Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Why Does Holland America Cruise Lines Treat Its Foreign Passengers Like This? & The Philippine President's Avenging Angels?

One major positive of driving taxi is being immersed in life in a highly unusual way, suddenly aware and involved into matters normally outside your experience, scenarios you would have little to no idea about--- other people's lives as distant as our orbiting moon.  And what might be unique about my blog is its sometimes element of secret history, facts and personal details concerning the average person, quite often describing life as it truly is, and essentially unknown, for  you and me and everyone during this first part of the 21st American Century.  These next two examples, one about Holland America;  and the other concerning an international prayer group composed of older Filipino women holding their annual conference, is what I am talking about, encountering people and situations in a manner, as I have said, that is uniquely part of the taxi driving experience.

Holland America

Late Saturday afternoon I picked up a cruise ship passenger from Saint Lucia who had been kicked off the Holland America ship because he had failed to obtain a required Canadian Visa due to one scheduled Canadian port stop.  That he didn't know one was needed appears to fall solely upon the business shoulders of Holland America Cruise Lines.  The gentleman had done all his reservations online and never saw anywhere in print stating he must first obtain that very necessary Canadian Visa due to being a citizen of a country not having a corresponding formal "no-Visa needed" agreement with Canada.

One would logically think that Holland America would either have some kind of software coming into play when a foreign customer booked a cruise, fully knowing what would happen if the customer didn't have the required paperwork; or if not any kind of online pop-up, something clearly in writing warning people what they must have before boarding the ship.  The Saint Lucia resident said that he wasn't the only one that day told to leave the ship, he and a hand full of other foreign travelers, including a woman from China, being escorted off the boat to whatever fate beyond all care and concern.

If having their trip cancelled wasn't bad enough, even worse was the treatment received from Holland America  employees, being refused any refund along with having to pay for the cab ride back to the airport.  In the past, it was my experience that Holland America would provide a taxi voucher to the customer but evidently that is no longer the case, the blame and responsibility falling solely upon the aggrieved customer.  Mr. Saint Lucia said he had just lost the entire cost of the trip, a figure of over $2000.00.  That he was angry is clear.  And also insulted and confused that this could happen to him.

And what about the Chinese passenger, now stranded in an unknown city, minus hotel and airline reservations?  I truly don't understand how Holland America justifies this kind of treatment and response.   Do they not think that, unlike United Airlines, they will not be held accountable for treating their customers like numbers, and not like the living, breathing humans that they are? Despicable corporate behavior is my comment.  And totally unjustifiable.

Filipino Prayer Group El Shaddai

"God is more than enough!" she told me, the saying apparently a theme of her completely now international Roman Catholic Charismatic prayer group, "El Shaddai DWXI PPFI," founded by Manila (Makati City) radio station owner Mike Velarde.  Started in 1982 in the Philippines, this very orthodox Roman Catholic group has spread across the theological world to where it now has over 8 million members, giving credence to what I keep saying about people: you can convince them to become and believe anything and everything.  Even my late 1st cousin, Ed from Toledo, Ohio, a truly bright and modern individual, to his last breath believed that "Mary" was in his life, holding his spiritual hand.

My front seat passenger, along with her backseat friends, were all on their way to a Seattle waterfront hotel to attend what is a yearly gathering of her fellow "El Shaddai" members.  Now living in Maryland, she was part of the Washington DC chapter.  Originally from the Philippines, she, like so many other Filipinos, has travelled the world looking for work, having lived in the Mideast and elsewhere.  Currently she is taking care of an elderly woman in the DC-area.

What really struck me about her was her support for that murderer of his people, current Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, who at last count has acquiesced to the killing, minus trial, of nearly 4 thousand suspected drug users and drug dealers in his country.  On the scarf she gave me is an emblem of a dove.  Raiding slums and indiscriminately killing people appears to be contradictory to any peace loving dove but she justified it by saying these folks deserved what they were getting.  I asked her if poverty wasn't their true crime, and if Duterte, if he was truly interested in justice, would instead provide real financial assistance to the hugely impoverished Philippine population?  She thought that was a good idea.

The New 1092 Struck on 4th Avenue

Poor Gabriel, on my second full day, was hit by a tourist in a big Jeep near 4th & Virginia. Thankfully, other than black markings left by the Jeep's bumper, there was no damage.  I am letting it go, and not requesting any money from the driver.  Just glad it was very minor because otherwise it would just consume more time than I want to give it.  Did you know that an accident occurs every 7 seconds in the USA?

Taxi Cartoon

I have tried to find out but can't confirm whether the cartoonist Peter Kuper ever drove a cab but in his 2000 collection published by Eye Press, "Topsy Turvy," on page 72 he has a cartoon entitled "My Checker Past," which I can relate to, having driven Checkers my first 2 taxi years.

Divided into four boxes, the first shows the cabbie approaching  his 1978 Checker Cab, saying, "and let me tell you, she was one in 5000..."

The second box shows him driving the cab DT,  the caption in part saying, "We kept wild hours..."

The third box displays a female passenger and "Through I've picked up a lot of women over the years, she (the cab) has remained my constant companion..."

The last box shows the back of the cab while driving up a street, "There will never be another like her.  On July 26th, 1999, NYC's last Checker cab picked up it's final fare."

My first NYC cab ride was in a Checker Cab, Jan 1990, with "she-who-can't-be-named" taking a cab from JFK to her first home in Brooklyn.  The driver was a real cabbie.  I remember that!

Postscript Wed 05/24/2017

My friend Stacy emailed Peter Kuper, asking whether he had ever driven a cab.  Kuper responded back saying, no but he rode in a cabbie friend's Checker Taxi in 1982, thus inspiring the cab cartoon.
















Friday, May 19, 2017

Riding With Rosa Parks' Ghost & Putting On A Cab & Eating At The Rickshaw

Last week's trip to Detroit and Toledo, Ohio, while jammed into too tight of a time frame, will forever live with me, even if I never return but as I have said, I believe I will be moved to the Midwest, at least the majority of my physical belonging, by summer's end.   Describing Detroit is difficult simply because it is many worlds orbiting around an over three-century long history.  Detroit is vastly interesting and complex, a cultural mosaic that is as American as apple pie,  Thanksgiving Dinner and of course that All-American icon, the automobile---the Ford Motor Company and the City of Detroit forever connected.

A real estate agent kept asking "where did I want to start my search?'  Given I knew nothing about Detroit, other than idle rumor presenting itself as fact, I picked a street named after that famous fighter for civil rights, Rosa Parks Boulevard, and started driving into the possibly the greatest urban devastation on the planet.  That it was both startling and unforgettable goes without saying the obvious.  As I drove past miles upon miles of collapsed buildings and destroyed landscape I imagined a shocked Rosa Parks riding beside me.

"Well Rosa, what do you think about all this?"

"Joe, I think that despite all rhetoric to the contrary, the civil rights movement has failed to accomplish what we set out to do.  While you now can sit anywhere on the bus you want to, if the bus takes you home to what looks like a bombed German city during WW II, I don't see how much progress has been made since the 1950s."

"Rosa, are you saying that racism is at the heart of this amazing neglect of a major American city?"

"I sure enough am!  If Detroit had been majority white this would not have happened.  They let this city die because all the whites were in the suburbs.  What we see should only have been written in a science fiction novel, and not manifested before our eyes in the 21st Century."

And with that Rosa Parks vanished, and I was left alone in the rent-a-car to contemplate upon a modern American disaster.  How long will it take to rebuild, if ever, this crumbling, burned out shell of a city?  20 to 50 years is my guess but I doubt if Detroit as a whole will ever be rebuilt.  While the area near the art museum is rebounding, the rest of city appears to be clearly deteriorating minus any real effort to stop it.

I was told there are $350.000 condos in the DT center.  Again, it is clear that while the rich are only getting richer, the poor in Detroit have been assigned a living hell.  If you don't believe me, then you too fly to Detroit and drive those insane miles down Rosa Parks Blvd.  You too will see the huge abandoned cathedral, stained glass windows broken out, past splendor now open to wind and rain and snow.  Unbelievable.

My New Cab

I now have another car, a 2011 Crown Victoria, as my new 1092.   I was going to describe all the "headaches" involved in putting it on but given that I again running out of time, let it suffice to say that the mistakes of others resulted in me going nearly insane as usual. I will say that the City of Seattle was not the problem, and Jan, doing the final meter test, was as usual, friendly and cooperative.  And the car has been dubbed Gabriel, after the angel, by "She-who-can't-be-named." Yes, good, Gabriel, please protect us all, sheltering all who enter 1092 beneath your protective wings.

Rickshaw Chinese

Saturday night, finding myself late in the north-end, and not wanting to go all the way back DT to the Honey Court, I ate at that longtime Chinese establishment, the Rickshaw, joining all the usual patrons who were singing Karaoke.  The place is dark anyway,  given there are no windows, so there I sat, trying to read the NY Times while regaled by mostly bad American pop music sung by Rock & Roll hopefuls better left to the Rickshaw and other such dives.

Looking around, it was obvious I was surrounded by those I usually meet post-bar in the cab.  They all appeared to be having a good time.  Me, I was eating a too dense egg foo young and mediocre "deluxe" won ton soup.  I too enjoyed myself, immersed as I was in current American "let's drink until we drop" culture.  Be glad they take cabs instead of driving home themselves.  I know I am.












Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Greetings From Romulus, Michigan

What happens to the over tired cabbie?  In my case I sleep 14 hours after pushing it to make it out the door and to Sea-Tac Airport upon a too crowded Monday morning 5:30 AM.   Believe it when you read that the Seattle-area has some of the most crowded roadways in the world, let alone the good, old USA.  If I hadn't known that Military Road South runs parallel to I-5 I would have been completely screwed.  Amazingly to me I found stretches of Military Road completely absent of other drivers.  As I have discovered long ago, the majority of Seattle drivers are devoid of imagination, all obediently following each other in "apple-pie order."  Not a recommended mindset when having to really get somewhere and finding your normal route obstructed and slowed.

Regardless, I got to the airport in plenty of time.  And even better, since I appear to be a good Alaska Airline customer, I was once again granted a TSA Pre-check waiver, meaning I was allowed to speed through airport security minus any invasive scrutiny.

The supreme irony is that only in these situations, boarding an airline, do I ever find myself treated as someone less than suspect.  Time and time again, where ever I go, I am subjected to "profiling" due to my lack of recent haircuts, police and others thinking there must be something wrong with me, given my ongoing choice to not look like them.  At least Alaska and Delta Airlines know that I am an "alright customer," above and beyond suspicion.  But if they also know I am a bit of a shaggy taxi dog I can't tell you.

And what the heck am I doing in Romulus, Michigan, which is where the Detroit Airport is located? Other than breathing the Midwest air I am checking out both the Detroit and Toledo, Ohio areas for houses large enough to contain my 7000-plus books.  For those who might think I am just your average hoarder, I recently turned down a bookstore-owner friend's offer to take "all" of her stacked-up inventory of stored books not popular for quick and easy sell.  No, all my books are hand-picked, many of which have been read or are slated to be read if I live long enough to have the time to sit down and read, read and read some more.  Yes, yes and yes, I am a bore, all I want to do is read, so bar and lock that door, and please, don't knock as you will just make me sore!

Yes, it is damn true, million dollar houses in Seattle are going for $50,000 in Toledo.  Why?  Well, while the reasons are many, they certainly do outnumber the potential dollars in my pocket.  Toledo is of course where everyone in my greater Blondo/Rick clan was born, thousands, beginning around the year 1900, bred and born in the Hungarian neighborhood of Birmingham.

As for little, old taxi me, I sprouted in late 1953 in that once-small but now very suburban western Washington town of Puyallup.  At the time my father was finishing up his degree at what is now known as Puget Sound University, a school  located in nearby Tacoma.  But yes, I am looking at Toledo, where my mother and all my grandparents and uncles and aunts are buried, and where I might be living at least part of the time.

And I am also checking out Detroit because the property prices are even cheaper, and if you can believe it, have spawned an urban gardening and farming revival located directly within the city itself.  "She-who-can't-be-named" is also very interested, bugging me to visit some of those Detroit organic farms and gardens, which I plan to once I finish this posting.  While I still hope to own some large acreage or big parcels of rolling prairie eventually in some place like southeastern Montana, moving away from Seattle to someplace much more affordable would be a start.

I envision all this being completed by summer's end.  And what about my driving taxi in Seattle?  I see this as a step-by-step transition.  I will remain in Seattle only as long as I have to.  If circumstances allow me to stop driving a cab I will gladly give my recently won medallion back to the City of Seattle, more than happy to never drive a taxi again.  I for one do not want to sleep the remainder of my life away, forever recovering from the exhaustion that is cab driving.  At age 63, the "wear & tear" is too obvious, dragging me in total down, down, down until I too am buried six feet beneath the ground!

Feds interested in Uber's Greybull

Uber, those transportation pirates, might be in serious trouble due to using software, dubbed "Greybull," to avoid law enforcement detection both in Portland, Oregon and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.   The US Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation exploring what, if any, laws have been broken.

Recent reporting in the NY Times certainly infer that Uber could be in big trouble.  Only time will tell, but if nothing else this intervention by the Federal government should assist in tempering Uber's corporate behavior.

And to think so many have called the taxi industry lawless.  If we are, which sometimes seems true, we remain pathetic amateurs.  The best I can do to avoid detection is to turn off my top-light while speeding down I-5.  Does that truly help?  I seriously doubt it.

Local Bar Association

I received a letter stating that, since the Emerald City Law Group contacted me by letter, they did nothing wrong.  My question remains is how researching my private info for commercial purposes is legal and allowable?  And were the statements made in the letter sent by the law group true and verifiable?  I will be asking the bar to explore these and other issues.  As I have stated, I did not contact these folks and never wanted them to.  Just where and how they got this permission is something I am very interested in finding out about.

And one last thought.  Just as it has been found to be counter productive having the police investigate themselves, could this be a similar example of something better left to a more completely uninvolved agency?   While not implying anything out of the ordinary, the bar response certainly has me wondering just what in the legal world is going on?  Again, I didn't ask for any of this, having it thrust upon me by the Emerald City Law Group.  Instead of feeling protected, I feel victimized.  Not a good nor positive sensation I can assure you.














Thursday, May 4, 2017

"What In This Wide World" Happened To Mike?

Taxi, for better and often worse,  is an extremely intimate affair---two to five minute-long rides translating into quick and animated relationships, often special and memorable, arriving at the destination ending what could perhaps had proceeded for hours, if not years.  In other words, in a very brief span of time, you quickly get to know and become involved in the lives of complete strangers.

One recent example is Tina, a woman I keep transporting between the homeless camps and the Airlane Motel, and then once more back again to the bushes or whatever else she might be going, our ten minute rides a Birdseye view of Tina's ongoing struggle at maintaining any semblance of humanity dignity.  For me, while I may never see her again, I can't help caring about her and her situation, perhaps calling it human to human recognition of another individual and their plight to live and survive.

Mike, whom I saw again on a Tuesday afternoon as he staggered into the cab completely drunk, is another one of these folks generating my empathy and concern.  That he suddenly turned into a kind of monster was shocking to me, and why I decided to spotlight his story---a man who is now drowning after many years of remaining fairly safe and sane while standing upon more or less solid ground.

Picking Mike up at N. 85th & Greenwood, I was surprised that he wanted to go to the 3rd & Pine MacDonald's and not his room at the Seals Motel.  For at least the past year I have been transporting Mike from the Seals to various destinations and back again, getting to know him somewhat well, Mike a survivor of a serious industrial accident, having lost his entire left arm.  Our relationship over the months had, until two days ago, always been extremely cordial, Mike making a point of giving a good tip.  Again, it was a real surprise when suddenly Mike became somebody quite unlike the person I thought I knew.

Having fallen asleep, the trouble began once he awakened, making a few odd remarks but nothing unusual considering  how drunk he was.  I suppose it was a mistake on my part to not question him when Mike suddenly decided to change his destination to 3rd & James and the shelter where he was now staying.  Yes, some great upheaval has completely altered his life but just what I never had the time to find out.  And now Mike was instantly on the attack, angry that we were not at MacDonald's but DESC.

Asking him to consider that perhaps the alcohol was affecting his actions, I told him to "just give me $25." as I backtracked to 3rd & Pine.  Unfortunately my kindness and patience wasn't appreciated because Mike was now pretty much out-of-control, belligerent and surly, telling me to "wipe that stupid grin off my face."

Readjusting my parking place closer to MacDonald's, Mike paid me with a debit card while demanding a receipt.  Upon receiving the receipt he proceeded to examine it thoroughly, clearly and intentionally doing all he could to delay his exit, all his actions saying "f__k you!"; that I am going to do anything I want except perhaps getting out of your cab.

Understanding full well that this was complete madness, I said "Enough! Enough!" and swung around and opened his door, telling him that" I have had the patience of a saint" but now it was time to leave.  At the precise moment he started getting physical, three SPD cops showed up and escorted Mike out, asking if he would like to go to detox.  Having already accepted another fare,  I didn't stick around to see the conclusion but I did hear one officer mutter that he didn't need to be critiqued, Mike obviously now turning his wrath upon them.

Calling the tavern back, I voiced my concern, expressing that the bartender talk to him upon his next visit.  No, I wasn't mad.  Instead I only wished Mike a better conclusion given his present dire circumstances.  I speculate that somehow the money he has been living on has disappeared but how that happened I will probably never know.  in one sense, what occurred is just like the taxi I know and hate.  It is crazy and remains crazy.  Regardless of the money, driving a taxi is "nuts" and you can quote me upon that, compassion and sanity all pouring down the taxi drain!  Good grief! Charlie Brown, Good Grief!