Thursday, April 1, 2010


Shift #40

FRIDAY, APRIL 23 --16th/Mission to the Exploratorium -- $19.75

THIS IS ALMOST UNDOUBTEDLY the first time you are seeing, hearing, or even imagining the word “cabulous” -- but it won’t be the last. I predict that within a year the good folks at will have transformed the entire landscape of taxicab dispatching in San Francisco -- and then in the world.

Most of us will soon be able, at any time of day or night, to stand on any street corner in San Francisco (or at the top of Telegraph Hill or with our toes in the surf out at Ocean Beach or…?) and be able to see, on the phone in our hands, a map showing the real-time location of all the empty and available taxicabs anywhere in the entire city. To summon one of these cabs you will simply touch a finger to the screen. And to speak directly to the driver you will simply touch again. (I think that’s how it works -- but it’s so new I’m not 100% familiar just yet).

This wizardry was conceived and incubated by three “kids” (they each look younger than thirty, but they're really 44, 31, and 22) who last year were members of the Best Buy “Geek Squad” and who now seem to be “on their way.” The number of Cabulous users in San Francisco grows day-by-day (earlier this week, a Green Cab colleague of mine had eleven Cabulous orders in one shift), and if the former Geeks are able to implement their broader vision, Cabulous will soon be available around the world. (If you have an iPhone, right this minute you can download, in less time than you have spent reading this post, a free application from and peruse an on-screen map showing every available, Cabulous-aligned cab in San Francisco. If you’re reading this online, just click here to see the same map.) The implications are staggering.

TODAY I’M FEELING A LITTLE STAGGERED MYSELF. A few weeks ago someone ran a red light and totalled my cab (I wasn’t driving it that day), and this morning I am behind the wheel of its replacement, a beautiful, brand new, green-and-white, 2010 Toyota Prius -- Green Cab #914. The dashboard region is a shuffled, updated, slightly confusing version of my previous (2008) Prius’s dashboard. Plus, Cabulous has installed a Cabulous-ready smart phone in ten of our thirteen Green cabs, including my own. (Cabulous has chosen Green Cab as its proving ground, and we are the first cab company in the world to be thus equipped.) I study all the guages and dials and knobs and cables in front of me and think, “Space shuttle.” Fortunately, this is not rocketry but cab driving, and I think I’ll be able to make it all work somehow.

Half a block from the yard I see my first fare standing outside the Sixteenth and Mission BART station. His name is Alex (or was it Alexis?) and he’s headed to his job managing a social network program for the Exploratorium, over in the Marina District. He’s twenty-six, grew up in a small town in central Pennsylvania, lived for a while in New York City and then New Orleans, and has been in San Francisco for a couple of years now and is liking it very much. I tell him about my new cab (“Still has the smell,” he says), I tell him about Cabulous, and then my phone rings with a call from Yusuf, who drove my cab last night. “Brad, the meter is hot. Last night I had a $55 SFO (usually a $35-40 ride).” The shop that calibrates cab meters is closed until Monday, but I know that Yusuf and all the other drivers at Green do the right thing -- as do I. I tell Alex what’s up and estimate his ride at $15 (we're not yet halfway there, and already the meter reads $10.75), and Alex says that $15 is indeed his usual fare. At ride’s end the meter reads $19.75, but it's irrelevant. My body informs me that this ride across Pacific Heights with this nice young man on this warm, windows-down April morning -- my first ride in my brand new cab -- well, this is today’s free ride. Alex seems to be quite o.k. with that.

MY NEXT FARE is a twenty-three year-old young woman going from the Marina up to Pacific Heights -- she is delighted to hear about Cabulous -- clearly, she says, this is a fantastic idea. In Pack Heights an elderly Russian couple flags me for a ride to the Maritime Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf, and then, in North Beach another flag tells me he is late to his job at Second and Market. “Point taken,” I tell him, and we’re there in no time. It’s just a couple of blocks to the W Hotel, where I find a spot in the cab line and then duck inside to the lobby men’s room. As I’m stepping off the sidewalk to climb back into my cab, a horn beeps from just a few feet away. For the past...oh, maybe it’s been an entire forty-five minutes, I have not consciously reflected on the astounding new development in my life, but now this horn reminds me. I don’t know exactly what’s coming, but in general terms I do know. This time -- and my god is all of this great fun! -- it’s a young man behind the wheel of a battered white van with “Mike’s Locksmith” on the side. He's rolling with the slow traffic in the nearest lane of Howard Street. His passenger-side window is down. He’s wearing shades and the original electric grin. As he slides past, our eyes locksmith ever so briefly. He extends his arm and index finger right toward me -- “Hey! Saw you on tv!” -- and then he hangs a quick right onto Third Street and disappears in the direction of the Museum of Modern Art...


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