Sunday, February 18, 2018

I Want To Know Why Seattle's Department of Licensing Believes The Local Taxi Industry Requires 55 Additional Taxis

Within the next few weeks the City of Seattle will once again hold a medallion lottery for fifty-five City-only plates we do not need.  As I have mentioned in the past, when taxis were the only transportation option in Seattle and King County, did the Department of Licensing authorize more licenses when we truly needed them?  No, despite our constant urging  and nagging (and begging), the City of Seattle remained unmoved by our pleadings.  No, they they repeatedly said, we are not going to do it.

Finally, after much lobbying, the Seattle City Council expanded the number of potential licenses by, if I remember, two-three hundred but still that didn't mean they were released.  No, what happened instead was they waited until our market was saturated by 14-18 thousand Uber and Lyft operators, plus an additional 2-3 thousand other assorted quasi-taxis to begin adding to the local taxi fleet.  Why they did this, and continue along this track is anyone's guess.

Logic says this doesn't make any sense but after observing Seattle and King County taxi regulators over the past 30 years its clear logic is not their guiding beacon.  But just what is their primary motivation for doing what they do remains mysterious unless it is a kind of sadism because currently the majority of the taxi drivers are sitting in place doing nothing whatsoever save going crazy. As I keep repeating, we are not having any fun.

In a response to my email, John Megow, Regulatory Compliance and Consumer Protection Manager for Seattle's Department of Licensing said all they were doing was implementing a 2014 authorization releasing 200 medallions, and besides, he told me, he had feedback from many drivers eagerly awaiting their opportunity to become a taxicab owner.  In other words, the malnourished are starving and Seattle will mimic the Old Testament gods and provide licensing manna from taxi bureaucratic heavens.

While what Mr. Megow said is true, it doesn't mean that the decision shouldn't be revisited because our business model is broken and when will it ever be mended and repaired?  The sorry answer is never, never will the taxi business in Seattle and the United States in general return to its previous profitability.  In Europe, and in cities like Reykjavik and Paris, their taxi industry is striving but in the good old USA the reverse is true.  So why add more misery to an already horrible situation, 55 new cabs meaning one thing only, that being a further dilution of a meager market, making it even harder for everyone to make a living.

Certainly statistically there's no justification for medallion expansion, as our local industry profitability three years ago was reduced by over 30 percent, and now I am guessing it is now down to 50 % or less.  Last week a New York City livery cabbie killed himself in front of New York's  City Hall but not before he had written an eloquent suicide note explaining he had been working 100 hours a week to make what once took 40 hours to earn.

This is our situation here and elsewhere nationwide.  All of us our working harder for less money.  And believe me, we are not enjoying ourselves.  Taxi driving has become a living hell.  In a response to John Megow I used one word to describe my experience as a lottery medallion winner: brutal--- meaning I am not having any fun working myself to down to the taxi bone.

The irony concerning ownership is that while business sucks our overhead remains high, the only recent relief coming with a reduction in insurance rates but collision coverage remains prohibitive, so if you have an accident more than likely it means the cab owner will be solely responsible for all related replacement costs.  If you own a Prius that could mean somehow you are going to have to suddenly come up with 14-20 thousand dollars.  Most owners do not have that kind of money in savings so it all translates into further debt.  It is not a pretty picture.

If you win a medallion, this is what you are facing in terms of initial costs.  If you buy, like I did a 2011 Ford Crown Victoria you are going to pay anywhere from 2-6 thousand dollars for the car.  A Prius will cost you anywhere from 14-20 thousand or more.  Painting the car is $500-1000.00.  Initial upfront insurance costs are about $1500.00.  Meter and computer will set you back $500.00.  The annual City of Seattle medallion fee is about $600.00.  Your business license is $110.00  I think the State of Washington business license is another $100.00.  After all this you soon will find that your car now needs tires and brakes and a new battery, translating into yet another $1000.00.

I promise you this is not an exaggeration.  This is my reality, and unless the City of Seattle relents, 55 more innocent taxi souls will be thrown into the fray.  And do I need to remind everyone that it was none other than Seattle and King County who created all this by tossing out their 250 car Uber cap and allowing Uber and others to expand and take over our market?

Is this some kind of cruel joke?  Yes it is, and of course none of us cabbies are in a good mood.  As I pointed out last week, it appears my friend Ali literally worked himself to death.  No, none of this is funny.  When the City of Seattle goes ahead regardless of my warning that it is a fatal idea, let me be clear, there will be no humor in Seattle Cab-land, mirth being our last emotion concerning the subject.

Postscript 02/17/2018

There is an ongoing local myth that the reason we have no business is because we don't have enough cabs to serve the business as opposed to my contention we have too many taxis at the moment and certainly don't need anymore, making a bad situation worse.  What this argument misses is that if we had customers calling none of us would be sitting hours at a time going completely out of our minds.

And as I have said, the costs associated with taxi ownership is high which means the new owners will be forced to work long hours just to cover their overhead in additional to bringing the bread home to the family table.  If anyone thinks working seven days a week while averaging 12-15 hours a days is okay then you are insane because it isn't anything anyone should be doing.  To make a rhyme out of it, you have no life and will never see your kids nor the wife.

So my suggestion is to embrace reality over mythology, recognizing that we as an industry are in deep trouble, a trouble threatening our very existence.  A recent study revealed the amazing fact that even during Uber's "surge" periods, when Uber sometimes charges up to four times or more than standard taxi rates, 6 out of 10 Uber customers still decide to ride with Uber though it is now costing them "a pretty penny!"

Scary, which is why the City of Seattle should cancel the upcoming medallion lottery.  Unless of course you believe in fairy tales like so many of my fellow drivers, that somehow God and the City of Seattle are watching over them, blessing their every move.  Ha Ha Ha! is all I can say to that!  But of course I am not laughing, delirium my current state of mind.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ali---RIP! & Two Passenger Profiles & Coming In March, A Taxi Driver Correspondence Course---You Too Can Learn The Craft In Just a Few Easy Lessons!

Saturday I was totally shocked to find that my longtime taxi colleague and friend, Tesfaye (Ali) Mekonene, had died a few days previously.  Ali and I shared YC 478 for years and always found time to chat when we saw each other.  If I remember correctly, his big house in Burien was fully paid and his children had either graduated from college or were nearing graduation.  In any true sense, Ali's life symbolized the ultimate "American Dream," emigrating from  a famine ravaged Ethiopia and creating a good and sustainable future for his family.

From what I heard, sometime last week Ali drove his car into a water-filled ditch which resulted in him being taken to the local regional trauma center, Harborview Hospital, whereupon a large benign tumor was discovered pressing against his brain.  Requiring immediate surgery, Ali unfortunately failed to recover and passed away at Harborview.

Opinion has it that his then unknown condition caused the accident.  A Yellow superintendent told me that a couple weeks ago he received an odd complaint concerning Ali for not proceeding forward after a signal turned green, the passenger having to alert him they were not moving, prompting the theory that the tumor was already clearly having a neurological impact.

Regardless of all conjecture, dying like this is a huge tragedy, something that might suggest just how hard taxi driving is upon body and soul.  Unfortunately, given the timing I missed two memorials held for Ali but was able to contribute to the funding effort toward sending him back home.  As said, Rest in Peace, Ali, your gentle spirit will be missed.

Two Passenger Profiles

Sylvia---"that coffee sure smells good!"

Sylvia is a three-time-a week kidney dialysis patient who also suffers from long-term schizophrenia, a double whammy no one should have to bear.  Residing in an Wallingford-area psychiatric halfway house, I have been transporting the diminutive Sylvia to the Scribner Kidney Center off and on for years, always very careful not to rush her as she has a personal checklist to address before we take off, first asking if the ride is paid for, which it is something she is cautious  about.  How old she is I don't know but I would say remaining very old fashioned in her style, especially when it comes to fragrance, something usually overwhelming the cab's interior, making me nauseous if I don't open a window.

Thankfully this past Saturday she had neglected to douse herself which probably allowed her to smell the latte I had just purchased.  For a moment I thought of buying her a coffee but knowing how unsettling any alternatives are to her regarding both route and routine I decided against it.

But what it did do was inspire me to talk to her normally, and picking a very safe subject, the local car traffic, and I then proceeded to explain as to why it has become so congested.  She in turn, for perhaps the first time in many rides, responded rationally, bringing up something from Seattle's past, which seemed to be calming, causing some reflection.

Yes it was a simple moment yet very satisfying, when for just a few flickering seconds the real core Sylvia revealed itself which is why I am writing about it, a remarkable instance in an otherwise mundane taxi morning.

Shirley---"My husband is dead!"

Sure, I remembered her now late  husband, having taken them both home shortly before I left for Europe.  Now picking her up at the same White Center bar, I find that her husband is now mysteriously dead, having gone out for a walk only to to be found two hours later dead beneath the South Park Bridge from as of yet unknown causes.  Shirley was both frantic and anguished, still processing what had happened which was made worse by not knowing, and conceivably never knowing all the details leading to his death.  Was he murdered?  Did he die from an overdose?  Perhaps the autopsy will tell but still she awaits the results.

Shirley, already drunk, and never these current days very steady due to a serious stroke paralyzing her right side, was accomplished that moment by her even drunker daughter, both having been over served at what is rapidly becoming White Center's most notorious drinking establishment. Listening to Shirley's lament as we drove to buy her even more beer, it was clear this death would never leave her.

And further heightening her plight, the house she shares, Shirley residing in the basement, is with a man with a truly frightening demeanor, anger and disdain evidently his favorite emotions, the owner the epitome of what might be truly wrong with America---a self-absorbed selfishness gone berserk.

Pulling away from the driveway, I had to purposely maneuver to avoid the landlord's car, simultaneously driving off in a kind of demented competitive race.  As for Shirley I fear what will ultimately befall her.  She tells me me the man who was their roommate is now in jail for violating a non-contact order.  What that truly means I don't know but her life now is now crisis after crisis somehow muted by an alcoholic haze.  Yes, this is Shirley.  This is her life!

Paperless Taxi School

Though still working through the details, coming sometime in March will be the first installments of of what I am calling a cab driver (or Uber driver) correspondence course, the subjects ranging from how to learn a city's roadways to proper conduct during a police stop.  The goal is simple.  Read the lessons, study them, take them to "heart" and voila! you will be on your way to learning the true craft of transporting your fellow humans from point A to B.  I envision a minimum of 6-8 blog installments and perhaps more.  Tests will also be included, with answers appearing in the next blog.  I have always thought that we need is a taxi university and now, more or less, we will have one, and even better, tuition free.  And of course you will be rewarded but how will be solely determined by you.  I am only the instructor and a tired one at that!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Again, Back In Seattle---Reminded Once Again Why I Don't Want To Be Here

Before I go into what fun it hasn't been being back in the taxi, the big local cab news is the sudden closure of that Snohomish County and deep north King County fixture, Northend Taxi, a company that has been around the taxi scene much longer than I have.  What I have been told is that Northend's owner, Linda Hawley, called it quits because she tried of the struggle to keep the company going.

Having never personally met her, legend and rumor paints her as an unpredictable figure prone to emotional outbursts.  But what is true is that her entire operation is up for sell, including what I am told is some very valuable property adjacent to I-5.  So while all her drivers and dispatchers might suffer, she will end up okay despite her uncertain decades running Northend.

Today a friend told me that a few years ago she declined an offer of $160,000 per car for her roughly 15 car fleet.  Of course now she might expect to get between 20-30 thousand.  At least the former Northend drivers won't have any problem finding new taxi homes, a few already transferring over to Seattle Yellow.  Given that it is the winter season, if you are crazy enough to want to drive a Seattle cab, there are plenty available for you to suffer in.  Welcome, my friends, to the living hell we are all sharing.  Welcome!

As for being back behind the Seattle taxi wheel, I will make it short and sour, telling you that already I have come close to being killed by an insane driver on northbound I-5 and have twice encountered wrong way drivers.  And what about the schizophrenic passenger yesterday who first insisted on being dropped off upon the opposite side of the street from her home,  then compounding that bad decision by running headlong into oncoming traffic as I yelled "to please be careful!"  Fun?  No, this is not fun.  Stupid?  Yes, it is stupid!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Again From Paris in January---What The Parsien Cabbie Is Driving & Other Assorted Hodgepodge

I see Parisian taxis everywhere I go, and of course I am very interested in the makes and models everyone is using.  Be clear, unlike the American taxi, at least in Paris there is no standardized color, like Yellow is in New York City, Seattle and elsewhere though generally the cabs here are either various shades of grey or just that most basic of colors, black.

While it can be difficult to tell what kind of car it is as the cabs whiz by, the majority of cabbies appear to be driving Skodas, Citroens, Volkswagens, Toyotas, Mercedes, Volvos and Peugeots, and all of them seem to be fairly new.  One thing they are not is dented, which sets them apart from the average Seattle cab, including my own YC 1092.  Yes, an un-dented cab is a beautiful cab, so I am guessing that the local regulators hold the taxi industry here to a higher standard, requiring that the dents and dings are promptly repaired.  Given the amount of Parisian traffic and how fast everyone is driving I am assuming there are a number of collisions daily but I have yet to see one.  In Seattle on any given day I see 3-4 or more minor accident aftermaths, people either standing next to injured cars exchanging information or waiting for the police to arrive.  Yes, an undamaged taxi is a wonderful thing!

And today, being Monday, January 29th, my nearly three week long journey is essentially over, and tomorrow I fly back via Reykjavik to Seattle, and to what hopefully will be a very successful year, because I certainly need one instead of the past "nine thematic exhausted, limping along years" featuring a very disgruntled human being, me.  If you have ever said to yourself, "My life wasn't supposed to be this way!" then you know how I feel, divorce, then protracted illness dominating my life.  Though I have gotten some work done, like the blog you're reading and the biography of Milton Wan, all progress feels accidental, one blind part of myself leading the other to nothing save confusion and misery.

And who wants to be a cab driver, subjected to idiocy and stupidity every minute, every hour, every day?  Not me, friends, not me which is why I included one poem last week and now two poems and an essay this week.  I have a book to finish and publish.  I have things to do and hiking trails to wander down.

As Orwell kept saying in the essays I've been reading, that the majority of what was being written in the late 1930s, early 40s was not worth reading, then similarly, the life I have been writing for myself is something not worth living despite the resuscitating travel keeping me alive and hopefully awake.  So out with the negative, and in with the new, who cares about the rain because eventually the sky above you will be blue!

Two Paris Eateries to Recommend

There  are two can't miss restaurants I have found here, Chez Paul, 13 rue de Charonne, traditional French; and Ton Hon, 17rue Royer Collard, and as its motto states in French, the "Premier Restaurant Chinios a Paris." My meal at Chez Paul might have been the best of a lifetime, and the dessert, "Floating Island in Vanilla Custard," was certainly worth the 7 plus euro I paid to have the pleasure of eating something that I can only describe as beyond delicious.  As for Ton Hon, the Peking/hot & sour soup was perhaps the best I have eaten, and I have sampled that Chinese staple across the globe.  The only negative was having the unusual request of paying in advance.  What can I say other than the Chinese remain suspicious of hippies, and given I am in my traveling clothes, I look a trifle scruffy.

At least in terms of names, my favorite place was the bistro/cafe located in the Montparnasse, "Au Chein Qui Fume," or "The Smoking Dog" featuring the outline of a dachshund smoking a pipe.  Their special that day was a big pot of lamb cooked with rosemary flavored while beans.  It was very good but few places will match Chez Paul.  I had been on my way to Chez Dumonet but upon realizing that lunch would cost me nearly 100 euros I decided to leave and instead pet a smoking dachshund.  It was friendly.  It didn't bite.

Museums, Tourists, & the General Paris Attitude

Even upon a rainy January, with last Sunday's rainfall registering a new daily record which both flooded the Seine  and partially shut down sections of the RER C Line, Paris remains inundated with tourists, travelers and many permanent foreign residents, causing it seems an interesting mix of complacency and irritation resulting in resistance, boredom and anger amongst the average citizenry.  Where I have seen this most are in the museums where the tourists go despite knowing little to nothing about brushstroke and artistic construction but there they are regardless, taking endless photos and generally clogging the hallways and corridors.  The results at times to all this is a startling "I truly don't give a damn!" with museum operations and conduct.  And it isn't that it is completely intentional as instead a reactive response to an overwhelming reality.

I found this to be true at both the Musee D' Art Et D' Histoire Du Judaisme, and during my second visit to the Musee De Cluny---Musee National Du Moyen Age, quickly realizing that museum administrations don't understand that they are very dependent upon extremely transient and foreign visitors, who often like me, neither read nor speak French thus requiring instruction and direction in various languages.

Though very small, for some reason, the Jewish history museum decided to divide itself that day into two sections, one requiring an additional fee but minus any obvious indication that was the case.  When I began entering that part of the museum, the security guard, who only spoke French, acted like I was a serious criminal.

And upon returning to the ticket counter, the attendant who did speak English, lamely pointed to the sign behind him stating museum rules including one saying there is an additional  charge for special exhibits.  But as I told him, there was nothing stating that a special show existed, so how was I or anybody else supposed to know?  He then thanked me!  Crazy!

Even worse perhaps was the Cluny's failure to tell everyone that, very suddenly, their famous six tapestry series, "The Lady and the Unicorn," ("La Dame a la Licorne") would not be available to be seen, and for how long I couldn't tell you.  Luckily I had gone a few days earlier or, like so many others, I would have missed something I had traveled ten thousand miles to see.

Again, no indication to why or any warning concerning the tapestries unavailability and to when you would once again be able to view them.  Some might just call it arrogance.  Instead it see it as indifference and tourist fatigue.  Another factor could be a lack of English fluency throughout the French capital.  Yesterday, when I was accidentally overcharged at a Montparnasse bistro, "Au Chien Qui Fume," (the Smoking Dog), I found that my server spoke far less English than I supposed.  Everything was worked out but it is something I am experiencing everywhere in Paris, unlike in Reykjavik where everyone speaks English, and Danish too, given that all Icelanders receive extensive instruction in both languages.


Of course each culture and their societal habits are different, no matter what one may personally think of them.  In Paris, glancing and bold flirtation appear to be commonplace, which some may like and others may not.  A few days ago a woman holding hands with her husband/boyfriend turned completely around, flashing me this big lilac lipstick colored smile then continued on, hand in hand down the street.  Now what could that truly mean?

Thinking about it, it seems like a kind of salute, an acknowledgement of sexual rank.  What the hell else could it be but I personally find it disquieting, an attention I am not seeking, so the following poem follows that line of thinking.  If I had responded back, would the woman on the metro featured in the poem suddenly switched partners, sitting next to me and leaving her once boyfriend now abandoned?

I write this because I find human behavior interesting, and since cab driving is all about observing human behavior, I truly take note when it becomes, however brief, very personal.  As stated before, I have been sexually harassed or mildly assaulted more times than I really remember, and 95% of this kind of behavior done by the opposite sex.  So are we all, collectively across the planet, nuts! displaying less than appropriate behaviors?  Yes, that appears to be the case, no matter where you are or who you are talking to.  Ah yes, welcome to the world as I unfortunately know it.

                                                         On The Metro

                                          Sitting upon the moving train

                                          and looking up to the left, noticing

                                          a couple standing, seeing she was

                                         but not signaling anything, barely thinking

                                                       when abruptly she

                                         turned completely around facing me

                                                    silently conveying back

                                                       something I had never

                                              nor would I in those circumstances


____________     _________________   ________________  __________________  __________

                                                       in the Pantheon 

                               Having experienced too many museum attendants

                                            I visit the Pantheon

                                                   descending to the crypts

                              and there is Voltaire's tomb and a prominent statue too

                                  Francois-Marie Arouet with pen in upraised hand

                                                "Qui plume a guerre"


                                          "To hold a pen is to be at war"

                                                     and to the left

                                         the perfectly shadowed outline

                                                     of Voltaire's

                                                   very large nose

                                          silhouetted against a back wall.


                                                 Was Orwell Correct? 

George Orwell opines, in various essays dating from the 1930s and 40s, that 90% of all the books published (in the era he was living), are all crap and not worth reviewing, selling or reading.  Indeed a strong statement by someone who clearly demonstrated not only could he write well but produce writing transcending normal time and space.  But was he right in saying that most of the writing he encountered was bad?  Or was he just complaining, like so many do, using poor writing as a convenient foil?

There is no doubt that Orwell could be accurate, as shown in "Animal Farm" and "1984" where he makes it clear that totalitarianism, be it fascist, communist or just plain everyday governmental over reach, is a scourge never to be encouraged, that bureaucratic control over another human being is sacrilegious, an affront to life's basic principals. Yes, it is hard to argue with his premise, saying he was wrong, given the too many bad examples since his death in 1950---China, South Africa, North Korea, the Soviet Union, the state of Alabama, Cambodia---where autocratic governance proved to be both hardhearted and deadly, pushing all compassion and commonsense into a shallow grave.

But was he correct about writing and the writers writing all these disparaged books?  Because, after all, we are talking about men and women who were, just like Orwell, just like me, inspired to write, to put their thoughts on paper, so why are their efforts, according to Orwell, less than stellar?

One quick answer might be that like cooking, some recipes are more complex than others, and simply taste better.  Another quick answer is that subjective variable---innate talent and where real ability takes you or not as the objective case may be.

Another take upon quality is, and this could be a gross generalization, that most readers aren't interested in the kind of great writing Orwell finds necessary, it appearing not be accidental the ever soaring popularity of murder mysteries and crime novels and pulp romances so many curl up in bed with.  Having recently read some of the more celebrated writers plying the genre tells me Orwell was largely correct---the writing, while more-or-less entertaining, isn't very good, essentially comic books transferred to the fictional page.

And taking this essay itself to a quick conclusion, I personally have found that "writing for the ages" is difficult to do, requiring decades of reading and writing, and perhaps most importantly, after all the hours and and hard work is put in, that the writer's own objectivity concerning his or hers literary product being tantamount to success.   If you don't know if your writing is truly worthy for other eyes to scan and redden over, then no one will know despite outside commentary or critique one way or the other.

Pride of ownership then, is what it seems Orwell was accurately saying when he wrote that most of what had been recently published was wasted paper and little else.  And why he felt this way is because Orwell was a serious man, well comprehending our shared human dilemma, wishing others to join him in a quest for universal sanity. something I think we should all attempt with each and every breath.

So again, was Orwell ultimately correct about all the bad writing he clearly found annoying and bothersome and inane and dumb?  Yes, and no, and certainly, yes!

What I have been reading

If you have gotten this far, you are a "glutton for punishment" so you might as well find out what I have been reading during this particular European journey:

Off Shore by Penelope Fitzgerald----a novel published in 1979

Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym----a novel published in 1977

Pictures That Storm Inside My Head----Poems for the Inner You----poetry collection edited by Richard Peck, 1st published in 1976

Books vs Cigarettes by George Orwell----A Penguin "Great Ideas" essay collection published in 1984


An amusing side note is that the poetry collection contains a writer, Lyn Lifshin, that I published way back in 1980 when I was a poetry editor on a truly bad magazine in San Francisco, California.  I remember that it was about japonia flowers.  Even then, though I had no idea who she was, I wondered why a good writer would have submitted to us.  Will wonders ever cease?  Let's hope not!



Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Greetings From Epinay sur-Seine Paris & Post-Iceland & Poem

I am writing from the 25th floor of a 30 story tall building in more-or-less northwest Paris, a neighborhood largely composed of migrants from the former French African states and territories, making it a true United Nations experience in the French capital.  With AirB&B placements, I have found that where you find yourself staying can at times be somewhat of a surprise but I'm not complaining, paying only $440.00 for 12 nights in the "City of Lights."  In Seattle that will get you a week's lodging at the Star Motel or the Seals, which isn't saying much whatsoever, hot & cold drug dealers or worse.

Arriving last Thursday in the afternoon, and after locating the somewhat difficult address, I decided to brave the rain and venture into the night toward the Gare Nord (the North train station) and have my first Parisian meal at a bistro I discovered in October 2015.  While having a great meal I was entertained by the fastest moving cab line I have seen, boom! boom ! boom! passengers flying into cabs at a 40-60 second clip, and this went on for the full hour I sat there.

It was amazing to watch, Paris still clearly a "cab town" despite all the crap their taxi industry initially got from Uber.  One positive with Parisian cabs, is that when they are occupied, the top-light turns a bright red, telling everyone what the situation is.  When vacant, the top light is green.  Makes a lot of sense, communicating just like traffic lights telling you when to stop and go.  Their efficiency makes me envious, our systems contrarily in Seattle remain quite the joke but I for one am not laughing, their train queues one unimpeded straight line, very unlike the madness and chaos passing for normal at Seattle's  King Street Station. Will it ever get better? No.

Since my arrival, I have been walking, walking, walking, and of course riding Paris's famous Metro lines all over the heart or center of the city, taking in the museums after buying a six-day museum.  I have seen many incredibly good paintings but perhaps the highlight of my museum is seeing one of Napoleon Bonaparte's famous horses, Vizir, in all its stuffed glory at the Musee de l' Armee.

That museum is actually many museums and sites contained in one huge complex where you can also view Napoleon's tomb, which I did.  Some facts I gleamed from the various exhibitions is that 90 French troops were killed in support of the American operation in Afghanistan.  And during the German Nazi WW II occupation of France, while over 74,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps, less than 4000 survived their terrible ordeal.

Paris itself remains the vibrant city, not dissimilar to the era in the 1930s when George Gershwin composed his magnificent musical piece, "An American in Paris," that honking you hear mimicking those famous Paris taxis.  And the River Seine, such an integral part of the Paris landscape, has been flooding its banks, this January Paris experiencing heavy rain.

Post-Iceland Reflections

Did you know that Iceland is located above the Arctic Circle?  Or that it is the third windiest place on the planet?  To both I can say yes, or leastwise my face knows the answer, buffeting the icy wind on my way into the Old Town to get a good cup of coffee.  And minus all doubt is that it is also one of the most expensive destinations on the planet, a cappuccino in Paris almost 50% less than in Reykjavik.

Yes, tiny Reykjavik more costly than mighty Paris, which is saying a lot, considering that Paris is considered the greatest city upon our planet.  While Paris is rightly known for its pickpockets, the Icelandic government does it legally minus the need to grab the wallet out of your pocket.  The one very real and special deal are the Reykjavik geothermal spas.  Buy a ten-visit pass and soak away all your pains and strains.

I did talk to a local Reykjavik cabbie and he reported that, due to a huge increase in tourist traffic, the "business is great!"  Yes, even in frigid January, tourists, especially Chinese tourists, were everywhere.  That also holds true here in Paris, the great Chinese tourist invasion is on, forever taking photos of the art, and of course, themselves.


In the late summer, early autumn 1984 I lived in Paris while my wife attended the Sorbonne University. What should have been a wonderful time instead turned into misery as it was the beginning of three painful years resulting in the ending of our marriage.  A memory is reflected in this poem, a thought forever on my mind.

                                                          19 Rue Lhomond

                                                           How can I forget?
                                                              I cannot forget
                                                       seeing through the window
                                                          her grey pants and shoes
                                                           rushing down the stairs
                                                                 to greet me

                                                         having missed each other
                                                                   at the train
                                                              she hurrying back
                                                                me taking a cab
                                                               now after months
                                                                   back together
                                                                but clearly pointless

                                                          that moment the beginning
                                                              of three arduous years
                                                                  circling to an end
                                                            I don't want to remember

                                                       seeing her running down the stairs

                                                                     to meet me.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Greetings From Reykjavik & Two Murdered Cabbies 25 Years Apart---How Nothing Truly Changes

Two themes this week, the first concerning my ongoing visit to Iceland; and the second discussing the past and current dangers of driving a cab, this prompted by a November 21st, 1993 NY Times article I found tucked away in my desk, "When a $75.00 Holdup Equals the Life of a Cabdriver," written by Douglas Martin.  An unfortunate parallel was the recent 2017 Christmas Eve murder of Chicago cabbie Ismail Abdulle, someone who once drove a Yellow Cab in Seattle during a ten-year long stint.  I have yet to talk to any of my Icelandic taxi colleagues but given the opportunity I certainly will.  As I always say, taxi is the same everywhere, and we cabbies all soldiers engaging in the same war.  I wish it wasn't true but it is.

As for my time so far in Iceland, it is just as I envisioned: lots of sleep and and many soaks in the local thermal spas. Luckily my airb&b room is located directly across the street from Laugardalslaug, a very large geothermal pool, hot pot, swimming pool and steam room facility.  Arriving in Iceland Friday morning, I have been three times, including early this morning.  Later this evening I will return, continuing to soak my taxi aches and pains and woes away.

Do I miss slogging away in the cab?  No, not at all, because how does one miss a living hell unless you are some version of sadomasochistic, which I make no claim to be.  My taxi Buddy Bill says that like all other longtime cabbies, I am addicted, somehow embracing the ongoing misery.  But as I keep saying, I'm stupid but I'm not dumb! No Bill, I have just one response: screw taxi!

Yesterday, and also today, I will checking out old Reykjavik, which today is coated with snow and ice, appropriate for a country bearing the name of Iceland.  If the weather ever lets up, I hope to get a clear view of the mountains directly to the north.   It is a pretty country and I hope to see some of it before flying on to Paris Thursday morning.

But if you are planning on visiting sometime be forewarned that it is both expensive, and during the winter, dark, with real daylight not appearing until about 1:00 PM.  One real positive is that everyone is for the most part both literate and friendly, education considered essential to this country of 300,00.  Yesterday I went to a local Apple computer store to buy a power cord adapter and instead I was just given a new European-style power cord free-of-charge!  I was amazed.  Could you imagine this happening back in the good, old USA?  I can't, that's for sure.

Cabbie Murders

At one point, in the 1980s and 90s, 50 cabbies a year died in NYC, making it, I think at the time, the most dangerous place to drive cab in the USA.  Rene Rodriguez was killed behind the wheel of his livery cab in central Harlem on March 5th, 1992, one of 186 drivers murdered in what is called a five-year period.  The article begins describing how his 7 year old son continues to look for him at their apartment window though clearly knowing his father is dead and not returning.

While the son, also named Rene, denies this is what he is doing, his older sister Anna Marie, age 10, says "Yes you do, I hear you sometimes." meaning she hears her brother talking to himself about their father.   It is a grim introduction to to an article talking about taxi reality in NYC, focusing upon others who had been either killed or wounded.  While not a fun subject, I am sure it was educational for many who read it, with the example of the grieving boy slamming the point home: it is highly dangerous driving a cab in NYC.

The Christmas Eve death of the former Seattle cabbie in Chicago says much about taxi, including who should be, or not, driving beneath the top-light, working at what is perhaps the most mortally hazardous  occupation in the USA.  Going simply from the news report generated by the local Chicago ABC news affiliate, it says that Ismail Abdulle, while he was being struck from behind by the suspect, Francisco Ojeda with a whiskey bottle, had time to call a friend and report he was under attack.

What is odd is that the first thing Abdulle should have done, upon the first blow, was slam on the brakes  and get the hell out of the taxi.  That the blows continued and ultimately killed him is an unspeakable tragedy.  But another part of this is that it seems he didn't respond quickly or appropriately to the situation, and his delay in part resulted in his death.

What is true about driving cab, and will remain true, is that you are going to encounter all kinds of trouble, so you better be ready for it because it is coming your way whether you like it or not.  And how you respond will hold consequences one way or the other.

As I reported about my own Christmas Eve incident, with 1092 losing it on the icy road, I too could have easily died in that dire moment but years of rehearsal resulted in a positive result, with no one getting either killed or injured.  Call it luck, call it skill, or finally calling it a grim determination to just not wanting to die in a taxi.  Driving taxi is insult enough but to be killed by the experience would be too much, stupidity compounding stupidity embracing a completely negative equation, my ghost forever haunting Issaquah-Hobart Road.

As said, taxi driving is a serious business, and not everybody should be doing it as an occupation, which is why the Uber concept of "anyone can do this" is insane.  But does anyone truly care that they are putting unwitting people into positions to fail, and when "push comes to shove," fail they will?

I care but I am only one voice.  It is also clear that 25 years ago the reporter Douglas Martin also cared but did it save any future cabbies from not being murdered?  Probably not but regardless, his reporting was important and remains important, and now you too have been informed by his reporting.

And that is what I really like about good writing, because it lives forever, having a life and purpose all its own, Rene Rodriguez, in his small way, will now never be forgotten, as Abdulle will also never be forgotten.  I ask then, of all my fellow cabbies, to collectively never to forget those who have lost their lives driving a cab, that being our final benediction to the fallen who died just trying to support their families.  Abdulle left 5 children and a wife back in Kenya to grieve.  It is a sad story.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Don't Wanna Drive Cab No More, No I Don't Wanna Drive That Taxi Cab No More, No More, No More!

This just past Sunday morning while waiting nearly 3 hours for my first fare, I bided my time listening to "Preachin' the Blues," noting with interest Johnny Horn's feature concerning the recently passed away song producer, Rick Hall, founder of both Muscle Shoals Studio and the "Soul Sound" it made famous.  Duane Allman was his first in-studio guitar player.

Bored, I began singing impromptu lyrics to the melody of the one of Hall's produced songs,  singing "I don't wanna drive cab no more, more!" which is reasonable when not one but two hours passed and I am now going out-of-my-mind, unhappy to be wasting the time away.  Finally getting a call before  hour 3 expired, I went from Crown Hill to Ballard for $14.00 total which included 5 for a tip. After that it suddenly got better as how could it get any worse?

All this got me to thinking once again about how we truly don't need 55 additional cabs on Seattle's taxi streets, adding further to our local area over-capacity quasi-taxi transportation.  While everyone associated with the City of Seattle Licensing Department are great folks, none of them have ever driven a cab, thus are blithely unaware of the inherent suffering and pain attached to this business.

 If anyone thinks that if I was the one in charge of licensing I would not be doing everything I could to stop this upcoming issuance, then I would say think again because I know the timing of these new medallions is a huge mistake, something that should have occurred 20 years ago but not in the current down business climate that we are now all facing.  I don't care that they are just implementing a decision made years ago.  It is the wrong decision at the wrong time.  I used the word brutal in describing my experience as an owner in an email response to John, the current licensing director.  And brutal it is, kicking my financial butt all over the place.  One of lines from yesterday was "My buttock is sore, I don't wanna do this no more!"

One major problem I have with the City & County is their lack of information concerning the responsibilities of taxi ownership.  Currently, the only way you are going to survive is to work 7 days a week month after month after month, grinding yourself into the taxi ground.  It is no way to live, and no way to have a life, transforming the uninitiated into taxi zombies.  Who wants to be a zombie?  No me, that's for sure.

What I think the City & County should do is conduct an owner workshop before issuing these new medallions.  Hire me and others to assist, allowing us to inform everyone what it is truly like to be an owner.  If after being taught the Taxi ABCs they still want to own a taxi, then fine but first, shall we provide everyone with a strong dose of reality?  Wouldn't that be helpful, moral and just?  I think it would be.

And why not, why not tell people what is really going on, because once you have immersed yourself into taxi ownership, it will either be swim or sink, with many going under and drowning.  Is that kind?  No, it is not kind.

Next week I am in Iceland soaking my sore taxi head.  Until then stay warm, and dry, as rain, rain is pelting the head, making want one want to fly away into the sky!