September 23, 2016

Beemer Memory 15: Taxicabs when medallions reigned ~ 1976

 official Cab Driver Permit ID photo
September 23, 1976
photographer unknown

I can't believe this photograph was taken exactly 40 years ago today, September 23, 1976. I look like I just got off the boat from somewhere. It's from the back of my cab driver permit issued annually by the city of San Francisco when I was a taxi driver for the Yellow Cab Company.   

Public Passenger Vehicle Driver permit 
photo by Styrous®

I had been doing odd jobs, basement cleaning, bartending, moving and hauling, waiting tables, etc., for several years when I got off my bike (link below) for a year or so and started to drive for the Yellow Cab Company.

Yellow Cab Company president W. L. Rothschild 
and driver Joseph Crowe, 1950
photographer unknown

When I drove for Yellow Cab, the "medallions" for each cab was owned by someone. The medallions were almost never available but when they did come up for sale, they sold for thousands of dollars. The Yellow Cab Company owned hundreds of medallions and cabs and hired men to drive them. Well, hire isn't exactly the right word; they didn't pay a wage (see links below).  

I had to "rent" the cab from the Company by the day. There was a $30 "Gate" and I had to pay for the gas I used. The cab's tank was full when it was released to me then measured when I returned it. A tank usually cost $10 or $15 to fill. Sometimes the total I'd owe the company at the end of the day was around 40 or 50 dollars depending on how busy I had been, which doesn't sound like a lot today, but back in the 70's it took a lot of fares to make the "Gate" 'n gas before I could even began to make a cent. The long-time drivers knew all the tricks for making the most fares. It wasn't a great system; some drivers made a fortune but most of us just scraped by.

 Yellow Cab ad (1964)
San Francisco Municipal Record 

Of course, I have dozens of stories about driving a cab. A lot of them funny, some a bit scary, all of them wacky but none of them boring.

I never got robbed of money but I did get my wrist watch stolen by a passenger who took it when he left my cab. With every passenger, the trip had to be logged in with the location of pick up, destination and the times of each; The watch bothered my wrist so I would hang it on the dashboard. It was there when I logged the start of his trip but it was gone when I went to log him out a few minutes after he left my cab. He was dressed in a business suit 'n everything. Go figure.    

The watch had been given to me by Ben, my step father (link below), when I graduated from high school in 1958. It was a beautiful Gruen, 17 Jewel, Swiss-made watch and I loved it. Originally based in Cincinnati, Ohio, Gruen went out of business later that year I graduated. I may have had one of the last watches they produced.   

Gruen watch
Precision Manual Wind 
17 Jewel, Swiss Made 
photographer unknown

Another incident involved a young man, a bible and a bunch of shady looking guys. The kid had a bible he said was going to be his salvation. I figured he was some sort of religious fanatic. He asked me to wait for his return while he went into his destination and left the bible as security that he would come back. The meter was running but after a half hour or so I went to the apartment to find out what was going on. There were five or six men there and the kid was or had been stripped out of his shirt with a lip that was beginning to swell and a bit of blood coming from his nose. I was accosted by the men there who threatened me if I didn't turn over the bible he'd left in my cab. I was scared but pissed (I hadn't made my gate for the day and my shift was almost over) and insisted I get my fare before I turned it over. They gave me the fare, a huge tip and a warning to forget the whole incident. When it was over I was shaking but I had my fare (and my gate). I often wondered if I should have called the police but the incident was too scary to take a chance on getting involved in some kind of gang affair.

The film, Taxi Driver, with Robert De Niro, had been released early that year but I totally refused to say, "You talkin' to me?"

I drove for the Yellow Cab Company until it went bankrupt late in 1976. After the bankruptcy, a sort of cooperative was formed. However, just about then my brother, Steve, said there was a job opening for a lighting man at one of the clubs, the hungry i, on Broadway. That was the beginning of my next career (Beemer link below).  

I still have the hat I wore . . . 

Yellow Cab hat
photo by Styrous®
. . .  can you believe it?

And I still have one of the sport coats I would wear occasionally while driving, as well; this one is by Michaels-Stern from Daniels & Fisher, a department store in Denver. The men's clothing company was liquidated in 1977, a year after the ID photo was taken.     

Michaels-Stern jacket detail
detail photo by Styrous®

Michaels-Stern jacket label
detail photo by Styrous®

In 1893, the Michaels-Stern company erected a seven-story factory building. Around 1984, while under bankruptcy protection, the  building was rented to tenants, including "artists, photographers, rock groups, dance studios, fencing and karate clubs". The Michaels-Stern Lofts, are currently rented as residential apartments.         

the Michaels-Stern building
photographer unknown

Net links:  
Bernard "Ben" Simonson, Jr.              
Beemer Memory 5 ~ Leatherneck bar, S. F., Pt. 2           
Taxi Driver Movie CLIP - You Talkin' to Me? on YouTube         
Yellow Cab Cooperative ~ Taxis and San Francisco Labor History 
The Third Carriage Age - A History of San Francisco's Cab Industry ads            
Heritage Foundation ~ Taxicab Medallion Systems: Time for a Change        
KQED News Once-Treasured Medallions Now a Burden
USA Today ~ taxi medallions becoming unsellable                    
SF Examiner - Yellow Cab to file for bankruptcy   ~ Why Taxi Medallion Owners Don't Deserve a Government Bailout   

You talkin' to me?

Styrous® ~ Friday, September 23, 2016


No comments:

Post a Comment

PLEASE NOTE: comments are moderated BEFORE they are posted so DO NOT appear immediately.

Thank you.