Ridesharing Get The Go Ahead!

Side•CarOn Thursday, September 19th the California Public Utilities Commission voted 5-0 in favor of accepting the ridesharing technology as a legitimate business in California. While it has started in San Francisco due to the need of people to get from point A to point B and not have to wait an hour for a taxi it has grown into something more than that.

As a public disclaimer, I do drive for Side•Car so I am a little bit biased in this area I’ll admit, but I also have lots of people around town who also take taxi’s and even friends who are taxi drivers to fill me in on this so keep this in mind.

To make things clear from the beginning for those who have been trying to get a taxi and had trouble here are some of the reasons why.

  1. Taxi Companies are in the business of renting taxis: There is no incentive for a company to get you from point A to point B. The taxi companies make their money from renting the taxis or in short, they don’t make money from you taking a taxi, but from the drivers who rent the taxis.
  2. There is a combined total of roughly 1200 taxis available in San Francisco: This is split between all of the taxi companies. If you call for a cab to say, Yellow Cab which is the largest you have about 400 taxis available. This cuts the availability of taxis to riders significantly.
  3. It’s much easier to hail a taxi on the street than call for a pick up: Cab drivers are not employees of the cab companies, but independent contractors so they are under no obligation to pick up a call that is requested. There is no require of a cab driver to do anything other than pay for the taxi rental and return it with a full tank of gas at the end of the shift. Anything they do in between is up to them.

Do you see a problem here? Granted, ridesharing companies such as Side•Car, Lyft and Uber aren’t under a requirement to get you from point A to point B either, but there is a psychological mind set amongst the drivers that works in their favor. While there are a few who drive solely for income it is still not the same as a job. They can do it whenever they have free time and start and stop when they want so they can work it into their schedule.

Rideshare companies have been called elitist by cab companies saying that they won’t pick up low-income or elderly people who don’t own smartphones. I would disagree with this. I have had numerous people I’ve given rides to from 20-70 and all income levels in my car. I frequently drive through the Tenderloin or low-income areas that are underserved by taxis and notice quite a few people on the streets with smartphones. I frequently have picked up people at the local grocery stores who need a lift home with several bags of groceries and sometimes if I have the time I’ll help them unload and carry their bags in. I also have people call for me that need their parents picked up and dropped off in various locations around town so it is definitely a scalable technology. Smartphones are also being given away at this point in time and who in their right mind in this day and age doesn’t own a smartphone that calls for a ride? Last time I checked the majority of low-income people don’t take cabs, but wait for the bus using a state subsidized clipper card.

The biggest boon to riders is that if you are outside the downtown or Mission District you can now get a ride. The Sunset, Richmond, Ingelside and Oceanview areas are a no man’s land for getting a cab. I can’t even count the number of people in the Sunset or Richmond who’s said how great rideshare services are because they simply can’t get a cab in those areas.

Now regarding the safety of vehicles in participating in ridesharing there have been a few new requirements.

  1. Each company must keep a $1 million dollar insurance policy to cover each driver in excess of each driver’s insurance.
  2. Each company must maintain a strict drug and alcohol policy [as in no drugs or alcohol]
  3. A 19 point vehicle inspection is required of each vehicle someone driving for the companies must undergo.

There are other points, but these are the safety issues some people might be concerned with. All of these except the last have been met previously. Since most of the companies require each car to be from the year 2000 or later the chance of one not passing a 19 point inspection is rare. I know most oil change companies provide a 21 point inspection when you get your oil changed and if you change it regularly like I do then you know exactly what is wrong with your car so you can get it fixed.

The decision affects not just the San Francisco Bay Area, but the entire state of California opening the door to ridesharing in parts of the state that may not be considered large enough to warrant taxi service. Overall the price of rideshare works out cheaper than a taxi because a tip is expected on top of the fare regardless of whether or not the driver gave you a good ride or not [but we won’t talk bad about you if you do tip]. The taxi system and the way it works doesn’t support the needs of the people it was meant to serve. Ridesharing companies offer more drivers at more times in more places around the Bay Area so it is easier to get to the people and to get them where they need to go. I’ve personally used the service several times and found that I never had to wait longer than five minutes. When I’m driving and I take a call that’s ten minutes away I frequently wish I didn’t have to make the person wait as long, but usually the drivers are happy that I’m at their door within the time noted by the GPS locator used by the apps. Probably the biggest reason I like driving for a rideshare company is that it takes me all over the city to see  what’s happening now and not in tomorrow’s newsfeed.



When The Okies Came To San Francisco

When The Okies Come Back To San FranciscoWhile you don’t run across it too often anymore I remember when I was a kid that you’d meet people in your neighborhood with that Southern drawl that was heavy and thick and not what you’d expect to hear in San Francisco. There was a reason for this and it started with the Dust Bowl of the 30’s.

While we hear about corporate farms today things weren’t like that back in the 30’s and before. People grabbed some land through the homestead act of 1862 and planted crops or raised cattle to feed their families and what they didn’t eat they’d sell off. When the Dust Bowl hit in the 30’s it started a chain reaction. Many of the farmers were either landowners who owed lots of money to the banks hoping things would pay off or they were simply tenants working farm land for landlords who got a cut of what they brought in. This caused a lot of poor farmers on the panhandle of Oklahoma to become even poorer quicker. Without land or money they had no reason to stay in a place that had no land or money to give them so they headed out west. Records show that 15% of the population of Oklahoma left to come to California during the dust bowl and quite a few made it here to San Francisco.

When the 40’s came and the industrial boom that backed the war brought even more money to California we started to see even more people from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Colorado and Texas moving west to California and even more ended up in San Francisco because we had the shipyard at Hunter’s Point. It didn’t matter that most of these people weren’t from Oklahoma, the name Okie was still applied to them because of the drawl. While San Franciscans may think they’re highly intelligent they cannot tell the difference between an Texas and a Georgia accent [having family in both places I can].

While I can say for sure, it did seem to me like a lot of those who came here chose the Sunset District to call home. It was cheap here [you could buy a house in the mid 50’s for $6,000 so imagine how cheap they would have been in the 30’s and 40’s]. I had lots of friends as a kid who’s parents had thick Okie accents. These were the people I learned about pickled pigs feet and chittlins from though I never saw any. For years I thought that was a joke and that nobody ever ate them, but just made jokes about them until I saw them start to show up in grocery stores.

John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was about the movement of the Okies to California. While he didn’t focus on San Francisco he was hired by a San Francisco Newspaper, probably the Call to write about the Okies that came to San Francisco and what to expect. They weren’t the most accepted people at first, but after awhile you learned that they were the first people to help you out if you had a busted door or window because they had to build what they had themselves when they were back in the midwest. Most of them were of Scotch-Irish decent which probably explains a bit as to why the Sunset District had such a large Irish population. They just stopped along the way for a few years.

It’s an interesting time period to look at since we don’t have very many people left here from that time to tell us about it. Which reminds me. I think I should go see my Mom’s friend Thelma and she how she’s doing.



The Emperor Norton Bridge

norton.cartoonNow that we have a new span on the Bay Bridge apparently we have to name it. There are members of the NAACP in Southern California who think we should make an exception to the rule of not naming large structures after living people and name it after Willie Brown.

Don’t get me wrong, while I’m one of the few, I actually like Willie Brown. The man has style. The man has an attitude. He has so much attitude that if he was in favor of it being named after him he would have said something already. I guess that’s all part of being a kid born in Minneola, Texas and moving to San Francisco.

So functionally, by saying nothing I think we can take that as a no vote from Willie Brown. It’s part of the passive-agressive way politicians work in that it’s not always what they say, but what they don’t say. Our Governor, Jerry Brown who apparently didn’t learn the passive-agressive technique has just come right out and said he doesn’t like the idea.

So while the people of Southern California think they know what’s best for San Francisco, we need to come up with a counter attack to put the boobs of silicone valley in their place.

I strongly stand with the members of E Clampus Vitus who want the bridge named after Emperor Joshua Abraham Norton. This is a man who in 1859 proclaimed himself to be the Emperor of the United States of America and Protector Of Mexico. The man made his own money that people actually accepted around San Francisco. This is the type of guy that should have a bridge named after him.

As a matter of fact, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is unofficially named the Emperor Norton Bridge. There’s even a plaque on the San Francisco side stating this. Why can’t the politicians see this? We don’t have people like Emperor Norton anymore in the Bay Area and I think that we need people like that to symbolize the rough and tumble, do it yourself kind of mentality that made San Francisco what it is. Not the Mark Zuckerberg’s or Steve Job’s types who are in Silicon Valley, but the real people that San Francisco had who made a difference. There is no Emperor Norton Hotel, Bar or even Restaurant in San Francisco and if there’s a small chance I missed it then it needs to be more in the forefront than in the background as long as they’re doing a good job of representing him.

We are on the eve of the naming of the bridge so I suggest that you email Governor Brown, Mayor Lee and Mayor Quan and let them know that the bridge deserves a proper name.



A Night At The Opera

A Night At The OperaSeptember 6th was the San Francisco Opera’s opening night Gala event. It was also my birthday, but that’s another story. I was down near the Opera House as people where arriving and it was kind of interesting to watch people in their finery walking down some streets of somewhat ill repute.

There is nothing so humorous as a woman in her finest Vera Wang gown drenched in jewels stepping around a homeless person with a cup and not even dropping a dollar in for him while trying to maintain her elegant decorum. I don’t normally feel so strong a need to help the homeless, but when you have someone wearing a $5000 gown that she probably won’t wear again who for some reason can’t afford to drop $1 or $5 in a guys cup there just seems something a bit wrong to me.

Of course that’s not the only thing that seems kind of wrong about the evening to me. All the the glitterati rich and famous come out for the opening night of the Opera and I was reading all about it. A lot of the people you don’t recognize who are along with the recognizable until you read their names and note that there were lots or people who’s surnames were either the names of big companies or streets in San Francisco [because they came from very old money that they’ve been living off of for a century or so].

The pictures of the Opera’s opening gala in the news were all about who wore what dress and jewelry, what food was served, how ornate the decorations were yet I couldn’t for the life of me find a single mention of what was being performed that evening. It’s like a tailgate party for the rich and famous where you never bother going in to see the game.

Mark Twain has a vehement dislike for the idle rich and even wrote a society column in San Francisco once were he just threw in several French words to make the people sound rather important. Madame wore a fine pate de foi gras lovingly draped in an amuse bouche of taffeta and chiffonade haricot vert. That line always stuck in my head just because I knew enough to laugh at Twain’s description of a woman dressed in goose liver and an appetizer of chopped green beans as being rather hilarious.

I’m not sure if any of these people show up for the rest of the season, but I have to admit that the men get off easy. They just need a tux which is pretty easy to fake. All you need is a black suit that you add a bow tie and cumber bun to a tux shirt and you’re done. You could probably do that for under $100 if you already have a black suit [hint: Goodwill store].

Overall I strongly believe the arts need support and if that means that you need to have a night where the rich get to dress up and show off so the rest of us can get some benefit I guess I’ll have to be OK with that as long as the rest of us do get some benefit from it.

OK and before I forget, the evening featured a monumental work of choral grandeur and melodic richness that was Mephistopheles by Arrigo Boito.



Jon Torres, R.I.P.

Jon Torres, R.I.P.I was in a weird state of mind Monday night when I was trying to go to sleep. I just had this feeling like I was going to die. Oddly enough this happens to me occasionally, but I never die. The unfortunate side is that when I wake up I find out someone I know has died.

When I get up in the mornings I shower, eat my breakfast and look at the news and FaceBook to see who screwed up while I was sleeping. Tuesday morning was a bit different. I started to see post after post about a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in over 25 years. Jon Torres had died. Most of you will probably say so what? People die every day. Jon was a bit different. I knew Jon years ago when we were both just a couple of punk ass kids who wanted to be rockstars and tour the world. Cranking our guitars up to 11 like we were invincible and there was no tomorrow.

Well, like most of us we got older. Jon did better in the rockstar department than I did. I first saw him playing in a new band an old singer of ours started called Thunderhead. Jon just had this kind of angry look on stage because he was hungry to make it. Thunderhead got much if any press, but it was a stepping stone for Jon. He moved on to playing with a huge amount of bands in the San Francisco thrash scene. Heathen, Lääz Rockit [a band so heavy they needed two umlauts!], Ulysses Siren, Warning SF, Angel Witch, Slough Feg…did I leave any out?

Jon was known to everyone in the San Francisco thrash scene. He supported all the other bands by being at the shows. He would switch off between being a guitarist to a bassist if a band on the scene needed one. He was an understated guy in person, but on stage he was always a solid player. Jon was one of those guys who was just thrash metal to the core. My heart goes out to all his bandmates and friends over the years for his loss.


[too much metal for one hand]