I believe I might be repeating myself, stating the obvious that I and every other taxi driver on this planet (and any other possible world) have a free (except for the stress and anguish) ticket to everything that is human behaviorally based. I may not want to see or experience any of it but there it is, either in the technicolor light of day or the black and white "film noir" of post-sunset evening, humanity in all of its sometimes demented glory flailing away at life's canvas, splattering the surface like the American painter Jackson Pollock did in the 1950s, existence an instantaneous abstraction. I say this as proper introduction to a HopeLink fare I had just past midnight Monday morning, a ride minutely illustrating what I am referring to, life as it really is shoved right in my face. Again, who wants to know it? I don't but unfortunately I do.
The fare, originating at the Harborview (Harbor Zoo) Hospital ER was only going to pay me a paltry $5.50 which is why some drivers instantly throw these kinds of fares away knowing full well the pain involved. The (as it turns out) non-existent address indicated that the passenger was going to some kind of local downtown shelter. Stepping up to the always cooperative admissions desk I was told that that passenger was in the process of being discharged. Not liking the sound of that I walked back to 478 to wait a few minutes. With the passenger failing to appear after a reasonable interval I again ask where is he? The nice woman responded that she didn't know which prompted me to drive around to the west side of the hospital knowing that sometimes the passenger is impatiently waiting over there wondering where the taxi is. Finding no one I drove back to the ER entrance to try one last time. By this juncture 10 minutes had withered away which meant I could now receive my automatic computer generated no-show but stuck with it for one simple reason: the vast majority of patients being discharged directly to shelters are in deep crisis, variously deeply wounded by life's circumstances. I stuck with it because I did not want to abandon this heretofore unknown victim.. My intuition paid off even if I was barely paid for my time and trouble.
Reentering the lobby hallway I was suddenly engulfed by a large posse of police, hospital security and other related personnel herding this frail, diminutive black man out of the emergency room. He couldn't have been more than five feet tall and one hundred pounds if that. The expression of a huge highway patrolman is forever burned into my psyche, a bad combination of arrogance and gloating. Such an asshole! Clearly K_____ my passenger had been making a ruckus and the collective troops had been called in to quell the disturbance I quickly gathered him and his various bags up and got him out of harm's way into the taxi. By this time I had devoted nearly 20 minutes to the fare. Two nurses came out into the rain-driven morning and gave me a sheet of paper that was his entry into the shelter plus also giving me yet another erroneous address. On the sheet was the blaring diagnosis, schizophrenia which somehow made the patient into a human hurricane. I instead found a bewildered human being who was caught in a vortex not of his own making. He was in total misery.
It took me a few minutes to figure out that I was taking him to the south delivery entrance of the King County Administrative Building. Pushing a button began the loud, rattling motion of the automated garage door revealing a somewhat skeptical shelter employee and thankfully a smiling security guard. Mister Shelter looked askance at all the stuff my passenger was bringing along but hey, it appears his home is where he is at the moment so what can you do but accept his dismal reality. Quickly maneuvering 478 around I proceeded out beneath the clattering door thankful to be off and away and down to Chinatown for sumptuous seafood chow foon at the Honey Court, thirty minutes well? expended.
Regular readers might remember the shooting death of a taxi driver occurring a few months back. I can now report some good news concerning Labor & Industry benefits impacting the driver's widow. L&I recognized that the driver was indeed in the midst of a covered occupation, solely in the act of providing legitimate taxi services thus awarding a two thousand dollar monthly pension to his survivor. There had been some contention that he was acting solely as a friend. That confusion was thankfully resolved. Something to keep in mind is that she would have been eligible for perhaps twice that amount but her husband, like the good cabbie he was, used various tricks to show a yearly gross somewhat lower than reality. This should be incentive for many to annually and properly file their tax returns. This incident also shows that we are getting something for the money we are now paying out for L&I coverage. I personally also have a life insurance policy that would benefit she-who-can't-named. As we all know you never know when it comes to taxi.
Can't keep our tips? That is the complaint that was forwarded to me recently, alleging that associations and their related dispatch and cashier services are somehow for some unexplained reason putting a self-created cap on what a passenger customer can tip the cabbie on a credit card. How this is possible is beyond my understanding. When was it illegal or improper for a customer of any kind of business to be a big tipper? I have never heard of such a limitation. Many might remember the story of the California taxi driver a few years back who took someone to Portland, Oregon and received a twenty-thousand dollar tip on top of the three-thousand dollar fare? You mean he should have politely declined? Again, there are two primary reasons why associations have no authority in this area.
The first is that all Seattle and King County drivers and single owners are independent contractors, meaning they are independent business operators. I personally just sent my check in two days ago to renew by Seattle Business License. What we are all doing are leasing dispatch services to reach our customer base and near as I can tell little else. That cashier services connected to that is very convenient but I suppose each group of drivers and single owners connected to an association could contract their own processing services thus eliminating part of the integrated operations.
The other reason is that none of us are in the position to tell the customer whether they should tip or not or the given amount one way or the other. If the intent toward any tip limitation is to avoid criminal mischief the simple requirement of putting ID info and telephone numbers upon the charge slip would eliminate any such suspicion. But again associations appear to have no legal grounds for imposing any kind of tipping mandate upon the taxi customer. As they cannot require a minimum they cannot impose a maximum. What also makes this silly is that associations have no input whatsoever concerning the cash-based tip. Not once in my over twenty five taxi years have associations asked how much my cash tips have been. So why would they be interested if instead the tip is put upon a card? Does this somehow put the cash fare in a different category? If so, what is that category? I would like someone to tell me.
What this tells me is the same old taxi story where everyone concerned, and I mean everyone associated with the industry has some odd permission to do anything they wish, more of that wild, wild, wild West mentality and tradition whether you are in Seattle or Chicago or Malta. In 1991 while I was visiting the Maltese capital of Valletta taxi drivers would actually get out of their cabs and chase me down the street. From my reaction I would not call it the most effective approach. What this local Seattle and King County taxi industry really requires is a legal vetting of all of its operations, which means every facet of the business. Until that is done chaos will reign and everyone will continue to do whatever they want whether it makes any sense or not, legal or otherwise.
PS During a quick conversation this morning I was told that objections to large tips could come from the credit card (the banks) issuers, wanting to protect both the customer and themselves which is a reasonable point. But that still shouldn't take money directly out of a driver's pocket. Some kind of mechanism should be in place to confirm a customer's wishes and intent. Proper procedure has never been the taxi industry's strong suit. And that is a muted understatement.