Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Greetings From San Francisco's Glen Park/Silk Road Library: SB 5550 & Other Taxi Tidbits

A low airfare offer prompted me to detour south for a couple days to my favorite West Coast city and visit its wonderful de Young Art museum once again.  I will also be talking to an old friend about my political ad agency scheme.  Reading "This Town" by Mark Leibovich, a non-fictional examination of Washington DC's assorted political bigwigs and characters and "hanger-ons" tells me that my interest in getting more deeply involved is warranted.  I can't recommend the book more highly.  You may want to keep some smelling salts handy.  While entertaining, Leibovich's book is also simultaneously nauseating.  Ah yes, human behavior again at its worse. 

Glen Park is my old San Francisco neighborhood, having lived here when rent was cheap (our flat was $300.00 monthly) way back in 1979-82.  The Glen Park Library is also where the Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht conducted his illicit on-line drug business until the FBI took him away.  Who knows but I could be seated at the very desk that Ulbricht sat enabling the world at large to get high if not mighty.  Last week in Seattle I saw a young man wearing a Silk Road emblazoned jacket.  I wondered if he knew that his hero is now in a Federal jail?  Me, I could care less about such things, not having even a sip of alcohol for over a month, having more important matters on my mind, like good, old taxi and how it continues to be shafted.  Now that is important.

In yesterday's  (Monday 02/23/2015) edition, the Seattle Times editorial page featured an opinion entitled "State Should Regulate Ride Services," a pro TNC (Uber, Lyft, Sidecar) piece endorsing the Washington State Senate bill SB5550 sponsored by WA State Senator Cryus Habib, D-Kirkland.  What SB5550 proposes is a transfer of regulatory authority from the municipal to the State, giving them more freedom than they already enjoy.

What the Seattle Times editorial fails to say is that, 1) Habib's bill was DOA, and 2) the Seattle Times editorial is an attempt for a Lazarus-like resurrection and, 3) SB5550 has been rewritten by a taxi industry representative to make it more digestible, and that, 4)  the new rewrite was an attempt to once again  sidestep those somewhat questionable friends of the taxi industry, Teamsters 117.  Time will tell if the Seattle Times effort comes to fruition and propels SB5550 into becoming finished law. My opinion is that literally no one understands what trouble the administrators in Seattle caused for all concerned.  Heaven please save us from the blindly theoretical!

If I wasn't so thoroughly personally impacted by Uber and its ilk, I would find all this hoopla over a fairly minor technological application sadly amusing.  All Uber is is nothing but a disassociated dispatch service and little else.  Does it make the pubic safer? No.  Does it save the pubic money?  Only occasionally as its infamous price surges attest.  Does it improve customer response time?  Again, only occasionally, with many Uber customers calling Yellow instead.  And does it greatly benefit the individual attempting to make a full-time living from providing a taxi-like service?  Part-timers, yes, but only if you already have a new car.  A recent USA Today report gave annual Uber earnings at just under $17,000.  Uber slashed its San Francisco rates to $1.50 per mile.  Seattle's Uber rates are $1.35 per mile but I was given unconfirmed information that they have been further reduced  to $1.09 per mile.  Regardless our regulated Seattle/King County taxi rates are $2.70 per mile.  We can't lower them even if we want to.  Again, thank you very much Mister Mayor and those wonderful Seattle City Council members!  Soon, and possibly this week, look for a posting which will be addressed to Tom, Nick and Sally.  I am sure they can't wait to read more of my distorted wisdom.

Uber Related Website

Somebody sent me this link.  Check it out and be amazed or something like that.


I am beginning to receive the impression that there are some who are not particularly fond of Uber.  I don't understand why.  It is a mystery to me!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Too Usual Shenanigans Minus Serious Intent

Legislative maneuvering down in Olympia at the state capitol and positioning for the expiring Sea-Tac service contract tells me everything remains the same, meaning the well-being of the industry continues to be a secondary concern to everyone save folks like me searching for that ever elusive taxi dollar bill.   With the usual 12 hour shift now transformed into punishment and torture worthy of the CIA, local politicians, lobbyists, and monetized vested interests continue to treat the industry as its personal canvas, sketching and painting fanciful and surreal themes worthy of Dali and Tanguy. That Washington State Democratic senator from Medina, Senator Habib, keeps introducing bills that would free Uber and friends from local municipal authority and Labor & Industry insurance obligations, underlining the true and unfiltered reality that Uber's sole priority is profit driven, the financial enslavement of immigrant drivers and safety of passengers not upon its moral agenda.  In other words, the now old, repetitive and well-known narrative ad nausaum.

And not surprisingly, at least one well-funded group (the first of many?) has raised its opportunistic head for that greener pasture, the soon expired taxi contract providing taxis to Sea-Tac International Airport.  Again, the motive appears to be completely monetary as Yellow's (BYG) current service model is working well, providing timely and efficient service to airport-based customers.  The unfortunate incentive appears to be is to make all the single-owners pay yet again a $10,000 dollar entry fee for the privilege for continuing something they are already doing.  I can only hope that Port of Seattle officials resist the temptation of again gouging everyone by creating an artificial and unnecessary bidding war but who cares about idealism when money is involved?

My ending comment is while it is true all of this is serious, with long-term implications, no one is truly seriously addressing core issues.  Why would anyone want to do that?   Clearly no one  is the obvious and sorry answer, no one having the motivation or will or interest to seriously tackle glaring wrongs and systemic errors, the operational attitude being why care when you don't have to.

Ah Yes, Love!

Saturday being Saint Valentines Day I was once again reminded of love's true cost when T_______ had to borrow 10 dollars to pay his fare from a workmate after dropping off his girlfriend.  "I wish she would stop taking my money!" this lament coming from a hard working dishwasher.  Wonderful!

Be Careful With Your Keys!

Sunday evening at Pier 69, while loading customers leaving the Victoria Clipper, a taxi driver locked both his keys and the couple's luggage inside his "running" taxi.  I tried 478's key but no such luck.  When I pulled away with passengers the couple were still patiently standing outside the idling cab.  Unfortunately the only solution was having someone drive round-trip to the lot for an extra key but even with that there wasn't any guarantee given that the only key available might have been behind the shop's locked door.  Now that would that been a crying shame, especially since I have been lobbying for a decade for driver superintendent after-hour access to the shop.  As I keep saying, not the best way to manage a multi-million dollar operation. Oh, and another possible scenario is that it was a single owner's car leased to the driver, with the owner, along with spare keys, on vacation in New Deli.  Isn't it funny that I am not making any of this up, that it all was  potentially true?  Scary, or something like that.


Monday, February 9, 2015

"Let There Be No Doubt In Your Mind, Nighttime Cab Driving Is Over."

The title comes from a text message sent to me Saturday night from a fellow suffering cabbie.  Even taking in the fact that winter in Seattle is traditionally slower business-wise, this season has been at times abysmally slow.  Minus all doubt, speaking of doubt, I too had little fun this past weekend, experiencing my smallest gross in a long while.  Thank the taxi gods for lower than usual gasoline, saving me over $200.00 the past two weekends.  The past two weeks I have gassed up from $1.89.9 to $2.39.9 per gallon, the price respite helping immensely. 

Like the message emanating from the taxi universe, the business downturn is upon every cabbie's tongue.  And interestingly to me, everyone accurately understands why, that being the over supply of guys hunting for fares in a limited market.  They also correctly know who is to blame, that being the dumbbell City of Seattle and King County administrators, regulators and elected officials who intentionally flooded our market with taxi-like service providers, along with of course the 1000 plus "gypsy-cab" town cars operating illegally.  Something has to "pop" because I don't see how this can continue, making little sense for all concerned.  My only question is when will the"powers-that-be" awaken to the seriousness of the situation created solely by them.  One typical cabbie opinion is that "no one is making money" meaning all of us, cabbies, flat-rate for hire, Uber drivers etc.  How is this good for anyone?  Clearly it isn't. 

And objectively, King County's administration of the taxi local industry itself is horrible.  How else can it be explained when a new driver pulls up to the Amtrak station thinking it is the "new" Greyhound bus station.  When I told him it was a few blocks south at the corner of 5th South and South Royal Brougham Way he asked, "Where's that?"  For all you non-Seattlites, South Royal BroughamWay prominently divides Seattle's NFL football and MLB American League stadiums so not knowing where Royal Brougham is essentially proves you know nothing whatsoever concerning local streets and venues, meaning you have no business sitting in a taxi until you do.  This would not be happening in London, England. 

Another sorry example this weekend was the forlorn NYC tourist I found standing early Sunday morning on the downtown Sheraton hotel stand.  Where he really wanted to go was the Sheraton Four Points motel located on Roy Street in the lower Queen Anne neighborhood but some idiot Yellow driver clearly didn't know the difference.  Who is to blame for this sorry situation, this litany of nonexistent business and drivers who don't know where they are going?  I just said it in the previous paragraphs.  Please, write to them and complain. Please!

I could add please do this before it is too late but the fact is it is already too late, time has expired and time past is now our future.  How wonderful it isn't and how long the prehistoric mimics the present is anyone's guess.  Maybe Las Vegas will take up your wager, waiting for the results a hundred years from now if even that soon.  As might be said in that Nevada desert town, "Suckers, don't hold your breath!" 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"Swift-Albro, Swift-Albro!"---Always Different Even When I Don't Want It To Be

What is true is that I could drive taxi for a thousand years and still experience something unique and new though not necessarily anything I ever desired to see or know, taxi "force-feeding" you the world as it truly is minus scripting.  Go to the movies or the live theatre for fictional portrayals but drive a taxi to be tossed pell-mell into life's random and erratic milieu.  As I keep saying, I meet everybody and I mean everybody. 

A good current example is "Joni" who just called me a few minutes ago for a ride.  Joni defies accurate definition, a young man presenting himself as an "Ethiopian Jew" and having 2 undergraduate degrees and scheduled this upcoming fall to study law at the University of Chicago. Given his descriptions, clearly he has hiked and climbed in California's mountainous terrain and yet, from where I first encountered him at an East Marginal Way South AM-PM store, he  currently resides in a cheap motel, buys and consumes street drugs, and is at this moment, obviously "half mad." 

And this is only the beginning of his description and who he potentially and actually is, fully knowing I will never know his real story and don't want to, having no ability to positively affect his situation other than providing a reasonable and honest cab ride.  Saturday night he called me from the Wedgwood district QFC, right arm in a sling, wanting a ride somewhere which finally turned out to be the NE corner of North 123rd and Aurora (Highway 99) Avenue North, Joni quickly slipping into the shadows, again where or why I don't want to know. 

The Confounding Mr. Swift-Albro

Mister "Swift-Albro" himself was a very interesting gentleman who clearly had some cognitive difficulties, making communication an ongoing, up and down adventure.  Picking him up at the Pyramid Brewery just after the Seattle Seahawk's failed attempt at a second consecutive "Super Bowl" victory, he addressed his desired destination as the repeatedly announced, "Swift-Albro, Swift-Albro, Swift-Albro!' meaning a major intersection and I-5 exit ramp on the western side of south Beacon Hill known as South Swift Way & Albro Place South.  Any questions requesting more specificity were met with the splendidly redundant reply,"Swift-Albro, Swift-Albro!" 

With everything seemingly normal other than this linguistic peculiarity  I continued on, exiting off of south-bound I-5  and asking, "Left or Right?" only to discover that his "turn right," instead meant "turn left." or some other interpretive response.  Initially thinking he lived somewhere near the intersection it was quickly apparent that wherever we were going I wasn't going to know until we arrived, first directing us onto Martin Luther King Way South as we proceeded together all the way down into Renton, Washington.

Believe me, only my 25-plus years experiencing the odd and unusual kept me on track, tempted of course to make sense of this seemingly nonsensical jaunt but having personally worked in the past with many individuals suffering various types of neurological and cognitive disorders I remained cool, calm and collected believing correctly that this circuitous and impromptu tour would somehow  successfully end, and it did, soon concluding about a mile north of the Renton airport, having taken us in half circle and back pointed toward Seattle.

During our over 30 minute long ride I had "trained" him to give more or less coherent directions resulting in him correctly saying "turn right," taking us to a gated complex on the south shore of Lake Washington.  Paying cash, my final assignment was getting the correct payment, pointing out the two $20.00 dollar bills  bunched in his hand, pulling up and away a $5.00 dollar bill much to his "wide-eyed" astonishment, taking full care of the $44.30 fare. 

Thoughtout the entire journey this puzzling gentleman remained cheerful and pleasant.  Thank goodness it was this cabbie who picked him up because any rookie probably would have ended up in a confounding battle, more than likely over reacting to the inexplicable and indecipherable that was the goodly gentleman, the amazing Mister "Swift-Albro."

And yes, this is the same job that the misguided folks down at Seattle and King County consider to be entry level and easy, something anyone can do.  All I know is that few if any of the current folks governing Seattle and King County could have successfully negotiated this confusing "mine field" of a ride.  It takes a professional psychologist, which I  more or less am, to understand that a passenger like Mister "Swift-Albro" must be professionally assessed otherwise all "hell breaks out" and what could be successful instead instantly transforming into unmitigated disaster, not to mention an unnecessary fistfight. 

If only he could have told me where he was going perhaps I would have saved him maybe ten dollars.  To say I was relieved to have finally safely delivered him home is the greatest understatement, glad to have the conundrum he presented solved.  There would soon be other stories to respond to that evening, including a SPD call taking a drunk upper-middle class woman  home from a confrontation in West Seattle to her Bridal Trails neighborhood house in north Bellevue.  The cops were relieved when I told them I had been driving over 25 years.  They were worried but I wasn't.  Hadn't I just navigated Mister "Swift-Albro's" hazardous waters?   No one and nothing, not even Moby Dick could sink this taxi vessel, the roughest seas now smooth sailing!


This afternoon, over the telephone, I talked with Eddie Cantu, the recently appointed head of King County Licensing.  After meeting him at a TAG meeting a few months back, I knew him to be reasonable and friendly.  Talking about the fingerprinting and my concerns about ticket and accident records, he promised to look into these very important issues.  I also expressed my oft mentioned concern that the current crop of taxi drivers are not close to being prepared for the task ahead of them.  While all these issues might be beyond his operational authority, at least they will receive some examination.  If not change, the minimum I ask for is awareness of our taxi reality.  I told Eddie that if he got his for-hire and drove for a week his "eyes would be opened."  Taxi is scary, every day each driver experiencing their own, very personal Halloween, witches, goblins, vampires, ghouls and ghosts entering the interior of your cab.  Required reading for every driver should be Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House." I guarantee you that will put you in the correct mood for something few of us have ever wanted to do.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Parrhesia: A Candid Reckoning

Parrhesia is an ancient term dating from at least the 5th C. BC that conjures in these modern times a bold request or speech seeking or asking for truth is its purest form, which some have also translated into the quest for unbridled justice.  I found the word in a recent article written by Corel West concerning the American civil rights leader (and sometimes agitator) Malcolm X.  I have thought of "parrhesia" in relation to my recent Tuesday afternoon experience renewing my taxi for-hire license.  The asking for yearly fingerprints and King County's request for a complete driving history over a five-year span including dismissed tickets and not-at-fault accidents seemed inherently unfair and odd, suggesting connotations and implications going far beyond a simple license renewal, bringing to my mind the worse of "Jim Crow" voting rules once known in the American South.  Twice today I called Eddie Cantu, the current King County Licensing Manager, seeking clarification but failed to reach him, wanting to understand more what is behind these new requirements.  As I will always say, driving taxi is insulting as it is without inflicting further and unnecessary injury.  Any possible insinuation of criminal intent (however minor) remains uncalled for.

This quote, taken from Simone Weil's  (1909-1943) essay "On Human Personality," underlines my concern:

"Every time that there arises from the depths of a human heart the childish cry which Christ himself could not restrain, "Why am I being hurt?", then there is certainly injustice.  For, if, as often happens, it is only the result of a misunderstanding, then the injustice consists in the inadequacy of the explanation."

On one section of the renewal application form it implies an equal guilt of everything that might have happened to the driver minus any and all thorough examination.  How can an accident caused by another driver's negligence be construed as holding equal responsibility?   And how can a dismissed ticket assume something other than innocence?

In my recent court case I had a letter from the head of SPD's Traffic Division stating that I should have, 1) never been stopped, and 2) never issued the ticket.  How can this be taken as an example of reckless or careless behavior?   What King County appears to be saying is that regardless of the facts, you will still be held responsible even though you have been cleared for any legal or personal responsibility. 

The real question is just why has King County and the City of Seattle taken this position?  Isn't this a case of "double jeopardy" where you can't win despite all redemptive evidence?   As soon as I receive some answers I will relay them.  What profoundly troubles me is that many of these new immigrant taxi drivers come from countries with horrible human rights records, and are now innocently expecting they will be treated better now that they are in the USA.  If only that were true is all I can say.  I wish it were true but current stories, like ones from from NYC's Rikers Island says otherwise, shouting out  a municipal failure prevalent across these 50 democratic United States.  We can do better is all I can end with.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Once Again Renewing My Taxi For-Hire License & Openings On The Seattle City Council: Licata & Rasmussem Are Leaving

Again I have renewed my ability to ply Seattle's taxi roads and byways for yet another year.  How do I feel?  Angry that I am still here doing something I no longer find acceptable, knowing, beyond the money I am making, that I am wasting valuable time and breath, nothing convincing me my time is well used.   The many ten dollar tips I received this past weekend tells me folks appreciate my taxi dexterity but it is time for others to step up and provide a similar customer service.  Will my fellow cabbies come through and deliver the perfect cab ride?  Doubtful as impatient drivers this afternoon down at the King County Licensing Office couldn't understand I was just stepping over to have my picture taken and not cutting in front of them, this simple situation another unfortunate example, one too many, of just how unprepared these guys are for what they are applying to do.  My photograph was appropriately grim, my smiling days long over. 

You will be glad to know that my new set of fingerprints have been sent to the FBI, assuring that your Seattle taxi driver is certifiably a wonderful human being unlike all those Uber drivers sporting venomous fangs.  I still haven't gotten a coherent answer as to why everyone has to be fingerprinted annually.  The beleaguered woman taking the prints couldn't tell me, clearly tiring of responding to something she had no answer for.  I will try to discover the rationale but knowing who I am dealing with I don't think there is one.  Justification yes, but rational plausibility, no. Why make sense when there isn't any appears to be the current operational theme, local bureaucrats emulating Mickey Mouse, and Miss Mini too, I am sure!

Openings at Seattle City Council

Within days of each other, council members Nick Licata and Tom Rasmussem announced their intentions to not return for the next election season..  Media pronouncements were particularly kind.  If the timing was different, I would consider strongly running for an open position, potentially enjoying debating anyone foolish enough to subject themselves to a dark but cheerful analysis of their cherished "progressive" positions and pet projects.  And besides, if elected I would have to conduct an investigation asking why my fellow council members reversed themselves, acquiescing to our Uber mayor.  Why would I want to be disruptive when instead one is elected to serve the electorate?  At this juncture, I have no interest in thumbing my nose at fools, having more personal, pressing priorities, like I said, instead getting myself permanently out and away from the cab.

Is business picking Up? 7 airport runs this weekend!

I can now report two good consecutive weekends, perhaps signaling the worse is over.  After averaging 1-3 airport runs I suddenly had seven which is good any time of the year.  The most interesting was an account run taking a young gay man from a hospital ER to a Sea-Tac area hotel after he had been jumped in Freeway Park.  Maybe conditions are different in Columbus, Ohio but at least here you should be wary walking across a darkened park at midnight.  More shaken than harmed I could see him processing what had happened, comprehending his fate.  Be careful is all I can say when walking in the small, bad ersatz city at night.  Today I read a local report of some fool chasing three gay men down a Capitol Hill street brandishing a knife.  He is now in police custody charged with various hate crimes.

People's lives!

First ride of the weekend delivered 3 young adults and a 4-month old infant stranded for hours in South Park.  Finding them at 4 AM they had kept asking passing drivers for a ride home to West Seattle until someone mercifully gave them $20.00 to call a cab.  I made sure they got some change back.

Just what I was thinking. A convenient meeting of like minds!
Toward the end of my weekend I thought, "Time to head to West Seattle, gassing up and washing the cab." when there was a guy standing near the Eagle Tavern and guess what, he wanted to go in that direction too.  Wonderful, and almost enough to make me pious.  Almost!  "She-who-must-not-be-named" does pray for me.  Thank you very much for taxi manna raining down from mysterious, celestial skies. It is appreciated.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Take Me To The Confucian Temple

While reading Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth" during my California travels last week I came across a passage reminding me of the state of most new taxi drivers plying the trade in the majority of American cities, namely having little clue concerning what it takes to be a professional driver.  Buck's description of Wang Lung's situation is one I find both apt and relevant:

"Take me to the Confucian Temple," and there he sat, erect and calm, and there was that in his calmness which allowed no question, so that Wang started forward as he saw others do, although he had no faintest knowledge of where the Confucian temple stood."

Anyone "taxi knowledgeable" instantly sees the parallel between the modern cabbie and Buck's Chinese rickshaw driver, a taxi passenger's expectations similar to this fictional representation.  And too often today's version of the rickshaw driver knows about as much as Wang, meaning little to nothing about his profession and his adopted city.  As mentioned previously, this point was again struck home when talking to three colleagues nearly two weeks ago.  The reasons are many but the results are the same, an overall amateurism downgrading what should be a professional industry, leaving it vulnerable to the current competitive incursions we are all now too aware of.  While business was very good at times this "Seahawk" weekend, it would have been even better minus all the illegal and newly sanctioned ride services.

And who is ultimately to blame for this?  Why all the cabbie "Wang Lungs" who never fully comprehend what taxi driving is and its great potential, diminishing everyone and everything associated with our shared endeavor.  Like the story of the Buddha implies, self-awareness is everything, taking you both internally and externally where you want and need to go.  Instead of assigning complete blame and responsibility upon taxi associations and owners, the awake individual rubs his/her eyes, blinking at the bright sunshine, asking themselves, "What can I do today to make my life better?"  Waiting for others to do it for you is a mistake, sitting beneath that tree of knowledge for eternity and waiting for opportunities to hit you on the head.  Alternatively I suggest get up and stretch, and begin walking, or in the cabbie's case, driving toward a Nirvana of your own making.  If there is another way, I personally don't know it.  The road is your own.  Time to say hello to your next destination.

Seattle Mayor's Misplaced Empathy

Last week in the New York Times I read a short news item expressing Mayor Murray's new plans for expanding tent cities for Seattle's homeless.  While laudable I find it contradictory given how he intentionally blocked the city council's taxi/Uber ordinance limiting competition, instead lifting all TNC limits thus creating an operational environment where many can not provide for their families.  Does the Mayor think that we too are interested with moving into his version of alternative housing? 

As I keep saying, beware of those theoretic people making decisions for the rest of us while receiving a guaranteed paycheck.  A novel approach instead would be a monthly poll asking the voters if the mayor and the council should get paid for that particular period.  I do believe that if in a two or three month span their checks were withheld we would suddenly have more responsive government instead of the current prattle masquerading as effective initiative.  Maybe then the mayor and the city council would understand that holding responsibility for an entire city is a sacred task, not something given to "sound bites" and idle thought.

And we the voters could display our caring by reserving tents for the mayor and the nine city council members.  If they start to shiver, we will call for a special referendum asking if they should be provided with sleeping bags.  That would be a humane response, don't you think, everyone deserving to be warm and having a canvas roof over their heads.  Who can argue with that?