Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Romantic Adventure of Old San Francisco

San Francisco in 1857, from Nob Hill.

According to the Daily Evening Bulletin, a Frenchman named Muns, proprietor of the Marseillaise Saloon, “on the south side of Pacific street, between Kearny street and Bartlett alley,” had a beautiful daughter named Therese. Therese had many suitors, including a wealthy American (favored by the family, even though he spoke no French, and Therese spoke no English) and an Italian barber, nicknamed “Count de Shears.” As the Bulletin noted, “like other famous barbers, some of whom are celebrated in Arabian and Spanish stories, the barber was richer in wit than in pocket”...

From the Daily Evening Bulletin, December 7, 1857:

Yesterday afternoon, our bold barber planned an elopement to take place in the evening; and the lady, nothing loth to reward his enterprise, entered into the plot, keeping the whole affair a sacred secret from her family, and particularly her watchful brothers. The Count accordingly, with her connivance, made his arrangements; a cab was engaged and posted on Bartlett alley, a short distance from the Marseillaise Saloon; and the driver was well paid to await the progress of affairs. At the same time, away up on Broadway, near Dupont street, the proper arrangements had also been made, and Justice Bailey, of the Second District, was in waiting to tie the silken strings of matrimony, any moment the lovers might chance to appear.

Everything being thus ready, about 8 o’clock last evening, Count de Shears and several of his friends approached the Marseillaise Saloon. The friends went to the bar and engaged the attention of the bar-keeper, while the beautiful Therese stole out to the Count, who, by appointment, was standing outside the door. While the friends amused the bar-keeper and the brothers, the lovers slipped around into that romantic thoroughfare, called Bartlett alley, entered the cab and drove off in a circuitous direction for the Court of Judge Bailey.

Hardly, however, had they commenced rattling over the street, before the alarm was given and the inmates of the Marseillaise Saloon started forth in pursuit. A cab happened to pass the corner of Kearny and Dupont streets in the very nick of time in which they sallied forth, and supposing that it contained the fugitives, they pursued with all their speed. By the time they overtook the vehicle, however, the happy couple, who had taken an altogether different direction, had appeared before the Justice, sworn eternally to love each other, and been bound in those ties which none but Heaven ought to dissolve. They retired immediately to lodgings, prepared by the foresight of the happy husband, and no tongue can tell how happy they were.

The brothers of the bride during the night scoured the whole city in search of their lost sister. They went through every street, went to the Mission, searched and inquired in every quarter, but without success, until this morning, by means of a largess paid the cabman, they found out the retreat of the lovers on Sacramento street. They forthwith proceeded to the spot, and the smiling sky of love was for a brief period o’erspread with a storm of passionate remonstrances, poured forth upon the head of the beautiful lady and her brave lover by the unfortunate brothers; but Hymen [the Greek god of marriage], who had joined, protected the devoted ones, and the brothers at last departed, satisfied that there was no use of weeping over what was irretrievably lost.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A New York City Cab Ride in 1840

In 1880, the popular 19th Century writer Prentice Mulford published this recollection of a New York City cab-ride when he was six years old, in about 1840:

"Swallowed up in a moving mass;" New York City traffic at Broadway and Canal Street in 1836, by Thomas Hornor. ( For a detailed analysis of this image, see here.

We get into a cab, a one-horse cab entered from the rear, and of a fashion now quite departed. It teters forward and back; it rocks and rolls from side to side; it stops; it crawls; now it darts furiously ahead; now it crawls again, swallowed up in a moving mass all about of boxes, barrels and crates. I hear cries, shouts and profane language. Drivers on one side shout; on the other side yell; behind they curse; our cabman swears back. Once more we move; we rush, teter, rock and bang over the cobble-stones round a corner; we stop; my parents get out.

I am told to remain behind, and placed in temporary charge of the cabman. I wonder this cabman shows no signs of the recent disturbance through which he has passed. He yelled, shouted and swore as loudly as the rest. He seems to have forgotten all about it. I should think he would talk about it for the next two months. We would at Pennyville. He is a tall, wrinkled, sharp-nosed old man, clad in a long snuffy-looking coat which runs largely to collar. Above, he seems all coat-collar and hat.

"He seems all coat-collar and hat." An 1829 image of a London hackdriver,  by George Cruickshank (

My parents have entered a carpet-store. Rolls of carpet stand without, from some of which the bright-colored threads have raveled and lie loose on the pavement. I am quickly employed in winding balls of this thread to carry back to Pennyville. Absorbed for some time in such occupation, I am surprised and pleased as the cabman tosses toward me a large ball which he has wound also. He does but stand there, tall, lank, snuffy, and buried in coat-collar and hat. He never knew the incredible remembrance this one act brought him. He is the first and only human being in all this hard, cold, unsympathizing great city who has shown a trace of friendship for me. 

-- from Prentice Mulford, "Through Infant Eyes: Prentice Mulford's First Impressions of a Great City" San Francisco Chronicle, January 11, 1880)

(For more on the image of 19th Century cabdrivers, see Daumier's Hack Drivers.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Posner's Taxi Ruling Is Based on Falsehoods and Bad Logic

Conservative jurist Richard Posner, writing for the US 7th Circuit of Appeals, has issued what is likely to be an influential ruling on the regulation of soft cabs (such as Uber, Lyft, etc.; in his ruling Posner refers to these as “TNPs”) and other taxicabs in the city of Chicago. This is unfortunate, because Posner’s ruling is riddled with errors, inaccuracies, and false logic—in fact he all but admits cribbing part of his argument off the internet! Here I’m going to go through Posner’s most ridiculous statements point by point; you can read his full text here.

The first is that allowing the TNPs into the taxi and livery markets has taken away the plaintiffs’ property for a public use without compensating them. A variant of such a claim would have merit had the City confiscated taxi medallions, which are the licenses that authorize the use of an automobile as a taxi. Confiscation of the medallions would amount to confiscation of the taxis: ... Anyway the City is not confiscating any taxi medallions; it is merely exposing the taxicab companies to new competition—competition from Uber and the other TNPs.

Does Posner understand anything about how the taxi industry works? Of course medallion owners can’t complain about competition, because they are already in competition with each other. Even drivers for the same company are in competition with each other. It’s like Posner is borrowing an image of a monopoly from a completely different industry and trying to impose it on the cab industry. Do your homework, sir.

The real complaint from the taxi industry was not “we are being competed against” but “we are being charged licensing fees, etc., but other people operating the same business are not being charged the same fees.” In other words, the argument is not against competition but against unequal competition as an effect of unequal regulation.

An apt comparison would be if someone paid a license fee to run a liquor store, then complained because the city allowed someone to sell liquor next door without a license. Or, if the electric company was only allowed to charge certain rates, but then another electric company was allowed to operate in the same city, charging whatever they wanted. Would Posner really argue that such companies had no legal recourse against the regulator for allowing such unequal competition?

Posner then rambles off into another argument borrowed from the internet—that the difference between Uber and taxis is the simple fact of historical technological change:

Indeed when new technologies, or new business methods, appear, a common result is the decline or even disappearance of the old. Were the old deemed to have a constitutional right to preclude the entry of the new into the markets of the old, economic progress might grind to a halt. Instead of taxis we might have horse and buggies; instead of the telephone, the telegraph; instead of computers, slide rules.

What makes these examples particularly funny, to me, is that I actually research the history of two of these transitions—from the telegraph to telephone, and from horse-drawn cabs to taxis. I’m sorry Mr. Posner, but those transitions had almost nothing in common with this current case. For one thing, those were actual, significant technological shifts, but there is no actual difference in technology between an Uber and a taxi. Both are just automobiles, and both can be hailed from a smartphone. I realize that Posner, like many people, may not be aware that smartphone apps for taxis have been around longer than Uber (in Chicago, Curb (formerly Taxi Magic) has been available since 2009). But you would think that a legal scholar making an important ruling on a case like this would bother to do some actual research on the history of this technology, instead of taking Uber’s crypto-history at face value.

The plaintiffs argue that the City has discriminated against them by failing to subject Uber and the other TNPs to the same rules about licensing and fares (remember that taxi fares are set by the City) that the taxi ordinance subjects the plaintiffs to. That is an anticompetitive argument. Its premise is that every new entrant into a market should be forced to comply with every regulation applicable to incumbents in the market with whom the new entrant will be competing.

Here Posner briefly comes back to reality before taking another swerve off into his own imaginary land. At least he states the taxi industry’s complaints correctly: yes, they are upset that someone competing against them, offering the same service they do, is not subjected to the same rules and regulations. In other words, they are asking for a level playing field. How is this remotely an “anticompetitive argument?”

Then Posner launches into his already infamous “taxi drivers are like dogs” argument. Let’s just quote this, slightly amended for clarity to show what he is strongly implying:

[Taxi drivers] on average are bigger, stronger, and more aggressive than [Uber drivers], are feared by more people, can give people serious bites, and make a lot of noise outdoors, barking and howling. Feral [Uber drivers] generally are innocuous, and many pet [Uber drivers] are confined indoors.

Thank you, Mr. Posner, for so clearly and cluelessly articulating part of the deeply racist and classist imagery at the heart of Uber’s popularity. This ugly little quote is too packed with significance to be fully dealt with here. Suffice it to say for now that the contrast Posner is articulating is known, in US history, as “the house slave and the field slave.”

Let’s move on to Posner’s next insanity, where he takes issue with the lower court judge who had granted some merit to one of the cabdrivers’ claims:

She ruled that the City, by failing to place as many regulatory burdens on the TNPs as on the taxicab companies, might have denied the latter the equal protection of the law. But this was taking equal protection literally, and it should not be taken so. Otherwise prospective entrants to a market who had lower costs than incumbent firms would not be allowed to enter the market unless some regulatory entity burdened the new entrants with regulations, whether or not necessary or even appropriate, that eliminated any cost advantage the new entrants would otherwise have in competing with the incumbent firms.

Equal protection of the law” should not be taken literally? Wow, Mr. Posner. Just, wow. I suppose we ought to leave that one wide open to interpretation, huh? Otherwise we all might have to be treated... equally... well, we can’t have that!

The next sentence is where his argument gets really ridiculous. According to Posner, if we had to offer all competitors equal protection (or, an equal playing field, basically), we would have to handicap any new entrants who had a special advantage. Like saying: runner A is faster than runner B, so if they compete, runner A has to carry weights to make them run the same speed.

Well, this is a fascinating diversion into philosophical speculation, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the real-life case that Posner is supposedly writing about. The taxi operators are not asking for additional burdens, above and beyond what taxis bear, to be placed on Uber and Lyft to make them competitive; they are just asking for equal regulations. Equal treatment. Literally.

Mind you, there is a very important truth buried here, which Posner has completely failed to recognize. Uber and Lyft really aren’t in a truly competitive market situation against taxis, because while taxis have to compete in a real market, Uber and Lyft (for the time being) are being subsidized by a constant influx of new investment capital. How “competitive” is it to have to keep a small business legitimately afloat while competing against someone who can lose money hand over fist, while constantly attracting more funding? There is no real “market” here as long as Uber (and its backers) have a heavy hand on the scales.

Posner finally turns to his most important argument, that taxis and soft cabs like Uber are too different to be regulated in the same way. First of all, he repeats the very tired argument that taxis can be hailed off the streets, but that Ubers can only (legally) be hailed with a phone app. What Posner completely fails to understand is that this difference is the wholly arbitrary effect of regulation, not a pre-existing difference that regulation is “responding” to.

Not that regulation never responds to the nature of the industry regulated: in fact, much existing taxi regulation is just such a response. In many cities, for instance, it was long illegal for cabs to take street hails—regulators wanted cabs only to pick up at set locations like cabstands, or to respond to orders via phone. Over time, those restrictions were worn away by demand. In some cities, such as Mexico City, there are still different categories of taxi, some of which respond to street hails, while some can only be picked up at stands, and others can only be ordered by phone. This is, incidentally, a very inefficient system, brought about by regulation that arbitrarily creates a distinction between dispatch modes. There is an inherent pull, I would argue, for taxis to ultimately be made available by all dispatch modes. Uber (and other soft cabs) is in fact already starting to experience this.

Right now soft cabs are only (legally) hailable by phone; but this is just the arbitrary effect of the exemption that regulators have created. But anyone coming out of a busy concert and trying to hail an Uber knows that dozens or hundreds of vehicles converging at once, each looking for a specific person, is a complete mess. Now, imagine that the Ubers were instead allowed to line up at the concert exit, and everyone coming out could just take the first one in line. Wouldn’t that be more convenient? Rest assured that, at some point in the near future, regulators will be asked to make this change.

Or say that, as Posner believes, licensed taxis are completely driven out of business. Who then will serve the demand for street hails? Uber, of course, will be given the right to accept flags off the street. And it is perfectly rational, in fact almost inevitable, that this will happen. The only irrational aspect to it would be the inconvenient fact that Ubers had first been created as a separate category on the temporary, and arbitrary basis that they were excluded from these forms of dispatch. But there is no inherent reason for this exclusion, or for the legal distinction between taxis and soft cabs.

Posner then makes a series of false or illogical statements in rapid succession:

A major difference is that customers, rather than being able to hail an Uber car, must sign up with Uber before being able to summon it...

Remember, you can e-hail taxis just like soft cabs, requiring all the same pre-arrangement. This is an absolute red herring.

Unlike taxicab service Uber assumes primary responsibility for screening potential drivers and hiring only those found to be qualified, and the passengers receive more information in advance about their prospective rides—information that includes not only the driver’s name but also pictures of him (or her) and of the car.

This is an odd way to put it, because for taxicabs the “primary responsibility” for these falls to regulators. Uber is only exempt from this (and thus allowed to take “primary responsibility”) because they were granted an exemption by lawmakers. Furthermore, if you’ve followed Uber in the news and the courts at all you are likely to have a dim view of their sense of “responsibility.” Posner is really arguing here that you should simply trust this corporation when it comes to safety. But if Uber was really committed to safety, and background checks, etc., why are they so against being required to follow the same level of safety regulations as taxis already face?

Furthermore, the TNPs use part‐time drivers extensively, and it is believed that these part‐timers drive their cars fewer miles on average than taxicab drivers, who are constantly patrolling the streets in hope of being hailed; and the fewer miles driven the less likely a vehicle is to experience wear and tear that may impair the comfort of a ride in it and even increase the risk of an accident or a breakdown.

If Posner was posting this on Wikipedia, an editor would flag “it is believed” as weasel words. Not only is Posner’s statement weaselly, it is precisely the opposite of “what is believed.” Having studied and written about this very aspect of the industry, I find these falsehoods particularly insulting. The truth is that the core of Uber and other soft cab services are provided by drivers who rely on it as a job; incidental or “part-time” drivers as Posner imagines them only provide a fraction of overall rides. Second, part-time and incidental drivers are not more efficient in their mileage than full-time drivers; in fact, the opposite is likely to be the case, as I pointed out in my 2014 publication on this very question. Mayber Posner should have read some of the literature before jumping to these assumptions?

Posner ends by showing his true colors, with a paean to the disastrous experiments in taxi deregulation back in the 1970s. He lauds the fact that “the deregulation movement has surged with the advent of the TNPs.” Which leads to the most important lesson to be learned from this entire saga:

There is really no such thing as “deregulation;” there is only different regulation.

Posner completely fails to understand (or to admit) that all the differences between soft cabs and taxicabs which he feels justify separate regulatory regimes for the two forms of on-demand car service, were in fact created by those very regulations. Thus, even though he celebrates this as “deregulation” it is really just an arbitrary shift—from one game, involving a certain set of rules and certain players, to another game, with different players and different rules. Even the neoliberal economist Friedrich Hayek recognized that markets are artifacts in this way. The surprising thing is that Posner does not apparently realize this—that regulators are not “recognizing” a real distinction between two markets, but creating that distinction; and Posner in issuing his decision, is actively assisting in that creation.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Wheels in the Head: "Ridesharing" as Monitored Performance

My new article in Surveillance & Society has finally been published; it can be read or downloaded for free here:

Abstract: For-profit “ridesharing” services (or soft cabs) offer on-demand rides much like taxicabs, but are distinguished by an affective framing which emphasizes that drivers are “friends with cars, on demand” rather than “cabdrivers.” This reframing is achieved through the insertion of smartphones as social interfaces between drivers and passengers, restructuring social interaction through an allegorithm (the productive co-deployment of a socially relevant allegorical script and a software-mediated algorithm). Much of the affective labor of these drivers consists in maintaining this affective framing and internalizing the logic by which their performances are monitored through the work platform. In this article the writings and videos of three soft-cab drivers will be drawn on to illustrate the ways drivers develop and evaluate their own performances as “ridesharing.”

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Streetcar Wars of San Francisco History, Vol. III

Before the Google Bus, there was the balloon car...

A San Francisco invention, the "balloon cars" of the Sutter Street Railroad could be rotated on their own chassis, allowing them to turn around more easily. Unfortunately they could also be easily run off the rails, as the story below indicates. (Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library).

San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 1877



“Our Boys” residing in the vicinity of Hayes and Market streets have organized and harmonized themselves without distinction of creed, color or previous condition of servitude into an important party, the shibboleth of which is underlying enmity to the drivers of the balloon cars of the Sutter-street railway running along Larkin street. ...

The boys appear to divide themselves into regular strata of “pure cussedness.” At the corner of Hayes, Ninth, and Market streets they modestly content themselves with having so artfully laid a train of misleading rocks from the legitimate track that the driver is never awakened to his responsibilities till he drives his steeds half into the front balcony where a Larkin-street young lady is entertaining her young man.

Having backed out with profuse apologies he continues his frequently interrupted course to the corner of Grove street. There the boys change the programme by pelting him with stones. The only objection that can be made to the boys at this corner is that they are remarkably bad shots, and that every rock, well intended to do for the driver, shivers a window and scatters shattered glass rather promiscuously and dangerously among the passengers.

At Fulton street a low whitewashing investigating committee of three usually jumps aboard, and when the attention of the driver is distracted by some one of his numerous duties, one of the Committee rings the bell and they then all jump off and laugh at the driver for stopping to let off a supposed passenger.

The drivers have done all in their power to counteract this evil. They have laden the fronts of their conveyances with cobbles till they looked like Trojan war chariots, and they fired the said cobbles at the hoodlums with remarkable wickedness, it is true, but with distinguished ill success.

Individual drivers have been so enthused with the war as to leave horse, car and passengers on the track, and start out for a several blocks’ chase of supposed culprit. They have invariably returned with some good little boy who was just going home from an adjacent letter-box, or a contiguous grocery, whither he had been sent on an important errand, and being bound to let all these go, the assistance of the police is respectfully asked.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Lewis Hine's New York Taxi Drivers

A New York taxi driver poses for the camera while car 433 of the Third Avenue Railway System passes in the background. Photo by Lewis Hine; George Eastman Museum.
Lewis Hine was an early 20th Century advocate of what he called social photography—photography that helped bring about social change. He is most famous for his photos of child laborers, of immigrants passing through Ellis Island, and of construction workers building the Empire State Building. He also took a series of photos of New York City cabdrivers.

(All photos courtesy of the George Eastman Museum).

The double-breasted coat worn by this taxi driver would have looked right at home on a 19th Century hack driver. Photo by Lewis Hine; George Eastman Museum.

The date given for these photos is “circa 1935,” but judging from the cabs it is more likely the 1920s. The cab in this photo still has carriage-style lamps on either side, behind the driver.

In all of Hine's photos, the cabdrivers look straight ahead, with their hands on the wheel. This reflects Hine’s intention, in his work portraits, to show the relationship between workers and their machines, and to capture how “the character of the men is being put into the motors.” Presumably Hine means to convey how the speed of the taxi forces the driver’s attention on the road ahead—very reminiscent of Marx’s observation that industrial workers become mere “conscious organs” attached to the machine. You might say that, just like for the office workers T.S. Eliot had written about only a few years before this photo, for these taxi drivers
 This makes a sharp contrast with the images I posted about last month, of Honoré Daumier’s hack drivers, who are always shown interacting with passengers or hailers (when they are not falling asleep while driving!)

In his book of photographs, Men At Work, Hine wrote:
Cities do not build themselves, machines cannot make machines, unless back of them all are the brains and toil of men. We call this the Machine Age. But the more machines we use the more do we need real men to make and direct them.

Hine’s goal was to show the importance of labor even in this “Machine Age,” and to depict the dignity of workers.
Then, the more you see of modern machines, the more may you, too, respect the men who make them and manipulate them.

Photo by Lewis Hine; George Eastman Museum.

There’s not much background variation in these photos, indicating that they were probably all taken in quick succession at the same location, perhaps at a cab stand. Here we see the first driver again, having moved forward slightly, perhaps a spot or two up the line. In this photo you can get a sense of how early windshields were designed. Before windshield wipers, a heavy rain could completely obscure the view through the front. To counteract this, the top part of the windshield could be swung outward, to create a gap through which the driver could peer into the rain.

You can also see that this cab, like all the rest in these photos, had no passenger-side front door. The space next to the driver was for storing the passengers’ luggage; if the space was needed for a passenger, there was often a fold-down seat that could be called into service.

And you can see that, although the passenger compartment is enclosed, there isn’t much protecting the drivers from the elements. No wonder that other driver was wearing such a heavy coat.

Yellow Taxi with phone number Lenox 2300. Photo by Lewis Hine; George Eastman Museum.

Here is another reason for the drivers to stare forward: to give their passengers privacy. This photo gives a good view of the glass partition which separated drivers and passengers in early taxicabs. In horse-drawn days, closed carriages created a natural boundary between the interior space for the passengers (inside the carriage), and the exterior space for the driver (outside, “on the box”). This social distinction was eroded by the automobile. The glass partitions in these early taxicabs were meant to recreate the separation of social space between driver and passengers—but this also required the affective work of the driver in knowing when to separate himself from the private space of the passengers.

Such in-cab micropolitics is the focus of a painting by Eugenie McEvoy, roughly contemporaneous with Hine’s photos, and fittingly titled “Lenox 2300.” In that painting (which you can see here) the driver stares straight ahead—just like in Hine’s photos—pointedly excluding himself from the intimate space of the couple in the backseat, whose reflection appears, nevertheless, in the glass of the partition just behind the driver’s hunched, stressed back.

Yellow Taxi with phone number Penn 3723. Photo by Lewis Hine; George Eastman Museum.

Although this cab, just like the last one, is labelled “Yellow Taxi,” it has a different phone number on the side: Pennsylvania 3723, linking through an exchange near Pennsylvania Station (as remembered in the song, “Pennsylvania 6-5000”). In other words, these appear to be the cabs of two rival cab companies, both named “Yellow Taxi” (the Lenox 2300 guys were first, and unsuccessfully sued their competitors for copying their name and color). In fact, all of the cabs in Hine’s photos call themselves “Yellow Taxis,” even though they are evidently from different companies (judging from slight variations in the logo and paint scheme).

In Hacking New York, one of the earliest cabdriving memoirs ever written, old-time taxi driver Robert Hazard describes the color-coded taxi wars of 1920s New York, as taxi owners kept switching to whatever make and color of cab were most fashionable: first Brown and White, then Yellow, then Checker, and finally Brown and White again. The city would eventually put a stop to this by requiring all cabs to have the same yellow and checkered color scheme.

Our serious-looking friend has pulled further ahead in line, and is now in front of the West Shore railroad depot. Photo by Lewis Hine; George Eastman Museum.

In the end, Hine's cabdriver photos come across as a bit wooden and uninspired. Perhaps cab work is a bit more complicated than the "man and machine" image that Hine wanted to portray. Maybe Hine's problem was his limited focus on the driver with the vehicle, with no passengers in sight. In contrast, McEvoy's painting is far more on target as to the actual character of the work.  After all, it's when cabdrivers have passengers that they're really working...

Monday, July 18, 2016

Daumier's Hack Drivers

"Cabriolet, sir, sir?" "I can barely afford to walk!" (Le Charivari, 1839)

A good portion of the current cultural image of the cabdriver developed in the Nineteenth Century. Hack and cab drivers were commonly featured in the physiologies – illustrated lists of common urban personalities or character types, a sort of “Who Are The People In Your Neighborhood?” meant to reassure readers that the quickly changing city was still legible.

Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) was one of the great lithographers and caricaturists of the time. Daumier had a keen political conscience, and loved to skewer the powerful and wealthy, not hesitating to take on the King himself. At the same time, Daumier did not exempt everyday Parisians from satire; as Baudelaire put it, Daumier “teaches us to laugh at ourselves.”

Daumier was very conscious of what today might be called the micropolitics of everyday life. He was also particularly observant of the indignities and hidden injustices of transportation—most famously, in his depictions of third class railway passengers, but also the long-suffering riders of omnibuses and stage coaches, and even those travelling by boat on the Seine. He also repeatedly returned to the subject of Parisian fiacres (hacks) and cabriolets (cabs), and the interactions between their drivers and passengers.

In Daumier’s prints, the hackmen are selfish, wily, and unkempt—precisely as they appeared in the work of his contemporaries. However, as a champion of the poor and oppressed, Daumier was more sympathetic to workers, including hackdrivers, than many of the other physiologues of his time. The bottom line for Daumier, nevertheless, is that no one gets off easy, and most often, both drivers and passengers come across as ridiculous figures.

Driver: Where to, bourgeois? Shall it be by the hour or by the trip?
Passenger: Rue St. Honoré.
Driver: What number?
Passenger: I will show you... Rue St. Honoré.
Driver: What number?
Passenger: I don't know!
Driver: Excuse me then: by the hour!
Many of Daumier's cab cartoons focus on a common source of contention between drivers and passengers: the method of fare calculation. Decades before the invention of the taximeter, Parisian cabs charged either a flat rate by the trip, or a variable fare based on time. In the above comic, a savvy driver deals effectively with a drunk, disoriented customer. Seeing that the passenger is uncertain of the correct address, the driver declares it a time-based fare, to ensure that he will be paid for the inevitable time spent searching for the actual destination. Like almost all of Daumier’s hackdrivers, the driver here is holding a whip, wearing an overcoat, and sporting a tall plug hat which has become warped and misshapen through long exposure to the elements.

COACHMAN:  Go on, Gentlemen, argue over my cab as much as you like. But argue by the hour, for I will have my pay! (Le Charivari, 1855)
This driver waits stoically for two disputing passengers to duke it out over his cab, while insisting that he will be paid for the wasted time.

By the Minute: "Driver, you're hardly moving!" "Driver, you're not going anywhere!" (Le Charivari, 1857)
Since the per-hour rate was slightly higher than the per-trip rate, it was often advantageous for drivers to give rides by time rather than by trip—leading in turn to suspicions by passengers that drivers were driving intentionally slowly, in order to “run up the fare.” Daumier illustrates these concerns with these two excruciatingly slow drivers, grinning like Cheshire cats at the complaints of the helpless businessmen trapped in their vehicles.

A fiacre by the hour. (Le Charivari, 1839)
Less conspiratorially, in this illustration the driver has simply fallen asleep through exhaustion, to the consternation of his passenger, who is paying by the hour. The yellow body and black top was typical of Paris cabs in this era.

Daumier would return to the theme of the sleeping fiacre driver in a later cartoon:

"Look here, driver, look here... what are you thinking? I will never arrive at the train on time... I will miss the train!" (The driver continues to voyage through the land of dreams.) (Le Charivari, 1864)

"Driver, stop! I will pay by the hour!"
"By the hour? In the rain? You insult me!"
(Le Charivari, 1864)
Then as now, rain would bring a reversal of power, and cabdrivers, instead of having to search for passengers, took advantage of increased demand to pick and choose the most desirable fares. Here the gentleman hailer offers to pay the driver the higher per-hour rate in order to secure a ride. The driver pretends to be insulted by this pandering—more likely, he hopes to make more money at the per-trip rate than at the per-hour rate, while the rain lasts.

"Driver, driver! You have to stop for me, save my life! bring me quickly, by the trip!" "Come on, Spaniard, you're not being reasonable. You don’t have to fear the rain because you have a coat!" (Le Charivari, 1858)
Then again, these rain-soaked Commedia dell'arte performers dressed as Scaramouche (?) and Pierrot offer to to pay by the trip; but the driver refuses, perhaps because of their destination, or perhaps because he knows actors are likely to be broke, and therefore unlikely to tip well.

"Driver! The hand of our daughter!" (Le Charivari, 1867)
Desperate for a cab, a family offers their daughter's hand in marriage to the driver who will stop for them—to no avail.

"Take you to the Madeleine? Give me a break! I will take you to the Jardin des Plantes, I have a dinner appointment in that direction." (Le Charivari, 1866)
Daumier may be intentionally ambiguous about just who is “abusing the liberty” of whom. The bourgeois couple, who have apparently been pestering the off-duty fiacre driver with requests for a ride? Or the driver, who decides to take them, not to their destination, but to a place more convenient for him?

"The ladies are from the half-world (demi monde), but they don't wear half-skirts (demi-jupes)." (Le Charivari, 1855)
Like expensive clothes, riding in hacks was a status symbol of the rich, but was open to appropriation by upwardly aspiring members of the lower classes. Here, Daumier pokes fun at the pretentions of prostitutes who mimic both the clothes and the riding habits of the nobility.

"Driver, are you hired (loué)?" "No, sir." "Well, love those who advise you, not those who praise (loue) you." (Le Charivari, 1842)

This pedestrian joker’s pun on the French word for "hail" makes the driver grimace. It’s about as funny as asking an English-speaking cabdriver, “Are you free? ... Then how do you make any money?”

The following driver calms an anxious passenger with a mix of soft-spoken friendliness and subtle menace reminiscent of Tom D'Andrea in Dark Passage:

"Calm yourself, bourgeois, and know that I will drive you as gently as if it were your funeral!" (1842)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Uber, Devourer of Souls

Moloch, from

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch!

Moloch the loveless! Moloch the heavy judger of men! Moloch who employed whole intellects, who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images juxtaposed, to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose with superior technology; and sent the best minds of Silicon Valley onto the streets, looking for a spatial fix;

Creating the great suicidal drama of madman bums, and pink-mustached hipsters:

who jumped in limousines and loned it through the long streets where skyscrapers stand like endless Jehovahs, trying to make a full-time living as part-time taxi drivers; who dreamt of pings, of neon blinking traffic lights, the noise of wheels and children; who wept at the romance of the street;

who wandered around and around at midnight wondering where to go; who accepted into their private vehicles a battalion of conversationalists, yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and anecdotes and hammers to the eyeball and shocks of surge pricing receipts and jails and class warfare; who received a four-star rating and screamed with joy;

who were promised rates of fare and hourly guarantees that vanished into nowhere; who chained themselves to the endless ride with predatory car loans; who failed to pay unemployment tax and were dumped by insurers; or who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed were run down by exhaustion, traffic, vitriol, the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality.

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money!

They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Jitney Stand at 18th and Castro in 1915

Jitneys at 18th and Castro, July 12, 1915. Detail of SFMTA photo U04909. SFMTA Photo |

On a Monday afternoon, July 12, 1915, United Railroads photographer John Henry Mentz set up his camera on Castro street at 18th and took a photograph of the intersection:

SFMTA Photo U04909. SFMTA Photo |

He then moved his camera to the north side of the intersection, and took another photo, facing south:

SFMTA Photo U04910. SFMTA Photo |
Mentz was just interested in the details of the tracks in the middle of the street, but fortunately for us his camera also captured the wealth of street-life that characterized San Francisco in that era. Castro was pretty lively, even 101 years ago:

The jitney stand, as seen from the north. Detail of SFMTA photo U04910. SFMTA Photo |
There is the jitney stand, of course, which Mentz captured not only from the front (as featured in a previous post) but also seen here from the back, with a slightly different set of cars in it.

A three-wheel curbside gasoline pump selling Red Crown Gasoline for 10 cents. Detail of SFMTA photo U04910.  SFMTA Photo |
Yes folks, that is a movable gasoline pump on wheels, which someone has pulled up to the curb at the end of the jitney stop, no doubt to sell gas to the loading jitneys. How safe does that sound?

If you noticed the passenger in the rear jitney pointing off to the side in a previous photo, this is what he appears to be pointing at:

Palm Bar. Detail of SFMTA Photo U04910.  SFMTA Photo |
The Palm Bar, apparently attached to Moses Bodes' pool hall, advertises steam beer, "hot lunch," and "Boxing Next Tuesday" — admission, 25 cents.

Marquee of Castro Street Theater, advertising Lois Meredith in "Help Wanted". Detail of SFMTA Photo U04910. SFMTA Photo |  

Across the street, the old Castro Theater, at its original location (now Cliff's Variety) was playing the silent film "Help Wanted" starring Lois Meredith.

Zerolene horse truck. Detail of SFMTA Photo U04910. SFMTA Photo |
Zerolene may have been "the standard oil for motor cars," but it was delivered by horse. Maybe to help prevent explosions?

Detail of SFMTA Photo U04910. SFMTA Photo |
In the upper stories, windows advertise the offices of a dentist and a surgeon.

Detail of SFMTA photo U04909. SFMTA Photo |
The 8-Market streetcar turns onto Castro, amid horse-drawn wagons, automobiles, laundry trucks, and a horde of jitneys which have been poaching along its line.

Detail of SFMTA Photo U04910. SFMTA Photo |

Oh yes, and lots of pedestrians. The newsboys hawking their papers in the middle of the street just might be hamming it up for the camera.

Newsboys at 18/Castro, 1915. Detail of SFTMA Photo U04909. SFMTA Photo |
Detail of SFMTA Photo U04909. SFMTA Photo |

(For more on San Francisco jitney history, see here).