Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We Now Know The L&I Request: A Surprising Call

At about 4:00  more or less this afternoon I got an unexpected telephone call.  It was from Judy Schurke, the Director of Washington State Labor & Industry.  This was my first verbal contact with her.  I had emailed her a number of times, and that, along with the various L&I contacts I have made in the past four weeks appears to have prompted her to call.  In my letters to her I attempted to communicate the realities of the taxi business from someone who knows.  My request was reasonably simple, emphazing the need for a fair and just decision. It seems to have been an effective approach.  She said that a decision had been made concerning the L&I request and she wanted me to be one of first of the many interested individuals to know.  As some of you might already know, the rumor was that L&I was holding firm to the much discussed amount of $1.11 per hour which translated into a request of $380.00 per month.  I was greatly relieved when she said that the amount was downgraded to 55 cents per hour, just less than half of what was expected.  She did acknowledge that some folks would still have problems with that but stated that this was the beginning of the process, not the end, and that L&I would be monitoring the overall effect of their decision.  She also invited continued input and I believe that I and perhaps other representatives of the local indsutry could be meeting with her as soon as next week.  I hope that is true.  The official announcement is scheduled for tomorrow.  I will keep you updated as new devleopments occur.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New Taxi Stands & Yesterday Continued Today

Before I continue from yesterday you may want to know that the City of Seattle has announced the creation of some new late night zones (taxi stands), including one in the Pike Place Market, east side of 1st between Pike & Pine.  It must be adjacent to the strip club so expect the choicest of customers!  Regardless, it is great to again have some kind of stand in the area.  I have been bugging the City of Seattle to put one in ever since they took the previous one out.  ONLY in Seattle do they take out a stand serving possibly the most popular tourist destination in the entire state, ensuring that for the past ten years the tens of thousands of pickups at that corner were all done illegally!  Doesn't that warrant a good Ha! Ha! Ha!

Back to yesterday, returning all the way to Thanksgiving when I picked up in the Queen Anne a man requiring a ride to Kirkland to, one, pick up his girlfriend and her friend, and two, find a club to dance away a Holiday evening.  He was complaining about going but since a recent argument remained unresolved he felt that appeasement was the best strategy going forward, and in this case, Kirkland and the Bridal Trails neighborhood up and over Lake Washington.  This ride was all about waiting, waiting for the young women to leave the Thanksgivings feast; waiting for the friend to get to change into her dancing shoes in Bellevue; then further waiting for the girlfriend on Mercer Island as she too needed a change of costume.  Clearly the young Russian woman was taking advantage of her wealthy Indian (sub-continent) boyfriend, causing him to finance her friend's final night in Seattle.  Eventually we made it back into Seattle proper and Capitol Hill.  It was painful to witness, prompting me to admonish the girlfriend after some ill-advised remarks to the taxi driver.  All turned out well as I got $115.00 including tip and a big smile and peace sign from the misbehaving Russian. 

And I would be amiss not to officially thank Novin who once again sponsored his now annual Yellow Cab Thanksgiving feast though he might skip holding it again at a Mexican restaurant.  I truly prefer the Iranian (Persian) chow that has been served up in the past.  Pity the lamb!

And what happened on Sunday?  Why, the Seahawks lost!  What else can be said about a mythical species of bird!  For raptors their beaks are softer than their bite.

PS----Location of New Stands

Capitol Hill---South side of E. Pike between 10th & Broadway

Fremont---North side of N. 36th between Francis N. & Dayton N.

Belltown---East side 1st between Blanchard & Bell

DT/PP Mkt---East side 1st between Pike & Pine

Pioneer Square---West side of Occidental between S. Washington & Yesler

Stands are taxi operational from 10 PM-6 AM

Monday, November 28, 2011

What Did I Write Down & Where?

There's nothing like taxi driving to create a blank slate, meaning the average human mind after too many hours beneath the top light.  Yesterday I found this wonderful quote and immediately wrote it down thinking it would make a great title for today's blog.  Now sitting here ready to write I can not remember anything except I wrote something down.  Where it came from, be it a radio conversation or written article I couldn't tell you.  And this is someone, me, with the legendary memory.  Ah yes, the well-known taxi lobotomy eliminating all remaining grey cells.  Do I remember anything concerning the just past weekend?  Maybe.

Taxi is a series of interconnected moments.  Here are a few of them from this just past Thanksgiving &  Saturday & Sunday.

----Why do I still  have to remind myself not to pick up young, Caucasian men after a football game?  Every time I break my golden rules I get burned.  How many times do I require a lesson before it is fundamentally learned?  Obviously too many for this weak-brained individual.

After the interstate rivalry game, the Apple Cup, there were more available passengers than taxis.  Given that it was held at the Seahawk Stadium, the overflow branched out into Chinatown and adjacent areas of the greater southern end of downtown.  Though there were bells waiting in the "Medical" (zone 230), I  passed through and instead picked up three young men at corner the of 6th S. & S. Jackson.  Two guys entered and the eventual troublemaker called to his approaching buddy, "Hey Fatty, hurry up!"

I backed up and turned around, telling them that this was the shortest route to the freeway, given all the traffic on 4th Avenue.  One thing you quickly notice about a__holes: they never listen to anything you say.  Why?  Because you the driver are not really there, not in any real terms.  You are part of the car, part of a machine constructed with inanimate parts, not a real and actual human being.  This explains what happened over a span of perhaps seven blocks. 

They were heading to the Duchess Tavern, a well-known UW Husky hangout, a place I avoid given the usual drunken patrons minus any expected civility.  University of Washington appears in part to create a particular kind of monster: privileged and unkind, minus a heart, minus a mind!  It appears three of these creatures had just entered my taxi.  Like I just said, I do know better!

As we were approaching the intersection of 9th & James, the left turn arrow turned red and I continued forward because a left turn on Cherry will also take you to the north-bound ramp for the freeway.  The gentleman of the "Fatty" comment began questioning my decision and I responded less than favorably.  As we turned onto Cherry I said now that they could be helpful by deciding whether they would like to approach the Duchess by either NE 50th or the Montlake Blvd.  As I know all of the routes, I sometimes ask if one is preferred over the other.  These wonderful human beings then decided that  what I was really saying was that I didn't know the name or the existence of the Interstate system .  That is when I had to tell  them that it was time to find someone who did.  As they exited the taxi the usual insults inferring that I was a typical failed member of the species who could only drive taxi and that type of thing were hurled.  This by the way is predictable.  Again, the taxi dalit (untouchable) syndrome. 

And upon their exit I accepted a Medical bell and found myself taking a DSHS flat rate customer to Federal Way to the tune of $71.00 which just turned out to be my best fare of the weekend. Often it occurs that when once again I am bopped by ignorance the Good Taxi Gods in their benign wisdom assuage the wound. Call it a kind of instant reciprocity.  That it happens so often is no longer a surprise.  Such are the mysterious metaphysics of taxi! 

To be continued tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Governor Contact Info & Commission Report

As I have said, it is imperative that all you Seattle & King County taxi drivers contact Governor Christine Gregoire and tell her you are not interested in Labor & Industry saving you by killing you, all those good & kind bureaucratic parents unintentionally suffocating the taxi baby, because they hear the infant wailing! and our diapers must need changing.  No, I don't think so!  Bitter is the moment and worse is the outcome if we don't intervene.

I could not find the governor's listed email address so I suggest you do what I did, google Governor State of Washington, connecting with her website and emailing her from there.  It works!

To leave a message call 360-902-4111

Mailing address is POB 40002, Olympia, WA 98504-0002

but since L&I will be signing on November 30th whatever they come up with I suggest you either call or email or both!  The quicker the better!

Commission Natives Are Restless

Is the Seattle & King County Taxi Advisory a complete joke and failure?  Well, yes and no.  At our six month juncture some are recognizing that we have to get serious because we are a mere six months away from filing our first annual report and clearly we have accomplished nothing at all.  Today we discussed an arcane point for almost two hours.  Part of the problem is that the commission was intentionally structured to have non-taxi members providing input on a subject they know nothing about.  I have already commented upon this in past postings so I will not be repetitive.  The blame for the situation falls squarely upon the folks who engineered a predictable failure, and further compounding the error by choosing less-than-qualified members. One taxi member has failed to show up for any of the meetings. And no replacement is on the horizon.   Maybe we can get Texas Governor Rick Perry to come by and lead us in a prayer circle seeking divine intervention.  Or am I just being cynical?! 

And a Quick Clarification

Pertaining  to a reference yesterday about dalits rising from sewers relates to the real life situation of folks caught in the web of India's caste system.  There is an actual branch of dalits, or more commonly known as untouchables, whose sole purpose from birth to death is to swim in the sewers of the major cities and keep the sewage system unclogged and flowing.  And can you believe other higher caste members attempt to stop them from bathing afterwards?  Makes taxi a pretty picture but there are at times unfortunate parallels.  But truly, most of my passengers are wonderful.  Though we all know about the few bad apples spoiling the taxi barrel.  Such is life in the erzatz city.

Monday, November 21, 2011

New Routes & I Should Emulate Chekhov?

One thing you discover quickly driving taxi is that your passengers (or let's say an unfortunate minority) feel the freedom to say anything they choose, providing you with all kinds of unwanted advice and opinion.  One might say that their motivation is totally benign, feeling that since they know more than you they are assisting in your higher education.  It is their version of charity to the unwashed.  Maybe it is somehow tax deductible. How shocked they become when their unsolicited advise and kindness is rejected, confirming their worse suspicions.  How unappreciative!  And I must admit that I for one fall into the that snotty category. Many years ago an eighth grade teacher wrote on my report card that "Joe thinks he is smart.  He isn't.  He's lazy." Just shows that I have never learned that vital lesson, a rotten non-egghead to the bitter taxi end.

How simple is simple when it is too simple?  The guy on the 300 block of Bellevue East, after making me wait 7 minutes marooned on the busy street, gets in with the greeting of how I am going to get him to the chain Italian restaurant at the corner of 9th North and Broad.  I know instantaneously he is the "overseer type" and feels it is beneficial instructing me with the sweet lash of his whip. My usual response is to say that he (and anyone else sharing his attitude) is attempting to invent new streets and routes, the rationale being that Denny Way has been there nearly forever and really, do you truly imagine I don't know the 3/4 of a mile to your destination?  I am assuming that he was the manager and like a Blue Heeler, can not stop his instinctive herding.  Not appreciating my response, he asked to get out, saying he was going to call and complain on the taxi hot-line number.  I asked him if there was a number where I could place a complaint concerning him. He didn't like that either, not expecting the dalit (untouchable) to rise out of the sewer. I would have been glad to take the five dollar fare and be done with it.  But no, blood had to be spilled, the driver had to be insulted, assuming this must be his daily credo, bullying the unworthy who must be made whole.  One must understand that if everyone to you is a dog to be kicked you are occasionally going to be bitten.  Everyone knows that, don't they?  Or if they don't, torn trousers will be the standard dress of the day.  Didn't he see my snarling teeth?

West Seattle to Top Hat

These two guys were smart and one decided that I needed instruction.  I don't believe I mentioned that I write but this one particular gentleman started going on about Chekhov and that I should read one of his short stories, wait six months and see if I can recreate his style.  I said why would I want to do that?  I told him that if he was in my writing class he would be tossed out on his ear.  It reminded me that after reading a bunch of Charles Bukowski I wrote a poem about winning at the race track, getting roaring drunk then pummelling a whore all night long in a skid row hotel.  My wife was shocked but hey I said, you know this is fiction.  So much for misplaced emulation!  And so much for taxi advise.  I think I already know the roadway and the direction taken.  And if I don't, I know there will always be a benevolent sage ready and eager to instruct me.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Call the Governor

Rumor has it, or is it factual, that two separate proposals originating from L&I have been sent to the governor for her inspection.  Now there is much suspicion concerning what they are or not.  Who knows?  At times it appeared that commonsense would prevail but perhaps not.  So now, meaning the next 3-4 days is the time to contact the governor and tell her that low is what we want and low is all we will accept.  Email, folks, email and also leave telephone messages. Don't just complain and act helpless. Get with it before you are again stepped on!  This might be another fight similar to our battle with King County.  Are you ready to do battle?  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Some Questions Concerning Light-rail & For-hire Cars as Taxis?

Some folks are under the illusion (or maybe delusion) that Seattle is a cosmopolitan and sophisticated city, both smart and efficient, a miniature Paris or London.  Those of us who have long observed the place know quite differently.  Add one confused Atlanta, Georgia businessman to that number of potential skeptics.  I found the guy at one-thirty Saturday morning standing outside the Beacon Hill Light-rail station chilled to his toes and mad as hell because a downtown train taking him to the airport had instead gone out of service half a mile out of the station.  I told him welcome to Seattle as I took him back to the Sea-Tac Doubletree.  He was so shook up that he even left his telephone in the back seat and I had to return it to him.  He just couldn't understand what had happened and why.  "And I had no idea where I was," he lamented.  As I told him, he wasn't the first victim of the light-rail system that I have encountered and nor will he be the last. 

Earlier this year I found a completely bewildered passenger with a bunch of luggage standing at the intersection MLK & Rainier Ave. South.  having been tossed off an in-bound train from Sea-Tac.  It was 12:30 on an early Monday morning and rain was falling.  He too couldn't believe what had just occurred.

Anyway, returning to Mr. Atlanta, he was freaked out.  I don't blame him for that. The experience was too much for him to bear. I suggested that next time he wear a hat.  I also told him to file a complaint.  Let's hope he did.  If Seattle/KC doesn't get its act  together  some isolated soul is going to be found murdered in Rainier Valley, all because of a simple expectation that a train ride begun will be a ride completed..  Ha Ha! that's certainly humorous, don't you agree?

Walking down Broadway East this morning I met an ex-Yellow driver now in his very own "for hire" vehicle. He showed me his very extensive flat-rate list covering every inch of Seattle and King County.  It was impressive.  He also said that he and his "for-hire" brothers are going to try to make it legal for them to pick up passengers just like the taxis.  He obviously was sitting on Broadway waiting for the random walk-up.  Even without any future legal permission he and everyone else knows that enforcement of the laws governing his actions are non-existent.  Craig Leisy and Seattle/KC have released a monster upon the local streets.  Will it ever be recaptured and and locked back into Pandora's Box?   Personally, I think it is highly doubtful.  The "for-hires" are here to stay.  Again, what is there to impede them?  We all know the answer.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Labor & Industry Official Ride-Along

It looks like I (and we, the local industry) made State of Washington history by having a L&I official, William Moomau, ride as an observer in my taxi for approximately three hours this past Sunday.  In an earlier email I had invited any and all L&I officials to come and take a glance at taxi as you and I know it. Mr. Moomau, an over 30 year veteran of the L&I wars proved to be a good student, asking many questions pertaining to our daily concerns. I made every attempt to communicate our reality versus any perceived scenarios.  He suggested that the amount L&I might be requesting of the local industry is falling closer to initial expectations.  Let us hope so.  As I have been saying, it is not reasonable to compare or suggest that out market matches a city like New York.  It also appears to have been helpful to have new voices added to the chorus.  L&I is truly interested in assisting and protecting the lease-driver/independent contractor community while simultaneously making a correct and fair assessment of what the overall taxi industry can afford.  I appreciate the effort being made.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

L&I Update 11/08/11

In a telephone conversation this morning with a L&I official, he sought clarification about lease-driver sentiment concerning Craig Leisy's (Seattle Consumer Affairs) proposed taximeter and lease-driver rate increase.  I told him that it was an unequal parallel, expecting Seattle lease-drivers to pay as much as $100.00 per shift, equal to what drivers in NYC are paying.  To think or imagine that Seattle's taxi market and consumer base matches that of one of the world's greatest cities is pure fantasy.  I emphasized that point.  I also pointed out that the current meter rate is nearly the highest in the country.  Raising it will only impact our ability to make a living.

He reported that it appears that our opposition has had an impact.  He believes that the current estimation of $1.11 per mile will be at least halved.  Let us hope so.  Potentially a decision will be made this upcoming Thursday, with that decision being signed officially for enactment at the end of this month.  My last suggestion is to contact Mr. Leisy directly and tell him how you feel.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Real Reason I Am Driving Taxi (or at least one of primary justifications) & How Taxi Drivers REALLY Feel About Working Beneath the Top-light

I saw him being passed up by a Northend Taxi at the intersection of NE 125th & 15th NE at about 1:30 in the morning just this past Saturday.   I pulled just past of the intersection and stopped, adjacent to the 7-11 store, waiting for him to cross the street.  "Are you stopping for me," he asked?  And, "Of course I am," I said, "where are you going?"  He seemed uncertain then said to take him up to NE 145th & 15th NE.  On this rainy and chilly evening he had on a heavy cotton shirt but no jacket nor hat. A bit shabby perhaps but not unlike myself, as I am more bum than bank executive.  He mentioned about the other taxi but I reassured him that it appeared to me that he was on his way to a call.  He then mentioned that he was treated poorly in the 7-11, having just gone there to get something to eat. He was browbeaten and downcast. He then said take me to the QFC, the grocery store located at the previously mentioned corner. I responded give me Five and be done with it.

A minute into the ride he asked if I knew where the tent city was, that being where he currently lives.  He muttered 'tent city, tent city" a couple of times.  As we neared the QFC he said it was hard to stay warm in a tent.  Exiting the taxi he repeated more than once how much he appreciated that I had picked him up, that other taxi drivers had kept driving by.  I responded it was nothing, and besides, that was what I am doing in the taxi, there to provide rides to those who required them.   I told him that he looked okay, that I was experienced and that there was absolutely no reason for anyone to not pick him up.  I watched as he steadied himself and began walking toward a destination he had no desire whatsoever to reach.

Sure, I drive taxi to make money and support myself while I continue to strive toward complete writing independence.  But meeting this fellow explains to myself why I am still doing this,  perhaps being the major (and solitary) reason: I am here to interact with the downtrodden, the disenfranchised.  Oddly the money, and I did make a small fortune this weekend is secondary to that kind of quick and momentary relationship.  His emotional state reminds me of the true state of the species and the world.  Privilege, even my own hard-earned ease holds a value that deserves daily examination, of how we justify our culture's goals and manifestations while the majority (this fellow & the developing world) peer in from the outside at the unattainable.  Empathy is what is called for, not the celebration of someone who cultivates chain hamburgers and eat-to-you-explode pizza as successful life and business formulas.  Clearly I despise this reality I reside and dwell, at least pleased that I can at step on 478's accelerator and temporary fly up and past the next desolate and despondent corner.

What Drivers Truly Believe

Waiting at the cashier's window today a fellow directly in front of me, a Bulgarian immigrant, was holding his young son, perhaps age 3 or 4, truly a cute tyke.  I hesitated then said, wondering what the reaction might be, that the child was  possibly a future taxi driver.  Immediately two drivers reacted strongly, saying let him be a doctor or lawayer, anything but a taxi driver, one gentleman saying that there had to be a reason to justify all the pain we experience.  That, in a taxi nutshell, is the true unadulterated opinion of perhaps all of us taxi warriors.  Wednesday night, as I was passing taxi 366 to Thomas, a long-time taxi veteran, he proudly told me that his 25 year old son had just passed the State of New York bar.  My friend John has a son, Sebastien, who is a junior at MIT.  The simple unblemished reality is that taxi is hell, plain and simple.  If I wasn't writing, I too would be gone tomorrow, the gutter an improvement upon unbridled insult.  Oh yes, you say, Mr. Blondo is so melodramatic!  Yes, that must be the explanation.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reminded Again Why I Don't Drive During the Week Plus Commisson & TAG Reports

It has been months since I have driven an extra shift other than a holiday.  Given that I had to be in town (I now dwell in Tacoma) Tuesday for the taxi advisory commission meeting and Wednesday for Craig Leisy's favorite forum, his Taxi Advisory Group (TAG) meeting, I thought why not drive a Wednesday night shift.  Amazing how I always discover just why it was a poor idea. Last night did hold the opportunity of the Sounder's playoff game, which guaranteed something if there was nothing else to be had. And without going into much of the boring details it was okay but really I wasn't much interested.  The "adjacent area (zone) automatic belling feature" on the MDT (computer) was totally maddening, offering you fares where you weren't, preventing you from picking up from where you were sitting.  Like the song moans, "when will they ever learn?"  At this rate I wouldn't place any bets with Lloyd's of London!  I did have a delayed round-trip from and back to Swedish Hospital, a nurse spending her long break at the Riverside Casino in Tukwila.  She recounted a miraculous  trip to Las Vegas where she won $100,000 over a long weekend.  This time she lost $100.00 and no tip for me due to her losing.  Later in the shift I had a few round-trips to ATM machines, those not-so-mysterious rides in the wee hours of the morn.  At times I truly hate knowing how folks conduct their lives.  Depressing is the word!  Who wants to know?! Not me!

Tuesday's commission meeting was so much fun we have decided to do it all over again on November 22nd.  Two members have a personal issue in the fire and monopolize the proceedings they have.  Though I do have sympathy for their plight, the commission was not designed to be one or two individual members' personal forum.  And besides, I know full well that the bad situation they are attempting to address was self-created.  I too would be upset if I had lost tens of millions in equity and most of my taxi association.  It all seems too little too late!  Regardless  I see the commission as a maturation process though I wish members would at least reach adolescence soon!  Diapers are so messy!  What else did we do? Craig Leisy made a presentation about his L&I-based proposals and also talked about the for-hire vehicles.  The meeting was held at the Yellow lot and everyone got a tour.  Is it only Seattle who appoints taxi advisory commission members who know little to nothing concerning taxis?  Let's hope so.  What other city would be this ________!?

As for the TAG, we were all much more civil while Mr. Leisy held court explaining the details of his L&I related proposal and how all of us drivers will make more money though he estimates we will lose at 159,000 trips (fares) due to the fare increase.  It was the last TAG of the year though soon you will be getting reports about the pending Seattle city council and King County council hearings.  I can't wait to be there. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I Was Wrong. L & I Impact Upon the Lease-Driver

I have a quick apology to make.  I have been telling anyone who asked that the pending L&I decision would not have an immediate impact upon the lease-driver.  I was wrong, completely wrong.  If the rate of $380.00 per car per month holds up (though I don't believe it will), then the shift rate will be increased by $10.00 per shift.  For instance, a week day (M-F) day-shift at Yellow, when a driver has a NPG (natural gas) powered vehicle, he/she will be paying a total of $100. per shift when the $15.00 "green vehicle surcharge" is added on.  For all of us who knows just how hard it can be to earn a taxi dollar, does L&I understand just what that means on a January or February or March morning when nothing is occurring anywhere and the mere making of your lease and gasoline (or natural gas) is a small miracle. This is why it is imperative that the L&I rate becomes a figure that will not bankrupt the industry. Make no mistake, this kind of translation is unavoidable. Whatever the final decision is, the cost will be transferred to the lease-driver. Another factor to also remember is that the cost will also be transferred to the taxi customer as an increased meter rate, changing from 1/10 per mile to 1/9 per mile.  It is the unavoidable taxi food chain.  One major fear of course is that there will be fewer passengers or that a percentage of the customer base will use "for-hire" vehicles instead. None of this bodes well in the short term.  That is why it will be extremely helpful if you begin contacting L&I  and voice your displeasure.  In a future posting, perhaps later today, I will provide a list of important email adresses.