Sunday, March 30, 2008

The hunter

I drove a man in his late 20s, along with his wife and three daughters. While bringing them to the Hampton Inn near Rosecrans and I5, I asked what the man did for a living.

He lives in Western Wyoming and leads hunting trips into the mountains, mostly for elk. We talked about this for several minutes, and I wish I could have recorded the conversation.

I have been to the mountains of Wyoming, and few places in the world are more beautiful. He and his brother-in-law use horses and pack mules to lead hunting parties in search of game. It sounded like a fantastic job -- completely the opposite of the 9-to-5 grind that so many people endure.

He talked about how elk behave, and how it differs from mule deer, another popular game animal in the mountains. Mule deer tend to be solitary animals, while elk are herd animals. He said with elk there are usually a dozen cows, more or less, with an obvious leading male. Also there are usually several younger males, who stay off to the sides of the main herd.

He said hunting during the rutting season is a unique experience, because the bull elk are strong and aggressive. He can call for an elk, and the bulls will reply. If he keeps calling, they often come straight for him, sometimes within 15 feet.

The guy and his family are from one of the most sparsely populated states, and from one of the most sparsely populated areas of that state. They were somewhat quiet and reserved. When they had all gotten out of the taxi and he bent down to the window and paid, he said: "Y'all have a nice town here."

I'm certain my writing doesn't do justice to the exchange. They were good folks from an extraordinary place few people get to see.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Golf cart

I was on my way to a cab stand at about 2:15 a.m. a few nights ago, just after bar close. Two blocks from our stand, which is across the street from a strip of bars, I see two cops had pulled over an electric car. We have several of these cruising the streets of San Diego. They're basically golf carts that are street legal for surface streets. I saw two young ladies standing on the sidewalk speaking with the cops.

On stand I eventually made it to first in line and then picked up a flag, a guy going solo. He said to take him seven or eight blocks straight up the street. As we got near the cops and their blue and red lights, I told him there was a golf cart pulled over and I started laughing. As we drove by he said: "Hey, stop! Let me out." I asked if he knew the girls, and he said yes. He wasn't all that happy that I laughed at his friends. Oops. I got $4 for the ride.

Back on that stand I waited another twenty minutes or so and got a bell over the radio: "Police call at XYZ address." That was the golf cart people. I just couldn't get away from them, it seemed. I picked up the two ladies and brought them to Imperial Beach, which is a good run. The driver of the golf cart said she blew .075, just under the .08 minimum. They wouldn't let her continue driving, even though she passed, so the police called her a cab.


I picked up a guy from an ER. Unlike most ER pickups, he was clean and "normal", except he was walking very slowly and had a bandage on his arm. He had several small, soft-side suitcases. He would be paying cash, as opposed to using a hospital voucher. He went to the Holiday Inn on 8th and Main (or Broadway?) in National City, which we call Nasty City.

I asked what happened and he said he was on a two week vacation in Baja Mexico doing some off-road motorcycling. He crashed, breaking a rib and chipping a bone in his arm. He planned to sit for two days in the Holiday Inn, recuperating, and then fly back east to his home. He was in rough shape, but he had decided to take some sort of shuttle all the way up to San Diego rather than sit in a Mexican hospital.

Happy to have this ride stolen

I was on a cab stand at 2 a.m., bar close time, with several other cabs. A guy walked out of a bar across the street and vomited profusely. He ralphed so many times we suspected he may have a bit of food poisoning in addition to being drunk off his ass. Eventually he looked up and saw us, held up his hand, and staggered across the street. In perfect unison five cars started their engines and pulled off the curb, and drove away.

I circled around the block slowly, since I was first in line, to see if anybody else was coming out of the bars (i.e. somebody not puking). Nobody was. But I saw a cab from another zone stop and pick up the puker. Good for him. He can come into our zone and steal a guy like than whenever he wants. I announced the ride theft on the radio, and several drivers responded that they were pleased with the outcome.

Permit renewal

I have waited until the last possible moment to renew my cab permit, which expires at the end of the month. I have the drug test forms, but I still have to go and get it done. No worries there -- no drugs. I don't even drink. Cigarettes are my only vice, and they're still (barely) legal. I have to get the drug test, then hound them to make sure they faxed a copy to the city, then get my H6 (copy of driving record from the DMV), then, when all the paperwork is in, pay a small amount to get my new permit.

Then I'll try to renew my navy base pass. That took several months of fucking around last year, and I expect nothing different this time. The navy is a *unique* organization. They attract some of the best people, have a massive budget, and have some of the best equipment and technology in the world. It was the U.S. military, after all, that gave us the internet in September 1969. But they can't follow simple, well established, agreed upon rules for giving out a base pass.

Wrong career choice

I was at Body Beautiful, my usual car wash on Pacific Highway and Hawthorne, when I saw a red Ferrari sitting in the detail bays. There were only two of us waiting for cars, since it was 6:45 p.m. and almost time for the wash to close. The other guy was about 25-years-old, wearing a t-shirt, shorts, sandals, and sunglasses. I asked if the Ferrari was his. It was. I asked if it was fun to drive, and he smiled and said it was. The only thing he doesn't like about driving it around town is worrying about door dings in parking lots or somebody sideswiping it if parked on the street. He also said it's hard to have fun with it because a red Ferrari attracts police attention like fly paper attracts flies. Cops seem to follow him constantly, waiting for him to do something wrong. He was a very nice guy.

I didn't ask what he did for a living because I didn't want to hear that daddy bought it for him or that he's an internet millionaire -- or some evasive answer that would mean he's a heroine salesman. One thing's for sure, he's no cabbie.

Several great rides

I've had a lot of really good rides the last week or so, not so much in terms of money, but good conversations with people from all over the country, plus a few rides from British people. Our weather improved from 65 and overcast with occasional rain, to 77 and sunny. Most of the people who came from Chicago or anywhere back east left snowstorms -- and boy are they happy to be here in the warmth. Some extended their business trip, and flew out their families, to enjoy a few days of vacation before going back to the cold. Summer came early to San Diego, while winter still reigns supreme back east.

Notorious ride thief

We've got a female driver who started working about a year ago. She's from Eastern Europe and speaks only a little English. She was very shy when she started -- a real nice lady. I helped train her because our official trainer is from the same country she is from -- Serbia -- and because they were talking Serbian all the time, the new driver wasn't learning much English. Anyway, she went from a nice lady to a worthless b**** in no time.

Example: We had a four-cab call for a large party at a nice hotel. She was the last of four, and I was penultimate. She arrived last, drove in front of the three other cabs, took the first people to walk out of the hotel, and sped away. She ignored our complaints on the radio.

She also calls on the radio that she's entering the zone about a mile before she actually is. Also, she calls clear several blocks before she arrives at her destination. The other trick she pulls is to call 10-21 (going home for the day), then drive around with her radio on and steal flags, off duty.

We complain about her on the radio, at each instance, but nothing gets done. Several other drivers nominated me to speak with the cab company owner in person because I have a good rapport with him. I'm going to explain the situation. If he won't change the woman's behavior, then the drivers will make her quit by stealing every ride she gets. I'll have a face-to-face confrontation with her before it comes to making her quit, though. Every Eastern European we get has to go through the same process (same for Middle Eastern drivers). They start out thinking they can do whatever they want, and they need to be shown that that's not acceptable.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Another jumper on the Coronado Bridge

Saturday night the Coronado Bridge was closed from about 9:30 until 1:00 a.m. Sunday morning. I saw police activity at the top of the bridge, but had no runs to the island. Today's San Diego Union-Tribune explained what happened:

    The San Diego-Coronado Bridge was closed for three hours late Saturday and early yesterday while authorities negotiated with a 25-year-old man who threatened to jump from the span. Shortly after midnight, the man jumped and killed himself, authorities said.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

'Are we losing parts'

I picked up a young lady, perhaps 22, and was driving her to SDSU when I noticed the steering in 92 felt a little funny. This has been my regular car since last September, so I'm attuned to its idiosyncrasies. Something had changed in the steering -- the wheel was off-center by 15 degrees or so, and it seemed like the alignment had just been misadjusted. I had to move the wheel about six inches back and forth just to keep it centered in my lane on the freeway (163 northbound out of downtown).

Just as I came around the left hand turn before the straightaway leading to I8 in Mission Valley, the car nose-dived toward the front left, and there was an awful grinding noise. The car instantly pulled to the left, and I had to man-handle the wheel to keep it straight. I let off the gas, checked my mirrors and blindspot on the right, signaled, and managed to get onto the shoulder and stop. The right front suspension had broken. It wasn't until the car was on a flat bed tow truck with the wheel removed that I saw the inboard side of the A-arm had sheered off, along with the tie rod.

As soon as the piece(s) broke, the passenger in the back said calmly: "Are we losing parts?" As I was doing everything I could with the wheel to avoid hitting other cars, I said as calmly as I could: "Yes, it appears so." She was a real trooper. I thanked her for that. When I had the car stopped I called our dispatcher, who sent another cab to pick up the customer, and a tow truck for me. I waived the $16 showing on the meter so far, but said the cabbie who would bring her the rest of the way would run his meter. She tried to pay, but I wouldn't take the money.

I was given a loner car for the night, and by the end of the following day 92 was ready again. Surely that's a record for Fred, our mechanic.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hybrid armada

There's a rumor in our zone that one of our drivers is going to start his own taxi company. The details hint at some truth to the rumor: He's already purchased the medallions and is getting 12 new Toyota Prius hybrids. If this is true, our taxi fiefdom is going to change dramatically.

Each driver is speculating on whether they'll stay working for the present company with the Crown Victorias, or make a switch to the Prius company. The Crown Vics can carry a lot more people and luggage, and have plenty of power for hills and overtaking, but with a 4.6 liter V8, they get about 15 mpg. The Prius drivers would have to give up a few rides because they're small, but the nightly fuel bill would be very low. All of this speculation is based on rumor. I'm going to wait and see what happens. If the new company comes to fruition, our income will drop with 12 additional vehicles competing for the same rides.

Master of time

For years I've worn a digital watch that has a stopwatch feature. I never used it much until I started driving cab. Whenever I get a reservation, or time call, I arrive early and then start the meter when the appointed time arrives, and I also start the stopwatch. When the customer finally ambles out of their house and gets in the car they might complain that the meter already shows $5 or whatever. They always (this is a 100% certainty) lie and say they were only "a minute" late. I bring up my stop watch and say something like: "You were thirteen minutes, forty-seven seconds late." Now....I always restart the meter for customers unless they're assholes about it.

The stopwatch works well for the dispatchers, too. When I announce a no-go, they sometimes claim I couldn't have been there more than a minute or two. All argument ceases when I say: "I've been here precisely six minutes and eighteen seconds."

Drunken girl

I was belled to a bar where a bouncer was leading, somewhat forcefully, a young woman towards my car. He stuffed her in the back and then came around to my window. "Make sure she doesn't try to get in her car. Take her straight home." I didn't say anything because I wasn't willing to officially take that responsibility.

After a block and a half she said to stop and let her out. I spent five minutes trying to talk her out of it. I even offered a discount on the fare. I would have driven her for free, considering how drunk she was, but she didn't let me get that far. She knew her rights -- I couldn't make her stay in the car. She paid me the $3 fare and got out. I followed her back to her car (I think she was too drunk to notice a large yellow car keeping pace with her on the street).

As soon as she got behind the wheel of a mini-truck, I called the police. I gave the description of her and her truck, and the police dispatcher asked, "Is she just sitting in the truck, or is she driving it?" I asked her to hold the line. Within 10 seconds the truck was started, the headlights were on, and the truck was pulling into the driving lane. "She's driving." The dispatcher said, "Okay, I'll notify the nearest officer."

I never heard what happened, but I hope she got a nice, $8,000 DUI.

Viva Mexico

I drove three Navy guys going to the USA-Mexico border who were planning on a night of drinking in Tijuana. They were in their 30s, and were reminiscing about the good old days of being in the Navy, before the wars came. One said: "When stationed overseas, we'd fuck hookers and drink to blackout every night, sleep late, play some basketball, and do it all over again. We'd go two weeks between musters."

When we got to the border one of them had an interesting observation.

Serviceman, looking across the border fence into Mexico: Are they open?

Several seconds of silence...

Me: Mexico?

Him: It looks kind of dark over there.

Me: I think Mexico is open 24 hours.

The fare was $38 and change; they gave me $45.

The long way

I drove three people, two guys in their twenties, and a woman. When I exited the freeway on the way to a downtown hotel, I deliberately took the Harbor Drive exit rather than the one labeled "downtown". One of the guys said: "Where the fuck are you taking us?" My reply: "The fastest, cheapest way."

When we arrived at the Hyatt Grand Manchester the meter showed $26.60. I asked what the earlier ride had cost, when they took a cab from the Hyatt to South Bay. They admitted it had cost $34 and change. They offered no apologies, and no tip.

I had some other mentally challenged people later. They asked if there were any good seafood restaurants on Coronado Island. I suggested the Boathouse or Peohe's, both of which have excellent reputations. They discussed it among themselves, eventually settling on the Boathouse. "That's where we're going," they said, partially to themselves. When I got on the ramp leading up to the Coronado Bridge, one of the women in the back seat said, "Where are you taking us?"

Me: To the Boathouse. I thought we just discussed this.

Her: We have ferry tickets.

Me: You're taking the ferry to Coronado? That's the first I've heard about that. Do you want me to turn around?

Her: No, we're already on the bridge, let's go straight to the Boathouse.

Guy in the front seat, to the woman: You're confusing him.

Me: For the record, I'm not confused.

El Mejor

We have a Mexican driver who seems to get more rides than anyone else, and they're usually long -- like Carlsbad, Vista, etc. We call him El Mejor, which is The Best in Spanish. He's also one of our most notorious ride thieves. Whenever he calls out a distant destination on the radio, somebody responds, on the radio, "El Mejor!"

He's typical of a ride thief. He's a great guy on the cab stands, a family man who will help anyone in need. But something comes over him when he gets behind the wheel. Jekyll and Hyde.

Saved by the bell

The other night I was the first cab on stand across the street from a strip of bars. A man came out of one of the bars helping a woman, and the woman was fallen-down drunk. Another driver and I were standing and waiting. He said to me: "Bad luck. She looks like a handful, or a puker." She was half way to the car when I heard my number on the radio. When we get called on the radio we call it a bell. Everyone started laughing. I was called away to a residential address just as they got to the car. "I'm sorry," I said, "you'll have to take the next car in line."

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sporadic posting

I've been having trouble with my ISP for a while now, so posting has been delayed. Until I sort everything out, I'm taking notes on the job, then posting batches of updates.

Thanks for reading!