Monday, September 15, 2014

The Most Depressing Ride On Planet Earth & Other Deflated Tidbits From A Broken Weekend

While it might be my imagination, some weekends it feels like some mysterious negative force field has overtaken Seattle and perhaps the entire planet, making life difficult and miserable for all human occupants.  Certainly I had my share of good fortune and success this past Saturday and Sunday but equally I had some of my worse moments in a span stretching from 1987 to now.  Taxi, from my long experience has always been contradictory, the good and bad and the deranged consecutively saying hello, these extremes behavioral "kissing cousins" but unlike the Elvis Presley song everything was not "all right, all right!"

Last night I had---and I still can't believe it---two flat tires, the second, occurring at 11:00 PM meaning  I had to transfer my passenger with the broken knee to another taxi while waiting nearly 1 1/2 hours for the tow truck.  Earlier I called the shop to get another spare tire but they were already gone for the day.  For years I have pleaded for spare tires to be made available after 5:00 PM.  Aren't we a 24 hour a day operation?  You know the answer and so do I but the situation appears to be beyond  all remedy.  For whatever mysterious reason, all of us appear fated to play tire roulette.  Talking to my friend who runs the Yellow co-op he suggested that since there were cars sitting on last night's extra board I could have exchanged cabs which of course was true.  I also could have grabbed a tire from one of those same cabs.  I just didn't think of those obvious remedies, the madness getting the best of me.  But when I asked what do we do when there are no taxis available, my friend just smiled.  "Taxi" God! I just give up!

One interesting coincidence was the guy I was taking home from University Hospital to Magnolia when the second flat deflated the day.  He was my friend Jack's neighbor, the driver you might recall who was killed in a taxi accident two years ago. Unable to locate Jack's family, the police contacted the neighbor, and with the help of the manager, located Jack's address book.  It was that kind of weekend, filled with the amazing and the inexplicable and the exasperating.  I am just glad I survived.

One group of passengers became enraged Saturday after a vehicle pulled along side us, with some dumb cluck of a young woman asking when I had last washed my hair. They couldn't believe her audacity. My response, that "only my hairdresser knows for sure!" totally mystified the idiot, too young to remember the "Chairol" commercial advertising home hair coloring kits.  Lately there has been something in the news about smelly cabbies in San Diego which might have prompted the comment. Who knows and who cares, more madness emanating from the ersatz culture embracing modern 21st Century America.

But I have to say, the simple ride that wasn't and forever encapsulating this weekend originated on Beacon Hill, stopping in front of a young couple standing outside of a yard next to all of their worldly processions. The woman was pregnant and the husband/ boyfriend said they were heading to a Motel Six.  Loading up the cab I was told instead to go to a gas station near S. Othello and Rainier Avenue S. Once there I was taken aback by all of the young men converging upon the station. Told we had gone all this way for a pack of cigarettes, the man returned only to direct me  back to nearly where we had begun, all the while quietly conversing with his weary and bewildered wife/girlfriend.  Stopping on another Beacon Hill street, we again unloaded all of the stuff onto a sidewalk.  I hated this ride, disliking the random sorrow and sheer despondency of their situation.  What in the world was going on?  I have no idea but nothing good  it seems from the looks of it.  Shall we all celebrate life and existence?  Hurrah!  Hurrah!

Watch Out 4 the Baseball

A Idaho family's baseball vacation was ruined when their daughter of about ten was struck in the eye by an errant baseball.  What made this notable was our wandering around the Westin Hotel lobby looking first for the husband, then her 14 year old daughter who held payment for the cab.  I swear the teenager thought I was going to kill her mother, never getting such a look.  Maybe I should have washed my hair!

RIP Bob Miller!

Recently I found out that a fixture at Yellow, driver and Safety Board member Bob Miller, died last month while driving his cab.  Feeling faint, he stopped at a White Center-area grocery and sitting on a bench, had a fatal heart attack.  Everybody respected Bob for his straight-forward approach to taxi discipline.  He will be missed!

Opening the Trunk

This early morning, post-shift, a new driver motioned to me to help him.  Opening my window, he told me he couldn't open his cab's trunk.  The key wasn't working, so I told him to start his car and push the "popper" button.  Not knowing what that was, he began randomly pushing anything and everything on the dashboard.  Reaching over his shoulder, I pushed the correct button.  I watched as his taxi lurched away, the young man clearly not in control of his vehicle.  "Taxi" Lord help us all!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Dancing For Seven Dollars

There are certain "bells" I would rather avoid beyond all others.  The Tug Tavern in West Seattle is certainly one of them, more than once delivering me an incoherent and/or belligerent drunk.  Saturday night the wonderful Tug gave me a passenger fitting both categories.  J______, a short, very muscular man who wasn't going very far, just up the hill onto 18th Avenue Southwest.  His communication consisted of drunken gruff "Turn here!" and a mono-syllabic "Go!", J_____ falling into the completely "addled by alcohol" category, stumbling and stupid. 

Now this fare would have been just another blip upon the taxi radar screen except for one important reason: refusing to pay his $7.00 fare.  J______clearly has a history of using his size to intimidate and pressure people.  While his arms may be as wide as my legs, it made no impression upon me other than this guy is just another garden-variety fool and whatever he thinks is appropriate is completely erroneous because I am just not interested in this kind of behavior.  You think you are tough?  Wrong!  I am tougher than you but please dont' make me prove it.  Knowing it isn't that hard to cold-cock a drunk, I knew I would have been faced with rolling the fat lug off of the roadway, not deserving to become "road-kill" despite his reprehensible behavior.

Thinking he would just saunter over to his house unimpeded J_____ instead found an immovable force blocking his route.  Moving one direction I stepped in front of him.  With J_____ taking another step I closed my distance.  Suddenly comprehending I wouldn't be dissuaded he pulled out a handful of crumpled one dollar bills and counted out three dollars.  "Keep going!" I demanded when he stopped, pulling out what he thought were only two more dollars.  Feeling appeased I then let him proceed forward, smiling when I found the idiot had actually given me my seven dollars.  I called the Tug to complain but they are impossible, too busy over serving their raucous crew, providing their alcoholic faithful with what they want but don't need: too much booze on a near full moon Saturday evening!  As for me I enjoyed the waltz, one-two-three, one-two-three, step left, step right, com' on! grab your partner, and fight!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Taxi Driving Is A Hard Job: Working The Seahawk's Home Opener

Somehow I too got caught up in the hype and hoopla of the Seahawk's first regular season game since their Super Bowl victory, thinking the money would be easy pickings.  How could I imagine that Seattle would become a proverbial "ghost town" once the game started? There it was 6:00 PM and no one was on the streets, freeway or otherwise, Seattle's collective citizenry glued to the television tube watching their glorious champions bash the Green Bay Packers. I did okay, especially since my last hour was a combined two-fare ninety dollars, having already decided to quit but suddenly getting lucky and ending my evening with a $62.00 airport run.  What struck me was the cost relating to making what money I did.  Adding it all up is a bit frightening.  While waiting for our cabs to return from the day-shift, I talked to two taxi buddies who work seven days a week, clearly evident they were both tired and dispirited, feeling trapped in a never-ending scenario.  The following figures tells the story why my two friends had transformed into taxi zombies.

Getting to the cashier window I was facing a Thursday night lease of $75.00.  While business was good post-game, I can tell you that in February that lease is much harder to come by.  The car I drove for just over 8 hours cost me nearly $50.00 dollars in gasoline.  My 160.00 in total debit/credit charges cost me a three percent processing charge, which was about $5.00, and adding to the grand total was the $4.00 tip I gave the cashier.  Adding it all up, my total operating cost for the evening was $134.00, and dividing that by my 8 hours it ended up costing me nearly $19.00 per hour to run my little mobile business.  Pretty depressing, don't you think?  Or after too many months of this kind of pressure, no one is thinking, your brain dead and your body no longer functioning.  As one of my favorite dispatchers used to say, "It's a true story!"  And not a pretty one at that.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Human Nature: The Good & The Bad & The Sour

It can be stated fairly accurately that the average American cabbie is exposed to everyone and everything, meaning that all the positive and negative and confounding and frustrating aspects comprising culture and life and behavior in these United States are presented daily for your inspection, whether of course you are either prepared for it or not.  Not unlike Edith Wharton's famous short story, you are immersed in the Xingu River, capsized in the human river flowing all about you.  Friday we walked for just a few minutes on the trail shadowing central Oregon's McKenzie River, a broad and lively flowing stream popular with rafters.  While the river was wonderful, the human traffic noisily occupying State Highway 126 destroyed the ambiance despite us coming upon two reluctant blue herons sitting on a bridge railing.  At least their protests contained validity, a quality often lacking amongst large segments of America's coddled and pampered and protected population.  In America, life must be "climate controlled" all the way to the grave.  And shockingly, early yesterday evening I almost witnessed the most horrific incident created by some of the attitudes I am hinting at.  When you think life's rules and mandates don't apply to you, the results can be fatal, not only to you but also your family.

Driving south-bound on Elliot near the Pike Pace Market I noticed a most unusual entourage, a combination bicycle contraption containing three separate pedal mechanisms powered by a father and his two young children. Attracted by this I was watching them as we approached a red light.  The father, instead of stopping continued forward into the intersection only to miss killing himself and the children by a spilt second, a car flying past them at 40 miles per hour.  Witnessing this kind of blatant irresponsibility was appalling, prompting me to slow and down and comment. Responding that "it was only a simple mistake" I replied it was clearly more than that.  Reacting angrily to me I only hoped this incident was brought home to the mother's attention by the daughter, a tyke of about 6-7 years old: "Mommy, Daddy ran a red light and we were almost hit!"  Perhaps the little girl also described how he responded to a cabbie's concern.  I still retain faith in America's youth!  Hopefully the father has been consigned to the living room couch.  Far better than a coffin, wouldn't you say?

Yes, another example of life as it really is, denial not replacing the factual.  From my taxi perch I see and hear it all.  Saturday night I told some fellow drivers that the Mariner's game had just ended.  One driver, clearly disbelieving me, said it should be letting out at Ten PM.  It was then 9:30 PM and the Washington Nationals had just defeated the Mariners by a score of three to one.  My response implied he was a complete idiot and that he should turn on his taxi's radio.  Unfortunately he is typical of who is driving currently beneath the local top-light.  And they wonder why they don't make any money?

Sunday's first fare was a Wallingford-area ride to the airport, the woman tipping me an additional five dollars after already tipping on her card.  Why?  Because she could and also clearly enjoying our interaction and conversation.  Thank you very much for both the  recognition and the money.  Today I too have been giving out extra large tips.  Why not is all I can say, why not?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bypassing Sweet Home & There Is Always Trouble In The Backseat

Instead of greeting you from Oregon I am instead back in Tacoma writing this week's post in a branch library.  Timing dictated on both ends of my central Oregon hiking foray that I make haste to where I was going.  Quartzville Creek, while beautiful, had too many folks for our taste though I strongly recommend the high county, nearly 5000 feet elevation that is offered by continuing east-bound on Oregon Forest Road #11, just above where it intersects with State Route 126.  For me there is nothing like a clear horizon decorated by mountain peaks. 

From there we continued on to the famous Scott Lake which again was a disappointment.  Shallow and suffering from excessive hype, the lake and area was crowded with too many folks seeking a "wilderness celebrity" better left to itself.  The one very redeeming feature were the Benson Lake and Hand Lake trails leading into the Mount Washington Wilderness.  Behind and beyond Benson were the three Tenas Lakes, the middle Tenas offering us a clear and deep Alpine swimming pool.  The Lake Hand trail was different altogether, taking us through late-season wild flower strewn meadows, finally ending for us at a very interesting magma-flow field.  The only problem being post-taxi fatigue got the best of me, almost requiring that I be carried out upon a stretcher, taxi the poorest kind of fitness training.

Today, about 14 miles east of Sweet Home, we hiked the 1 1/2 mile RT jaunt to Soda Creek Falls which doesn't sound like much until you realize the first leg is all uphill.  The falls, a slender cascading thread, was well worth the time and sweat.  The only taxi I saw the entire trip was a Portland-area Broadway Cab north-bound on I-205.  It was my favorite color. Yellow!

Watch Out for the Backseat

When it comes to taxi, separation between driver and passenger is always the best of policies.  Greeted last Saturday with a new system and no idea how to operate it, I stumbled along the best I could.  Passengers can now swipe their debit and credit cards from the backseat.  Wouldn't you know it my first fare was a drunk young woman using a credit card.  Getting her to her Wallingford District address, both of us experienced difficulties processing the transaction, meaning I had to enter the backseat to supervise what neither of us knew little about.  Thankfully the card transaction went through but unfortunately the person in question insisted on hugging me.  Thank goodness though that was the end of that nonsense.  I am sure many wish to repeat the same but I continue to limit the opportunities.  As for putting all of us cabbies out there minus any instruction except a one-page "cheat sheet" I defer comment other than saying only "taxi" would do something like this.    ______ help us all!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lake Kalcema

My intention to write even a shortened report upon the entirety of the new regulations has been sabotaged by an ill-behaving computer.   Having switched to another computer and having less than 40 minutes left before heading off to dinner, I will instead tell you that off the Mountain Loop Highway north of Granite Falls, Washington resides a beautiful alpine lake nestled in the Boulder River Wilderness, Lake Kalcema.  Luckily yesterday afternoon I found I had the lake completely to myself.  To say I felt blessed is an understatement.  Finding a small sandy beach surrounded on three sides by ripe berry-laden Huckleberry bushes, I leaped into the lake, treating the experience as a kind of naturalistic baptism.  I couldn't have been more content.  The sun was shining and the water, surprisingly, a pleasant temperature.  No taxis, no people, no machines of any kind.  Just blissful silence.  There was nothing else to request.  I had everything I needed.

Next Monday my report might be equally short but even sweeter when I will be in Sweet Home, Oregon with the ever famous "she-who-can't-be named."  We will be camping and hiking in an area near Quartzville Creek.  Known for its gold dust-laden waters we will see what hidden treasures are to be found.  If its only peace and quiet I will be eternally grateful.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Twenty-nine Airport Runs & Wednesday TAG Report

Is everyone fleeing Seattle or more correctly, has the booming local economy created a new wealthy sub-class launching everyone into the air?  Whatever the impetus, it has been impressive, providing me with twenty-nine fares to Sea-Tac over three consecutive weekends, meaning in six total days I have averaged nearly five a day.  Nothing like this has ever personally happened to me before, signifying something whatever that something might be.  And amazingly they are not the only good fares I am getting.  Saturday I got a cash fare from the VA Hospital to Tacoma, that large city about 30 miles south of Seattle.  Last weekend I kept going to the City of Kent, again located about 17-20 miles southeast. While airport runs are always welcome, it doesn't mean they are always the perfect fare, a situation too well illustrated by a fare last night originating in the north end, at about 88th NE and Roosevelt NE, an approximate 18 miles north of the airport.

Sunday night in Seattle can be and is one of the best times to latch onto an airport fare, given the many "red-eye" flights leaving for the East Coast.  Knowing this, I have gotten into the habit of working the more demographically prime areas for such fares. And sure enough, just before 9:00 PM the fish bit, and all I had to do was drive about 3/4 of a mile to the required address.  Not being a time-call I assumed the person would be ready to leap out and go.

Alerting the passenger by telephone I pulled up and began waiting.  Minutes passed and no passenger.  Getting out of 478, I made sure I was at the correct address.  Verifying I was there I relaxed and soon the garage door opened, signalling the guy was finally coming.  What shocked me was his flight's departure time.  It was now 9:10 PM and his New Jersey flight was leaving at 10:57! 

Ridiculous but there it was, provided no choice but to fly like a taxi banshee.  Voicing my displeasure and clearly hinting this effort was worth a good tip, off we roared down south-bound Interstate 5.  Further complicating the drive was a very congested roadway, prompting countless maneuvers and lane changes at 60-80 MPH.  More than once I told him his poor planning was unwise and hazardous, endangering all concerned.

Arriving at the ticket level exactly at 10:31 PM he had 26 minutes to make it aboard which I assume he did.  He gave me with tip $68.00.  He wasn't generous.  What else is there left to say?

Craig Leisy's TAG (Quarterly Taxi Advisory Group

Much more on this later but I made a point of attending because Mr. Leisy would be providing everyone an overview of the mayor's Uber bill which became operational in part last week.  Am I pleased that the Office of Consumer Affairs is as confused as everyone else concerning it?  No, I am not happy.  Tomorrow I am going hiking and camping in the North Cascades.  Part of the reading material I am taking along is that damn bill.   Expect a thorough review next week unless I run away with a pack of woolly marmots, never to be seen again.  Sounds like a rational alternative.