Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Last Night In Aguascalientes---Writing

This is not my usual kind of post, given my emphasis is elsewhere, namely writing for writing's sake minus diversions and digressions taking me to other subjects, normally that topic being taxi in all its tattered clothing.  Sincerely then this is when I suggest you take a break if taxi is your sole interest, because, after next weekend's taxi travails, I will be back to taxi tried and true.

But if you are interested in knowing the real me, the self that doesn't care a lick about taxi driving, then stick with me and read poems not only by me but also John Clare (1793-1864), George Meredith (1828-1909), and Christina Rossetti (1830-1894).  Time permitting I will also include the last stanza taken from Thomas Hardy's (1840-1928) "The Oxen" and a poem, though it was never intended as this, WH Auden's (1907-19--) "Petition" which I see as an appropriate prayer or wish for all my brethren cabbies.  Writing and associated endeavors is my breath while washing dishes, bus driving, psychology, driving taxi have all been dumb labor, something to pay the bills.  There was, for an extended time period, when I read and performed in varied setting, included having my writing accompanied by interpretive dance.  I was in my early and mid-20s and didn't understand the opportunity's that were given.

One of my last featured poetry readings, in 2003, occurred in that northern California town recently devastated by fire, Weed.  While divorce and illness have provided major setbacks,  I have not forgotten who and what I truly am.  I am now shopping my new book in a way never attempted, finding salesmanship onerous and distasteful but whatever is necessary is what I will be doing.  The payoff is great, and the alternative unmentionable.  Like finding a difficult address, I am sick of the wrong turns.

Back in February of 2000, I spent a month in northern Wales at my favorite literary haunt, once Saint Deiniol's, now (William) Gladstone's Residential Library.  During that time a gentleman with a newly minted PHD in Thomas Hardy, James Whitehead, was selling copies of favorite poems at the dining room entry way for 20 pence.  He loved good writing, something he lived for, and was at that juncture searching for a University teaching position.

Included in that series during my stay were the afore mentioned Rossetti, Meredith and Clare, plus a contempt British writer whose name I don't remember but somewhere residing in a box is what was then a recent volume.  His picture displayed a rather plump, upper-middle class Englishman in a white leisure suit, looking like the local parson out for a personal call, thus his omission is solely due to a faulty memory.

Then, perhaps as a going away present, there were copies of my poem, "To & Fro" next to the dining room door.  The reception was favorable from a very literate and knowledgeable group.  One old priest was once personally acquainted with C. Day Lewis (1904-19--).  It is an understatement to say that everyone was well-read.  And today I am providing a very rough reenactment of that fabulous month minus my being nearly run over by a herd of rampaging sheep.  I'll let the good sheep roam freely the castle grounds while I remain confined to the blank page.

John Clare was a English farmer having a brief moment of writing glory then subsequently tossed back by the British Royalty to the rural rubbish heap.  His most well known poems were, like this one, composed in an insane asylum.

                                                             I Am

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
  My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
   They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost;
And yet I am, and with shadows tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noice,
    Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
    But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest---that I loved the best---
Are strange---nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for for scenes where man has never trod;
   A place where woman never smiled or wept;
There to abide with my Creator God,
     And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untoubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below---above the vaulted sky.

                           John Clare                              

What a statement of sorrow that is!  Perhaps, like Van Gogh's keepers in southern France, they considered artistic activity to be therapeutic.  I suppose in a manner of speaking it is though still not preventing Clare's hallucinations.

Next on the poetic agenda is George Meredith, a writer much favored by one of my writing mentors, JB Priestley (18__-1984).  Meredith is yet another important writer assigned to literary oblivion unless of course you are rubbing elbows in Oxford.

                                                          Kinship with the Stars

Cold as a mountain in its star-pitched tent,
Stood high Philosophy, less friend than foe:
Whom self-caged Passion, from its prison-bars,
Is always watching with a wondering hate.
Not till the fire is dying in the grate,
Look we for any kinship with the stars.

                                      George Meredith

Christina Rossetti, along with her brother Dante Rossetti (1828-1882) was a great romantic caught up in the cultural nets that was Victorian English.  You might know this oft quoted poem.

                                           When I Am Dead, My Dearest

When I am dead, my dearest,
   Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
   Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
     With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
    And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
    I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
    Sing on, as if in pain;
And dreaming through the twilight
    That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
     And haply may forget.

                         Christina Rossetti

What a plaintive song, she another great individual whose life was cut short by illness and disease.  Try, try as we might, still we human souls are overwhelmed by sadness, or so it would seem.

And now a poem from Joseph (Joe) Blondo (1953 & counting).   Instead of "To & Fro" I present another metaphysical but one with a decidedly different tone.  Given I am on the road I left much of my library back in Tacoma.  I chose this poem because it is short.

                           God is

God is nice, thoroughly considerate,
allowing brief strolls in leafy gardens
alluring and confusing in both tendency
and practice, which of course is how it
should be when, undeserving of a single
breath, life opens swallowing you in one
momentous gesture of affection and
eternal good will.

                               J. Blondo

Hardy's poem "The Oxen" is my favorite Christmas poem even though I don't believe in Christmas nor Christ's modern attendant, Santa Claus. The word "barton" means farm yard.
The last stanza from "The Oxen":

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb,
  Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
    Hoping it might be so.

       Thomas Hardy

Ah yes, sugar plums and dreams of Christmas, where under a tree sat gleaming a miniature Yellow taxi!  No, Hardy did not write that and thank God for something.

I'll conclude with Auden.  Considered one of the best of an era I personally think at times he was too formal, his literary tongue dislodged by a silver spoon.  He was close friends with one of my very favorite poets, Louis MacNeice (1892-19--).  Check out his short poem "Bagpipe Music" and his long masterpiece, "Autumn Journal."  If you like poetry, you will be glad.


Sir, no man's enemy, forgiving all
But will his negative inversion be prodigal;
Send to us power and light, a sovereign touch
Curing the intolerable neural itch,
The exhaustion of weaning, the liar's quinsy,
And the distortions of ingown virginity.
Prohibit sharply the rehearsed response
And gradually correct the coward's stance;
Cover in time with beams each those in retreat
That, spotted, they turn though the reverse were great;
Publish healer that in city lives
Or county house at the end of drives;
Harrow the house of the dead; look shining at
New styles of architecture, a change of heart.

                                     Wysten Hugh Auden

As I said in the beginning dedicated to all taxi drivers.  And if you gotten this far, congratulations, you now that a small introduction into my mind and psyche.  Scary? I hope not.



Saturday, November 15, 2014

Greetings From Aguascalientes, Mexico: 11 Taxi Rides And Counting

Hola, taxi amigos, I am writing to you on a rare Saturday night when I AM NOT in a damned taxi, at least not as a driver because, since my arrival in Aguascalienties I have taken ten  taxi rides, and I am far from done, with 8-10 more in my near future.  My first Mexican taxi ride this particular journey was an early morning (5:00 AM) ride from my now one and only favorite Mexico City hotel, El Panorama to the airport.  I finally got to ride in one of the legendary local Mexico City taxis which are now gold and red Nissans, the  Nissans having replaced the now infamous green and VW Bugs (model 1300) which were at one time everywhere.  As late as last year a few were still in operation but so far this visit nary a one has come into view.

Something also new is a large 12 by 12 inch blowup of the taxi driver's cabbie license pasted to a side window, this done I believe to relieve the fears of non-native passengers.  In other words, they have made a brave attempt to professionalize a taxi fleet that I am guessing is twice the size of New York City's. If you don't know the history, I will assign it to the bad, old past, when criminal behavior associated with some of the local cabbies did unfortunately exist.

Here in Aguasclienties the vast majority of taxis are solid red Nissans driven by some of the best cabbies I have encountered anywhere.  The major reason for their sterling professionalism?  An incredibly busy taxi business core, the drivers run ragged with more business than available cabs.  Believe me, whining stops when the money is flowing.  The place I'm staying at, Hotel Gomez ($100.00 for five nights), is adjacent to the "Terminal Central de Autobuses" and cabs are just flying in and out of there at all hours.  Why I  myself am ready to finally learn Spanish and buy myself a red Nissan. There are worse fates for a veteran cabbie!

The reason I chose to visit this city an hour by air from Mexico City is its famous water.  I have been told more than once to go "soak my head" so I am doing it one better and immersing my entire body.  Happily, my hot springs of choice, "Ojocaliente Banos Termales," is a quick 30 peso (roughly $3.00) taxi ride straight up to the mineral water baths.

This spa is wonderful, a tiled beauty of a place built during a far distant era when aesthetics met something.  The individual rooms are singular masterpieces.  Today's Room 21 was tiled with a sunflower motif.  And the tubs are big!  Room 21's tub is 8 feet long and about 4 feet wide.  I had it filled with three feet of water.  I don't know the cubic measurements but it is a hell of a lot of hot water.  Yesterday's room, #25's tub was 6X6 feet.  I've had three visits, with three more awaiting me.  Tuesday evening I fly back to Mexico City via a Mexican airlines, "Interjet Airways."

The cost for the tubs are about $9.00 (100 pesos) for 1 1/2 hours.  After that I am indeed a limp taxi noodle.  It is a terrific experience.  Check out their website at:
www.ojocaliente.com.mx, and dream your taxi aches and pains away.

And you will be glad you did.  And you will love Aguascalientes.  It is not, despite the well-known healing water, a usual tourist destination.  People here are friendly, treating me like some rare artifact.  The food is cheap and delicious.  What more can you ask for?  How about weather in the mid-70s F.

Adios!   Buenas Noches.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Taxi Pot Boiling Over

Yes it was a full moon weekend but still it's clear that the taxi tensions simmering beneath usual constraint have overheated, emotions and frustrations bubbling to the surface.  Last night, at the late train from Portland, I watched a Yellow cab fly by me and others to pick up a passengers.  That kind of breach in protocol never happens but it did yesterday.  Oddly it worked out for me because instead of getting the woman climbing into his taxi I instead got the literate young man going to his parents in deep Redmond, $65.00 dollars with tip and my best and last fare of the weekend.  We talked writing all of the way.  Great fun for me, I will tell you that.  I appreciate anyone who knows the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop and Anne Sexton.  It is exceedingly rare.

Earlier, on the Madison Hotel stand, a Yellow taxi dropped off two drunk post-Seahawk fans who left some garbage in the cab, the driver angrily tossing it out onto the street which resulted in some passersby directing it back at him. The cabbie leaped out ready to fight but thankfully I was close enough to jump between the shouting parties which quickly ended the nonsense, subduing the inflamed beasts.  The offended cabbie was clearly ready for blood.  He, like so many others, have had enough of slow business and no response from the City or anyone else.  It is no surprise that we are all going nuts.

Saturday morning I waited over 2 1/2 hours for my first fare.  A good personal coming out at 7 AM is the only thing saving my sanity.  What is happening is unfortunately too clear.  The huge increase in competition and the six-plus weeks of Yellow dispatch dysfunction has come to roost at the taxi chicken coop.  I see the signs and, taxi brothers and sisters, they are scary.  It is going to be a long, cold winter business-wise.  It will not be humorous, and you can quote me on that.

Tonight at 7 PM I leave for Mexico for two weeks, meaning my next missive will originate from sunnier climes.  Adios, amigos!.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Post-midterm election reality greeted me this morning, telling how one established party won over the other well entrenched political  party.  Two years ago, I awakened at my friend Jake's apartment in San Francisco and listened to the results of Obama's victory and the Republicans many sorrows and regrets.  Now this election season the GOP are singing and its the Democrats turn to cry, a cycle of one party this year, the other party winning next year with little variation in between.   If this is democracy at its finest I can somewhat understand why only one third of the total eligible voters cast a ballot this year.  Does anything really change?  Yes and no is the answer, the usual one step forward and two steps back.  Having personally involved myself with local taxi issues, and after meeting many of the important political players, I can only despair at our future here in Seattle, having discovering so-called "liberalism" isn't any more expansive than stagnant conservatism.  If anything, "liberal" arrogance equals a  "New Royalist" attitude while Republican intransigence compares to a wounded dinosaur roaring at lifes' indignities somewhere in the misty prehistoric past.  How can this confounding combination of sadly comical characters achieve anything reasonable?   Not easily is the answer.

Saturday night a town car driver told the four kids that he would drive them to Pioneer Square for $15.00.  Jumping instead into my taxi the meter was rate was $5.00.  This type of theft is unfortunately commonplace.   Where is the the outrage and municipal intervention?   There isn't any, only empty rhetoric and legislation that is never followed.  Vote it is touted, let your voice be heard.  But the truth is currently your voice is lost somewhere in a cultural vacuum, a political "black hole" consuming the elective process.  I think back to a young woman my then wife and I met in "Iron Curtain" Hungary back in September of 1984.  Whispering to us in a  Budapest art museum, she recounted scary stories of governmental oppression, clearly afraid of being overheard and arrested.  What she longed for was freedom, simple freedom to talk and go where she wanted minus limitations.

We in this state, city, county and country are free to shout out our dissent.  Appear before the Seattle City council and speak your two minutes, telling everyone what and how you feel.   And what happens to your concerns?  They are ignored, the decisions already made.  Call the Seattle Mayor today and ask him to implement many of the rules he signed into law a few months back.  You will not hear laughter.  You will not hear explanation.  What you will hear is nothing whatsoever as you are left staring at your telephone.  Welcome to our current Democracy!


Monday, November 3, 2014

The Seahawks Win And Is Everyone Now Happy?

Yesterday afternoon the mighty Seahawks eked out a victory over the NFL's sorriest team, the once-feared Oakland Raiders, making for a contented post-game crowd, suddenly transforming me into an east side-bound shuttle, twice taking fans over to Kirkland, and later, a very drunk professional back to downtown Bellevue.  While fans celebrated, cabbies were just pleased finally encountering some easy business, the Yellow version of the local industry more than weary dealing with a still cantankerous and often unpredictable computer dispatch system.  If the man standing at the cashier window this morning was correct, the Sea-Tac cabbies associated with Teamsters Local 117 have not been paying their dispatch fees.  While that might keep them smiling, what about the rest of us who are still obediently forking out our hard earned cash?

Across from me this morning at the Honey Court Restaurant in Seattle's Chinatown/International district, a half-sick Yellow driver was quitting early, saying he had made only $100.00 for himself but he had had enough.  Commenting though he did have two airports runs, his discontent was palpable, no one these days having much fun.  Having mild influenza only magnifies an unsatisfactory situation, not remedied by swallowing an aspirin every four hours.

Just before I found Mister Bellevue standing at the corner of Roosevelt NE and NE 70th, I first accepted a fare offering over the tablet, only to have it suddenly disappear.  Instantly offered another call, that address too disappearing from the screen. It was maddening.  It is impossible to respond to this kind of problem, the system simultaneously malfunctioning while you the operator are doing everything, at least in theory, correctly. 

No, they weren't cancellations, instead, more unfortunate dysfunction manifesting itself before my disbelieving eyes.  Making it worse, the fare information also vanishing from the dispatch superintendent's screen, though eventually Jeffery rediscovered the recalcitrant calls, resending them out to the waiting taxis.  I bring up the matter of fare cancellations because that is what occurs when the customer cancels, the address and other information vanishing from the screen.  Only this Sunday was I made aware of why this was happening, and only after my puzzled inquiry.  As I have said, driver training with the new system would have been extremely helpful, eliminating much of the confusion. 

That these kinds of occurrences aren't helpful is beyond comment, a holy covenant broken between company and driver and passenger.  These mishaps can't keep happening but despite Mister Anderson's intervention, they have, making our reality even more tenuous than it already is.  No fun.  I repeat. No fun.  Geroge Anderson, where are you, now that we need you?

Yesterday, risking stern rebuke, a friend conducted his own taxi private experiment.  Theoretically it has been stated that the closest cab to the call WILL always be sent.  Sitting next to a Safeway, he himself requested a cab.  Upon receiving the call, he could easily have done a "no show" without anyone the wiser.  What happened instead was another more distant taxi being directed to the call.  So much for theory was my friend's response.  While potentially reckless, it begs to answer the question about just what is happening?   He and others are past patience.  They have money to make and bills to pay.  Personally, overall I had a good weekend, with the system working properly for me about 95 percent of the time, putting it on par with the previous system.  But sometimes what it does can only be called nonsensical. I am looking forward to this current misery quickly passing into oblivion. One can only hope.

Mid-morning yesterday I was offered a fare originating from Zone 330, meaning somewhere 20 or more miles directly to the north of where I was parked at  N 96th & Stone Avenue N.  Taking such an unknown call is little more than suicidal, meaning no one can reasonably accept such a distant and mysterious fare.  What could be lurking behind that taxi curtain?  The answer is, who cares, because unless there is some introductory information presented before its offered, only a cab sitting way up there in Everett could rationally check it out. 

Wisely ignoring it like the suspected land mine it was, just one scant minute later I am heading to an airport run sitting a mere 3/4 of a mile away.  Now that made sense, along with the $10.00 tip I got on top of the $58.00 fare.  Thank you, taxi gods, for your divine mercy and understanding.  I am forever your fervent servant, money the quickest route to a cabbie's  irreligious heart, suddenly pious and devout, thankful utterances slipping from tongue and lips!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Taxi Cartoonville But Why Am I Not Laughing?

Down south in Arcata, California "she-who-can't-be-named" assists Dave who assigns all blame upon "the goons," they somehow responsible when he loses his wallet or having his car stolen after leaving it unlocked and the keys left unattended in the ignition.  The goons, the goons, it is always the goon's fault, and maybe it is but perhaps not, given how easy it is blaming metaphysical or other mysterious influences instead of taking personal responsibility for ones' own incompetence. 

Now I have never heard anyone in the local taxi industry mentioning "goons" but rare is the time anyone has said, "I take full responsibility!" for anything.  Contrarily moderate to mild bedlam reigns, with few attempting to transform chaos to operational tranquility. Why I can't tell you but I am beginning to suspect neurological or cognitive damage stemming from unrelenting stress and disorder.  While the 18th century colloquial term "mad-as-a-hatter" stems from using mercury when producing "felt" for hats derived from beaver and rabbit pelts, everyone knows that taxi drivers are insane, hence the usage, just another "crazy cabbie" which, as we in the business know too well, is sadly too often true. 

Some recent events unfortunately back this contention, all of us toxic from the many years breathing in gasoline, diesel and other related fumes and toxins.  On too many occasions passengers exclaim "that you don't look a day over forty!", prompting my joking response that what they are seeing is a kind "Botox" effect isolated to the taxi.  Now for some recent behavioral examples of taxi behavior better left to the comic pages.  Maybe one day they will come illustrated and the entire nation can join in on the screaming and shouting.

-----Monday, while on the way to the main Yellow taxi lot, the head of PSD/BYGs Sea-Tac operations had his van sideswiped by none other than a Sea-Tac Yellow taxi.  "Unbelievable!" was the response from a long-time taxi superintendent. 

-----As part of a new feature of PSD's new computer system, info announcing a fare's availability has been sent to the entire fleet, hoping someone would get close to the call.  What did happen was a small army of taxis converging upon, let's say, the 700 block of Broadway East, honking their horns and in general causing a ruckus.  There has now been a policy change in response.

-----Many readers know that Seattle and King County cabbies are independent contractors, or in other words, independent business owners.  This known fact makes it all the puzzling, when, beginning next week, PSD says it is planning, similar to Uber, to electronically rate driver performance and punish driver's with "system time-outs" if an offered call is rejected. 

The one major problem with this approach is that the driver and owner is "paying" for the dispatch services, which translated means they are being asked to finance their own punishment.  How is this in any manner conceivable?   I don't think it is something that can be done.  While understanding PSD/BYG frustration with certain behaviors, one would think their response should be within the limits of known legal parameters and beyond challenge.  This appears to be an approach that will be questioned.

While some of this might or could generate a chuckle, isn't the joke truly on us in the taxi industry?  We should be the last ones laughing because if you think any of this is funny then it is truly time to schedule your neurological/psychological testing.  I think it could be necessary.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sick Is Not How To Start A Taxi Weekend

Friday afternoon after eating a fairly benign lunch of rice and vegetables I suddenly fell ill to the point that the tips of my fingers were growing numb, with my body quickly succumbing to aches and chills.  What it  truly was I will never know.  Instant flu?  Food poisoning?  Regardless of the origin, it was clear that it would impact my upcoming working weekend.  Sleeping early probably helped but I still awakened at 1:10 AM with a throbbing head.  Dependent upon these weekends for my economic "bread and butter" meant, short of death, I was heading to the cab lot to again embrace yet another two wonderfully grueling days.  The sour cherry on top was being greeted by the news that I had  to pay $124.00 for running a camera-monitored intersection. 

Totally bewildered, I asked Bill the night superintendent, "When did this happen?" as I am very attentive to these "red light" cameras.  Nearly three weeks had passed and no one had told me about it, and making it worse, paying the damn thing meaning all options were taken from my control.  Lucky I didn't faint dead away but of course I survived, having a great Saturday and an insanely horrible Sunday, finally waking up today at noon miraculously cured.  Nothing like a fun taxi weekend to beat the hell out of whatever ails you.  And no, I don't think it is cheaper than going to a doctor, unless they charge $400.00 dollars plus just for sticking out your tongue.  Three separate 1/2 hour naps on Saturday certainly aided my recovery.  Did I have any choice?

One Blessing I Can Accept

Last night picked up a HopeLink connected passenger who had been waiting over 1 1/2 hours in the rain and cold.  Part of the wait had resulted from a driver having "dumped" the call.  Madder than anything because the gentleman, coming from a late night doctor's appointment, had been unnecessarily and cruelly inconvenienced, I made a couple calls making sure that the cabbie in question would be appropriately addressed.

Though granted my Vietnam War-era CO status upon religious and moral grounds, I instinctively cringe when causally given a god or "God's" benediction but this time the passenger's "God bless you!,"given in appreciation for my intervention, was pleasing.  "Thank you!" I replied and I meant it. 

Something Good from the Bad 

Unhappy that I had come down to the lot this afternoon to pay money owed only to find that Barbara in the financial office had already fled the royal confines,  I was fortunate to discover, while talking to Tom, the new dispatch manager, that George Anderson, our new computer system's guru, was there, and  there was time to talk.  Amazingly, I got five precious minutes to impress home the urgency of our situation.  He listened intently then got back to his reprogramming, understanding that the dysfunction must be quickly remedied.  My initial assessment is that he is far from ordinary, not something I usually say, far too accustomed to the usual and mundane.  There is hope  then for swift and effective resolution.  The faster the better is clearly the best answer.

Earlier in the morning drivers and owners met with the PSD GM and members of the PSD board.  Displeasure was expressed in addition to the real threat of not paying lease fees.  It appears a meeting with Mister Anderson will be arranged.  When providing him with my blog/business card I said I have been "holding my tongue" and believe me, I have, only interested in constructive negotiations.  Anybody can shout but  more importantly, can you achieve your just and honorable aims?  That is the question of the moment and the taxi hour.  One month of this is enough.  There is nothing left to comment about.  The system has to work properly 24 hours a day minus flaws and errors.  There is no other answer.