Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Taxi Essay: Seattle's Mayor And His Betrayal Of The Local Taxi Industry

Recently listening to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray commenting upon a local controversy concerning the dry-docking of a floating Dutch Shell oil rig, I was reminded once again how savvy of a politician he is.  While acknowledging the divide between us concerning Seattle's governance of Seattle and King County's taxi industry, I recognize that he is the most capable and competent mayor Seattle has had since at least Charles Royer (1978-1990), and Wes Uhlman (1969-1978), who survived a 1975 recall attempt.  Until Murray's election we have had a veritable mayoral chamber of horrors over a 24-year period beginning in 1990 and ending in 2014.  In apple-pie order those scary mayors were Norman Rice, Paul Schell, Greg Nickels and Mike McGinn. 

Rice stood out for ordering the physical eviction and crack-down upon a group of activists occupying the Pacific Hotel on the corner of 4th and Marion, the Seattle Police violently tossing them out.  Perhaps appropriately upon leaving office, Rice immediately transitioned to the post of CEO and President of the Federal Loan Bank.  He also made unsuccessful runs for Congress and Washington State governor.  Last year I saw him and his wife at the Canis Restaurant waiting for a stretch limousine, the valet shouting at me because I was somehow impeding "His Honor" while picking up a lesser diner. Shame on me for failing to recognize greatness directly in front of me!

Paul Schell oversaw the twin municipal disasters that were the disruptive 1999 WTO protests along with the infamous 2001 Pioneer Square Mardi Gras riots where a young man was beaten to death.  That he was a mayor quite "over his head" was too obvious for him to last more than one term.  I will always best remember Schell for using his position as head of the Port of Seattle as an excuse for frequent visits to Europe upon Port business yet somehow each time conveniently ending up at his cottage in the south of France.  How this man ever became mayor remains a mystery to me.  I also remember when he recommended that everyone utilize taxis as "their second car" while simultaneously allowing his police force to terrorise us, issuing rapid-fire tickets.  A fun era it wasn't. 

Nickels of course allowed the NBA franchise to leave town even though two years remained on the Key Arena lease, dooming multiple lower-Queen Anne businesses once dependent upon the Supersonics.  Even worse was his handling of the huge snowfall in December of 2008, paralysing the city for nearly two weeks, a lack of adequate snow removal leading to his own departure, failing to even survive the primary.  Citizens still joke how his residential street in West Seattle was the first to be cleared.  His son's personal tragedy of stealing $5000.00 from an Indian casino only deepened Nickels' personal malaise.

Mike McGinn was an idealist minus an usable compass, coming into office with a hopeful agenda developed in part as a Sierra Club chapter president.  Favoring bicycles over cars, McGinn feeling that any accommodation with that "devil automobile" could not be part of his environmental religion, got into an immediate fight with the City Council over proposed plans to dig a massive tunnel replacing that 1950s concrete dinosaur known as the Viaduct span of State Highway 99.  That the project was already approved and funded didn't sway McGinn, objecting to the bitter end, and unfortunately, sabotaging his now preordained one term tenure.  Still he has left his mark with bike lane projects on major arterials like 2nd Avenue downtown and the First Hill section of Broadway Avenue, complicating the daily commute for tens of thousands Monday through Friday.  Like so many visionaries of his kind and ilk, he lacked both commonsense and mundane eyesight, somehow not seeing that Seattle is a city squeezed between two huge bodies of water (Lake Washington and the Puget Sound) and the mountainous foothills of the Cascades tapering into Elliot Bay and the Sound (now popularly referred to as the Salish Sea).  McGinn was "master of the mess" and it will take successive generations to repair the damage.  My favorite McGinn monuments are the part-time or late-night cab stands sitting idle throughout the city.  I might even use them myself occasionally if only SPD would begin ticketing all those cars illegally parking in those ill-fated stands.  If only, if only but course they haven't and never will.  In 28 years I have never seen one ticket upon the violator's windshield. How is that possible?

Especially compared in relation to McGinn's amateurism, Mayor Ed Murray is the consummate career politician, having spent first 11 years in the Washington State House of Representatives, and then, from 2007-2013, in the Washington State Senate.  From my handful of visits to Olympia, it is completely clear that power and money rule the roost, which accurately explains why Murray chose Uber over those orphaned children, the Seattle and King County taxi industry.  In his mind, and I don't blame him for this assessment, taxi is the hamstrung racehorse and and Uber a corporate Seattle Slew.  He knows who to put his" money on," liking what he see in those Silicon Valley Uber jockeys. 

During that interview aired over NPR radio, Murrary, alluding to his fight to achieve gay marriage rights, said progress is incremental, that by questioning whether Shell Oil had the proper City permits he was acknowledging that fossil fuel dependency, perhaps far in the future, someday will end, an assessment I completely agree with.  He also added that he bore no malice toward the State of Alaska and its current economic reliance upon oil and natural gas revenues.  Murray was conciliatory, he was sincere but most of all he was effective, simultaneously taking a strong position while reaching out to any and all possible opponents.  Of course you do this when facing one of world's largest and most powerful companies.  As I said, Murray is savvy, knowing where his political bread is buttered, of course fully explaining his approach to Seattle's transportation needs.  Seattle taxi industry historically has proven itself to be inept.  Again, why embrace a loser when you have an new "up and comer" on your block?   The answer is obvious.

Even so, it is hard to justify what Murray did to a regulated industry.  If he had instead de-regulated taxis, allowing us to compete equally, I would have applauded the move.  But no, Murray embraced Uber, and even worse, knowing who he was dealing with, invited the taxi industry into negotiations that gave nothing away.  In other words, Murray, the smart and capable politician he is, knew that taxi would walk directly "into the punch" and be knocked out.  He was also extremely wise to exclude anyone would could take a punch to the head and remain standing. Murray knew where he wanted to go and he went there, not caring how much damage he caused to an already crippled industry. As he saw at both the State House and Senate, it was and remains survival of the fittest.  While I am sure he would not mind if we survive our current hardships, he won't be crying if we disappear.

And if we do vanish from the face of the taxi planet, who will we blame?  Uber?  Murray?  The Seattle City Council?  No, there will be only one group of individuals who will have been responsible.  Ourselves and no one else, alone in our incompetence and dysfunction and stupidity, Murray just the convenient hammer nailing our self-constructed coffin shut. 

If anyone disputes that, I say, think again.  The sorry truth is is that we are suicidal and have done little to change our distorted psychology.  We are on the edge and Murray's hand is pushing upon our backs.  Are we ready to both leave the cliff and push back?  I don't know.  I like to think so but that too could just be delusional.  What is true is that Murray isn't going anywhere.  He will be reelected.  About us, like I said, I don't know.  What kind of industry we will be by next May I can't tell you.  If historical precedent remains true, as best we will continue limping , not roaring down the road.  We are in trouble, and Murray is not are friend.  That is something I do know for sure.  He is not our friend.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

good-god-almighty-taxi-is-completely-crazy-and insane-too-and-the-truth-is-there-is-nothing-you-can-do!

It Never Ends

I probably said it before but here it is again, and of course you can quote me.  Whatever taxi could be and is and will remain for the foreseeable future is a kind of organized anarchy that almost accidentally getting anything done.  Why be intentional when you can leave everything instead to happenstance?  While some might view that as an exaggeration, you probably haven't, like I just have  this past Saturday, waited in the early morning for an anxious hour wondering when your taxi would finally arrive back so you can damn well get started.  

What was all wrong about this story---not getting fully paid for the hour lost along with being "short-tanked" $8.50 in addition to an implausible explanation?  Well it is pretty simple.  If you are lying you might remember that your every block can be tracked as you are first seen near Volunteer Park on 15th Avenue East, then 30 minutes later somewhere downtown on 2nd Avenue, and finally, at 4:40 AM flying up I-5 north-bound to Shoreline.

Finally arriving back at 5:00 o'clock the "so-sincere" driver tells me he couldn't wake-up the drunk in the back seat which, according to him, explained everything.  The big problem with this type of "moth-eaten-cloth-of-a-story" is that someone had to be directing him on his cross-city journey.  Does he really want of us to believe that, 1), the drunk, got in the cab and gave him a specific address in Shoreline, Washington, then 2), passes out while the driver goes every which way until finally, 40 minutes later, starts heading in the correct direct, and 3), the passenger's wife had to help him get her husband out of the cab, and 4), and to make it worse, he was never paid, and 5), he had to short me $5.00 because he didn't make any money?  Like too many people I meet in this business, they keep mistaking me for some kind of social worker.  While it is true I have held similar positions in the past, now I am just another "ruff & tuff" cabbie more than prepared to knock you head off!

His credibility, as if he had any to start with, was furthered tarnished by my discovery he had repeated this trick with another driver.  But being the nice guy  I occasionally am I told him to call me sometime to receive a quick tutorial upon taxi methodology, namely how to deal with all those drunks passed out in the backseat.  Do I think he will be calling? No, but I can guarantee I will have him spoken to.  While both anarchy and accountability begin with the letter A, there can only be one of them applicable to this situation.  Can you guess which one it is?

 And if think I am cynical you are correct because realism, not fantasy is called for.  When I got to the cab lot that Saturday morning the last thing I was interested in was a poorly conceived fairytale told by a bad narrator.  If I have to have my time wasted, please let me do it myself.  I know all about driving round & round in circles!

And as if that fool wasn't enough......!

So I am already in a foul mood, it's past 5 AM, but again, being my usual accommodating self, I took a driver who needed a ride home up to Capital Hill.  Last weekend I had taken the same guy home on a early Monday in my own car, free-of-charge, so now the IDIOT has to GIVE ME DIRECTIONS because of the route previously taken, that is 99 north to Seneca to Second to a left turn on Cherry, then left onto 1-5 and getting off on Denny Way and boom! there we are at Belmont East & East Harrison.  I choice that route because the lot is about one long block off 99 and there is no traffic at 4 in the morning.  What does the ignoramus say to me (and he knows I have been driving taxi over 25 years)?  "Oh, I didn't think you knew the way."  Oh really, I don't know about I-5 which I have been on one billion times?  Anyway, I wasn't very nice and made sure he paid me the complimentary ten dollars.  As I told him, as we drove by, "I lived at 226 Belmont East in 1978 and I rented at a house at 614 Summit East in 1974."  In other words brother, I kind of know the territory and you are just another taxi cipher!  Give me a break or should I instead break your neck?

Taking Away a "Wenenatchie"

Both of us were sitting at the West Seattle ferry terminal waiting for our Sea-Tac fares when the nice Yellow van driver told me that Yellow dispatch had taken away his King Street Station to Wenenatchie, Washington ($400. plus) fare from him because they had belled it an hour early. Instead of just asking him whether he would be interested in waiting, they cancelled the fare, re-belling it a mere 45 minutes later.  That he was upset was an understatement.  I know the feeling because 26 years ago I lost a Wenenatchie fare when driving at Farwest Taxi.  Since I know everyone I took it upon myself to alert the head of dispatch concerning the situation, hopefully preventing any future incidents.  Anyone experienced knows that often the long fares are slow developing, meaning a 30-45 minute wait is not unusual.

I think he knew my name

Sunday I am dropping off this nice guy from Kansas in the University District, doing my best avoiding the mess that is the annual University Street Fair.  A big, black SUV honks, wanting to get by the corner but there is plenty of room so I just motion with my arm to go around.  The driver finally moves around, and as far as I could tell, cursing my name because he is none other than a fellow Yellow cabbie driving his own Uber X car.  I just laugh and tell him he should know how  to drive by this point.  Recently I have been getting lots of passenger comments that the Uber drivers don't know what they are doing and where they are going.  What a big surprise it isn't is my comment.

When I told "she-who-can't-be-named" this funny story she said it wasn't funny.  "Don't tell me any more cab stories!"  Hey that ain't nice!

You Definitely Want to Take Customers to Uncle Ike's

The customer came out of the Madison Renaissance hotel  on a mission.  He wanted to buy some legal marijuana and was told Uncle Ike's located at 23rd and East Union was the place to go.  Damn was I pleased to find out that the doorman checking IDs was handing out $12.00 car-wash cards, saying we give them to all the cabbies bringing customers our way.   You  better believe I will!

And that criminal defense lawyer from Alberta gave me a $29.00 tip.  Believe me I'll gladly take that too, along with the fresh carton of raspberries he bought me while waiting for him at the grocery, needing eye drops to conceal his now bloodshot eyes.

Sock in the Nose

Suddenly the past couple months young guys on a Capital Hill Saturday night have been trying to wash 478's windshield.  When objecting this time the kid said the service was free.  I responded by saying that "socking him in the nose" was also free.  He and his companion quickly left.

And all those waiting for the Uber insurance info

I'll have it for you in a week or two.  I'm both tired and very busy, a very poor combination.  Thanks for your  patience.

A Final Note

As you probably noticed, the posting this week is all about taxi as it really is, not talking about the many issues facing taxi and just why the City of Seattle isn't telling all those town-car drivers sitting at the north end of SafeCo Field to move along.  I can't imagine why not! 


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tired Writing---Taxi's Inevitable Aftermath

Taxi drivings' physical and mental costs are many.  Ask any cabbie in any city or country and they will tell you, "taxi is a grind" which is undeniably our shared reality.  I say this while grimly acknowledging that these weekly examinations of "all subjects taxi" sometimes fall short in overall literary quality, at least not matching my expectations.  I attempt, despite all obstacles, to coherently express what I see upon the taxi streets.  My occasional failure is directly attributable to what I said, bodily exhaustion sabotaging  my best efforts, gibberish replacing possible eloquence.  As it's difficult to drive with drooping eyelids, that equally applying to writing, navigating down the grammatical road with a half-opened brain, attempting the mentally impossible.

My difficulty then is an inherent side affect of doing something better avoided, namely pushing oneself beyond usual sanity and endurance.  Often I tell passengers that taxi is a fatigued industry, saying everything is tired---the drivers, the owners, the cars, everyone and everything pushed past reason and rational commonsense. That I allow this, despite my best efforts, tarnishing and upending my writing, will never be acceptable, neither pleasing me nor, of course you my readers of these weekly tales and cultural taxi explorations. 

So take this not as excuse but instead, plausible explanation as to why when encountering less than satisfactory passages.  I am tired, only coming back to anything close to any true physical and mental resuscitation on Friday when of course the cycle again repeats itself, taking me back to the beginning, ready to check into the nearest hospital.  

This is taxi reality,and the reality of that cabbie rushing you to the airport after telling him, as a passenger told me last night, that her flight was leaving at 10:00 PM, with the time now 8:53 PM, leaving us very little time to drive the 26 miles separating her part of  Kirkland, Washington from Sea-Tac airport.  No matter my current state of mind and body, I had no choice but to instantly  transform into a race car driver, flying down I-405 in the dimming twilight.  It's no wonder I have forgotten all usual punctuation rules, not caring about semi-colons when zigzagging at _0 miles per hour down the freeway, the road ahead and nothing else your primary concern, prepositional phrases and sentence construction, not to mention deconstruction, the least of your momentary worries. 

The post-script to all this is that the south-bound entrance to I-405 was closed, necessitating a quick detour north, costing me three precious minutes we couldn't afford.  Regardless we pulled up to American Airlines at 9:15 PM, meaning she would now be on that flight to Philadelphia. Only a seven dollar tip?  Oh well, at least providing me a sincere thank you.  Like I told her, I enjoyed the diversion form the usual, rarely having to "display my driving skills." 

A Rude Awakening

I am taking a nap early Monday morning near University Hospital when suddenly I am awakened by a rocking motion.  No, not an earthquake but instead a young man, thinking the cab is empty and stupidly trying to break in. 

"Sorry, he said, I didn't mean to wake you up!"  Thinking at first he needed a ride, I instantly realized that wasn't the case, noticing he was concealing what seemed to be a 6-10 inch knife.

"What do you think you are doing?" I asked.  "What am I doing?" he responded, prompting me to drive away, my irritation giving away to his obvious relief  that he was not lying dead upon the street, instantly understanding his potentially fatal mistake.  Many cabbies are packing.  I am sure he was glad I wasn't one of them. 

Last Ride The Last Three Weekends

Every cabbie wants that last ride to be good one, and the past three weekends have rewarded me with decent trips.  This just past weekend, thanks to tornadoes in Texas and her cancelled flight, I took the business-woman from the Queen Anne to Sea-Tac at 3:00 AM.  Later in the day, counting my money, it was good I had that bit of late luck, bringing me up to a decent take. 

The previous weekend, washing 478 at the Brown Bear in the Fremont, I got a run in nearby Ballard to Sea-Tac, a woman going back home to Indiana for a visit, $68.00 including a $15.00 tip.  Wonderful!  I gave the extra-board cabbie driving 478 that morning $10.00 since I was 20 minutes late.  He was a "three-year rookie" and didn't want the money but gave it to him anyway.  Give him a few more years out here and I am sure he won't be as friendly.

The start of these happy occurrences happened three Mondays ago at 3:30 AM in the West Seattle while vacuuming 478.  What I thought would be a quick local fare from the area police station turned out to be a drunk Russian woman going way up north to Lynnwood.  Knowing my regular "day" driver Tom likes to get started on time I flew up the highway but was stymied by the unusual request of parking in a local park while waiting for her to be picked up by husband/boy friend.  Why I couldn't tell you but we waited long enough in the dark for her to notice that I was _____-looking.  Anyway, it was  worth $69.50 but unfortantely I was nearly 40 minutes late for Tom who had a 5:15 AM Capital Hill time-call to Sea-Tac waiting.  I threw him a twenty as Tom growled.  He made his time-call, no problem.

What "In the world!" Down at Pier 91?

Why I usually don't work the cruise ships was underlined Saturday when I got marooned with everyone else for over an hour.  Finally beckoned around to the front, we again waited before being called forward which would have been fine except, given the circumstances, the lead drivers should have pulled up short instead of obediently driving to the very beginning of the line, unfortunately creating an bad situation when one of the "loaders" decided to freelance and back load all of us patient cabbies.  While sometimes there are situational justifications to do this, there wasn't this time because it just wasn't busy and there were vans parked in front of me. 

Seeing that he was loading vans and cars behind us, I walked up, asking "What did he think he was doing?"  Thinking he ruled the world, he objected to any interference, even loading a car right behind me, saying "He is a longshoreman.  He can do what he wants!"  Poking my head into the cab, they responded, laughing, that they were not longshoremen.  The next instant we inadvertently brushed together prompting his "don't you touch me!"  Finally, after loading up 478, this person then comes around to my cab, saying "now touch me, now touch me, and see what happens!?"  Of course all of this was amazing and my question will always be, "How the hell did he arrive to the thought that he could do anything he wanted whatsoever, including fighting a cabbie in plain view?"  And people wonder why.............?   Stop wondering because it's obvious, isn't it?  Of course it is.  Everyone knows, which is the big problem, and believe me, it is a very big problem. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Commentary: Uber's Chief Product Officer---Convenient Idealism Perpetuated For The Innocent Masses

A couple of weeks ago on a Thursday, NPR's "Here & Now" radio news magazine aired an interview with Uber's new chief product officer, Jeff Holden.  While sounding like the perfectly nice upper-middle class person he is, he failed to display a true understanding of who and what he is representing, instead inaccurately presenting himself as a kind of technological angel sent down to untangle confused human transportation.  Like the protagonist in Marcel Ayme's (1902-1967) short story, "La Grace" (The State of Grace), who suddenly one morning awakens with a permanent halo, Jeff Holden initial presentation, while seemingly holy, espousing sweetness and light, is a poorly veiled self-serving defense of Uber's "corporate vision," actually stating that safety is their first concern. Ha Ha Ha!  A more seasoned listener like myself understands that, like any newly self- described evangelist, Holden is miming pernicious propaganda disguised as religion, hoping, like a more secular Billy Graham, that you too will swallow that metaphysical poison pill hook, line and sinker, suddenly becoming yet another misguided fish flopping helplessly upon the unyielding wooden pier.

With the well meaning interviewer unwittingly seconding as Holden's friendly "yes-man," Holden told the awaiting (and breathless) radio audience that Uber was saving the world.  Anyone interested in hearing all this yourself can go to "Here & Now's" website and search for their "business" interviews.  Searching Holden's resume on the web says it all, an already privileged man happy to be making big money, crowing his new companies virtues.  That none of Uber's executives will ever share their driver's experience toiling the streets goes without saying, the typical Uber driver little better, from my estimation, than modern indentured servants subject to their Master's whim and that new invisible weapon, the technological whip.

Anyone objecting to that less than savory cultural description should, I suggest, buy a new car and see for themselves.  What will you say when, after just a few days, you discover you have been permanently banned from Uber employment due to unsubstantiated allegations?   "I am innocent!" will be your response.  And what will Uber do?  Nothing, they will do nothing for you, knowing that you are completely expendable and utterly and instantly replaceable, also knowing fully that local municipal officials care as little about you as they do.  Plain and simply, you have been screwed!

Fellow cabbies are telling me that their Uber friends are working 18 hour days due to the low per-mile rates forced upon them.  Next week, after a few hours research, I plan on informing everyone about Uber's insurance situation, transforming rumor and misinformation into actual fact.  I think it is important that Uber's customer's fully understand what they are getting into.  Saturday I discovered that Seattle's venerable bastion of the "One-Percent," the Seattle Yacht Club, has an exclusive Uber contract to serve its members, " In six minutes your car will be here," they are told, all paid by the Seattle Yacht Club itself.  I guess that only makes sense as if any of this makes sense, the "super-wealthy" hobnobbing with the "super-wealthy." utilizing yet another sector of the modern servant-class. 

While not quite dalits, one could view Uber drivers as ever attentive mobile butlers and maids.  I blanch whenever I observe an Uber driver's ingratiating and servile smile.   It is not pretty, finding myself suddenly transported back to early-18th Century deep South Plantation America.  In Seattle the analogy is unfortunately perfect, the drivers all black, and all their passengers, white.  When anyone thinks about that 1930s Hollywood iconic film, "Gone With the Wind,"  does anyone ever remember the negro (African-American) servants?   No, instead it is suave Southern gentility kissing Scarlett O'Hara's lips!  And what is the color painting her lovely waiting lips?  Why, blood-red, of course!

Don't Take Your Passenger's Pre-printed Voucher!

One unfortunate part of taxi is dealing with idiocy, whether it originates from a drunk, a road-rager or your fellow cabbie.  Sunday I picked up a recent kidney transplant at University Hospital going back home to Issaquah, a good $60.00 fare.  The one and very major problem I encountered is that the cabbie driving YC 9 _ _ took the patient's UWMC Social Work Department return transportation voucher in anticipation of having the good fortune of taking him back. 

Two problems with this.  The first is that any experienced cabbie knows that nothing ever goes according to form, in this case the patient staying much longer at the hospital, meaning you can never assume you will ever see that passenger again; and second, you certainly don't take the return voucher because it isn't yours to have until the fare is completed.  Such a rookie and fundamental error should just never happen.  The afflicted patient, still recovering and slightly disoriented from his major surgery, was bewildered.  And of course made to wait longer than necessary. 

Since I didn't have the pre-printed voucher I had to fill out a blank charge-slip, writing in all the pertinent information.  Come Monday when paying my "turn"  I was given a mildly hard time for not having the pre-printed voucher.  How was that my fault?  Upon arrival at the hospital I called both dispatch and the supt's office, informing them of the situation.  I also left a message for the PSD GM.  That still didn't stop me from getting admonished for something completely out of my control.  Typical taxi is all I can say.  Will the Driver of 9 _ _ be held accountable for his actions?  I think I know the answer and you do too!  Does it ever end?  No!

More Police

Saturday morning and afternoon the area around University Hospital was dominated by the opening day of the "boating season" which is how I found out about Uber's exclusive with the SYC.  Getting a call to SYC, I found that SPD had closed the Montlake Bridge and surrounding area.  As far as I know, driving professionals can talk on their cell-phones when conducting business, which I was, trying to figure out how I would reach Linda, the passenger stranded at the yacht club on the other side of the bridge.  A cop saw me talking on the telephone and acted like I was plotting to "blow up the world!"  When I told him I though I was operating correctly within legal parameters, he did not respond favorably.  I plan on checking out the Washington State laws around this but whether I am right or wrong is it necessary to treat me like the nation's biggest criminal?  Where do they get this permission from to suddenly transform into legal monsters?  They can't be taught to act this way at the local police academies.  Why would prospective police officers be told to "over-react first" and "think later?"  I just don't believe it. 

April Fool or Fools?

On April 1st Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and members of the Seattle City Council met with US Secretary Tom Perez in Seattle's Columbia City neighborhood to celebrate Seattle's first step toward an eventual $15.00 minimum wage.  What I am trying to understand, or maybe I do, is why Murray wants to reduce local cabbie's wages DOWN to $15.00 an hour?  For years our hourly gross has been much higher but with his intervention into the council's Uber bill, we are now facing a huge reduction in business.  Is this what is meant by a new minimum wage?  I hope not!

Editorial Note

May 6th 2915:  A friend noted that my "Gone with the Wind" reference might be construed as racist because, I think, I used the term "negro" instead of the now popular or politically-correct term of African-American.  In deference to that sensitivity, I have added African-American to that particular sentence.  I used the word "negro" as to the historically correct context relating to the film.  What do I really think about the movie?  Not much in terms of overall quality, viewing it as a sentimental portrayal of bad and stupid behavior, a kind of Harlequin romance come to the big screen. 

A simple question?  Why are handsome men and beautiful women used as romantic leads?  Hey, you know the answer, I know you do!  Why don't people object to that, saying you should use "average-looking" men and woman instead.  Can you imagine "Gone with the Wind" becoming what it did if the actors had big noses and funny ears?  That is all about I can say about cultural concerns.  Be concerned about all injustice or just shut the hell up, instead of picking what is popular at the moment.  Or maybe everyone thinks it is okay that "good-looking" people get to be rich and famous etc, while those not similarly blessed dig ditches and eat canned pork & beans, drowning  their sorrows drinking beer and watching football.  Go team!

My friend just emailed again, saying it was the description of "servile" smiling that might be misinterpreted as racist.  What I told him in response is that it should be obvious who is racist in this context.  What is happening is that the black Uber drivers are reacting to pressure applied by Uber.  One or two complaints and they are gone.  It is that simple. Don't forget that they now owe $20,000 for those new cars.  Most of these guys are also taxi drivers and I never observe them acting like that when they are in a cab, the sad performance for Uber and Uber only.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Instant Taxi Kama Taking Me To The Renton Highlands

At times I fully understand why my fellow human citizens believe in all powerful local and universal gods plus other assorted benign and evil deities, believing unequivocally that divine intervention, more than just existent, is operational and commonplace, beyond all doubt occurring on a daily basis, providing an on-call, on-demand assistance to a puzzled and needy humanity, viewing it as a kind of AAA metaphysical road service readily accessed by shouted epitaphs and prayers in the darkest night.  Last Sunday night, after picking up at White Center's favorite "over serving" waterhole, the "Locker Room," and after repeatedly warning my near-delirious drunken passengers that their behavior must stop, regardless of the ten dollars "glowing" on the meter, I promptly turned around and took them back, saying "No charge, guys, just get out!"  While hating to inconvenience anyone, not to mention losing the money, three stern warnings should be enough.  When it isn't, everything stops and I do something else.

The issue was routing, which normally isn't a problem as I am always more than willing to discuss that sometimes contentious topic.  But when the drunk sitting on the backseat is screaming "Go that way, go that way!" while completely unaware of the fool jaywalking in front of us, I become instantly uninterested in negotiating with madness.  Besides, a left turn onto SW Roxbury, then a right on 35th SW taking us quickly to SW Juneau, which would then put us right on line for the requested intersection of California SW and SW Juneau.  Why would I want to take a slower route with "trouble" shouting at me from the back seat?  Not me, I can tell you that!

But no, that wasn't good enough, prompting various threats which will never can be or will be acceptable, alcohol often releasing an incoherent torrent, requiring one response, and one response only.  Is there any justification to put up with this kind of nonsense?  For many they will do anything for the money.  Clearly that is not my position.  The "Locker Room" should be glad I am tolerant, because a complaint to the State Liquor Board is warranted but serving customers past all reason and commonsense is a time-honored tradition, the "Locker Room" not doing anything unusual, so why single out any one establishment?  But hey, if you want to really get drunk, head up of the 9600 hundred block of 16th SW and you will be quickly accommodated.  Just watch out for potential bar fights and other such silliness.  And just why are all those people congregating next to the entrance?  What are they doing?

Anyway, I wasn't happy after wasting 20 minutes but as it so often goes driving taxi, another fare is offered, giving little time  but to attend to the matter at hand, this time a noisy dance club at 29___ 1st Avenue South.  Not getting an answer to my telephone calls I sit there wondering what to do next when a guy walks up and asks if I am available?  Yes I say and off me go to the deep Renton Highlands and $56.00 including tip, which is why I suggest benevolent taxi gods and instant karma  right after my earlier maltreatment, instantly relieving the pain and insult.  

In addition to being a good fare, the Russian software engineer knew a lot about Saint Petersburg, Russia and its famous art museum, the Hermitage, founded in 1764, and open the to public since 1852.  Since I have a free airline round-trip (accumulated air miles) ticket to anywhere in the world I wish to visit, I am leaning toward a trip to Russia and nearby countries like Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, Romania and the Ukraine, ending with a more-than-likely rendezvous in Paris to eat pastry with she-who-can't-be-named. 

He knew a lot about the museum and Saint Petersburg in general.  To say that he was more pleasant than my previous two passengers goes without saying.  If only folks could just get themselves under control, even for a few seconds, their whole experience might be altered for the good.  While always joking that I am not friendly, the truth is I am generally good natured, taking much to push me over the edge. Who wants trouble?  When it comes to taxi all I am interested in is  making $$$ and providing an efficient and hopefully pleasant ride, being there to work and nothing else.

Memorial For Slain Anacortes Taxi Driver

Memorial for Lisa Marie Eason will be held this upcoming Friday, May 1st, 2015, at 1:00 PM at Christ the King Community Church in Mount Vernon, Washington.  The address is 2111 Riverside Drive. Telephone number is 360-848-5116 for additional information.  Mert's Taxi telephone number is 360-293-0201.

First Cruise Ship Arriving this Saturday

I know that all you long suffering Seattle cabbies will be cheered to hear that the first of many Alaska cruise ships will be docking this upcoming Saturday, May 2nd, 2015 at the usual time of  about 7:30 AM.  What will further lighten your mood is, due to larger capacity ships, this year we will be seeing approximately 18,000 folks for the combined three day period of Friday, Saturday and Sunday, meaning an increase of almost 4,000.  Business has improved the past three weeks and this will only make it better.

Instantaneous Abuse of Police Power & Authority

Anyone paying attention in the USA these past months have heard news regarding questionable police practices.  Usually they involve very serious incidents but this past weekend I witnessed two situations, while minor in relation to the larger story, illustrate there is an underlying problem that should be addressed. 

The first, the milder of the two, occurred Saturday night while I was picking up on the south side of SafeCo Stadium after a Mariner's game.  An SPD officer who was directing traffic incorrectly sensed I was attempting to creep forward after he had stopped traffic flow.  His response was to keep me from going forward even when pedestrian foot traffic had temporarily slowed down. While punishing me and sending me a message, he also created a three or four block long backup, punishing all those drivers who had nothing to do with the original incident.  My passengers commented that his behavior demonstrated what happens when someone has the power to do whatever he wanted, in this case overreacting to nothing whatsoever.  To any City of Seattle official reading this, the incident occurred around 10:00 PM more or less, and the cop involved was the first officer stationed on S. Martinez Way, southeast corner of SafeCo, making him easily identifiable.

The second was far more egregious, when a Port of Seattle police officer attempted to improperly involve herself with Yellow Cab's contractual agreement to pickup the Victoria Clipper's passengers at Pier 69.  Called in to deal with something unrelated to the cabs, she noticed that they were all parked in the opposite direction of the one-way sign, something mandated for us to do by the Port of Seattle. Suddenly ordering all the drivers to leave the pier, the superintendent on duty, Jeff, ran up shouting, "No, no, no!" explaining the situation to the officer.  Why she thought this was something new is anyone's guess.  I told her "it has been done this way for decades." which is completely true.  That she did this without first seeking additional information says everything about her operational sense.  It also points to a total lack of imagination.  What was this officer thinking?  Oh, and a few minutes earlier, her way was blocked by a parked taxi.  I wonder if that had anything to do with her impromptu command and unwarranted irritation? 

Eritrean Crisis

This past week, many of the victims drowned in the Mediterranean Sea were from the country of Eritrea, one of three countries where many of our local Seattle cabbies originate.  Why are so many young man and women fleeing their country.?  Eritrea has a policy of forced conscription.  A 2014 Human Rights Watch report says many young people are conscripted for most of their working lives, forced to work on civilian projects funded by foreign companies, including a gold mine operated by a Canadian company.  Children as young as 15 years old are being drafted into the army.  If you ever wondered why there are so many East Africans driving taxi in the USA, this is part of the explanation, the region being highly unstable.

A more thorough examination of the region's history will reveal how it was a setting for the "Cold War" between the USA and the USSR.  As what is happening currently in Afghanistan, which for many years suffered through a "proxy war" initiated by the USSR and the USA, a similar situation is now in part shared by Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia--- never ending war and cultural and societal upheaval caused when the two super powers meddled into their internal affairs for nearly three decades.  One might even want to go back as far as 1937 and include fascist Italy's bombing and invasion of Ethiopia.  Obviously the situation is not simple and of course made worse by authoritarian governments now in charge of Eritrea and Ethiopia.  Always it seems innocent citizens starve while their leaders attend lavish state dinners. Not only does it display the failure of outside involvement but also of revolutions failing to remember why they took over in the first place, George Orwell once again vindicated.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Taxi Secondary To Walking In The Desert

As usual, many things occurred this past taxi weekend but first I want to talk about what allows me to keep driving crazy taxi every weekend, meaning prioritizing anything that isn't taxi, as exemplified by my recent travels to Mexico, or, as I did toward the end of last week, driving over the Cascades and walking in the Spring-scented high desert.  If I didn't practice this kind of life-giving oriented self-therapy, I wouldn't last another day yet a month laboring beneath the top-light.  Even if I am not leaving the area, daily I take long walks in local parks, and another priority, reading good writing, anything to keep me connected to a life totally separate from that alienating profession known as driving a big Yellow car in and around Seattle's clogged paved arteries.  In 2003 I tried a schedule of driving ten single shifts in a row.  I am not exaggerating when I say it almost killed me.  It was not fun in any way, shape or taxi form.

The Quincy Game Range, also know as the Quincy Lakes, is a high desert wonderland containing seven large lakes and a variety of smaller lakes and ponds and steams and seasonal wetlands, plus especially this time of year, waterfalls dropping from the basalt cliffs. Arriving there in the early evening Thursday I found the majority of the better campsites already taken by a small invasion of horseback riders, their horse trailers and campers taking up much of the available space.  Knowing the area well, I found a somewhat secluded camp near a canyon's edge, snugly situated between rocky basalt outcroppings that were clearly home to a clan of desert marmots.  Reluctantly giving way to this human intruder, I awakened Friday morning to a marmot's impatient scrutiny fifty feet away, wondering when the hell is this troublemaker going to leave. 

Taking my customary walk down to Dusty Lake I weaved through acres of desert flowers---yellow, blue, violet, purple and pinkish white blooms bordering the paths.  Arriving waves of redwing blackbirds were preparing nests while high up in the sky large Canada geese convoys flew overhead.  Eating breakfast while overlooking the canyons I watched hawks swooping over the lush cattails and mischievous swifts soaring in gigantic circles, drifting closer and closer to my perch, displaying brilliantly white bellies. 

It was hard to leave this paradisaical setting, taking solace by choosing State Route 410 back west, sneaking up upon Mount Rainier from snowy Chinook Pass.  Tired but content I threw myself into bed, prying myself out of bed a mere five hours later, memories of Eastern Washington fueling me down the taxi road.

The weekend itself was the usual continuation of the commonplace taxi theme, too many drunks intertwined with some very decent rides which included a ride from Sunday's Marnier's game all the way to Lakewood, Washington, the $118.00 fare paid by the baseball team, my passenger two-thirds drunk and injured from a fall.  As comparison, I had five airport trips versus the sixteen from last weekend, showing how unusual that was.  I did go to Edmonds,Washington from the train station, which was good to have, $52.00 to the ferry dock.  The airport is great but in the context of the taxi universe, there are many great places to go.

Reading the Instruction Manuel Before Turning on the Key

The new dispatch system at Yellow still appears capable of a few surprises.  Whether it was a good idea to begin with, management decided to try to a feature that penalized drivers for rejecting a fare.  While personally understanding the long-term frustration of dealing with contrary drivers, the experiment turned into something altogether unexpected when suddenly 250 drivers were simultaneously suspended from the "bell," the system retroactively punishing anyone who had hit the reject button anytime during the past six months.  While unintentionally comical, it kept the calls from being served while I am sure bewildering everyone concerned.  I was told today that this particular feature has been permanently shelved. Let's hope so.  It is back to the laboratory once again trying to figure out how tame the feral cabbie.  Good luck with that!

Uber Stupor or Something like that

My last fare Saturday bar-break was a passenger from a Ballard 7-11 who had been abandoned by her Uber driver. Unfortunately for the slightly drunk young woman the driver drove away, taking her purse and wallet with him.  Why he did this no one knows.  Maybe he was offended she was buying beer.  Who knows but the 911 dispatcher I spoke to had no ability of contact Uber.  How she eventually retrieved her valuables, I don't know.  My only advice is never to leave anything in an Uber car.  Unlike the taxi associations Uber doesn't appear to have a truly viable lost and found.  Sometimes I think Uber is just going to self-destruct, one day Uber being little more than a bad memory.  Uber, Lyft and Sidecar as an effective business model, one designed to answer America's transportation needs, at least from my biased point of view, remains in question.  I do know that many passengers will no longer ride with Uber, with Yellow appearing as a better option. Amazing, I know!

Still In Session

Last week, I reported to you that the new Uber bill had passed the Washington State legislature, and was sitting on the governor's desk. Well sorry, I was wrong, the local NPR station issuing a false report. The house and senate versions are currently in committee awaiting language changes which means the Labor and Industry coverage question remain unanswered.   It also means you might want to investigate what kind of insurance that Uber, Lyft and Sidecar have before you jump in and experience a kind of ride you never wanted to occur. What will ultimately happen is any one's guess.  Once the full details are known I will let you know.  Having insurance coverage is something that shouldn't be quickly dismissed.  It's an important issue even if it remains unspoken.  Stay tuned.

Communication? There's No Communication

A taxi buddy was complaining this weekend that no one told him that physicals were no longer part of the for-hire license renewal process, saying he spent $50.00 for nothing whatsoever.  Where does the failure lie, you might ask?  Did anyone notice, like I did, that once the Mayor's Uber ordinance became law, no official notification was sent out detailing changes that personally affected for-hire license holders?  Trying to read the law on-line was nearly impossible, making it very difficult to clearly comprehend what the new rules were or not.  A simple letter highlighting the new rules and changes would have been extremely useful which is of course why they didn't do it, efficiency somehow counter-productive when addressing the taxi industry.  And if this isn't true, why did S_____ go down to that dubious Chinatown clinic to visit the doctor well known to pass anyone who walks through his door.  Deaf! Blind! Rapid heart-beat!---never a problem that couldn't be instantly cured, comedic relief posing as valid medical examination.

Not All Bad Category

Another taxi buddy, D______ told me that two weeks ago he picked up two drunk fish processor workers down at Lake Union and took them, first, to Fife, Washington, and then from there to the airport.  The fare was $220.00 but both insisted paying him individually, meaning my friend received a $220.00 tip.  While talking about "our best tips" he related how a passenger, pleased by his singing Christmas  songs for her, wrote him a check for $500.00 for a $15.00 fare.  The check was good, the teller handing him five $100.00 bills.  See what happens when you are friendly?  I should try that sometime!

Go Mariners!

As my SafeCo Field fare to Lakewood attests, the more sporting event attendance the better.  Saturday's game had over 43,000 fans, with Sunday's game drawing over 31,000.  A winning team, be it the Seahawks, the Sounders, the UW Huskies, all translates into money directly into the cabbie's wallet.  Despite a slow start, the Mariners are odds on favorites to finally reach the World Series.  What a windfall that would be for the city in general and the cabbies in particular.

One negative remaining from past seasons is the dysfunctional taxi stand, both pointing in the wrong direction and on the wrong side of the street. At least the Mariner's staff understand this, which is why I found my Lakewood fare on the "illegal" side of the street.  All I can hope for is a newly tolerant SPD, allowing cabbies to pick up where the passengers are, not where they are not.

South Meed to Earl Northwest

One huge public service the cabbie serves is keeping drunks like the one I took from 51__ S. Meed to 65__ Earl NW.  Halfway there he was on the telephone complaining to his friends that I was "jacking" him around, his inebriated state not allowing him to understand that I, one, knew where these somewhat obscure streets were, and two, the perfect route.  Be glad he wasn't behind the wheel, instead safely insulting the cab driver.  What an idiot he was!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

She Can't Read It (Or Take It) Anymore

"She-who-can't-be-named," taking one glance at the posting mentioning five Uber pick-ups in five minutes, instantly gave up, unable to continue reading the bad news that's become our local taxi reality.  Her reaction is a good indicator of the consequences associated with what to many folks is just another non-captioned bureaucratic decision, something barely registering upon a greater list of important priorities. No one died or was imprisoned or even mildly censored in regards to the decision for totally disrupting Seattle's local taxi industry. No, nothing overtly dramatic occurred at all other than the upsetting of individual lives and their families. 

Instead all we have had is a thousand or more silent deaths, tiny incidents like sitting over two hours waiting for a fare, or the more sanguine worry of how will this month's rent or mortgage will get paid.  Any loud protests will come instead from worried spouses aimed at exhausted husbands, blaming them for not doing enough when 12 hours in the cab once sufficiently fulfilled requirements to pay all the bills, even leaving something left over for the annual visit home back to Ethiopia or Somalia.

No, you won't find any mention of any this anywhere save perhaps here in my postings, because obviously I too have been relying upon taxi for my bread and butter and short-term sustenance.  I also know what it means when the wife yells at you because "You aren't earning enough!"---blame tumbling upon your head and shoulders.  So when "she-who-can't-be-named" expresses outrage or woe about a situation artificially created, I not only know, I can guarantee that not one Seattle municipal official gives a damn about her anguish. Why would they have reason to care?  As I always say in these situations,the answer too obvious to say anything but that.  What else can be said?

Finally A Good Weekend

A stretch of nearly eight bad weekends ended this past weekend with a remarkable flourish.  As I told one interested fare, my income was down by about $1600.00 during both February and March but this second weekend in April was one for my personal record books, at least in terms of airport runs, that all important taxi barometer.  Combining Saturday and Sunday's totals, I had 16 runs to either the airport itself or a Sea-Tac area hotel.  My very last was a "hooker" run where the fare was paid by the waiting "john."  Like I keep saying, I am a cabbie, not a social worker.  Despite the too many hours and not enough sleep, it was great to see some kind of normalcy return.  Tomorrow I am rewarding myself with camping two nights in the Eastern Washington high desert.  Due to the moist Spring the desert flowers should be abundantly colorful.  And how many airport trips will I have next weekend?  Only the taxi gods know!

Why I Am Not Beating Up Yellow

More than once recently I have received comments asking why am I not more critical of Yellow taxi, either implying or actually accusing me of favoritism.  This is not the first nor I am sure the last time that I am seen as the "teacher's pet."  If I'm not, the saying goes, why aren't I barking and biting the evil association owners?   My response is twofold.

One, anyone truly interested in reading a "no-holds-barred" examination of the taxi industry will have to wait when I finally write my taxi novel project entitled "Zammit."  When you see that on the racks, buy it and you will see what you have wanted to hear or know or see all along.  Of course since it is a work of fiction I won't be naming actual individuals but those in the know will understand everything I will be writing about.  Is taxi crazy?  Of course it is.  I know it and so do you.

And two, all one needs to do is read my last posting and the list of taxi evils I might theoretically talk about at the Amsterdam conference to clearly comprehend the unspoken.  What the heck do people think I saying when I say "innate taxi inferiority? "  Of course that kind of attitude leads to the industry to depend on "taxi clueless" people like Don Stark who only advocates for a particular issue because he is being paid.  His next task might be what kind of cat food you should feed your hungry domestic felines.  And will the folks hiring him consider it necessary for him to have at least one Turkish Van Cat or Domestic Short hair at home?  Let's hope so.

And what  I implying about minor taxi criminality?  And what about "association mismanagement?"

My question to everyone out there in Seattle taxi-land is, are you paying attention?  Again, what do you think I am saying?  A taxi buddy sent me a paranoid text this morning.  When will it ever end?  Maybe, just maybe when we finally get enough sleep.

In short, I have been critical though perhaps not in the way desired.  But I can assure you that the majority of the "power structure" know my opinion of their operations because I have told them, more than once about  what I see needs to be done.  That they haven't responded tells me they like doing things their way, no matter how inefficient that may be.  Yes, much that occurs at Yellow appears to be nonsensical.  Is that really some startling revelation?  I don't think so.  I know everyone can agree to that, everyone already understanding the full and unwritten story.

Uber Insurance Bill Passed Yesterday 4/14/2015

HB 2231 was passed yesterday, doing two things.

One, it made the statement that ride-share providers like Uber, Lyft Sidecar must carry the minimum insurance required of all types of for-hire vehicles.

Two, relating to us in the cab world, that L&I insurance will be optional.  More on all this when I have the details.

The bill now awaits the governor's signature.

An Editorial Note 4/15/2015 4:42 PM

If you notice errors of any kind, I can assure you that they will be remedied sooner than later.  This particular posting had more mistakes than usual.  The simple explanation is that the coffee shop I was working at closed before I could thoroughly go over my text.  I regret any confusion caused.  Like "What the hell is that guy saying?"  God knows, maybe, or perhaps not, writing and taxi driving remaining profound metaphysical mysteries.