Greetings from my second day in San Francisco, having arrived yesterday at about 12:30 in the afternoon. She-who-can't-be-named and I are taking in the local museums and Thursday, the University of California Botanical Gardens. If you haven't been, I highly recommend the gardens as it takes up much of a hillside. You also have some good views of the East Bay. As I told her not only did I fly to San Francisco I also drove there, putting in 900 miles this weekend, including a late Saturday night journey to Wapato, Washington, a small eastern Washington city about 155 miles distant from Seattle, a round trip of 310 miles or if you prefer, 498 kilometers.
Having heard that someone last Tuesday got a HopeLink ride from Harborview hospital to Idaho I kept saying I want to go too! As every cabbie knows, the long fares are few and far between. I've known more than one veteran driver who haven't had the pleasure. My last one was nearly two years ago to Vancouver, Washington which is just north of Portland, Oregon. More than the money it is the sheer excitement of going some place very different that makes it all worthwhile. It is fun, even little Wapoto, new territory down the taxi road.
If one could time these things, it would be much better to have them occur at the beginning, not the end of your shift but you get what you get and that is the entire story. I got the HopeLink run at about 11:00 PM Saturday night from Children's Hospital, a young Hispanic couple going back home. I am guessing that they left their infant behind for treatment. As only the woman spoke some English, and my Spanish essentially nonexistent we had a quiet ride up and over the Cascades.
It truly was a beautiful early morning ride as the post-full moon bathed the countryside in an luminescent glow, the Cle Elum and Yakima Rivers suddenly milky streams. I like that part of Washington anyway but on that early Sunday morning it was simply magical. After passing over Snoquamile Pass the rain stopped providing a dry roadway down I-82 past Yakima and into Wapato on State Route 97.
Once there and bidding adios to my passengers I fueled up at $3.29 per gallon only later to discover gasoline a dime cheaper in Yakima. I tried stopping at a local Denny's but it was clear that they were experiencing their own version of a post-bar closing rush and I didn't want to wait. Instead I continued on back to Cle Elum where I had that kind of breakfast designed to shorten your lifespan. Reaching the pass I exited and found a secluded spot, sleeping a few hours. Though still tired from the trip the moonlight alone made it something I would gladly repeat. I can always sleep but to be totally enthralled is something not to be missed. As is said, life is for living, with a bit a sleep thrown in on the side.
Taxi Amateur Hour: More Reasons I Avoid Working DT
One of the benefits of working in less taxi frequented areas is that I rarely encounter the inexperienced or amateur taxi driver. I am not faulting fellow cabbies as I know it can take years to adjust to the deranged working environment that is commonplace. Us veterans are not surprised by the unusual or stupid. We take it in stride because we know that anything and everything is coming our way. It is when you have false expectations that taxi is some how normal is when you begin having problems. Too often the cabbies I encounter in the greater downtown area are completely bewildered, baffled. I'll see five Yellow taxis sitting on a hotel stand while dispatch is screaming for cabs all over town. Where do they really think they will be going at 7 PM off the Westin? Of course ninety percent of the time it will be a local restaurant and $7-10.00 dollars thank you very much. After too much of this assorted nonsense drivers go crazy, losing sight of what they are doing. Many unfortunately, due to a protracted assimilation, never quite figure it out, limping along at sixty miles per hour. Why does it at seem to me that I am the only driver aware of this dimension, this disparity in performance? Perhaps there are such low expectations that no one is truly noticing or caring. I don't like to believe this but it very well could be true that paying your lease is enough, everything else more than secondary.
All this is a preamble to two particular disturbing incidents from this past weekend. I really do try to avoid problems but sometimes they just happen. Taxi will always be like that. The first was just plainly stupid, a disgruntled rookie driver quite out-of-his-mind. The second incident, occurring Sunday is far more complex, a series of mistakes when added to a prevailing problem equals pure chaos. It was all full moon kind of shenanigans, lunacy in full April bloom.
Every taxi driver in the world loves passengers hopping in while others are leaving. It is a classic taxi scenario. Dropping off at the Crowne Plaza Hotel a group leaps out of the lobby wanting my cab. "Sure, I say," as my now former passengers are departing the taxi. I check to see if there was a cab sitting on the stand fifty feet behind me, and given that it was vacant these new passengers were legitimately mine. Just as they are beginning to enter 478 another Yellow driver pulls up soliciting my customers. I ask him what does he think he is doing and finish loading. As I pull off I see he is stopped at the signal and I stop aside him to ask if he had been on the stand, thinking I might have made a mistake. He says no and when the light changes aims his taxi directly for mine. I avoid him as he then flies around the corner then abruptly changes lanes, turning left while running a red light. As I keep telling the KC & Seattle licensing folks, you need to stop putting all these unprepared drivers on to the streets. But since these officials have never driven taxi, they have no idea what they are potentially subjecting all these innocents to. Do I think they really care? Of course not.
The other fracas occurred after I got back from Wapoto. I dropped off in Zone 175 (greater Belltown) and quickly got an airport time-call originating at the Edgewater Hotel. I thought that somewhat unusual because of all of the cabs pulling in and out of there. I guessed it was a Yellow account fare and that they were specifically requesting a Yellow taxi. What I found out later is that they had read in the Victoria Clipper magazine that there was a $32.00 flat rate to Sea-Tac. Being dutiful passengers, they called Yellow dispatch at 10 AM receiving the happy confirmation that indeed it was true. The truth is that the rate changed months ago to $40.00. How both the Clipper folks and dispatch could get this basic information wrong is something for further investigation. That it created the sticky mess I found is indisputable. Thanks a lot everyone!
I called the out-of-state telephone number and got the distressing news that my passengers were already in a taxi but wait, telling me they had been told by the driver that "he was their taxi." And there he was, and like the veteran I am I pulled in front of him, blocking his exit from the Edgewater because I knew that he would just drive off with my fare. It turns out he had been belled in for someone else but being the opportunistic cabbie he grabbed the first customer he saw, not caring if he had the correct passenger or not. Though everyone knows that they are supposed to confirm the name, it rarely happens. I also could tell that the passengers were unhappy as they immediately jumped out of his taxi, displeased that he wasn't giving them what they thought was the legitimate rate of $32.00. You got all that? All I had done was accept a bell with the expectation that they would be waiting for me. Naive I know. Besides, haven't I and many others been telling dispatch to just "bingo" the hotels so we could avoid this kind of nonsense.
The driver was of course not pleased to be losing a good trip but since it wasn't his I had no qualms claiming what was mine. If the associations started enforcing known taxi etiquette much of this kind of free-for-all nonsense would disappear. The maddening part is that the driver did not think to go back and find his actual passenger. That would be too obvious!
Later I was told to call S. whom I've known for 20 years, expressing disappointment in me, adding that how can I act like this when I trying to lead the drivers etc. But, but , but! I said. Anyway I have detailed this to show how it really is, how confusing everything becomes when procedures are not followed. The couple got their $32.00 flat rate and I got a total of $40.00 for my troubles. I left messages with dispatch and others telling them about the imaginary flat rate. Who knows if something similar will happen again. I don't know but I do know I am sick of all of it. When will there be conclusive resolution? Call Las Vegas and see if they will place some odds upon it. They would be crazy to get involved but you never know, strange and stranger things are occurring all of the time. And maybe drivers will only pick up the passengers assigned to them. If you believe that you will believe anything! Ha! Ha! Ha!