Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Spanning From "I Hate This!" To "I Am Too Tired!"

With taxi driving there is always an extreme cost ranging from simple fatigue to overt agitation and of course everything in between.  Starting off early Saturday morning (1:30 AM) after negotiating a heavy rainfall from Tacoma to Seattle (over five recorded inches during a four-day span), my first thought is "I hate this!" which was further underlined by getting a flat tire as the noon train pulled in, costing me almost three hours; and then much later in the evening a tow truck entered my intersection nearly 3-4 seconds into the red light, again missing certain death by "how I avoided the fool!" I will never know but glad I had new brakes installed two weeks ago.

It never ends and it doesn't and won't unless I just walk away from this perpetual madness---a passenger last night refusing to understand, though repeatedly told, that the Motel Six located at South 160th & Pacific Highway South was not in the city of Seattle, thankfully his companion acting as some kind of impromptu interpreter.  Was the guy stoned or drunk or stupid or just plainly belligerent past reason and commonsense, his permanent scowl seemingly providing the answer.

I did enjoy the little girl (about 6-8 years old) who repeatedly posited the question concerning me, "Why is a woman talking like a man?" but hey, she might have a legitimate point.  The deranged pinnacle for my three wonderful days occurred while gassing up 478 one final time at 1:45 AM this morning then finding out I couldn't get my change because the 4th Avenue South Arco had locked its doors.  A group of irritated customers, most wanting to buy beer before the 2 AM deadline, were gathered at the entry, waiting impatiently to get in.  We could all see one individual ignoring us while mopping the floor. When the door was finally opened at two by another gentleman who had been concealed somewhere in the back, a near riot broke out upon his refusal to sell people their final post-midnight beer.  All I wanted was my change and to drive back to Tacoma before it got any later, finally getting to bed at 4:20 AM.

 Yes I was and continue to be "too tired" for anything but pushing through this day.  I am just happy that "she-who-can't-named" can leave for Mexico Thursday minus interruptions instead of visiting me either in the hospital or the morgue.  She will have a much better time soaking for hours at "La Gruta" just outside of San Miguel de Allende.  If I survive the next 3 weeks I too will be joining her November 7th, enjoying the healing hot water. Via Mexico!  Adios.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Refugees From The Sea-Tac Wars

Like any war, there are causalities.  The bruising fight for economic survival exemplified by the recent battle for Sea-Tac's outbound services have ripped a palpable bloody seam through the local transportation providers, a razor sharp knife severing head from metaphorical heart, irreparable wounds soaking red the airport tarmac, further damaging and weakening everyone.

What happened is not funny, as Bernard's Seattle Weekly article points out, Sea-Tac outbound service award to Eastside-for-Hire doubling Uber's advantage by expanding their customer base with the additional of 180 plus new service providers.  Yes, it is unfortunately true that all the former Yellow Taxi operators will be forced to provide service to the same company that is threatening their very existence, this due to Eastside's business and financial arrangements with Uber.

And adding  grave insult to the injury, they will pay Eastside a weekly $155.00 dispatch fee for the privilege. Of course this is not funny but nothing recently forced onto the Sea-Tac taxi fleet over the past year has been humorous, collectively backed into an operational corner by the Port of Seattle who keeps telling them everything is okay, just take your Uber aspirin and you will feel better in the morning.  Having met two Sea-Tac refugees over the weekend, clearly this is not true.

The two owner operators I talked to are part of a growing minority not interested in taking Sea-Tac's bad deal, instead returning to the taxi business operational world I share, one more traditional than the glorified shuttle service that is Sea-Tac's taxi service.  Both  drivers are experiencing problems acclimating to new taxi business realities, easy pickings off ripe taxi boughs long gone, hunt-and search the new  (and grim) business model.

One driver, lamenting the departure of all those "medical" HopeLink and other "fat & easy" account fares, fell back to yet another rumor, saying Eastside's connection with another Somali at HopeLink is the plausible explanation.  The other driver, a Punjabi operator, remembering me from the Seattle & King County Taxi Advisory Commission, said all of it---the loss of business and the Sea-Tac contract---was all my fault. While having difficulty understanding everything he was saying, it appears that, according to him, I am the one to blame.  I suppose this comes with being some version of "public figure" but if I truly had that kind of influence, everything today would be the reverse of what it is now, kissing Uber's unwashed foot.

What both of them are expressing is pain, the confusion and pain associated with ongoing conflicts ousting them from their preferred home, not unlike the millions of refugees fleeing war and devastation in Africa and the Middle East.  While not facing physical harm, they are dealing with economic death, their livelihood either taken away or altered to the point they were compelled elsewhere, certainly not liking what they see.

I know in the next few weeks and months I will be meeting more Sea-Tac refugees, hearing their anguish and despair.  What, for them, the loss of the Sea-Tac ultimately means for their future I cannot say.  Taxi, even in the best of times, is a struggle. Returning to the present tight business climate will not be easy, not in any way an easy transition but this is our shared reality, the situation facing us all.

Winter, I guarantee, will be harder this year, perhaps forcing many out of the business altogether.  But as usual, the administrators responsible will continue collecting their substantial salaries, giving little thought to the long hours all of us cab drivers will be facing, waiting 1-3 hours for the next fare.  I know I will not be enjoying myself, instead going slowly and progressively more insane, this prediction not only true for me but for all  my colleagues working beneath the Seattle top-light, no fun staring at the rain-splattered windshield, wishing that customers were in our cab instead passing us by in Uber cars, more than happy to be receiving a transportation bargain, oblivious to our suffering upon the roadside.  .  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

My Best Personal & Hooker And Pimp & Urination & Another Sara Bernard "Seattle Weekly" Taxi Article

Everyone in the taxi world loves their "personals," meaning passengers who call cabbies back for another ride.  Some drivers I know "live on personals," their regular customers filling in the gaps during slow dispatch and business moments.  Despite my 29 plus years on the taxi road, these kinds of customers are a rarity for two primary reasons.

One, which is fairly obvious, is that by normally driving just two days a week means I am not there when they need me. And another, while respecting my taxi skills, most customers don't find me especially likable, as least not in the usual sense, too much opinionation and irritation for most folks to deal with. And I don't blame them, knowing who I am and accepting I can be "too much to swallow," all very understandable.

Given this reality, it is all very surprising that I met a customer Friday afternoon who called me back repeatedly over the weekend, taking her to and from Seattle and Kirkland, the fares averaging seventy dollars one way when including generous tips.  Of course that is a big chunk of taxi change, quickly altering a slow day into something quite special. And who can I give thanks for these terrific fares?  None other than Yellow taxi and yet another screwed up ride.

Working Friday due to the upcoming University of Washington versus Stanford football game, I vowed not to take an account fare but stupidly did so anyway upon my very first fare offering.  What it all turned out to be was a messed up HopeLink call that was reversed in order, meaning instead of picking up at Swedish Cherry Hill, the passenger instead was waiting to be taken there.  No fun of course when you are trying to make a living dependent upon accurate call-taking.

Figuring out all this nonsense wasted valuable minutes but having seen other people waiting I called out "Does anyone need a cab?" and indeed someone did, and even better, needing to go all the way to Kirkland.  Call it luck or taxi divine intervention but whatever it was, good fortune coming my way.

Elaine, currently dealing with some profound issues concerning her husband, was now ready for for a little professionalism, this after two disappointing Eastside rides, and after finding me both safe and reliable, asked if I could pick her up in the morning?  Yes I could and did, and six rides later I can say I have never met a more kind or thoughtful customer.  Even better is Elaine utilizing both Tom and Ray, translating into mutual benefits all around, my initial misfortune turning into the best of possible outcomes.

Hooker and Pimp

Always my first goal is to present taxi reality as I see it firsthand, as it's thrust directly in my face, and these next two examples are certainly that, situations never asked for but there they are, unavoidable and extant.Yes, real Seattle taxi, unblemished, and for the most part, uncensored.

Did you know, due the vice crackdown on Aurora North, that the prostitutes have moved their trade west down 85th and other westward arterial streets?  Well I can verify that its true, and instead of an ordinary Fed Meyers shopper, a genuine hooker stepped in.  While somewhat surprised, who cares anyway? but it was when she borrowed my telephone that I became interested.

Talking to someone who was clearly her pimp, I suddenly was privy to the most brutal conversation. After a few minutes of this absurdity I angrily told her to break it off, unable to keep listening to insulting nonsense.

Given that the pimp was paying, upon arriving at our destination, we walked up a long, darkened driveway for the money.  Talking into a closed door, a disembodied hand thrust out with a twenty.  The woman, she was fine but the pimp is obviously a monster, a real monster.  Welcome to taxi! as I don't want to know it.


This sometimes happens but this time being far more extreme which I is why I am mentioning it. Again, taxi reality as I hate it, bodily functions screaming at the physical door.

It's about 5:00 PM Monday and I have to urinate, though at this point the urgency mild, not pressing, First one, then another coffee shop I stop at are closed.  Heading toward the Fremont neighborhood and looking for a friendly bush or concealed alleyway I get a call over in the Montlake on 24th East for a hair salon. Routing over the University Bridge I get there fairly quickly, thinking this is just "another local" but instead the young woman from Stika, Alaska is meeting her sister near the airport at the Southcenter Mall, meaning a fight through rush hour traffic and further personal delay.

Now nearly 1 1/2 hours later I head to the little park located just above the mall.  Painful yes but I survived. Nearby is a memorial plaque to a deceased employee and a newly planted tree, reminding life continues forward no matter how imperfectly, available toilet or not.

Great Taxi Article in Sept 28th-Oct 4th 2016 Seattle Weekly Issue

Sara Bernard's recent very well researched article "Uber Alles---The taxi industry is being taken apart by rideshares.  Could the airport contract be its last stand?" is truly worthwhile reading, providing an insightful look at a slow moving disaster.  The article details, in clear language, that despite protestations and denials to the contrary, the Port of Seattle has abandoned the taxi drivers.  If you don't believe me, read the article and see for yourself.  And why, why is the Port of  Seattle doing this?

From my point of view, it is clear and simple.  Other than one Port commission member in particular, who does understand, the rest are, just like recent versions of Seattle's City Council--- upper-middle class caste-ridden people who support and believe in supporting Big Business and Conservative Social Norms.  They say otherwise but don't believe them.  It is what they are and what they remain.  Uber, for them, represents what is best about corporate innovation, while taxi representing the very disposable past.  Bernard, for better or not, quotes me toward the end. Go to seattleweekly.com to read the story.

Yesterday I was distressed to find what I was warning about in last week's blog was now coming to pass, with both Eastside and Yellow double-dipping the Sea-Tac operators.  Not only do they now have to pay Eastside $155.00 for an essentially nonexistent dispatch system but Yellow is still demanding their weekly $180.00 because the operators failed to give a two week notice of departure.  Did these guys ever read their contract's fine print?  Clearly not, meaning these guys are "paying through the nose" for what, for what are they getting forking over all this money for?  Plainly they are paying for their own punishment, like they were some kind of criminals for just wanting to make a living. Nice, isn't it, but fair, no, it is not fair.

Yesterday, talking to a longtime Sea-Tac operator advocate, he gave me what I feel is one of the best compliments ever received, saying I was principled.  Thank you for that, man! because it is one compliment I can accept.  I attempt to be consistent, pleasing that someone noticed.  Thanks!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Still A Lack Of Care And Concern & Sea-Tac Transition Update Plus An Idaho And Oregon Hot Springs Review---Places To Soak Body And Soul

I wish I could tell you that a real appreciation of taxi drivers and their contribution to America's overall transportation  is nigh but unfortunately reality is much different, Uber's transcendence a telling sign, signifying that many potential customers could care less if the cab industry altogether disappeared, merely a quaint memory not dissimilar to the horse and carriage, something anecdotal related by your grandparents before a winter's blazing fireplace. Yesterday a cabbie recounted a story how, after a woman stiffed him for sixty dollars, and pulling a "big gun" on him, the Renton city police decided pursuing the assailant wasn't their first priority.  Of course you can instead imagine their response if she had pointed her gun at one of them.

When you don't care, you simply don't, and that is what me and every other cabbie in America faces daily---a defined lack of caring except perhaps for our money.  Coming back from vacation in the mail I found a notice from the City of Seattle requesting $100.00 dollars, saying I had underpaid my business licence for the years 2013 and 2015.  But of course I don't mind, understanding, like the bad Bachman-Turner Overdrive song, any kind of attention is good attention.  Yes, that must be the answer, the City of Seattle loves me too. Ain't I gratified?

The Rush to the October 1st Sea-Tac Deadline

That it makes little sense to compress a process normally taking months into 2-3 weeks should be obvious but the Port of Seattle appears not to understand this.  With Saturday October 1st a mere three days away, Eastside is attempting the impossible in meeting the Port's deadline.  Few if any of the Yellow Cabs transferring to Eastside (E-Cab) have been repainted, potentially bringing in question whether cabs representing one company can now pretend ( least with its surface color) to claim to be another entirely different company.  Yes, the owners are, like me, independent contractors but it does appear potentially to be  an interpretative stretch.

But of course, expanding limitations or just plainly ignoring them is part of taxi tradition, where rules always apply to someone else but not us. I have openly wondered about insurance considerations but  have been reassured that all the transferred cabs will remain insured.  Given my own recent experiences dealing with insurance companies and their cohorts I can only hope that is true.  Beware of any entity whose sole concern is profit despite any and all rhetoric stating their prime concern is your safety and protection.

Though regardless of initial confusion, I am sure it will work itself out somehow given that money is involved. Each transferring taxi is paying Eastside a non-refundable $3,975.00 to achieve their new/old position at Sea-Tac.  While a lot of money, compared to the believed $10,000 paid by the drivers to Yellow during the last Sea-Tac transition, I suppose it can be termed a bargain.

There have been various ongoing conversations between the primary involved parties but acrimony having destroyed any constructive negotiations, like Israel and Palestine, the argument never ending. Who do we ultimately have to blame for the current state of affairs?  While knowing full well who bears the responsibility I will say this: the sleeping owner/driver population allowed the mice to play, our dreams becoming nightmarish. Oh so it goes, so it goes.

And making for a nice postscript, Eastside has to pay over $60,000 to rebuild the holding lot restrooms.  Like I said, so it goes, so it goes.

A List of Hot Springs

I think both of us got a little dizzy, trying to dip in as many hot springs as humanly possible during a 12 day long journey.  Forgetting to write down my initial mileage, I still estimate we drove between 1500-1700 miles, which at times made for hectic hours.

Regardless, our efforts plying down the byways introduced us to country new to us in both Idaho and Oregon, for me the Hart Mountain National Antelope (Pronghorn) Refuge being my personal favorite.  In order I am listing the hot and warm springs we visited.  While experiencing some disappointments, I would return to the hot springs trail in a split second but this time allowing a minimum of 30 days exploring the mountains and plains of  Idaho and Oregon.  I hope you too are inspired to join the hot/mineral springs hunt and soak your cares away.  You will be glad you did, soaking in a hot pool next to a wild rushing river, life, not at its worse but its best.

Cougar (Terwiller) Hot Springs---Very nice pools but extremely popular.  Located 53 miles east of Eugene, Oregon in the Willamette National Forest.

Burgdorf Hot Springs---A very rustic, commercial hot springs offering both cabins and day-use.  Day-use fee is $8.00 for all day usage, 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM.  A very good deal.  Family-oriented for the most part. Located 30 north of McCall, Idaho. Cabins are a bit worn out but there is a very nice forest service campground nearby, Jeanette, where we camped.

Trail Creek Hot Springs---Three medium sized pools just off the Warm Lake Highway 19 miles NE of Cascade, Idaho.  Nice water but fatal for the small cold-blooded frogs floating in the pools.  Nice forested setting and reasonably quiet.

Molly Hot Springs---Just off a forest road.  Pools were too shallow.

Warm Springs warm springs near Cascade.  Short walk down a dusty road.  Too shallow that day for any real soaking.

Skinnydipper Hot Springs---Closed! by the forest service.  This famous springs located 5 miles west of Crouch, Idaho has been permanently closed due to misuse. Some fools started a major forest fire there in 2012, and three idiots died (ODs) in the pools.  One unfavorable aspect we discovered is that a small percentage of hot springs users think it is "party time!" when soaking.  We were sorely disappointed but avoided checking them out due to official notices threatening fines and imprisonment.

Pine Flats Hot Springs---Temporarily closed due to forest fire danger.  Near Crouch but closed for the moment due to nearby forest fires.  We were tempted to check it out but did not want our car to be towed away.

Kirkham Hot Springs---Campground with hot springs just off Idaho Sate Route 21.  The water is good but the setting isn't.  She soaked her feet and off we went down the road.  Located 4 miles east of Lowman.

Bonneville Hot Springs---Nice pools located next to a roaring creek.  We camped nearby for two days where we had our best "soaking" of the entire trip.  Very popular on the weekends. Located 19 NE of Lowman on Route 21.

Sacajawea Hot Springs---Series  of pools on the South Fork of the Payette River.  Good water but no privacy, located just below Forest Road 524.  Some good views of Sawtooth Mountains.

Barnes Warm Springs---Beautiful pool in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  My favorite of the all the springs we visited.  Not hot but a great setting, surrounded by trees and grassy reeds.  Located near French Glen, Oregon.

Antelope Hot Springs---Two pools, one developed, one not, located in the wonderful Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.  Good water but beware of numb skull campers! Nearest town is Plush, Oregon where you can get much needed gasoline.

Summer Lake Hot Springs---Like Burgdorf, Summer Lake is a very rustic commercial hot springs but, unlike Burgdorf, located in a big barn-like structure.  There is one large swimming pool with two smaller pools located outside.  Day use fee is $10.00.  It is located on Oregon State Route 31 six miles north of Paisley.  Nice water but it appears to draw "alternative types" who don't respect commonplace civility and behavioral limitations.  Drive and  park to see if the pool is empty.  If so, don't hesitate, jump in!

McCredie Hot Springs---Just off Oregon State Route 58.  Pools on both sides of Salt Creek.  Too close to the roadway.  We dipped but left soon after.  To be avoided unless you are desperate.

Wall Creek Warm Springs---We walked to it but found 5 people crowded in the pool drinking cheap beer. We waited for them to clear out but they decided to stay and keep drinking.  Located near Oakridge, Oregon, which has a good coffee shop.  The springs is worth checking out.  Maybe you will have better luck.  We stayed at the Salmon Creek campground which has a great swimming hole.  Return in the summer and jump off the rocks, having a good time!

There you have it.  Last two nights out we were rained upon.  Nothing like a wet tent!  Note that these hot springs are just some of many dotting the Oregon, and especially, Idaho landscapes.  Also remember that these are medicinal springs, with very potent waters.  For very specific healing I suggest travelling to Budapest, Hungary and checking out their baths.  They know what they are doing.

Friday, September 23, 2016

It's Official: Eastside-For-Hire Takes Over Sea-Tac Outbound Services October 1st

Having just arrived back mere hours ago from our Idaho & Oregon car-trip, my day driver alerted me to an Evan Bush written Seattle Times article announcing that Eastside and the Port of Seattle finalized their five-year $22.5 million contract last week.  So despite all rumors and hand-wringing, the new agreement is going forward.  Factually put me down as completely surprised that the agreement truly went forward, understanding as I do taxi economic realities.  The article notes that the contract requires that 75 % of vehicle operators are previous Yellow Cab operators, thus ensuring that most will survive though under different colors.

 The Port's message behind these actions are clear and blatantly obvious.  That they cared about the current Yellow independent operators and their families while repudiating the Yellow Taxi-Cab Association rings through its decision making.  Call it muted revenge or being knocked upon the head by the proverbial Velvet hammer.  That this is one big economic headache for Yellow should not be underestimated.  If anyone is considering buying a taxi medallion, the time is now.  Before I left on the 12th I was told of a 2009 Prius and City of Seattle medallion going for $30,000.  Not a bad deal, and I predict they will only get better.

One reason amongst many for this is exemplified by statistics presented in the article, stating that in August of this year 70,115 people utilized Uber and Lyft while taxis carried 72, 479 riders, representing a 16.6 percentage decline in ridership from last August 2015. Depressing but you get what you get.   Over two 1/2 years ago Yellow declined to hire me as the then GM's special assistant.  My taxi buddies know that we would now be looking at a different taxi landscape if that had occurred, our various lawsuits just about now coming to fruition.  Instead of roadkill, we would instead be running down the road like those wonderful pronghorn antelope we saw running up and down the hills of Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in southeastern Oregon.  They can maintain a constant speed of 45 MPH, one fast and beautiful animal.

Taxi Sucks in Boise? 

When gassing up in Boise, Idaho I talked to a cabbie (six years on the taxi road) who was grabbing something cold in the 80 plus F. heat.  You know his reply.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Greetings From Bend, Oregon---All I Did Was Answer The Call

Sunny here in Bend.  I am on my way to Idaho and the Sawtooth Mountains where hot springs await.  This morning "she-who-can't-be-named" and I soaked in Cougar Hot Springs near Blue River.  Great water and great pools.  I am away from taxi for 12 days.  For shame!  How could I?

But getting back to said subject, after coming back from a post-Seahawk to downtown Kirkland fare, I innocently accepted a fare on Capital Hill located on Summit Avenue.  What I didn't know but soon found out was that a previous cabbie had driven away, leaving the three passengers waiting for another 45 minutes.  I was wondering why the guy jumped on 478's hood, spreading himself out like a flying bird.  I guessed there had to be some explanation and that was it: they were pissed and now I would have to share their combined anger and disappointment.

Ignoring the tattooed eagle I got out and found they had a pile of stuff to be taken to their storage locker.  Once the trunk was filled to bursting, I was told to take all three of them to the storage facility on 12th Avenue.  "Oh you mean the one on 12th and Madison, I asked"  And after receiving some odd affirmative reply from the chap once residing upon the hood, I set off.

Immediately I stated getting flack because they wanted the one at 12th and East Howell but somehow it was all now a big issue tough both facilities were only separated by about 5 blocks.  Finally I told them that I was about to take them back to Summit and they could start all over again.  It was just too crazy to continue.

That silenced them along enough to get to the storage entrance, all the while telling them I had nothing to do with the previous cab, that I didn't deserve what they were dishing out.  Taking five and five only from the ringleader, there were nothing further said.  All this bullshit was for a 7 block-long ride!  It made no sense but there you have it once again, taxi and humans-not-so kind: not always the best combination.

Can I now go soak my head?   

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Making It Happen---What Taxi Is All About!

Needing to move, really move down the roadway is rare but when it is necessary, the cabbie's only alternative is to hit it, and hit it hard zooming down the byway.  There I am, sitting exhausted and half asleep on the train station when two young men stepped up, asking if I could get them to the Edmonds/Kingston ferry terminal by 2:00 PM.  It was then 1:32 PM and I said,  "I think so," but there could be no hesitation, get in.  In they jumped and off we maneuvered through the congested station and 4th Avenue traffic to the Cherry Street I-5 on-ramp.  As luck would have it the north-bound express lanes remained inexplicably closed. Initial thick traffic quickly dissipated and once past the I-5 ship canal bridge we were flying north free and relatively clear.

A Labor Day holiday scheduling mix-up meant the bus they expected to find taking them to Port Angeles and  then Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, did not arrive at King Street Station but instead would be waiting at the ferry terminal.  They were anxious but I was focused, "performance taxi" fun when called upon, blowing up usual tedium into something close to exciting, making taxi almost enjoyable despite the obvious stress of having no time but "making time" nonetheless.

At 1:54 PM we were there, everyone relieved to see that the ferry was still unloading its previous run. Getting $60.00 was great but secondary, success over an at least 20 mile city/freeway combined stretch the real point of a victorious taxi moment.  For 22 minutes I can say I had fun.  I never, almost ever can say that when driving the cab, good to know I passed taxi's instantaneous test, awarded an "A" on the taxi report card.  And as every cabbie knows, taxi is a stern teacher, no fooling around come exam time.

On Robert's Behalf, Thank You!

Last night I picked up the second week's collection for Robert Stanstell, this time coming up with $183.00, making for a total of $329.00.  I delivered it this morning.  Thanks to everyone who donated, your taxi brother appreciating your kindness and concern.

No One Likes Being Called Names

Yesterday on Pier 69 an enraged cabbie recounted how, when stopped near Pike Place Market finishing up a credit card transaction, an insane road-rager jumped out of his car and called the driver a n _ _ _ _r!   The cabbie couldn't stop expressing his anger and disbelief.  As I keep saying, welcome to taxi as it really is, not as it isn't!