drive by on the way to her house as a subtle hint.

(I did warn you we're cabbies. I'd like you to believe I didn't join in.)

Then the worst thing that can happen, happened. Big Marcy reached into a purse the size of a carry-on and pulled out a cell phone. The first driver jumped in his taxi, started his car, and was gone for the night. The second driver leaned in his window and switched off his radio. So sorry, he joked, I didn't hear my radio.

The third driver was looking dejected. After dispatch tried in vain to reach the first two, the third was called. I was fourth in line and, needing him to accept the bell, made a mockery of telling him it was his duty to answer the radio and take the bell. Is he a person of strong moral fiber, or not? "The honorable thing to do," I explained, "is to help that poor woman." If my appeals failed, I'd have to offer him cash.

With a lot of cursing before keying the mic, he accepted the bell, then proceeded to light a fresh cigarette. We all laughed at the slow pace he was setting. Big Marcy, meanwhile, is watching us from across the street. Then the driver did something that has never been tried before. He moved his front seats all the way back, easily done by leaning in the open windows and pressing the buttons. "My seat motors are broken," he practiced. "Think she'll fit back there?"

One smart-guy pointed out that the skinny hubby will take the back seat, and Marcy will take the front. He hadn't thought of that, but he quickly recovered, moving the passenger side seat all the way forward, then tilting the back of the seat all the way back.

Before he left he said something about not being able to reach the pedals, but he did well, considering. He made his U-eey and pulled to the curb. We watched poor ole Marcy open one door and then another, then give up.

Dispatch came on the radio:

    Dispatch: What happened with Marcy? She's saying you refused to drive her.

    Driver: She doesn't fit in the car. The electric seats aren't working, so we couldn't make it work.

    Dispatch: 10-4.

He then went on to the next driver, who never answered.

Tonight the driver who had the "seat malfunction" received a call from the owner, who tried to catch him in the lie by telling him to bring the car to the mechanic immediately to get the car worked on. It was a blown fuse, the driver explained, and he had just replaced it.

That night the owner made an announcement on the radio: All drivers will pick up Marcy, with no exceptions.

We've gone through that with several other bad customers, like Reed and the deceased Marzetti. Now we'll have to put more work into it, just like with those others. We'll have to monitor Marcy's whereabouts during the course of her drunken evenings and evade by changing stands legitimately. I have trouble remembering, so maybe I'll use the small notebook I keep in the car for gambling pools.

If I miss the radio calls giving away her movements, I can always do what I do with the others: pay some other driver to take the bell. Somebody will usually take an idiot off my hands for $5 or $10.

Self portrait

A brush with the Kittyhawk

I drove three black sailors from the Kittyhawk (aircraft carrier). They were going from a bar area back to the NAS navy base, where the ship is parked (berthed?). They had just come back from Japan, and I asked them if they liked it. They had two observations about Japan:

1. Japanese girls are easy. Their only requirement: don't lie and don't cheat. "You just don't tell them you have other girls, and everything's great. They cook for you and treat you right."

2. The Japanese don't brush their hair (sailors' claim). I asked about that, and one of them said: "Maybe it's 'cuz I'm a black man, but we brush our hair. The NEX (Navy Exchange, on-base retail store) ran out of brushes and they never got more." So they went out into the towns and cities searching for a hair brush. Not only did no store carry a hair brush, but the Japanese didn't have any idea what they were talking about.

The guy said: "I finally played charades with one dude, and he brought me to the dog section and pointed at dog brushes." I burst out laughing at the story, and he and his fellows laughed, too.

Is is true? the Japanese don't brush their hair? Or do they use something besides brushes and combs?

The sailor told me, just before paying at Avis near the airport, that if he ever gets stationed in Japan again, he's bringing a crate of brushes, and when the NEX runs out, he's going to sell them for $50 each.

Returning the rig in Golden Hill

Driver games: Zach and Slingblade

We've had some terrific radio fights between Zach and Sunshine (who has been renamed Mr. Congeniality, and sometimes Slingblade). Usually we let Slingblade bellow and cause trouble without attempting to counter him. He's one of those people that has to be handled delicately because, well, he's a psycho cab driver and we know he's done time for assault in the past. Nobody wants to push him too far. Enter Zach, our young driver who doesn't give a damn.

Slingblade jumped the line of drivers trying to reach dispatch and Zach was on him:

    Zach: I called first.

    Slingblade: Doesn't matter. It's who she heard first.

    Zach: Respect the call-in order.

    Slingblade: You haven't worked here very long, let us handle it.

Now somebody was stepping on him, keying the mic when he spoke. It may have been Zach, but it could have been anybody. In the middle of this entertainment, somebody held down their mic and played the theme song from the movie Rocky.

    Slingblade: Stop cutting me off, Zach.

    Zach: Get ahold of yourself.

    Slingblade: No, you get ahold of yourself.

That blew over in a few minutes. Later that night I got into the mix, which I usually try to avoid. Slingblade yelled at somebody on the radio, and I mimicked Zach's voice: "Get ahold of yourself."

    Slingblade: Only queers do that. You're a queer, aren't you, Zach? You like to get ahold of yourself?

I laughed so hard I almost had to pull over. I had drunks in the car, and they were amused at the exchange. Later on a cab stand I jokingly apologized to Zach. He said: "Funny, I never knew I was 'queer'."

We all speculated on who had brilliantly played the Rocky theme song, but nobody would admit to it. Just having the song and then being quick enough to queue it up and play it during the radio fight was fantastic. Several days later we're still talking about it. I wonder which smug bastard is inwardly gloating at this?

At Nimitz & Harbor

Good customers, but a difficult ride

One day last week I went out to the cab to start my shift and found a note on the dash: Brake lights not working. I checked, and found that the main lights were out, but the third in the rear window was working. That was enough to get me through my shift. Cops usually give a warning for that, and worst case scenario I get a fix-it ticket, with no points on my license.

I dropped by HQ on my way to work, glad to find nobody there except the dispatcher, and filled out a work request for the brake lights. I also made a note of a belt squeal that's driving me crazy. I found out later that my daytime cab partner has had the squeal worked on three times already, and it's quiet for two days then comes back.

My first ride of the day was a family of four -- mom, dad, and two noisy kids. Traffic was heavy, the kids were a huge distrction, and the parents were asking tourist questions (normally I enjoy this). On top of this, it was a hot day, requiring AC, and the engine has been overheating with the AC on. For a week or so I've been using AC while watching the temp gauge, shutting it off for a few minutes to cool the engine, then turning it on again.

Now I find myself in heavy traffic and I'm concerned about having only one, small brake light. I'd hate to get rear-ended. Answering all the family's questions, and trying to tune out the yelling of the little kids, I'm trying to drive on the freeway in heavy, stop-and-go traffic while using the brake lights as little as possible, and at the same time cycling the AC to keep the engine cool. It was a real workout.

In the midst of this, a CHP cruiser came up behind me. Now I've got all of the above things going on, plus there's a good chance of getting pulled over because of the brake lights. I gently maneuvered into another lane and let the cop go by, fiddling with the AC and explaining that Sea World is just north of the airport and, yes, Old Town is a nice place to visit because of the good restaurants, shopping, and the State Park.

I got them to their hotel in Mission Valley without getting ticketed and without burning up the engine. They never knew about the drama.

SEAL tours

I shot these on Ingraham St in Mission Bay, near Sea World. It's an amphibious tour vehicle.

Cheating on online college courses

I picked up three well dressed young women at an expensive hotel, going to the Hard Rock Hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter. On the way they talked continually, eventually settling on the topic of how one of them was making extra money. She found a guy on Craig's List looking for somebody to take an online course for him. She took the course, as him, and aced it, and she got $200 for it. She said it was entry-level math, and was simple for her.

He told some friends, and now she has a nice cash business going. For summer session (don't know what college or where she lives) she has made $2000 without breaking a sweat.

Weird women

I was belled to a residential address in an average neighborhood. Only the garage was visible, and there was a Toyota in the driveway covered in dirt and twigs, obviously unused for a long time. I went through a gate in a row of shrubs and found a backyard with a pool. Everything, including the pool, looked dirty.

A woman of about 60 walked towards me, wearing dirty jeans and a dirty shirt, with a drink in her hands. I'm thinking: "Here we go, another live one." She called for the cab and she'd be ready to go in a minute. Another woman of similar age and cleanliness walked up to me and hugged me, saying, "George, it's good to see you again." There are two of these morons, how nice. I said I'm not George. She introduced me to her friend, calling me George again. "Nice to meet you," I said to the woman I had already met, "I'm not George."

The woman who hugged me had deep red gashes in her cheeks. She explained that her husband had beaten her and she is divorcing him. "I put that bastard through law school!" she yelled.

The woman who called for the cab gathered up some debris that was obviously trash, put everything into a white, plastic garbage bag, and got in the back of the cab. We headed for the Amtrak station downtown, which would be a $28 ride or so.

She told me she had just been let out of jail after getting a DUI, and it was in jail that she had met the other woman. To commiserate their fate, and celebrate being released, they spent the last three days drinking. She claims to have been at a party, drinking heavily, when she decided to go to another party. Being too drunk to drive, she asked a young man -- who seemed sober -- to drive her. So they went together to another house. This party was very rowdy, and after a couple of hours the police showed up (she didn't say if this was in San Diego).

Her ride took off running, and as far as she knows, he got away. She doesn't know why he ran, but speculated he had outstanding warrants. She waited for the cops to cool things down, then got in the guy's truck to drive home. She got a few miles before getting pulled over for DUI. The rest is history.

We arrived at the Santa Fe Depot, and she thanked me and gave me a $10 tip on top of the good fare.

The day after I met the two women, I was belled to an Albertson's grocery store. There I picked up a disheveled man, about 30, with a bag of booze. He was a little off, and I thought he might have mental problems. He gave me his address, and I noticed it was next door to the house where I'd picked up the weird woman the day before.

He chatted non-stop the whole way, saying that he is an alcoholic and lives off an allowance from his father, who is an attorney. He lives next door to them in one of their many houses. He also said his parents are getting a divorce, and that he was disappointed at that.

    Me: Why?

    Him: Why am I disappointed?

    Me: No, why are they getting divorced?

    Him: I'm not sure.

I was hoping he'd explain how his parents had fought so violently that injuries, jail time, and divorce resulted. Unfortunately he said no more.


Cash cab

A lot of people have jokingly asked me if I'm the Cash Cab. This is a show on cable -- Discovery? Lately I've been telling them I don't have any cash to give away, but I could lay some trivia questions on them. These are some of the questions I've been asking, with answers below:

1. What's the longest river in Europe?
2. What is Pi to two decimal places?
3. What is Pi?
4. How many engines does the Space Shuttle have?
5. What was America's most successful submarine in WWII?
6. Who is, arguably, the single most important person in the American Revolution?
7. What is an Astronomical Unit?
8. What is the name of America's newest supercarrier?
9. How many planes does a Nimitz class carrier hold?
10. How many nuclear reactors does a Nimitz carrier contain? (and for sailors, how many shafts?)
11. What size engine is in a Ford Crown Victoria, like this taxi?
12. What is the only state in the Union that can legally divide itself into smaller states?
13. What is the first aircraft in the world capable of flying above the speed of sound for prolonged periods?
14. Where was the last bank Jesse James robbed?
15. How many times has Bret Favre retired?
16. Who was the State of Virginia named after?
17. Where will the 2012 Olympics be held?

1. Danube (Is this right? I'm not even sure, but I've never been challenged on it.)
2. 3.14
3. The number of radians that can be placed around the circumference of a circle.
4. 49
5. The U.S.S. Barb
6. John Adams
7. The distance between the center of the Sun and the center of the Earth, or about 93 million miles.
8. George H. W. Bush (I don't ask this of sailors because they all know the answer.)
9. 85
10. 2 (4 shafts)
11. 4.6 liters
12. Texas
13. F-22 Raptor
14. Northfield, Minnesota
15. Who cares?
16. Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen
17. London

OB and Pt. Loma

After getting a nice, long ride out to Ocean Beach (OB) with a naval aviator, I snapped a few random shots. We took I-8 west from the 5, then grabbed Sunset Cliffs into the neighborhoods. There was a crash on the 8 back in Mission Valley, and it snarled traffic all along, so when I came back I went over the hump from OB to Pt. Loma and down Nimitz to Harbor Dr.

This shot and the next two are ordinary street scenes in OB, facing the ocean (and the sun!).

This shot and the rest are of Pt. Loma, facing the bay and downtown.


I was sitting on a cab stand with two other drivers, and we were out of our taxis, talking. A cab from another zone stopped on the street next to us, coming to a screeching halt. The back door popped open and a young man with a baseball cap leaned out and barfed for at least two minutes. We were revolted. The guy finally got out of the cab and paid his driver.

The driver looked at us, and without exchanging a single word, we had a conversation: Sometimes this job sucks. These drunks are tiresome. Good luck, my friend.

He got in his cab and drove off.

Meanwhile, the drunk guy held up both arms, index fingers extended: "I'm ready for the next round!" He staggered across the street and into one of the bars.

At least he had the sense to deposit the contents of his stomach outside the guy's taxi.

Train at night

Nine lives

I picked up a man, about 45, on a very busy street. He was going to the airport for a return to San Francisco to visit his family. He has been working in San Diego and living in SF for over a year; and the weekly commutes and being away from the family are wearing him out.

He said he finally convinced the family to move to San Diego, and bought the house on the busy street. He's apprehensive because nobody wants to live here, with friends and full lives up in the Bay Area. Now that they've agreed to move, his final worry is the family cat. "She's a good cat, but I don't know how she will survive on this busy street."

He explained that with the family already unhappy about moving, it would be a complete disaster if the cat got killed. He said: "If the cat dies, I'll be in the dog house."

We had an interesting discussion about how the cat will have nine lives to spend in San Diego.

Part of the routine

The streak is intact

I've now worked every day since July 13. It's the busy season in San Diego and I'm trying to take full advantage. I still cringe when I think about what we call the taxi recession of 2007. This was actually the 2007-8 winter season, when there was no business to speak of. Our old timers said at the time they hadn't seen it that slow since right after 9/11. Oldtimer doormen at the hotels said the same thing.

Since July 13, 2008 I've had two days where I worked two hours or less. One was due to my car having an electrical problem, and the other was due to anger. One Sunday afternoon I was hearing great rides all around me, and I was getting all no-gos and short, local trips. I've been getting better at letting this stuff go, but on that one occasion I was so angry I left -- but the streak is officially intact.

Even with the high gas prices, money stacks up when I work 8-10 hrs a day, 7 days a week. I'm giddy whenever I check my bank balance.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sales jokes

Last night I drove a man and woman in sales. The man told a joke about a man who died and went to Heaven. When he got to the pearly gates St. Peter showed him the attractions -- relaxing on clouds, eating great meals, and listening to harp music. The man thanked him, but decided to go down to Hell to see what that was all about. Satan met him at the gate and showed him around. He saw wild sex parties with the best wine and spirits. He decided on Hell, and Satan brought him inside again. When he got inside he saw something very different from what he had seen before. Now there were people being tortured and burned and living in cages. "Satan," he asked, "where are the great parties and all the fun stuff?" Satan said, "That was when you were a prospective client. You're a client now."

I suggested that this was also like the difference between dating and marriage. The man offered:

    Man: Do you know what food kills the female sex drive?

    Me: No.

    Man: Wedding cake.

Photos from the last few days

City workers speaking with a homeless man.

Coronado Bridge at night, and the next.

Seen better days