No one brings anything small into a cab around here, and they all start out trying to give me bad directions.
“Can we go to 1688 Grove?”
I’m a cab driver. It’s my job to take you wherever you want to go. But you need to give me cross streets or the name of an establishment, because even if I were able to instantly count back from Market or The Embarcadero, the numbers on buildings in San Francisco are impossible to read from the street. When we get to your location, you’ll have to point out a landmark anyway, so let’s just make this process as smooth as possible, OK?
Cross streets are how a cab driver learns the geography of The City. While most old-timers who’ve been at this for 10 to 30 years have block numbers memorized, I’ve only been driving a cab for 11 months. I still rely on my cross-index guide at times.
Even though I don’t know the 1600 block of Grove, I can get almost anywhere in the metro area if you give me two intersecting streets. And if we’re going to the southern quadrants, I just need to know a neighborhood or a freeway exit. We can figure out the rest along the way.
“612 Edna Street” won’t get us anywhere.
Oh, it’s off Monterey, you say? A few blocks past Congo? Now we’re talking …
Even travel guides encourage tourists to use cross streets when taking cabs in San Francisco. And I’ve always been under the impression it was Herb Caen who established the rule that cross streets should be specified east to west first and then north to south.
Furthermore, in taxi school, I was taught to use proper cross streets to drop passengers off curbside so they can exit the vehicle safely in front of their destination.
Thus, the cross street for 1688 Grove St. is Central. Even though the building is closer to Masonic, 1688, being an even number, is on the north side of the street and, for proper curbside service, the driver needs to turn onto Grove from Central.
Of course, the dismantling of basic driving protocol is due to the Uber Effect. In their effort to develop driverless cars, passengers have already been successfully trained for the day when they will have to climb in the back of an empty Prius and say their address slowly to a computer that calculates the most efficient route. Which isn’t much different than getting into an Uber nowadays. Except for that weird guy behind the wheel.
I’m a cab driver, though. I’ve been trained to navigate The City correctly. After countless 12-hour shifts, day after day, even when my mind has turned to mush from myriad personal problems and general fatigue, I can still move through the streets of San Francisco using the map that’s etched onto my brain.
“Thanks SO MUCH for picking me up. I really appreciate it. I need to go to Laguna and Clay. Can you take me there, please? Thanks.”
The gratuitously appreciative customer is another example of the Uber Effect. You don’t need to thank me 50 times for doing my job. I pick people up on the street when they raise their hand. That’s what I do. I know you’ve heard some awful things about cab drivers, but I assure you there’s nothing unusual about this transaction.
Sure, I might yell out the window when I drive past Chucky, Colin or Late Night Larry. And, given the circumstances, we might unleash a salvo of inappropriate comments at each other, but I’m only joking around with my co-workers.
People often ask me, “You must meet some interesting characters driving a cab …”
And I always reply, “Yeah, when I get back to the yard.”
By the way, don’t forget to pay me at the end of the ride.
This is the most egregious aspect of the Uber Effect. At least two or three times a night, a passenger will thank me and open the door to leave.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” they say adamantly when I remind them the transaction isn’t over yet. “I’m just so used to Uber.”
“I know.” I laugh politely. “So how much do you want to leave for a tip?”
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to him at email@example.com and @piltdownlad.