Monday, October 31, 2011

You Were Not Born in India, Were You? (or somethng to that effect)

Every taxi driver knows too well that passengers say the craziest (not like Art Linkletter, where kids said the darnest things) nonsense, bringing up topics more fit for an asylum than a taxi, but come to mention it the average taxi is a rolling psychiatric ward, where hopefully the most incoherent customers (inmates) disappear quickly and painlessly away.  This posting then is a brief entry into that lexicon-fueled world known as passenger dialogue.  Most taxi conversation is reasonable, friendly and coherent, but not always as the first example given here amply displays.

The guy from top of Queen Anne going to the Pan Pacific Hotel kept asking whether I was from India?  At first I responded not at all.  Upon persistence I initially told him that it was a big secret, too important to divulge.  Then after further consideration I confessed that no, I was not born in India but in a town named after an American Native tribe or nation, Puyallup.  He fortunately had no further comment but one wonders why the question was asked at at, just to why it held any significance one way or the other where the driver was born.  Clearly I don't look like any native of that distant subcontinent.  His genealogical interest was truly peculiar, motivated by what pathology I truly am not interested in knowing.  It is only too typical when the passenger sees you not at all and cares about you not at all and upon getting out of the taxi remembers you not at all.  Did I just have a human to human interaction?  Obviously, not at all!

I had a family in my taxi yesterday from Saudi Arabia, a father and his three children.  Being the only English speaker, the father began translating our conversation for his children's benefit.  Upon discovering that I was a writer and (very nominally) aware of his region and culture his questions became more probing.  As with the older couple from Kuwait last weekend, I have found that the majority of foreign visitors and temporary residents are always pleasantly surprised, if not shocked to meet a reasonably informed and knowledgeable American as it appears that American cultural illiteracy is now legendary and transferred to all of my fellow citizens.  I dropped the Saudi family off at the Red Roof Inn, Sea-Tac with the father repeating that he would buy my book on Amazon.  I would find that pleasing, as I am always ready to be a reasonable representative and emissary for our confounding country.

Yesterday I picked up at the Vulcan (Paul Allen) Boeing Field Facility.  As with my other contacts with the Vulcan empire I always feel I have been transported back to Iron Curtain Europe (I was in Hungary in 1984) where a secretive and opaque bureaucracy divulges as little as possible, suspicion the generously supplied entree.  I mentioned this Soviet-era atmosphere to the somewhat superior gentleman I was taking to Sea-Tac. He immediately softened and became more human. One point that hasn't been mentioned during these "Occupy Wall Street" times is that many of us are not at all interested in doing what is necessary to become a "one percenter."  I could care less.  I have more important things to do than manipulate money markets and require that others make my bread & butter.  How boring!  Why even driving a taxi is better than that!

Question?  Where was Winston Churchill speaking when he made his famous "Iron Curtain" reference? 
Answer:  A place of very little iron, Kanas!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Quick Report from Olympia L&I Hearing 10/28/11

Yes, I also made it to Olympia though not that I wanted to.  The hearing was scheduled for 10 AM and I get a call at 9:15 AM (because I live in Tacoma) and I am told that I have to go, that I am the only one, that it is being televised, etc. I was not pleased with the last moment request but throwing on a suit I was out of the door and flying to Olympia.  And I was glad that I did.

As opposed to Wednesday, this meeting was near capacity though I was the sole Seattle/King County taxi industry representative.(Guys & gals, we gotta we do better when so much is that stake!)  Regardless I got there in time to sign up to speak, and while waiting my turn, I listened to folks from the logging industry complain about what they felt were unwarranted L&I increases.  The general sentiment I got from them and others that all of this was a State of Washington tax grab, an attempt to fill empty coffers.  Whether that is true or not, many folks were and are quite unhappy with L&I and its proposed increases. One witness, Cindy Martin, former owner of DC Taxi of Olympia told her story of how she was put out of business by L&I despite her cooperation.  She was not happy.

My testimony was similar to Wednesday except I was much calmer and was able to reiterate that the proposed rates for the Washington State taxi industry were not reasonable.  I believe I did a good job presenting a clear and coherent position.  Again, I feel strongly that we are on the positive side of the issue.

I was nearly out of the building when I was intercepted by Bill M, a L&I official who bought me a latte and took me up to his floor to have an impromptu conference with three other L&I  folks.  For about an hour I gave them a quick and thorough history of our local industry, its concerns, trials and various tribulations.  Many questions were asked and I attempted to answer them to the best of my ability.  One final comment was very telling, with a woman saying that she had wished that they had this kind of meeting before all these negotiations and hearings had begun.  One reason for that I believe is that they have already heard from many of the various primary players and were ready to hear another voice. I made every attempt to make a fair and balanced presentation that included all of our concerns, meaning both the lease-driver and owner operator communities.  But in closing, let me again encourage you to contact the various officials on your own, telling them your concerns in your own words.  Always remember, by working together toward the same goal we will jointly arrive united at the desired solution.  Join me in this goal.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Report From Renton L&I Hearing, 10/26/11

The sad part of the hearing was the taxi industry attendance.  Perhaps 20 or so folks showed up, and that was it.  Now I heard that earlier this month there was over 250 taxi folks testifying, an in general show of force. Today was little short of embarrassing.  The witnesses who did speak made a credible effort at expressing industry position but where were the rest of you?  I will keep repeating the obvious until your behavior changes.  Change does not occur instantaneously.  It is not add water and mix.  It is, like any war, composed of many mundane hours slogging in the trenches.  Though given the poor attendance, I sense a positive shifting in our direction.  Those who spoke, spoke in unison, repeating the mantra that $380.00 per month or some similar amount is not viable, hurting the industry and impacting families. We need your participation to get our and your message across to those who need to know them.  We have until November 4th to tell Labor & Industry our opinions and feelings.  Tomorrow I will be be posting various names and emails you should be contacting.  Join me in this struggle and together we will succeed!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Short Saga of a Credit/Debit Imprinting Machine

She who refuses to be named said that my last few postings were repetitive.  Though I don't agree I thought that I would tell you a story about a credit card machine.  I challenge her (or anyone else) to find even one personal story regarding the lowly, plastic imprinter that we Seattle cabbies use.  Why this little piece might be unique in the entire annuals of non-fiction literature!  The truth is is that she has just heard too much about taxi. Twenty-two years of hearing the same old, same old!  The poor woman!  God I know the feeling!  Where is that winning lottery ticket?  Or my first best-seller!

Arriving at the taxi lot in the darkened morning I was not particularly happy, calling me less than pleased knowing that my card imprinter was missing. Before I left home I had discovered that it wasn't in the briefcase where I keep my Thomas Guide (map book) and other assorted important tools of the trade.  This little devise is essential as it is one of two necessary steps to process the many credit and debit cards we are offered as payment.  One is the swiping action on the computer which records the card's numbers and provides the authorization code.  The other is the imprinting of the card on an actual paper credit card slip.  After a shift is completed, the exhausted cabbie trudges to the cashier window to do his/her turn (pay the taxi lease), credit card slips and other charges in hand.  Without an imprinted slip the charge will not be finalized and paid. So the cabbie with an imprinter is like a runner minus shoes.  It is going to slow you down.  This then is a story of taxi synchronicity or how the taxi gods occasionally smile upon the dumbbell driver, me!

I had called the night driver, my taxi buddy Ali, and asked if I had been up to my old tricks and had left it in the taxi. No, he said, it wasn't there.  Searching my truck further I still couldn't find it, not surprising given the back was filled with assorted debris from a life disorganized and stupid. Luckily though, now sitting in 478, I found what I believed to be Ali's credit card machine tucked to the right of the driver's side seat.  I was surprised because I knew that he would need it on Sunday when he usually does an extra shift.  Just glad to have it, figuring we could deal with it later. I was just ecstatic that a major problem had been avoided.  Of course the easy solution would have been to buy one but no, they are only available on the weekdays.  It is against all taxi laws to need one on a Saturday or a Sunday when the "taxi store" is closed.

Having not received a call from Ali I optimistically interpreted that Ali had possibly decided to not drive on Sunday.  Definitely wishful thinking. Saturday was so incredibly busy  I conveniently forgot to call him myself.  So busy in fact I didn't even make it to Ocean City for my usual life-saving bowl of noodle soup. After 52 fares I had had enough but wait, feeling beyond death I parked in the University District. knowing I required a nap and immediately fell asleep.  Who knows how long I would have slept beside "The Wide World of Wine" but for Ali calling and asking if I had his credit card machine.  Now refreshed I zoomed over to the Queen Anne and thanked Ali for his inadvertent loan.  Leaving Ali I was immediately flagged for my 53rd fare of the day and took yet another gay couple home to the same intersection of 27th & East Pine.  That was unusual in itself, all occurring within an hour's span.  Strange to have three separate parties heading to the exact same mundane intersection and street, especially at 2:30 in the bloody morning!  Taxi is bizzare, driving round & round in that Yellow car!

Later that Sunday, in the early afternoon, I returned to the lot determined to find my machine.  Daylight plus a renewed concentration rewarded me.  Relieved I thanked the Gods! and went on to my best weekend so far in October.  I have never said that I don't believe in deities.  I am just selective to whom I give my allegiance, that's all!

Other news:

I now have an email address for official taxi commission business:

Use it when you want me to address something before the taxi commission.

and How_____? can you get Category:

The bozo (taxi clown) who kidnapped the DSHS passenger to Vancouver actually ranted and raved about not getting paid for his illegal side trip.  It appears to confirm my suspicions that he was actually being opportunistic when he assented to go in the wrong direction.  That he is still driving at Yellow is extremely questionable.  Did anyone point out that somebody had to take the passenger back to the correct destination?  And the cost to the state of Washington?   Double Wow!!!!

Tomorrow, all of us concerned taxi folks are converging upon Renton, Washington for the third of five statewide L&I hearings that the Labor & Industries Dept. are holding.  I will be there, in a suit. Scary! 

I will provide you an update later tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Just A Slight Deviation Southward & A Genteman's Card Is Declined

This weekend, primarily on Saturday, I kept going east across Lake Washington more times than I call recall in recent memory.  It was like a magnet pulling 478 eastward.  The first journey was a failed tryst at the Husky vs Colorado Golden Buffaloes football game, the almost fair damsel  met upon an airplane deciding she had had enough of the pending affair and off to Bellevue the gallant knight and lady in waiting went, he valiantly dropping her off at the Hyatt, she of the most discreet nature avoiding the scorn of her workmates who thought she was ill and confined to a sickroom.  "Failure!" the disappointed lover groaned as he slumped, sinking deeper into the rear seat, instantly a painful lump of discarded flesh. Saying he wanted to reach downtown Seattle as quickly as possible I headed directly to I-405 where he then started yelling that I was heading in the wrong direction.  Understanding that he was traumatized I reassured that my routing made complete sense, which it did, and upon reaching Seattle he gave me a $15.00 tip on top of the $55.00 fare, totalling a well-deserved $70.00, guilty that he falsely charged his momentary chauffeur with the worse of taxi crimes.  Yes, we serving the top light see it all , whether we want to or not.  Ah yes, love is such a fleeting emotion!

My allusion to deviating south is to something that happened Saturday, a Yellow driver taking a passenger nearly 100 miles in the wrong direction.  Something like this happens because the driver (and so many other) are ill-prepared for the ________that is taxi.  This is also what happens when you treat taxi like you would washing dishes in your local greasy spoon.  When professionalism is not a consideration then amateurism reigns.  It is unavoidable.

The situation was as commonplace as it is something all of us do nearly everyday.   Pick up a pre-arranged contract customer and take them to an already verified address. This happens all of the time.  The address is always clearly written upon the computer screen.  If there is any confusion, say the customer says that is not the correct address, the protocol is clearly spelled out, and all of us know what to do.  You first contact dispatch and then the dispatch supervisor will, in this case DSHS/HopeLink, contact the appropriate agency or person and a determination will be made. It is that simple and straight-forward.  In the case of transporting discharged patients, in this particular instance, someone suffering from a possible inoperable brain tumor, you do not deviate from expected procedure.  The driver in this particular example used very poor judgement.  Perhaps it could be said he exhibited no judgement of any kind.  He is extremely lucky that the patient did not have a fatal outcome.

The story is as follows. The stalwart Yellow driver was dispatched to Harborview Hospital this past Saturday to take a DSHS (Department of Social & Health Services) to Grays Harbor, Washington, which is located on the west coast of the state.  Like I said, the driver clearly saw the address and knew where to take the passenger. Think of DSHS as the airline and the driver the pilot following a flight plan.  It is a very well understood format.  The client, probably due to his medical state, told the driver that he instead wanted to go to Vancouver, Washington, which, instead of being directly west of Seattle, is directly 175  miles south.  That the driver went along with this request is beyond comprehension.  Everyone knows that the DSHS passenger can not on his/her own change the destination.  Another thing that is clear is that you receive the flat rate that is shown on your fare information.  Even if the DSHS passenger requests that you go to Chicago, you will still only be paid the given amount that has been pre-negotiated.  So what this particular driver was thinking no one truly knows. Maybe the incoherency was catching, a new type of virus.  We might all believe this because not only was the passenger taken to Vancouver, he was dropped off on a downtown corner, where he proceeded to wander aimlessly for hours until discovered by the local police. Like I said, there was no judgement used.  It is difficult how anyone could be this _______!   I don't believe any true harm occurred to the client.  Again, lucky for the driver who would have surely faced charges.  What is the sentence for being an ______?  Now someone might say that the driver should have been told the patients condition but my guess is that privacy concerns would preempt that.  Again, I will always say that you the driver must be able to read your passenger properly.  If you can't you truly are not a taxi driver and should be doing something that does not require this high level of responsibility.

My sixth fare of the just past weekend was a gentleman who kept repeating that he didn't want to offend me because to he was a homosexual.  In reality I didn't care if he was a polar bear or wombat, all that is required is to pay at the fare's conclusion, little else.  His continued self-descriptions were met with complete disinterest.  This sorry situation ended in his fare of $13.00 being declined, the debit card having at that moment insufficient funds of cover the cost.  He was already out of the cab but I was able to catch up with him, parking on the corner awaiting his arrival.  Instead he decided to run away.  My payment, since the monetary one was voided, was knowing that the pathetic fool was scared out-of-his wits, thinking I was planning on pounding him into the pavement.  Maybe he has had previous experience.  He was cracked, just one of too many.  Just think, you too could have the pleasure of having him, or others similar, just within reach of your fingers.  Now don't tell me you wouldn't be tempted to strangle the fool.  But now, now, we certainly don't want to harm all of our very vulnerable and deranged customers. One must have empathy, don't you know!  And that my friends, is taxi as it truly is.  So much fun I am ready to run away making this last weekend my final day.  If only!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Labor & Industry Insurance Update

For the uninitiated, or for those new to taxi-land, the biggest issue these days is just how much the large taxi associations and single-owner/operators will be paying to provide L&I coverage for all of us contractual (lease) drivers.  Becuase of something called Title 51, govenment interperts the service provided by the lease-drivers to be on the behalf of the associations and single-owners instead of the people who are actually paying us, that being of course the taxi passenger sitting in the back seat carping about something or the other.  Earlier this year something called ESHB 1367 was passed in the Washington State Legistature which allowed for this to happen, this after years of not always friendly discussion between the folks at L&I and the various state-wide taxi associations and taxi owners.  By agreeing to what the associations and single-owners thought was a benevolent and affable compromise, they suddenly found themselves immersed in an  instant nightmare, with L&I first proposing an amount of nearly $800. per car per month, surprising  an industry who thought they had a "gentleman's aggreement" of no more than $150. per month.  Currently, the discussed amount is now down to about $380. per month, still a figure that is much higher than most find acceptable. What these monies represent is the potential pool of dollars that will cover all future potential claims.  Currently it is a guessing game on what would be the most appropiate amount.  Unfortunately, war clouds are now darkening the once placid taxi horizons, with grumbling about law suits and other legal actions marring the atmosphere. It was with this background that I contacted L&I with the hope of lending some assistance and fending off any and all protracted legal proceedings.  This afternoon at about 4:00 PM I had a teleconference with three L & I officials.  And here is a quick synopsis to that nealy fifty minute conversation. 

Les, Bill and Al were all very attentive and respectful, asking many questions simply about how the taxi industry works.  I gave as much detail I could about leases and money earned, information that is common currency amongst the drivers but new to those peering in from the outside.  Their concern appears to be having a large enough pool of money to cover expected claims. I told them that I would expect that overall claims would be small simply because, more than ever, the drivers are being safer because current insurance requirements have translated into even the most veteran of drivers being tossed out of the business.  If you have an "at-fault" accident these days, expect you to be barred from driving at the major associations.  They were surprised to hear that most injuries come, at least from my experience, from our sometimes not-so-wonderful passengers.  It is the rare driver that hasn't been slugged at least once.  Stabbing occur far more than they should.  And most of the accidents are minor, causing more damage to metal than to fragile human flesh.  I encouraged them to consider the smaller amount initially agreed upon, given that if excessive claims did occur, then of course adjustments could then be made.

I also laid the blame for the many auto accidents the local industry have experienced squarely upon the Seattle & King County Licensing  folks who continue to issue "taxi for hires" to people not at at prepared to be doing the job.  I used my favorite anology in explaining the driver situation to my usual complaining passsengers: When lying on the operating table, you have confidence that the surgeon  knows the antonomy of the body.  Your taxi driver should have a similar knowledge of the antonomy of the city of Seattle.  Unfortunately, most times they don't.

What ultimately was acheived by the teleconference I can not say for sure.  I hope they feel more informed about the overall situation, that some of what had been discussed will help in their decision making.  That is the best I can wish for.  I will continue to remain involved, however marginally that might be.  Hopefully the outcome will be something agreeable to everyone, minus any and all legal shouting.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I'd Rather Be In Southeastern Utah

Last week it was a knife, this weekend it was some young fool hijacking an intersection.  Coming back from the amazing terrain and geology that is the more-or less corner of SE Utah to silly, drunken Capitol Hill is not something I want to continue doing.  My first fare is a couple stepping into the taxi at the corner of 10th & East Pike while patiently waiting for all the pedestrians to pass.  Once the door is shut, a young drunken (call him anything you wish) decides to stop directly in front of my car (and the line of cars behind me) declaring that he is not moving and we will all have to back up.  It appeared that his actions were in tandem with his tag team partner, another kid who threw himself against 478 while broadly smiling, evidently mimicking a pedestrian/car collision.  After refusing to leave I did something I haven't done in decades.  I pushed him out of the way.  His response was to swing wildly at me while yelling don't put your hands on me.  Some more sensible representatives of the human species finally pulled him to the side. Even then he attempted to regain his position in the street but again was pulled away.  Its this kind of madness and total early full moon nonsense that makes taxi driving less than reasonable. The silence of the wind-swept canyons and carved red sandstone is far more interesting.  Dealing with self-absorbed idiots who think taxis are their personal foil is something that shouldn't be part of the job description.  Unfortunately taxis (and their drivers) are considered public entities that can be accessed at a moments notice without any potential and meaningful consequence. As I wrote recently concerning the mass grave of Iraqi taxi drivers, this is our shared reality: everyone has a cultural permission to do anything they wish to all of us ciphers beneath the top light.  Why respect dalits?  Let them instead eternally swim societal sewers, fouled fishes in a polluted, inferior sea.  Think this is an exaggeration?  Get your "for hire" and talk to me in a month.  You will then understand.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Greetings From Price, Utah: A Knife is Pulled & I Like "Old Time" Cabbies

I am writing from Price, Utah, a small coal mining community about two hours southeast of Salt Lake City, now home to my friend Terry.  Earlier we visited the Mormon hot spots in Salt Lake City.  Young Mormon women kept approaching us, seeking verbal engagement upon their favorite metaphysical subject.  I was not encouraging, the Mormon Temple a comic book representation of life and religion.  Tomorrow we go to the famous desert national parks located near Moab to seek our own version of earthly clarity.

Yesterday I had a knife "presented" to me yesterday by a drug-crazed individual who was attempting for no real purpose to intimidate the taxi driver.  He had three companions with him and given that it was a sunny afternoon and perhaps a mile-long ride, clearly I understood I was in no real danger.  He was in the front seat.  No, I did not appreciate him locking the blade.  Lucky for him the conditions were obviously benign or my response would have been entirely of another nature.  These four individuals were remarkably rough and disjointed, barely clinging to affable society.  My only response was to have their telephone number placed on what is termed the "no service list."  Though mostly a symbolic gesture, I can only hope it sends the intended message.  That kind of nonsense can and will get, from a driver legally carrying a gun, a potentially fatal response.  My advise to all petty hoods and malcontents:  behave yourself or simply expect trouble.  That can be the only expectation.

Early Saturday morning I picked up two guys at the Penske  Truck Center, First South & South Spokane heading for the train station.  Currently they are transporting trucks from Los Angeles to Seattle for the wage of 23 cents per mile.  They immediately identified themselves as past and current (one drives part-time in Phoenix) taxi drivers.  The guy originally from Chicago showed the scar on his lip, placed there by a well-dressed passenger attempting to rob him.  Somehow he got hold of the guy's tie and literally pulled him along for three blocks to a police station, his out-stretched hand holding fast as he made the criminal trot along his taxi.  Ah yes, nothing like the joys of taxi driving, knives and split lips!