Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Story From the Past Weekend

Before I regale you with tales from the fill-in-the-blank streets I want to express in a line or two about the purposes and goals I have for this blog.  The title kind of tells it all, "real taxi" as opposed to the silliness that is "Cash Cab" and "Taxi Cab Confessions" or some such other misrepresentation.  I have barely glanced at them but I can tell that what it is shown and portrayed is not truly representative of what occurs in the cramped confines of a taxi.  Fact in this case is far more entertaining than contrived fiction.  As far as I know, taxi drivers are neither game show hosts nor celibate priests negotiating with a passenger's version of a personal deity.  As near as I can tell we are professional drivers attempting to get Jack or Judy or Sally or John efficiently from point A to B, be it a solitary block or 175 miles directly south down Interstate 5.  What is extremely true is that the average taxi driver in any city, town or country is immersed in the life of his/her local environment, the taxi acting as a front-row seat to everything that is life and living as we modern denizens have come to know and understand it.  This blog will show you the everything of life in all  its inglorious details.  The purpose, then is to entertain.  The ultimate goal is to educate you about taxi realities.  Taxi is a huge canvas and I will attempt to paint in the details.  I want you to know taxi the way I do but safely from the comfort of your office or coffee shop, so when you do step into a cab you will have some workable knowledge of just what is occurring.  For it is obvious that the majority are totally mystified about the experience, which is truly unnecessary.  Taxi is essentially simple and basic but with a dash of complexity thrown in for spice.  It is a continuous story driven down that 24 hour highway never hesitating but for the inevitable shift change, exchanging one exhausted soul for a slightly less fatigued one.  Taxi is a language.  Grammar and linguistic heritage is the ride.

                                                 Sea-Tac Airport in Sixteen Minutes

This is a story from Sunday night, June 12th, 2011.   It is an unfortunate example of intrinsic privilege when a passenger feels that they can ask and expect anything from the driver no matter how unreasonable that may be.  This type of attitude is not unusual.  Moreover it is too commonplace, the King or Queen stepping into the taxi, demanding that the serf behind the wheel pay glad homage.  While it may be pathetic, it is definitely taxi reality.

I get a call in the greater Mapleleaf neighborhood of north Seattle, near the intersection of NE 88th & Roosevelt NE, at about 10:30 PM.   I know the area well because my sister Mary owned a house on NE 88th in the late 60s.  The house at the address I was given was darkened.  It appeared that no one was home.  But experience tells me anything could be true.  Given what dispatch is and has become, this easily could be a wrong  address.  Or there could be a house behind the house.  What you don't do is assume that no one is there, driving off in disgust, feeling your time has been wasted.  You have no choice but to figure it out, having been given a kind of puzzle.  It is up to you to solve it.

I did my automated call-out but as all of us at Yellow know, the "succeeded" message delivered by the computer can be utterly misleading.  Activating voice mail will also generate the same response. The driver then is left to the infamous guesswork.  While I was contemplating all of this and preparing to call either dispatch or the driver supervisor, the house suddenly lit up with the garage door simultaneously and magically lifting revealing a man with luggage rapidly approaching the taxi. Given the hour, 99% of the time this translated into a business traveler catching a red-eye which in this case was true.  What was also true is that his flight left in 59 minutes.  Thanks a lot I thought and off we flew, 478 now a purposeful guided missile aimed at the airport. 

There was little time to think, only to drive through the now rainy night.  Traffic was heavy and I clearly was not pleased at being given a mission nearly impossible.  The man's house was a good 20 miles or so distance from Sea-Tac.  Downtown was 13 miles from Sea-Tac and I once drove it in 12 minutes.  Adding extra pressure was his request that I get him to the curb by 11:00 PM so he could run down the airport concourse reaching the expedited Business class passenger line no later than 11:03 PM.  This gentleman, originally from Germany, expected me to  be his personal magic carpet, regardless how reasonable that was or not.  Negotiation or protest didn't exist. Only the flying and weaving down the freeway.  Given that I have driven cars since I was twelve getting there at the required time was a given.  I knew that I would could it.  But I wasn't happy. No, not at all.

He evidently was a regular Yellow customer, this nocturnal rush to the airport part of his normal routine.  Maybe he had become complacent through repetition but what was true was that he held high expectations concerning the kind of service he received.  He required performance, figuratively snapping his fingers at the cabbie. "Get with it!" was his attitude.  "I am a special human being!" was his demeanor.  I told him, given that this was a "rookie Sunday", he was lucky that I wasn't one of those "green peas", his poor timing possibly killing all concerned.

On some level he wasn't completely unreasonable, saying he always gave the driver $60.00 for the fare.  All this discussion ensued because he was using a credit card and given time constraints, the transaction taking place at 70 plus miles per hour.  But, I told him, this wasn't ordinary circumstances. Clearly it wasn't yet clearly he wanted to be cheap and not tip me for my death-defying driving.  I said, "Hey! I leave it up to you. Fill out the slip and I will process the card."  This he did and there it was, four extra dollars.  By the way, this amazing journey we were sharing was precipitated by his young son refusing to lay down.  I am certainly pleased he is the helpful husband but "Honey," he should have said, "I have a airplane to catch!" 

And catch it I assume he did as I got him there by 11:00 and off he leaped into the night, acknowledging my small miracle with a quick thank you.  Yes, I was glad to have the money, just not the experience of being the momentary lackey.  But this is taxi driving as I know it, and now you know it too!  It is not fun and games! No, it is simply a brutal and grinding task rewarded by the bundle you have made at the end of the shift plus the relative freedom it allows at  least this one particular taxi driver.  Besides, I enjoy being a dalit, or what is more commonally known as an untouchable.  But I do wish some of these passengers would not keep reaching for me.  Kissing the windshield is acceptable. Or at least I guess it is.  Call it a sanitary expression of misplaced affection.  And I am not making this up.

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