Friday, June 24, 2011

Topical & Local

I just can't resist commenting upon the local big story, a Yellow taxi crashing into a bank lobby at 2nd & Union at about Midnight.  For a small city like Seattle this minor incident is big news.  Yellow tells me that the driver was rear-ended but the local news account leaves it open, the opposing driver claiming the taxi sideswiped him.  I will keep you posted but it reminds me of a rookie driver I attempted to mentor who unfortunately lasted about ten days before his career ending accident.  What I could never understand is how he was able to put his taxi nose-first down a Capital Hill stairwell on a very local 25 MPH street.  A least he showed some creatively.  The truth, all joking aside, is that it is extremely hazardous driving taxi given the miles we put on in a given day.  It helps to know how to drive a car before stepping into that cab. Yellow is red to all those bullish drivers, the taxi a moving target.  More commentary upon this theme later.  I think I am already supposed to be asleep, awakening in about 2 hours.  Taxi, all I can say, is crazy.  All my brethren know!  And as you continue to read over the weeks and months, you will know all about it too.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Chevron Gas Station, Corner of S. 240th & Pac Hwy S.

I thought I was done this week but passing a Chevron station this afternoon brought back an unfavorable memory.  This incident happened at least ten years ago, perhaps longer but obviously remains as fresh as an unfortuante fish rotting away on a salty pier on a sunny day.  I think you will realize why this memory disturbs me, this being a very short story about a kidnapped woman and the Seattle police department.

Getting a call to the station, an extremely frightened woman dashed into the taxi.  She was headed back to where she had been kidnapped near S. Graham and 28th S. on Seattle's Beacon Hill near what was then called Old Holly.  Maybe in New Holly these kind of incidents don't occur.  I certainly hope so. 

The woman, who was in her early 30s, had for some reason entered an acquaintance's car, which proceeded to take her minus any and all permission on a drive south of Sea-Tac Airport.  At the first opportunity she leaped out of the car at a red light and fled into the gas station.  She just wanted to go home. 

On the way back I encouraged her to call the police but it was clear that she wasn't going to do that, letting the criminal or criminals escape all responsibility.  After hearing her harrowing tale I decided to call the SPD myself after dropping her off.

Parked in front of  a local mom & pop grocery, I waited for the patrol car.  I always dislike waiting for the police because they can take a long time, reminding me again that taxi drivers are not a high priority.  Maybe because I said it involved a kidnapping my wait was short.

The officer, really a kid in his 20s told me that he would not do anything though I gave him a thorough description of the incident, making it clear that the victim wasn't reporting the crime fearing retribution.  No, he repeatedly said, he could do nothing.  I gave him her address and that was the last I heard of the situation. 

To this day I still don't understand the cop's attitude.  Perhaps if it had been his mother or sister he would have responded.  Or maybe not, his training telling him that further investigation was unwarranted.  These things happen all the time.  Everyone knows that.  Much too mundane to take his interest.  She hadn't been murdered or raped.  Now something like that might have interested him.  Or maybe not!  I am sure he had tickets to issue.  Or donuts and coffee to consume.  Or instead I will leave it to your imagination.  Nightmares are pleasant!

Of Course, My Fellow Drivers, This Blog Is For You

Standing in the cashier line last night with various drivers, some I know well, others only in passing as we fly down the avenues, I hear the stories I always hear about deranged passengers taking off their clothes, exhibiting this or that inappropriate behavior.  It is our world, our reality, people at their best and worse.  I truly don't understand the drivers who refuse passengers accompanied by dogs and cats.  Give me a domestic pet every time over the feral human beings well in need of serious obedience training.  I am sure all of us drivers would love to see an obedience school for recalcitrant passengers, all in the spirit of Barbara Woodhouse, who said there were no bad dogs.  I bring this up on this first day of summer to say that above everything else this taxi blog is for you.  Our forums are rare to non-existent.  Send me comments.  Make requests.  Just don't complain to the air as many are wont to do.  Tell me all about it!

Taxi Commission Update

It seems that my emails to my contact in the mayor's office, Kenny, created some response.  On Friday I and the other commission members received an email from our King County commission facilitator containing valuable information for the uninformed non-taxi commission membership.  My strong complaint was that KC & the City of Seattle created an unfavorable situation by creating an unworkable format.  Though still believing that is true I appreciate some recognition of the problem.  The next commission meeting is scheduled for July 5th.  All I wish for is the minimum, that membership appear on time and in a cooperative state of mind.   I do not want to have to pull the taxi commission over to the roadside and say it is time to get out.  I am always interested in arriving to the destination.  I am only hoping for a clear highway ahead, little else.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Taxi Snippets

Today on this post-taxi Monday I thought a quick and brief montage would be informative and entertaining.  This past Saturday was amazingly busy with Yellow overwhelmed much of the day, fares stacking up on the virtual screen.  I had either 79 or 80 fares for the entire experience, which any taxi driver in the audience will tell you is a huge number.  There was nothing spectacular this weekend, or bizarre to the point of madness.  Only the taxi mundane, interesting in its flowing-down-the-lazy-taxi river.  Pull up a chair to the shoreline, kick off those shoes and  relax.

There is general rule that every taxi passenger should keep in mind: if you want to remain in that back seat and arrive at your requested destination, do not, I repeat, do not stray from ordinary civility and begin insulting the driver or infer that every driver on this yellow taxi earth is planning on taking you around the incorrect block.  All that will happen is what happened to this young couple.  You will be told that in no uncertain terms that you are no longer welcome in this particular taxi and you will now be walking.  The reason why?  You are an idiot and better luck next time!

Another good idea is stand on the side of the street in the direction you wish to proceed.  Common sense but something this couple fails to do as they hailed me on the south side of E. Pike heading east when their destination NE 45th and Latona NE was clearly west-bound.  Another thing to remember is don't immediately act like you have given an obscure address when instead it is a local/major intersection used by perhaps ten thousand cars a day.  In that neighborhood exists some reasonably complicated streets and intersections, the "K" streets I have dubbed them.  As I am clearly hinting, the couple immediately indicated to this veteran driver that they were novices on various levels, lacking some basic sophistication.

In a grand distance of about 150 feet this silly person proceeds to discuss the finer elements of taxi deception.   Making every effort to be accommodating, I laugh and gently admonish him, the teacher correcting the disruptive student.  But no, nothing I said was good enough, the young man having pushed "his internal button" and was listening to himself.  He was his greatest fan.

 When this occurs, I have learned there is only one option, turn to the side and stop. Sometimes I negotiate, saying adjust your behavior and we can continue.  But in  this case he had already been told to stop, and since he wouldn't I had to.  All motion ceases and you have to leave.  The girlfriend was shocked.  Maybe her love blinds her, in addition blocking her hearing, shutting down all her senses..  I told them he had crossed over that line and they would be leaving.  My final comment is that they were not the most polite. I did not request payment.  I sometimes tell folks that it is a privilege to pay me.  That privilege had just been rescinded.

Another "bar break" couple, this time 2 men, leaped into the taxi, delighted to find a vacant cab.  I told them the story , dropping first one, then the other  down on lower Capital Hill, 2 dollar tip on a 4 minute fare.  I then hopped back up onto Broadway East, and immediately an older gentleman flagged me, heading north to Lynnwood and tipping me 20 on top of 45, 65 dollars assuaging all wounds.

While fueling 478, a young man walks up to the taxi, asking how much to go a few blocks as he describes it, saying his father drives an Orange taxi.  I am now past exhaustion but I say "com'on" as he gives me 2 dollars for what turns out to be over 2 miles.  Hey, he is a young college student and perhaps his education is somewhat lacking.  Was he lying?   Of course!

After that I realized I had to pull over for a quick nap.  Locating the proper "green tangle" to urinate in, I then lowered the taxi's wonderful front seat, transforming 478 into instant camper, and promptly fell asleep for 2 hours, dawn nuzzling me just before 5 AM.  I felt dazed.  Yes, I could of easily found another fare, as the north end zones were essentially open.   But I need sleep, real sleep!

Laura calls me at eight.  Calls me back at 8:30 AM.   She calls again at 9:15.  OH MY GOD!  Making a pot of tea, I am back at it at ten.  I put myself into the Greenwood.  I am ready, I think!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

GPS Device Leads Car To A Watery End: Is Your Taxi Driver Using GPS?

I wasn't planning on posting anything else this week but a local article caught my attention.  Three woman from Mexico, using some kind of GPS monitoring system, were guided not to their Bellevue hotel but onto a dock and into the Mercer Slough they went nose first. Other than getting soaked the passengers were not harmed though their Mercedes probably wasn't overjoyed.  There have been other recent incidents where drivers were mislead down the road by their trustworthy GPS system., crashing into overpasses and walls. Whatever happened to the old fashioned map, pulling off to the side of the street and letting your brain figure it out?   We know what has happened, assigning our thinking to an artificial satellite orbiting our planet.  Why utilize your brain when technology instead can do the work for you?  Do you have any pride left in being independent?  I will let you provide the answer.

All this had me immediately thinking about all those local cabbies with a GPS device mounted on the dashboard.  I began thinking about the training the local drivers DON"T receive and how prepared they are to give customers a professional ride to and from.  My friendly suggestion is not to get into such a taxi because the implication is clear, hinting that the driver DOES NOT know where he/she is going once a given address or destination is provided.  Or at the very least, the driver is in the process of learning something better known than guessed at.  The traditional training method in the taxi industry in the USA is throw the driver into the taxi pool, swim or sink being your only option. Seattle and the other American cities are not like merry, old London, England, UK, where they expect you to know the streets.  It is of course known as "The Knowledge" as so many passengers enjoy telling me, thinking that it is news to me.  Not quite!

What of course is true is that where ever you might be driving taxi, it should not be OPTIONAL to know the city or town or county you are driving in.  As I keep repeating to anyone willing to listen, taxi is a professional activity that should not be taken lightly.  When I say that the full time driver working his or her buttock off for an entire year can clear $100,000 folks look at me like I just told them that you can reach the moon by bouncing upon a pogo stick.  That is because no one really is interested in knowing the truth concerning this unusual business.

 As I also have been known to say recently, when lying prone upon the surgical table staring up at the lights, you expect that physician wielding that sharp scalpel to comprehensively know the anatomy of the human body, helpful to know the various locations of your vital organs.  Similarly you should have the same expectation when entering a local taxi.  The driver should already have an intimate knowledge of the given anatomy of that city.  If they don't, as most passengers can attest, including myself, you can be in serious trouble.  Some time in the future I will tell you about the worse taxi ride I have taken, dating from 1984 in Budapest, Hungary.  Yes, as you will see, I know all about bad taxi rides.

So then what is the problem?  Why don't new Seattle & King County taxi drivers know the city?  Why can't the majority of them even drive a car properly?  You could say that it is because they are from a different country or culture but while that might be a small factor, it is not the larger or more concise explanation.  Anyone from anywhere, be it a far off land or San Diego, CA can soon apply and become a taxi driver in this fair city.  I believe that they are now requiring that you have a Washington State driving licence for a minimum of one year.  I have told licensing that five years would be a much better minimum but when you are attempting to save the world, the minimum on every level appears to suffice.

After previewing this post, I realize I have taken on a subject that is far greater than what one entry can allow.  Next week I will delve further upon why taxi service in Seattle can be so unreliable.  It is all about insufficient training and extremely low expectations for the new driver.  There are real reasons why 500 or so new cabbies quit within 12 months.  You too would say "the hell with it!" if every shift is so mentally painful that you feel you are going to die.  As all of us taxi veterans know too well, driving cab is akin to being on the front lines of an actual war.  You have to be very canny and wise to survive.  Sitting in that taxi can be a very lonely experience, even if you have four _______s chattering away.  No one tells you what it is really like.  They just point you  in the general direction of your taxi and maybe say good luck.  Maybe!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Shift Change & The Seattle/King Taxi Advisory Commission: A Brief Commentary

Shift Change at Yellow Cab: A Sight to Behold

Imagine multiple pit stops at a raceway and then you will have a good idea of what occurs daily roughly between 3-4:30 PM as the day shift cabs roar in, with the awaiting array of night shifters eager to fly off and grab all that business just sitting there, ripe fruit for the taking, 3-5 PM on the weekdays usually the busiest moments of the taxi day.  Cabs line up for instant inspections, checking oil levels and are the headlights working? what about the brake lights?  It is a period of constant motion and real impatience.  "Damn! the day driver is late!  He is gonna pay!  God damn him!"  If the night driver is lucky, his taxi is in a few minutes early, and with no major problems detected, off he sails to the waiting fares or all those flags (bingos as we call them) wandering downtown anxious to get to the airport.  If unlucky, Randy or Taki will say what you don't want to be hearing, "Com' on, bring it into the garage!"  "How long will it take, Randy, I gotta go!?"  "You know I don't know!" " Com' on!, he irritatedly repeats, "Com" on!" Randy ready to kill you at that given moment, Randy a perpetual scowl.

That is the setting, 150 or more taxis crowding into the former Ryder Truck lot at nearly the same time attempting the impossible and mostly pulling it off.   Mostly civility is the prevailing temper as everyone knows losing it only translates into longer waits.  Call it the mechanics' major leverage.  Cooperate or back to the end of the line.  Quickly you learn to just shut up and make the best of it.  The taxi driver is always waiting for something: the next fare, the repaired taxi, for the cashier to open, the tow truck.  The wait never ends.  It is the driver's fate to wait.  There is no other option, marooned upon an elusive efficiency.  What changes?  Nothing changes!

Next time you are landing at Sea-Tac with the airliner making a southward approach, look to the west and you should be able to see a large Yellow dot just east of the Duwamish waterway.  And that is it, number 74 South Hudson Street, home away from home for 478 and all those other gluttons for punishment we call the typical Yellow cab, most likely a Ford Crown Victoria but that is quickly changing.  478 has just over 300,000 miles on it.  450,000 miles is not uncommon.  478 is great car but tends to drift.  You just learn your horses' peculiarities and gallop down that highway.  Each car is different.  Ask any extra-board driver.  He will tell you all about it.

The Taxi Advisory Commission:  A Great Disappointment?

It was early March of this year when the letter arrived that the mayor of Seattle had appointed me to the oft-delayed Seattle-King County Taxi Advisory Commission.  I would have yelped for joy but I was in Eastern Europe.  Finally, after various gyrations,  the first meeting was held this month.  I am no longer celebrating, and very briefly, I will tell you why.

To begin with, only two or three members made it on time, a nine o'clock start on a Tuesday morning.  Abebe, the Yellow (BYG) president was sitting there when I arrived.  A minutes later I noticed Arron Morrow was also there.  That was it for a good half an hour.  Eventually 5 additional members made their appearance, the last making it one hour and twenty minutes into the meeting.  Everyones' reasoning was traffic.  Laura Bush, Colin Powell and various others were in Seattle to tell the masses that the confidence to succeed would bring them  to glory, or something like that.  Anyway, their fans clogged the roadways, making it difficult to get around.  So the tardy commission members had a ready excuse.  I unfortunately only half believe them, knowing my fellow taxi folks two well.  2 members failed to show up altogether.  Alive or dead I don't know but I failed to see their funeral notices.

Regardless, the meeting stumbled along.  And the conclusion, well I am not sure there is an official one.  My unofficial view is that everything is all very wrong, that the commission is ill and will never go into remission.  I say this for a couple of reasons.  First, the commission was devised to have 6 taxi and 5 non-taxi members.  I know that the City of Seattle and the King County council members were attempting to be all-inclusive, giving all theoretic special interest groups an equal voice but I have come to question whether we need novices to advise the taxi industry.  Everyone, it appears, claim to know all about it, including the majority of my passengers.  My advice to them is first obtain your taxi for-hire, drive for least one year then get back to me. 

Another factor is that the councils appear to have made some interesting choices for the commission.  I will leave it at that and to your imagination.  I swear I don't have a bad attitude.  I just weight the evidence.  I can tell instantly who gets into my taxi.  I also can see who just entered the commission.  What I had hoped for were a able group of folks both experienced with the local industry along with the capacity for serious problem solving.  That does not appear to be the case and I have yet to meet the absent members.  I will keep everyone informed but I am now less than hopeful.  Despair is my state of mind and official resignation rests upon the tip of my taxi tongue.  Like I said earlier, the taxi driver is perpetually waiting, waiting for something good to happen.  What was Samuel Beckett waiting for?

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.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Quick Introduction/Bio to This Particular Blogger

Hello everyone and welcome to this newly paved avenue and street of the taxi blogger-sphere, if indeed one exists, or is it just all my imagination?  77 fares this pass weekend tells me that indeed it does.  Seattle, my friends, is truly a taxi-user city though few would guess that.  For most Americans people only take taxis in New York City and Chicago.  Everyone else drives their own automobiles.  But I can tell you that taxi use in on the rise,so jump into my taxi blog week after week and bump along the roadway with me.  By the way, you can thank my friend Laura, a Brooklyn native, for this at least weekly missive.  She has kept bugging me to do this, not dissimilar to the drunken bachlorettes poking and prodding me every few anguished feet.  At least I will never have to toss her out of the damn taxi for at this point she refuses to ever ride with me again, despising the fact that I am still driving a taxi cab all these years later since 1989, the year we met. As I began this utter madness back in late summer 1987, Laura has heard too much about taxi.  Maybe that is why she encouraged to do this, so someone else will have to listen to stories she can no longer stand or tolerate.  She has had enough of taxi.  Like most long-time drivers, I can say the same but next weekend, beginning Saturday morning I will be back at it, my schedule being two days on, five days off.  What a dream job, you say, ain't Joe such a lucky guy!?  Well, all I can say, after I recount some real-live actual nightmares you might begin questioning my sanity, which would be okay as all cabbies are deranged, we all know that.  I make the joke that taxi is one occupation that when given a neuro-psychological panel of testing, and failing, your hand is warmly taken as you are welcomed to the dazed fraternity that are taxi drivers.  And a fraternity it is, national and world-wide, all the drivers I have talked to during my various travels welcoming me like a long-lost brother, everyone recognizing a fellow veteran of the taxi road, the unique experience of residing beneath the shining top-light a bonding experience, that glorious beacon welcoming one and all to your taxi.  And indeed, welcome to my world, one I have come to simultaneously love and hate.  The only time it is boring is when you are waiting, waiting for the next fare, then roaring off with a complete stranger to bar or hospital or home, sharing the most intimate few minutes.  Clearly, there is nothing like taxi.  It is literally accelerated madness, stepping on the gas and flying down the road.  I can only hope you enjoy the ride.  If not of course, you are free to hop out at the next corner.  Don't concern yourself with the fare.  The ride is on me.