Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"The Code" : Sending A Message

One of the great books in American poetry history, "North Of Boston", was published in 1914 by Robert Frost.  Some of the greatest poems of the 20th Century originate from that book.  Poems like "Death of the Hired Hand" startled me with a conceptual originality unlike anything written before  The majority say that modern American poetry began with Walt Whitman, with others saying it began even earlier with Edgar Allen Poe.  Though Poe's deranged work especially is a big favorite I say that more or less the modern era and medium began with Robert Frost.  Ezra Pound wrote a very short but famous poem lauding Whitman but I agree with the British writer Robert Graves that Frost was America's first "complete" poet. 

"The Code", a poem about rural justice comes from "North of Boston."  I still remember my reaction way back in 1974 when I began consuming books and good writing in general.  That summer was in part spent reading the majority of Hemingway's important books.  Frost's poetry, amongst others also took on a major impact.  That next year I met the woman I would later marry whose favorite poem was Frost's "The Pasture" which is one of the sweetest and gentlest poems ever written.  Frost then has been part of my internal life, my internal consciousness for a long time. 

"The Code" struck me as a succinct and correct expression of "cause and affect" between two humans, about what happens when communication fails and the sometimes ending results.  Again its concept and approach to the "poetic problem" told me that when applying the correct measures of imagination and genius and "a thorough knowledge of the language" great writing can occur. The poem tells you that insensitively can generate justified yet unfortunate response.  Its core lesson and message is that life is a serious business and should be gently attended to.  And that there are behaviors and attitudes that never will be acceptable.  Life and actions are consequential.  There is no way to get around the obvious.  No one would want tons of hay dumped upon them though I am sure, like the farmer mentioned in the poem, it would get your attention.

Saturday I encountered a situation where I was insulted to the quick, with the passenger completely oblivious to the damage being done.  That this all happened instantaneously in a span of of 2 1/2 blocks says everything about what taxi is and can be. Too many individuals have the misconception that taxi driving is an occupation reserved for the cultural feeble, sometimes providing a tiny minority with the permission to totally disregard the cabbie as a cogent and viable human being.  I met one such person this past Saturday afternoon.  It was not a pleasant meeting.

The background to this and my response is that some people, no matter the effort made, can not and will not provide what is regarded as "ordinary recognition" of another human being.  Preconceived ideas, from whatever source not allowing the person to regard others as equals, especially those they see as coming from an inferior class.  This attitude sometimes prompts the person to take over, to begin directing because the other person involved couldn't possibly know what they are doing.  Cab drivers receive this treatment all of the time because unlike other members of the transit infrastructure, airline pilots, ship captains, train engineers and bus drivers, we too often are not considered to be professionals, holders of great knowledge and skill. The only place that this appears not to be totally true is in London, UK.  Everywhere else the cabbie is a cultural cipher.

In Seattle, what lends to this misconception, to this is myth is the monthly licensing of individuals who can neither drive a car let alone a taxi.  My personal pleas for better and more thorough training or an outright moratorium on licensing new drivers has fallen upon deaf bureaucratic ears.  The simple adding of a verbal test regarding addressing and routing (how you get from point A to B) hasn't been implemented though clearly it would eliminate at least 95 % of the new taxi for-hire driver license applicants. 

There is probably no regulated profession that does a poorer job in vetting its applicants.  If the medical professional held such a low threshold all the ill patients would die.  If the same attitude prevailed in the airline industry, jets would be crashing daily.  What Seattle & King County has done is dilute the driver force to such a major extent that all of the cabbies, including myself, are painted with same brush.  When an unsympathetic passenger gets in my taxi they just assume I am an idiot and begin their relentless bullying.  This is where my reference to the Frost poem comes in.  The underlying "code" to all human behavior is respect.  No one enjoys being trammeled upon.

Another important point is that I have a mental checklist regarding passenger behavior. I have a hard and fast rule that when after too many checks are marked off the ride is over.  I am there to provide an efficient ride, nothing else.  I am not looking to be your punching bag, your lover, your entertainer, your clown, your savior, your psychiatrist or any of the other various roles you might request or ask for.  I am just like the pilot of the Alaska Airlines 737 you just boarded to take you to San Diego.  I am a professional.  I will get you there.  Buckle up and relax.

Three adults and a child got in at about Third and James, and a key point, facing downhill or west.  Immediately the first thing the "man in charge" said to me after responding to "Where are you going?" is "Turn around!"  What this told me is that, 1) he had no respect for me, 2) he was accustomed to being in control, and 3) the chance that any of this would change was about nil.  He had given an intersection in the Madrona, and another key point, never gave the address.  Passengers are by local ordinance required to give addresses to the professional driver. I never had the opportunity to get that far.  And he also said the intersection improperly.  By the way it is a mistake to point out anything to this kind of person.  Since they are innately superior they resent any correction. 

He had said "Thirty-seventh & Union."  When telling me to turn around I made a joke, which at least his mother and brother laughed at, that instead of heading east I was going to drive all of us into the Puget Sound.  This was my gentle way of telling the guy to "back off!"  Doing a quick U-turn I told him that the intersection he gave me didn't exist, quickly telling him that 37th & East Union does, emphasizing to everyone that the directional on the addresses in Seattle are all important.  Without the proper "Northwest" or "Southwest" or "East" et cetera,  you often have duplicate addresses.  It is my modest effort to educate the "passenger public" because most have no idea how the addressing works. 

On Sunday when a couple said we were picking up some friends at 15th & Columbia I said you mean "East Columbia, don't you?"  I asked them if they had found that offensive and instead replied they had just been having a conversation about Seattle's addressing system and found my comment useful.  I gave them a quick primer before we reached their friend's house.

The Saturday ride invoked quite a different response.  The man suddenly became compulsive, not wanting to admit that it was East Union.  Instantaneously we had a performance, the guy even making hand motions indicating the intersections, even after his brother told him I was right.  That this became a taunt, something he was beating me up with, was not reasonable.  Having violated so many normal expectations, understanding this was going to continue for the nearly three, slow miles to their destination I pulled over and told them the ride was over.  We had gone a total of 2-3 blocks.  I was told he had just been joking.  I told them that it clearly wasn't a joke.

Once they got out they treated this like it was the "crime of the century" shouting and insulting me and taking pictures.  They called and complained.  I told the Supt I will not be insulted.   I looked up the behavior in the fourth edition of the "Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders", finding something like what happened listed under "personality disorders."   The guy just couldn't stop himself. 

As I keep saying, this blog is all about taxi as it really is, unblemished and factual. Too often people think the cabbie is public property, something that can be berated, grabbed, poked, molested and they don't like being told that it isn't true.  I think it is past the time, that like the airline industry, we have our own version of "air marshals."  A big dog with sharp teeth would be acceptable.  A little growling would do the trick. I would love to have an Airedale puppy!


  1. Fantastic essay on cabbie abuse. I drive a cab in Tampa and its the same. We are accused of long routing only because of the companies poor hiring practices of hiring anyone that's alive.

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