Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sour Tidbits: The Nonsensical World That is Taxi

Ah, yes, another false full moon, folks driving like deranged demons as I take a guy with a broken foot from Harborview Hospital to Tacoma, and making it all the more fun, 478's transmission slipping all the way, this after I give up two valuable hours to the shop.  Finally Taki makes his pronouncement, "We will have to fix it later." this after of course the person who gives out the cars has gone home so even though says Taki says, "You can't drive it." I have no choice but to keep 478 on the road.  Yesterday morning (Monday) while I'm back at the lot doing my "turn" (paying my taxi rental fee) I step down to the garage and watch a mechanic struggling with a new rebuilt transmission beneath 478.  I call the night driver and he shouts, "This is the third time!  They don't know how to do transmissions!"  Guess I will find out on Saturday morning.

The  "bad" Hannah turned out to be the angel I thought she was, calling me Friday afternoon, alluding to the check being held up somehow but now the money is there.  She insisted that I take $35.00 instead of the $28.00 but I told her the cc slip was already signed  so I couldn't change the amount and besides, I told her I am just glad it all worked out.  I also told her to feel free to call me whenever you might need a weekend taxi.  No hard feelings.  Just "stupid taxi", that's all!

Various lemon (or lime) tidbits:

Three taxis are struck on the Union-side of the Sheraton Hotel early Saturday morning by an over-turned car sliding into them.  Thankfully only one of the three were occupied, with that driver uninjured.  Unfortunately a passenger in the careening vehicle died.

Saturday evening the usual business overload, with bells waiting everywhere, including the less popular zones. I accept a Zone 245 call, an elderly woman in the Yesler Terrace needing assistance, the message says.  I call the telephone number and someone in Ballard answers and  says he got his taxi, thank you.  The address I am going to is eight miles distance from that other neighborhood.  Liz in dispatch says someone (a call taker) must have held the tumbler down and moved the number to another call. And because of that the number I want is gone.  I still go to the housing project, press the button for the given apartment but no,answer. I shout "Yellow Cab!" but to no avail. Another call gone to taxi hell!

The taxi stand sign at the Queen Anne Dick's (local hamburger chain) remains missing though I told the City of Seattle over two weeks ago.  They got back to me promptly but somehow someone is being a bit something.   Perhaps the signs are made in China and are currently "in transit" on a slow boat.

Dispatch has created its own taxi "Bermuda Triangle" in Zone 498, that being located just north of the airport proper.   A combination of factors now conspires against the "city-plated only" taxis who want to book-in while heading back north to Seattle.  I call it "trolling", booking into zones as you pass through them, trying to hook that "passenger-fish."  Dispatch has altered or diminished the computer/radio signals thus limiting our ability to book into nearby zones. Until recently Zone 500 (White Center) was readily accessible but not now.  Zone 498 signal dimensions were also altered.  And to cap it off dispatch is now limiting the number of cars that can book into the 498 at a paltry five.  What this literally means is that ALL of the city-plated cabs are shut out from working almost entirely a large area of the county that usually is open to them.  All this translates into more deadheading time. Though I can say that dispatch has (for once) a reasonable and plausible explanation, that the airport taxis are booking in zone 498 but are not responding when the fare is offered.  They are out of the cab getting coffee or gabbing or something other than attending to the business at hand.  Each non-accepted call takes the computer about 45 seconds to process.  If the computer has to run through say 10 cabs before getting an acceptance it all adds up to wasted time and a frustrated taxi customer.  Still there has to be a better answer than executing all of us for the crimes of a few.  Hey, I didn't even get to appear before a judge!  Wait a moment, we don't have one.  What is going on?
And with that I must say goodbye though there are other sour items, my head is numb and I have to quickly pack up for Eastern Washington so I can bake in the sun and work on the outlines for 2 future books that will BE completed by next summer!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

BID Screen & Corrections

The one I can't mention questioned whether anyone knew what I was referring to when I mentioned the term "BID Screen"?  It requires a very simple explanation, and sometime in the future I will describe the taxi computer (MDT) in full detail.  Suffice to say the computer allows you to scroll to different screens.  The BID screen then is simply for fares that the computer has put out and remain unmatched with a driver.  After a few minutes, the unmatched fare is made visible upon the BID screen, allowing any available driver to grab or "bid" for it.

Though I am attempting to eliminate all errors before I publish these posts, sometimes one or two will get by me. This is more due to fatigue than anything else though I am sure that for some it just confirms that I do not know how to write.  If you notice an egregious error you can either notify me by email, jbyello@yahoo.com, or simply leave a comment.  I won't be embarrassed.  Instead I will be highly grateful.  At this late juncture I have little to prove.  I once had a poem included with a few 19th Century British greats.  I know I can write, at least when I am not exhausted.  Can anyone suggest a restful sanatorium to check into?

Holly Hannah & Deauthorized for Nothing Whatsoever

Briefly, ever so briefly, I want to relay to you the ___________that is taxi!  You can provide the noun or adjective of you choice.  Stupid, yes, my favorite descriptive term regarding taxi.  As for instance, young Hannah.

Hannah is a young woman I picked up off some kind of chartered party boat in the Magnolia at 1735 W. Thurman, which is essentially the back of Chinook's, a very popular eatery.  She has to go to Richmond Beach way up north but, wait a minute she says, my check (from PetCo) may not have been (electronically) deposited so my debit card might initially decline.  Fine, I say, one way or the other I will be eventually paid.  Hey, I can be reasonable.  I don't expect the young lady to walk the 8-9 miles home at 2 in the morning.  I make a great effort to keep the ride as inexpensive as possible, angling all the way north.  Eventually with the tip she gave me it came to $28.00 and yes, the card was declined.  No, problem.  I have her home address, your work address, and her telephone number. 

On Monday I run her card again.  Declined!  I call her more than once.  No answer and no calls back.  Finally I leave a message saying that she will be charged with "theft of services" if she doesn't figure this out.  Crazy, isn't it?  If she had lost her job or some other tragedy has occurred, just tell me!  Communicate!  Do something.  As I will always say, welcome to taxi!  Ridiculous!

It is now past 1 in the morning Monday, Ocean City is now closed and I am hungry.  I am in West Seattle having just gassed up 478 and given it a bath too!  At this point I have had a grand total of 81 fares.  I have made my money and off I am heading for Ga Ga Loc, another Chinatown dive that is open to 3:30 AM.  I am offered a fare in zone 265 (the deep W Seattle)  and it is unfortunately a "pay at the other end" located at the closed Walgreen's at 15th SW and SW Roxbury. Normally, though it is a good 2-3 miles away I would take it but since I am tired and ready to quit I take my option and refuse the fare, knowing that we drivers do not have to take passengers who have no visible way of paying.  Just because dispatch has arranged this it still doesn't guarantee payment.  And if the fare isn't paid, then I just eat the loss, just like I might have to do with Hannah's declined card.  It happens but all of us obviously attempt to avoid the non-payments.  We don't need our time wasted by such nonsense.

What happened instead is that the inexperienced dispatch supervisor deauthorized my MDT (computer terminal) for refusing the fare.  Since I had retired for the night anyway I didn't care but there is principle involved.  Dispatch has a tendency to make new rules up, then not tell anyone.  Endearing, I know!  The new imaginary rule this time was the MDT would be reset once they found another driver to take the fare.  After Chinatown, I spoke to the young dispatcher.  She's cool.  She just doesn't have the training nor the experience for the job.  Nothing new.  She has never driven a taxi and never will.  She is barely paid minimum wage. I don't blame her.  I know where the responsibility rests.

I email Seattle/KC licensing.  Craig sends me the statue.  I call Jim and leave a message, quoting article three. I call back and a disgusted Jim says he got my massage, leaving it at that.  What makes this so frustrating is that I talked to two very senior head dispatchers and they were shocked at what happened.  It is not something they would do.  Of course not.  We even have a computer code for passenger "has no money" for getting our "no-show" thus our "first" position back.  So why all this nonsense?  I was even told that in the past Jim wouldn't take those kinds of calls yet now drivers are being deauthorized.  I mention all this to show just how maddening the experience called driving taxi is.  Ready to sign up!?  Let's hope not!

Andrew & Mario, Continued

Okay, it is later in the morning and here I am continuing where I left off.  It was very frustrating to lose writing that had already been saved.  But anyway, enough of that.  What I had been commenting on before it all disappeared was the fairly obvious fact that much of the problem in NYC concerning the lack of taxi service in the outer burroughs are the drivers' themselves, not understanding that there is an easy alternative to be locked in Manhattan traffic with few options than being patient.  Walking around Manhattan last May (2010) I was appalled at the driver's daily reality of more passengers than you can imagine while simultaneously unable to drive down the street to pick them up.  Looking at their faces, they appeared to be little more than prisoners in a very crazy asylum.  The gridlock they faced was not on any level reasonable.  The interior of the taxi is a horrible workplace to begin with.  Add all the hours and traffic and you have an intolerable situation.  That is their reality: non-stop insult and madness.  Yet at the same time, the majority being relatively new to the business and new to the country and culture, they compound their problems by staying in the middle of that congested stew.  I found it extremely difficult to watch, like a horrible television program that will not switch off.

Inexperienced taxi drivers of course aren't limited to NYC of course.  In Seattle, there are many drivers who insist on remaining confined to our very tiny downtown core, still believing what they had learned years earlier from the flickering screen.  It is amazing how stubborn many of them are.  Any suggestions concerning alternatives is considered a personal insult.  This trait is not limited to the new drivers.  Drivers who should know better don't, clinging to a particular section of Seattle like a barnacle to a stationary pier.  They are not moving.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand, whether NYC will be adding all those new quasi-taxis.  It probably is a good idea but the primary reason it might not take place has all to do about money and power.  If it was a question concerning service to the passenger, then it would go forward.  I also believe it is true that if the NYC taxi industry was at all interested in serving the entire city, they would begin an industry-wide campaign promoting that, encouraging drivers to visit Queens and Brooklyn and pick people up.  No, money and money only is their bottom-line.  Clearly that is the case. Stacy and I discussed what we would do if we were driving taxi in NYC.  We would be cruising Brooklyn Heights and other such neighborhoods.

When I was in NYC last May for the BEA Book Fair, my shuttle bus from Newark dropped me off directly in front of an medallion broker. One morning I stepped in, introducing my myself as a long-time taxi driver.  They were extremely friendly, telling me that I too could own a New York Yellow taxi for the mere price of $750,000.  But better yet, I could buy 2 and receive a substantial discount, something like $695,000 each. As I fainted to the floor I believe I said I'll take four, and do you provide gift wrapping?  In more plainer words, the taxi financial world in NYC is more than simply being beyond out-of-control, it has reached the towering heights of absurdity.  The economics don't justify it but there it is screaming at you.  And this is why Bloomberg will probably lose his quest for better taxi service.

The concern Medallion Financial and all those medallion owners have is that adding all those livery cabs will bring down the current value of the medallions.  That they should be a quarter of what they are now doesn't concern them.   Like I said, all they are interested in is money, and getting more money.  I am sure they want the value to reach one million dollars per medallion.  Imagine the interest that could be gained or the profits made by selling them.

By now some of you might be asking how did this situation, this amazing over evaluation come about, be created?   In Seattle, the situation is similar, licenses once worth $5000. are now selling for $150-200. thousand dollars.  This has happened in NYC and Seattle and elsewhere because of a simple misunderstanding of economics and the resulting supply and demand that can not be fulfilled.  This is one rare moment where the immigrant drivers and owners share some responsibility.  They have misinterpreted the taxi gold rush, believing there is more money to be made than what actually exists.  This is a commonplace event, happening in California in the 1850s and now in the greater USA during the first decades of the 21st Century.  Desperation is what has spawned this development, and what will feed it well into the century.  Folks come from the Horn of Africa and other parts of the developing world and discover that large incomes (especially from their perspective) can be made driving taxi, which is completely true.  They then tell everyone back home all about it, and now everyone who can get a visa is coming over and climbing into a cab.  Like magic, you too will be rich and happy.  And Medallion Financial and their ilk will continue to fatten their wallets, taking advantage of the situation.

This is where Andrew Cuomo and his father, Mario Cuomo, enter this story.  Andrew is the current governor and Mario of course a former governor and of course once a very powerful political broker in the Democratic party, both regionally and nationally.  I have a book written by Mario in 1995, "Reason To Believe," waxing on various national problems, saying there is cause to believe that the Republican surge of 1994 was just a bump in the progressive road, everything changing again, it all being a matter of time and common sense.  While that may be true or not, what is definately true is that the good ex-governor is now siiting on the board of directors for Medallion Finanical, recieving the trifling fee of $55,000 a year for his expert advice.  What does Mario know about taxi driving?  Beats me but I am sure he knows that Medallion Financial is a large contributor to his son's election funds. Like father, like son?

So it is an interesting situation.  The great liberal Mario sits on a board making easy money while his son decides whether the average person in the Bronx will get a cab.  I believe we all have a "reason to believe" that politics and money and power will write the ending to this story.  The passed bill is currently sitting on the govornor's desk awaiting his signature.  What will he do?  Does Andrew Cuomo have the physical strenght to pick up that pen?  I will let you know.   How much does the average pen weight?

Bell History &Taxi Driver Memoriam List & Andrew, Son of Mario

My friend Stacy, local taxi expert and historian, called and left me a message this morning telling me that the bell ringing (hence, belled-in) was the ringing of a telephone that was next to the taxi queue. The telephone rang (the ringing of the bell) and the next taxi driver in line picked up and answered, I am assuming, with note book or paper pad in hand, writing down the address.  With that, off the driver went to the fare.  I find this all very interesting but so far I have been unable to find a source (other than Stacy) that can  provide more information upon the subject.  But in my search tonight I did find an interesting and amazing site.  I encourage you to look at the photographs of the slain drivers the site features.  For me it is truly heartbreaking.  All of us cabbies know how dangerous the job can be.  Thankfully Seattle is a very safe city in which to ply the trade. All we get are for the most part very irritating drunks.  This past Saturday morning I take the extremely drunk couple to their address on Third Avenue West near Seattle Pacific University.  I stop directly in front of their house but no they say, keep going.  I proceed another block or so then they say gruffly "Turn around!  What is your taxi number!?" like it is all my fault they didn't get out initially.  Drunks!  Don't we love them!?

Taxi Driver Memoriam List & World of Taxi Website & Taxi-Library.org

A taxi veteran of many years (beginning in 1975), Mr. Charles Rathbone of San Francisco has created and founded this wonderful source of information on "all subjects taxi."  I bet he knows all about the history of the bell and hope he contacts me.  One part of his site lists the names and cities of 2, 132 taxi drivers that have been slain on the job over a span of four centuries.  The list ends with Romulo Magdusal of Lapu Lapu City, the Philippines, killed July 1st of this year.  Somewhere in the middle of the list a Seattle driver, Gordon C. Perry, was killed on New Year's Eve, January 1st, 1969.  The list begins way back in the year 1680, with the murder of one Philip Caps on April 10th, 1680 in London, England, his taxi of course being horse-drawn.  I can't recommend this site more highly. 

Andrew, Son of Mario: Reason to Believe?

In the Wednesday, July 20th, 2011 edition of the New York Times you will find an editorial about the local taxi world, recommending that the current governor sign a bill passed by the New York State Legislature expanding taxi service in New York City, specifically the other (or outer burroughs).  I have been following this issue for a while and I am intrigued with the possible conclusion.  Mayor Bloomberg wants to license as many as 30,000 additional livery cabs but now equipped with meters to serve Brooklyn, Queens and all the other sections of New York City that never see one of those ubiquitous Yellow ( the official number, 13,230) taxis except in Manhattan.  The amazing statistic is that all those Yellow (New York Cabs) spend 97.5 per cent of their time picking up either at the airports or in Manhattan. By the way, the first time I took a taxi in NYC in January 1990 it was in an original Checker Cab, probably one of the last on the road.  Like all good New York drivers, he protested while taking us to Brooklyn.  Since the one I can't mention knew the way, the a__hole had no choice.  Bloomberg had to petition the State Assembly to take up the issue because he encountered some strong opposition, namely Medallion Financial, which has a great monetary interest in maintaining the status quo.  This is the fun part of the story.

All Mayor Bloomberg wants is that the ENTIRE city receive equal taxi service.  Now there is nothing stopping the Yellow taxis from ambling over to Brighton Beach or Neptune Avenue and picking up the tens of thousands salivating for a taxi.  Nothing but complete ignorance of course, a trait also readily located in Seattle.  I will explain in a new moments.

The situation in NYC is that the majority of the folks now driving all  those Yellow cabs learned all they needed to know (at least this is what they think) by sitting back home in packed theatres watching American movies with all those beautiful people riding in Yellow taxis in of course downtown Manhattan.  Where the hell is Brooklyn, they say?  Or Queens or the Bronx or Staten Island?  They weren't mentioned on the silver screen. They seem not to know nor care.  Of course all the money is in Manhattan and all that maddening traffic. What the drivers don't realize that if they just drove across the Brooklyn Bridge their lives would be so much easier.

I appear to be having some problems.  Just a few minutes ago about half of this current entry was wiped out though it had been saved.  I will just publish what I have and come back to it later.

Monday, July 18, 2011

And You Thought Cleopatra........

Early Sunday morning I met Cleopatra and no, I hadn't gotten a fare to Egypt or encountered H.G. Wells and his time machine though I can tell you it was about 5:30 AM and the day had dawned upon a pink and lavender sunrise tinting the Cascades a pleasant shade on the eastern horizon.  I was up that early due to a Capital Hill ride to DT Kirkland at about 2:20 AM and finding I could not go a foot further without sleeping, I found a darkened street adjacent to a small park, my few minutes doze turning into a 2 1/2 hour nap.  Awakening, and initially puzzled at "just where the hell am I" I drove forward a block, suddenly understanding, "yes, I am in Kirkland!"  Turning right onto south-bound I-405 I saw that a fare was sitting on the University Hospital (zone 152) which meant it was more than likely an account fare which could mean anything from a $12.00 package to a DSHS ride to an Eastern Washington destination like the city of Yakima.  Though of course tired I had incentive to check it out. All I had to do was get closer.

It still hadn't entered the BID screen when finally I reached the mid-span arch of the 520 (Evergreen Point) bridge and booked into the 150 (University).  Immediately I was offered the fare, an UWMC social service fare going to Belltown from the ER.  Arriving I found dispatch of course had the wrong name (naming the social worker, not the client) but it was all figured out, and there lo and behold was (Queen?) Cleopatra not on a Nile River royal barge but resting in a custom-built baby stroller, Cleo now starring as a jet black feline working as a service  (animal) cat.  Her task is to detect seizures.  How Cleo does this I don't know.  Anyway I put her (remaining in the stroller) and her human friend in 478's spacious back seat and off we flew to the 2500 block of 1st Avenue.  I could not have asked for nicer passengers, Cleo truly a royal personage.  I can only hope that the historical Cleopatra was as gracious and dignified.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Taxi Jargon & Suddenly the Taxi a Confessional!

My last entries of the week though it feels like I could use every waking hour describing to the world just what real taxi, factual taxi is all about.  Those of you who have been with me from the beginning now must have a good idea about all of the bad and plainly stupid that I and so many others experience.  Like I keep saying, get your own taxi for-hire license and you too can enjoy the pain and suffering.  Why not?  Well, the reasons are numerous, and as you keep reading over the months, well-documented.

Laura said that perhaps many don't readily understand "taxi-speak" and I agree, which is why I will take a few lines to explain the local taxi colloquialisms you will occasionally encounter reading my blog.  For the most part we in the local Seattle taxi world speak the usual almost functionall American English though we do have some terms that could require some explanation.  Laura also said that she doesn't want to be mentioned again.  Why I don't know but of course I will try to honor her request.  Just know that somewhere she is lurking in the background, ready to pounce.  Just thought I would warn you, Laura the fierce Brooklyn cougar ready to leap upon then nearest potato knish.

The term "bell" simply means a dispatch call, meaning someone somewhere (unless it is an automated call) picked up a telephone, calling Yellow cab, with the call taker typing in the address into the computer which in turn directs the call to the proper zone (the City & County is divided into areas or zones).  If everything works correctly, the bell or fare is offered to the nearest taxi and then everything is beautiful and like magic the taxi is pulling up to your home and hearth.  At least that is the theory.  By the way, unless you are calling a voice-generated dispatch system (like our local Northend taxi) you rarely reach the actual dispatcher, which at Yellow is the shift dispatch supervisor.  At Northend the person who answers the telephone is the same individual who dispatches the call to the drivers.  One major reason this is now rare is the seemingly inherent bribery that occurs, the dispatcher requesting just that little extra so you get that airport run.  The history of the term "bell" is in itself part of the legacy of old-time taxi, when taxis lined or queued up and responding to an actual bell ringing when a fare came through.  I meant to do a little research and I will later, educating all of us on a colorful history.

So when I say a call or fare had been "double-belled," that means simply that somehow 2 taxis were sent to the same address when only one car was requested.  It is also referred to as "duplicate belling" which obviously has the same meaning.  All us cabbies hate the false call.  If lucky we quickly get our "1st up" position back in a given zone and off we are again to another call.  If it were all that simple.

Another commonplace term we use locally is that an event is breaking.  "The Mariners are breaking."  or "The Seahawks are in break." all of which meaning that passengers are pouring out the door. Usually it means that a major event has reached its conclusion or that the home team is being "blown out" of the stadium.

Also at Yellow we call someone flagging or hailing on the street a "bingo."  Farwest Taxi calls them "greens." 

We call rookies "green peas" and remember, Sunday night shift is when they are put out there for your pleasure.  I am sure it will be immediately obvious that you are the driver's inaugural fare.  Good luck!

The Taxi as Confessional (but not quite)

This next piece is the followup to my conviction of the moving violation that did not happen.  Now that I have a fuller explanation of what happened in the court room I am still in a state of shock and feel quite angry because I quote, "The driver apologized for the violation and stated he knows better."  This statement is on the police report, and given that I wasn't at Doug Silva's side to refute it, led the presiding judge to find that I had committed the infraction.  I have been cursing my complacency for not showing up at the hearing.  I am not smart, I am stupid, having witnessed many times the usual court proceedings.  I know almost anything can and will occur so I can only blame myself.  The problem is that I have truly complicated everything by having to appeal, which will cost me about $250. if I represent myself, which I might do.  I have won an appeal in the past, helped greatly by a few helpful hints provided by Doug.  Another thing that didn't help my case is that the court presented a long history of what I was told was a long list of past mostly defeated violations.  Need I say that I and every other taxi driver, until recently, have been targeted by the SPD.  Under the last mayor, and now MeGinn, they pretty much leave us alone.  Over the weeks I will describe some of the traffic stops.  My favorite one was being chased by an old Chevy van.  I was occupied (with passengers) and while attempting to elude the fool he turned on his police lights.  He was a King County Transit officer and had lost his mind.  I actually received a written apology from the KC Sheriff's office.

Anyway, dealing with this requires time I'd rather give elsewhere, and given what he wrote, I will now have to file an internal investigations report and will be requesting the ACLU (I am a non-lawyer member) to look into it.  Did you know that when you are stopped by an officer anywhere in the USA you are under arrest?  Yes, it is true.

Now the truth is I barely said anything and there he is saying I confessed.  In a minute I am going to quote a poem of mine published in 1986.  You tell me if you think I am a candidate for such a spontaneous confession.  And worse, I hadn't done anything, so why would I confess?  Even though my infraction is considered a violation and not a crime, still the officer can not use anything I might have said without first informing me that it would be used against me.  There is something called the Miranda Rights.  At no point did the officer say anything like that.  Instead he came screaming to the taxi, shouting at me, pressuring me as much as possible. And now I will describe my terrible crime.

I was facing west-bound on Denny Way, stopped at the signal.  It was dark.  Two young ladies standing across the street waved at me.  And this where the problem began.  Anyone sensible would have been in the taxi instantly. No, these two young Danish woman took forever, with of course the light turning green.  I should have just pulled away but instead I waited for them.  This got the cops' attention.  Then they told me they wanted to go up, not down the hill. I took my left turn and being somewhat tired, hesitated momentarily, trying to figure out how to get back in position to procced up Denny again.  I was straddling a lane when I turned left onto Yale.  And that boys & girls, was all there was to it.  I did look in my rear view mirror before I turned.  Maybe later I will further describe the officer's actions but suffice to say he acted like I had done the most horrific act in his entire career.  Not quite I am sure.  But as every taxi driver knows, it is always your fault.  Think of the incident involving my friend J___.  If those clowns had done that to a cop he would have killed them and he would have been found justified in his actions.  The taxi driver?  Hey, we know you are a criminal to begin with, so you are just getting what you deserve.  Welcome to the wonderful world of taxi driving.

Oh, I almost forgot, the quote.  If you go online you  might find a copy of "Saint Sea" to buy, and if you do, turn to page 33 and read the poem "estimation" which is about Catholicism.  The quote is from the last four lines: "Do suffer, my good little boy, god knows there isn't any other errand that so relishes (and understands) your smallish salivations---gibberish in any Holy closet."   I will leave it at that.  No, I did not mistake the officer for a priest.  Talk about fantasy! 

And yes, I blocked Denny for about 10-15 seconds.  His traffic stop, having taken no care in stopping me, left us dangerously blocking the intersection for about 15 minutes. Amazing, isn't it.  And all my fault!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Cautionary Tale

Today I had lunch with a taxi buddy, J___, who just so happens to reside (and currently in taxi exile) in the town that is my birthplace, Puyallup, which is about a 30 minute drive from my front door.  Having left there at about 18 months old I don't have any real connection other than the obvious fact of my birth, though still I enjoy returning,sometimes imagining what my life would have been like if my father hadn't moved us to the Mohave Desert.  Anyway, I felt I was more than past due to see J___, given I wasn't able to make it to any of his preliminary hearings, which ended finally in a fourth degree misdemeanor plea, brought down from the initial felony assault charge.  Yes, he was indeed arrested for a taxi transgression, which however justified, resulted in him being booted out of Yellow Cab.  Like the title says, this a story every taxi driver reading should heed.  You could be next if you allow yourself to be swallowed up by the frustration and madness that can be, and often is, taxi as we all know and love and hate it.  You can't give in no matter how strong the temptation. 

J___, a true veteran driver, age 45, so he isn't a kid, was the kind of cabbie always "blowing off steam" because he liked the money but hated the experience.  That, by the way, explains why I normally only drive 2 days a week and always taking vacations here and there and everywhere.  Taxi will destroy you.  Let no one tell you differently.  J___ was always quick, perhaps too quick in expressing his displeasure.  It was this habit that eventually sunk his good taxi ship.  Have no doubt about it.  He is a great taxi driver.  He knows the routes and he doesn't play games.  Maybe it was that inherent seriousness that did him in.  You have to roll with the taxi punches because they are coming your way, aimed directly at your overall sanity.

The incident happened quickly, perhaps over a 3-5 minute span.  J___was sitting on the Mecca (Cafe) stand on the lower Queen Anne (zone 170) when he got a bell (dispatched call) to the Melting Pot, which is just a sharp turn up the alley, then left onto Mercer and there you are.  Going north up the alley he encountered some fools, drunk or otherwise, who wouldn't get out of the way.  J___then opened his big taxi mouth and an argument ensued.  Again CABBIES! always keep those doors locked until the customer is approaching the taxi.  If not, bad things can happen.  I have my own story which I will share someday.  And  wait do you hear how the local police responded.  Such a joke!

Finding the left rear door open, one of these idiots stuck his head in and spit onto J___'s head.  All this was caught on camera.  Continuing forward, J___ went to the Melting Pot but unfortunately the fools were in hot pursuit, chasing his cab. 

Now this is when J___made his fatal decision, quickly whipping his taxi around and sailed toward his assailants, lightly striking one of them.  If they had been pointing guns I am sure he would have been forgiven.  Instead he was arrested.  And now he is struggling to pay the bills.  Will he ever drive a taxi again? I hope not.  He is a bright guy and I recommended he start on the road to a college degree.  He can do better than remain in the taxi asylum.  There are plenty of inmates, including myself, to keep shepherding all those drunks home.  Hey J___ my friend! do something else.

And to all those brethren of mine beneath the top light, keep those doors locked!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Yellow Fever?

Tonight Laura commented that my blog entries have been "feverish."  Whether she meant all my postings or just the most recent I forgot to ask.  Maybe she will leave an official comment clarifying her opinion.  Is driving taxi akin to influenza?  That I don't know but I am sure it isn't like real "Yellow Fever," that terrible disease leaving your skin a yellowish tinge or shade.  Given that I am three quarters Hungarian, a group known for its amber skin tone, maybe being "jaundiced" just comes naturally, not needing any nasty mosquitoes to transmit their haemorrhagic ailment.  It might be amusing to be called a human hemorrhage.  I have been called everything else beneath the taxi sun."Hey you! with the bloody mouth, you from Transylvania or something?  No, my ancestors hail from Budapest.

But perhaps Laura is correct, failing to take a deep breath before assigning myself the task of what I have just recently gone through.  Maybe I can take up a collection and buy a decompression chamber, allowing me to avoid the taxi bends.  Though from her point of view that might be a mistake as she keeps saying my body is too rigid and requires more flexibility.  Regardless it might be useful to create some distance but five days away I have found to be little but a small down payment toward a more permanent sanity.  Two months away and I begin feeling somewhat normal.  Whether I act normal is of course quite another matter, taxi the supreme "unbalancing" act.  What I do know is that I will not be conclusive upon the subject tonight because sleep beckons.  I will not argue but instead gladly succumb to sleep's therapeutic quietude.  Ah yes, the gentle hand of a most discreet Deity.

Monday, July 11, 2011

False Full Moon & Saint Silva, I Can't Believe It!?

I may be too tired to write this so if I stop mid-passage this will be continued where I halted, if indeed that happens.  When people ask me what I do with my usual five days away from taxi they don't appear to believe me when I say, sleep!  I only got about 7 hours or so of slumber this morning and it simply wasn't enough.  The next 2 nights I will be averaging 10-12 hours which will balance me out a bit.  What I can say to you, and it is not the least reassuring, is that every taxi driver you meet on whatever domestic or foreign street is to some degrees fatigued, or worse exhausted.  It is the unfortunate nature of the business.  The hours plus the traffic plus the pressure to find money plus sitting too many hours plus eating poorly plus no exercise results in a sorry creature known as your average zombie cabbie.  If the driver looks healthy, look again because it probably is an optical illusion. Taxi driving is a mobile torture center.  Welcome all sado-masochists!

Full moons are bad enough but false versions are the proverbial insult to taxi injury.  At least when that happy moon is beaming down smiling upon all of humankind you can rationalize the chaos in front of you.  But when instead an invisible button has been pushed and all hell is breaking you, and somehow it is instant Bedlam, it is just too much to take.  That unfortunately what was the past week was like.  Hey I can even say that it was just a continuation of the 4th of July and all those related fun and games.  Drivers started racing me.  The computer decided to become haunted.  Cars veered into my path. It is at times like these that I swear I hear hideous laughter but where it is emanating from I couldn't tell you.

The computerized dispatch system Yellow uses started double and even triple belling (issuing the same call or fare).  O'Malley, head of dispatch theorized that drivers were using only one radio channel thus overloading the system causing the poor thing to become overburdened and freak out, forgetting itself.  By the way, he neglected to tell everyone that channels 2 & 5 were now up  again and ready for our pleasure and usage. I began noticing it on Saturday, with the problem worsening into Sunday.  Confirmation of the problem occurred at Northwest Hospital which I was belled into for a DSHS  (Hopelink) or as it is sometimes called, welfare run.  Just previous to that I had been booked off from Zone 105 (the Northgate) for no reason.  I had also just been double-belled.  Anyway, the passenger wasn't there but that didn't stop the computer from dispatching another victimized taxi driver to the same non-existent call.  As I saw him approach, leaving him about 75 feet away, a deranged driver in some huge, old American monster suddenly roared off from a parking lot, nearly slamming into the taxi.  The driver did this for no apparent reason or motivation.

After telling the Yellow driver, someone I 've known by face for years, that he was heading toward a no-show he proceeded to tell me about a recent experience he had on the Queen Anne an hour earlier.  He was given the same defunct call no less than 3 times even though the passenger had cancelled and Fred, the morning dispatch supervisor had officially cancelled the bell.  None of those interventions though stopped the computer, belling away to its evil heart's content.  All this kind of crap is past frustration, taking on the definition of serious lunacy, hence the full moon labelling.  That it happens to everyone is little consolation. All any of this is is just a time waster, pick-pocketing the taxi driver.  If your driver looks crazed, there may be a good reason.

One quick comment on the good taxi lawyer, Doug Silva, who has saved my taxi buttock from erroneous tickets many, many times. I had a hearing last Thursday over a nothing moving violation and for the very first time I did not make an appearance.  Well, that was certainly a mistake because the cop misrepresented what I had said and I was found guilty of of the infraction.  Much more on this tomorrow.  Now I will have to appeal, file an internal investigation report against the officer, etc.  I am even going to file a complaint with the ACLU.  All of this is just a waste of my time but there is no alternative.  Taxi drivers can not have moving violations on their driving records.  Three and you can say good bye. Don't I just love driving a taxi?!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Not Quite Macbeth

While sitting behind Garfield High School in my taxi late July 4th watching a most unusual performance I kept thinking about the famous witches' scene from Shakespeare's Macbeth.  No, there was no bubbling pot or incantations but strange indeed were the goings-on.  It was in the 8th grade in tiny Iron River, Alberta that I was first introduced to Macbeth.  Given my "scholastic status" I was always being chosen for various positions.  Do I know how to act?  No, I have never been well-behaved.

This tale could also be about picking up passengers when you know they are going to present some kind of problem.  Us taxi veterans instinctively (and also cognitively) know who we are letting into our taxi.  We know all about it.  I do attempt to avoid murderers and rapists but that still leaves a large cross-section of trouble makers to contend with.  The two African-American men I stopped for on the SW corner of 5th & S. Jackson fell into the "difficult" category.  Difficult to get paid or difficult to handle their innate anger or disappointment, pretty average stuff like that.  I make every attempt to be EOE in the taxi-sense, EOP or equal opportunity passenger, giving everyone the chance to to ride in my taxi.  After this episode, I might be revising my standards.  I suppose it was potentially dangerous.  It was more silly than anything threatening.

Thin & Hefty got into the cab, Thin obviously higher than a 4th of July rocket and Hefty, wearing a red, nylon jumpsuit, was Mister-in-Control and said keep moving forward, making it extremely difficult to know exactly where I was ultimately heading.  Hefty finally decided on turning left onto Rainier S, and yes, he responded, on to Martin Luther King Way South.  I immediately regretted picking this pair up.  Thin was uttering unintelligible sounds and words, something he would keep up for the 30 minutes I was associated with this distorted crew.  Ut-ut-ut!  Um-um-um! and variations upon similar themes.  I actually kind of liked Mister Thin.  He was just stoned completely out of his noodle, that's all.  Hefty was more stoic, and besides he was on a mission to pick up his "fireworks."  Initially I didn't understand that he was actually referring to real 4th of July fireworks and not using the term as an euphemism for what I could only imagine.  Hefty was in an off and on cell phone conversation with some character called Ray Ray.  It was Ray Ray this and Ray Ray that and "Where are you, Ray Ray!? Hefty pleaded, "I gotta get my fireworks." 

Frankly, all this this was driving me wild.  Here I was with these two absolute lunatics and there were thousands of folks screaming for taxis post-fireworks display.  Finally Ray Ray told Hefty that he and someone else (didn't catch his name) would be waiting for us behind Garfield in what he termed the "dugout." Though Hefty said he had plenty of money I had yet to see any, fearing all of this was going be a fiasco. 

Pulling up to the play field bordering the east side of the school I saw two young guys indeed down there behind the baseball diamond.  The situation was somewhat humorous because Thin & Hefty refused to go down the stairwell and the mysterious pair below refused to come up.  It was clear that both parties feared some kind of violence.  I was confident that my pair of jokers were not armed.  Upon getting a closer look at Ray Ray and his hip-hop dancing, swaying like a cobra companion I thought it quite likely that they were packing. 

I finally got Hefty to give me a twenty, Thin, mumbling incoherently, was trying to snatch the bill from my grasp using a scissor-like motion with his fingers.  That Mister Thin, he was definitely entertaining.  The last I saw of him he was exclaiming loud nonsense into the night air.  Quite the orator, that Mister Thin!

Ray Ray finally came up from the dugout shadowed by the cobra who never it appeared stopped his hypnotic dance.  Hefty leaned against 478, somehow his extension to a better reality.  By this time, given I had the twenty in hand, I was ready to leave.  The meter had now passed 25 dollars and I was ready to make my move out of there.  Thin had left the rear right side door open but I knew the motion of the car taking off would probably shut the door.  Finally Hefty stood up and away, slowly inching toward Ray Ray as the fireworks had been brought out and some kind of deranged negotiations were taking place.  Three more inches and I could roar off without hitting Hefty.  I liked him too!  He was like a large, very pathetic Teddy Bear.  But I had had enough of all this nonsense and off I went into the night wishing all of them the best but Hell! why was any of this madness necessary?  I guess they had their reasons but next time guys, just try to avoid involving the innocent taxi driver.  All I wanted to do was go down to Chinatown and have a bowl of noodle soup at Ocean City, which I can report I did, Wai Chi and the others the best waitresses in the known world!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

More Than Cheap Lions

I was planning to write about perhaps the oddest incident I've experienced in my nearly 24 years of taxi driving but given I am just slightly tired I will leave it to tomorrow morning.  All I can say is that I will need to be at my descriptive best when recounting this late July 4th incident.  Instead I will finish my commentary upon the Lion Club members that are currently gracing the streets of Seattle.

First though some comments upon tipping and what it means to the average taxi driver in Seattle and the USA in general.  Though never expected (at least I don't), tips are usually a reflection of the ride just completed.  It is a kind of instant applause for a fine performance.

 My biggest tip has been $200. and most recently I received a $90.00 tip.  People appear to appreciate what I bring to the ride, namely efficiency. I can also honestly say many don't like my sometimes gruff attitude but my flying down the roadway usually softens the experience.

I can say that generally there are three features to my usual service: 1) I am quicker to the pick-up address; 2) I am faster to the destination; and 3) I am cheaper than my taxi brethren.  My passengers confirm that by an average 30 per cent tip.  In other words, $30. dollars  of every $100. I bring in is by way of gratuity. Tips then truly can make or break a given taxi shift.  I think it was last year that the loonies who took the LA cabbie to Portland, Oregon gave the driver a $20,000 tip on top of the $3000. fare.  Yeah, we could all use that!

Now I find these Lions an interesting group, perhaps because they value a dime but more likely because they are so damn self-righteous.  These international Kings & Queens that paraded down Seattle's downtown avenues are the height of a self-proclaimed importance.  And why?  Well, "Hey everyone!" they shout, "are you not blind to see that we are the cream of our given cultures, and being such good little boys and girls for all of our charity work, we want you, that means YOU to know about our INDIVIDUAL GREATNESS! "

Yes, that more or less is the message conveyed. These Lions truly have an unusual smugness that is oblivious to their cultivated arrogance.   And why don't they tip? They have a simple explanation.  It just is not an IMPORTANT activity to them.  Tipping does not warrant their interest.  Excuse me, they don't say, we are on far more important missions than attending to petty and unnecessary traditions.  These Lions don't roar, they sneer instead!  Such nice people they are not!  And would you please kiss my shoes!  Ah yes, the commonplace plight of the average cabbie!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Taxi Follies: Keys, Single-Plated Cabs & Etc On & On Plus Commission Comments

Where should I begin?  Maybe all of you might enjoy the saga of the keys at Yellow.  What, you say, can be either interesting or entertaining about car keys?  Well, all I can say is that you are completely naive.  The taxi world makes everything, I repeat everything, difficult.  Isn't the taxi motto or credo "why be efficient when instead it is far more fun to be irrational?" Maybe it is just a plot to ensure that all of us keep up our reputation as crazed and deranged taxi drivers.  Why keep it simple when you can be stupid instead?  You wouldn't want to break with tradition!

Yesterday, driving 735, I thought it would be great to pick up a key early so I could miss the rush at 4 PM but being the conscientious type I didn't want to take the last key off the key board in the supts' office.  All the spare keys are kept in the garage and this is where this story begins.  For the mechanics it appears that all those car keys carry some special spiritual value or something that makes them worthy of the most ardent protection.  Ask Randy for an extra key, one of four on the garage key board and it is "Get away from here!" he growls.  "But Randy......."  No! No!  I only give keys to the supt!"  That is true I suppose but not at 4 AM.   I'll tell you about that in a minute.

Walking back to the office I see my old buddy the head supt standing outside having a smoke and bantering with the usual cigarette crew.  I say "G_____, let me bribe you with a cup of coffee and walk with me to get a key for 735 (a distance of about 75 to 100 feet)."  No, he isn't interested in doing that, not wanting to take away from his smoke time.  I don't blame him but for efficiency's sake it would be great to have more than one key.  Amazing, ain't it, all Randy had to do was hand me a key or G_____ take 4 minutes to make the arduous round-trip but as I have said this is taxi and why be rational?

And what about all those drivers picking up keys at the supts' window at 4 AM preparing to work day-shift? Well, if your key isn't on the office key board or in the jumble of keys just dropped off you are just out-of-luck because Taki will not let anyone have a key to the garage.  So there you are ready to work and your car has 5 keys hanging there inside the garage and sure, wait until 8 or 9 AM and you get a key but not until then.  Time and again I have said to anyone interested  (or not) in hearing that this situation makes no sense WHATSOEVER but it never changes.  I personally have had this happen to me.  There are no apologies.  Like so much of what happens at Yellow, you just have to eat it and enjoy yourself.  No wonder all of us have such horrible digestion, ingesting the inedible.

Bell in Zone 400 Going to Tacoma (and I can't bid for it)

Early Saturday morning a message goes out that there is this great call in the greater Shoreline going to Tacoma, a more or less $130-150. fare.  Great but since 478 is only City of Seattle (single licenced as opposed to dual City/County) plated I can't bid on it.  My taxi-for-hire license (the one in my wallet)  is City/County but not my car, giving me no ability to get that fare.  There is some real history to this, which I will find the time to elaborate upon in  the future but believe me it is very frustrating not to be able to work when there are customers waiting.  Again, I have told the City of Seattle and King County that this situation makes no sense WHATSOEVER.  Just like the keys at Yellow no one can tell me why this helps anyone.  And another major problem is that it keeps the average driver "address illiterate," especially in the outlying areas.  So much for bureaucratic efficiency!

As for yesterday's taxi commission meeting, I am freaking out and on the verge of resigning.  This time 3 members failed to show up and little was accomplished other than some basic agreements on how the group will function.  I did express my displeasure, suggesting that this wasn't going to work but I am beginning to be regarded as some kind of crank and "Mr. Blondo, would you please just shut up!?"  All I see is two wasted months and nothing, I repeat nothing to be shown for the hours spent.  Again, I will give more detail tomorrow but silly is as silly does and do I really want to be party to all this?  I feel trapped, nothing less, in a very unworkable situation.  How fun it isn't!

Taxi Dysfunction & Boy! Girl! These Lions are Certainly Cheap!

A quick entry to tide me over until I have some actual time to relate all the wonderful TAXI events I have so recently experienced.  I made a rare weekday, non-holiday appearance last night and was re reminded of what I knew already: unless you have motivation and energy you are not going to make any money on a garden-variety night when, despite the invasion of nearly 20 thousand Lions, not much was happening.  Yes, I suppose if I had been interested I could have flown around the city and scraped up $100. take-home but instead I didn't care, instead making my lease and gasoline and feasting on Chinese.  Weekend $$$$ was good so why push when sleeping is a far better activity.

I will be pointing out some general taxi madness in this and the next few entries.  Simple, stupid stuff that never, ever ends, like the Portland train being announced over the MDT (computer) that it is in and that there were 90 people waiting.  Since I was sitting first up on the Amtrak stand I knew that was simply not true.  The train did show up and unload about 10 minutes later but to those of us who count the taxi minutes this kind of discrepancy is not acceptable.

And how is it possible that fellow drivers sitting on the train had missed the news of the biggest convention in years was in town?  Well, I know why, which is the same reason so many of them never make any money while complaining "where is the $$$?"  They are just not paying attention.  One must be alert.  Or instead you can spend hours sitting on a stand gabbing with your friends while money is sitting just around the corner.

As for all these Lion Club members, don't they realize that charity begins where you are?  Cheap is not even close to how I would describe their attitude toward tipping.  My comments will be forthcoming.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Before The New Weekend Begins

I am about 2 1/2 hours away from beginning the extended 4th of July Weekend and I have yet to say a word about last weekend, so here I go for a few minutes.  My excuse is that I have been in the South Cascades hiking and camping with Laura in southern Oregon and also a wee bit in to northern California.  Lots of deer where we were including a newly born fawn but nothing modern, thank goodness.  Not that long ago I was happily camped just off Miller Creek and now here I am on Capital Hill. Lord taxi almighty!  Anyway, on to the fun and games of last weekend.  I can tell you I at one point last Saturday afternoon I had six airport runs in a row, five coming from various parts of West Seattle.  That for me was a new record.  I believe the weekend total was ten, another record.  Now two quick taxi stories and I will be back in a flurry either on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The first story is courtesy of Laura, who said "put that in!"  Okay Laura, I will, for what is is worth, which isn't much near as I can tell.  Saturday bar break I pick up two guys going to the Noc Noc from Capital Hill.  The disembodied voice from the back said, "I love your wool hat." & "Your vest (also wool) looks so cuddly (or something like that) that I would like to curl up (or was it nuzzle?) inside."  It was more or less something to that effect.  Hey, I am almost old enough to be his grandfather more or less.  He and his friend then expanded upon what could only be called sexual gossip.  Who wants to hear this stuff!? Not me!! Upon dropping them off Mr I-Want-To-Be__________ was the seediest young man, complete with a scruffy Mohawk.  Wow! what an opportunity missed!

On to my last fare of the weekend, early Monday morning and I have to get back to the lot and to sleep and get to the airport and GOD! this is crazy, which brings me to the subject of the metaphysical involving taxi.  Much more on this topic later but what happened was I had to gas up 478 and also give it a bath. I step back into my taxi on Capital Hill and literally across the street a man is waving at me, taking me a block from my favorite AM-PM ($3.67 per gallon) in West Seattle and just down the street from the car wash.  Amazing!  Oh yes, the TAXI GODS can be kind!