Friday, December 30, 2011

Oh! Now I Understand!

As I scurry around getting ready for the always crazy New Year and what it brings, I have another thought concerning the L&I situation.  But first a suggestion if any of you cabbies out there are ever tempted  to work the New Year celebrations while suffering from the flu.  I have have one word for you. Don't!!!  I did it once about 8 years ago and it nearly killed me. An experience to avoid!

Finally I understand what we Washington State & Seattle & King County taxi drivers are according to Labor & Industry, not employees but some unusual animals called "covered workers."  If anyone truly knows what  this euphemism  means, please tell me.  I'd rather we be termed "covered wagons" then all of us could from into a protective circle and fend off all those flaming arrows!  Earlier this week I was playing around with the subject, thinking that if someone at L&I was "Australian-centric" they might call us kangaroos because don't we all "hop" around the city and surrounding landscapes?  I know I am being less than subtle but com' on! everyone, are we really "covered workers?"  Does this mean that L&I is our new security blanket? 

As should be clear, I now have a bad attitude.  We are being treated as less-than adult.  If that isn't true, then why do I feel like pouting?   Happy New Year from a latent infant.  And what will 2012 bring?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Coming to a Conclusion

Even though, as I have reported, that I played a role in getting Washington Labor & Industry to halve the requested amount the industry was expecting, I have remained uncomfortable and dissatisfied with the outcome.  Like a toothache, in a sense it has kept me awake pondering just what is the source of my intermittent pain.  Nagging at me like an unhappy wife, something I have also experienced.  Nobody likes being screamed at, and here I have found that I was shouting at myself. But why, didn't we just win a major victory?  And my reluctant assessment is that if we have won anything, it is slight, and potentially fleeting.  I don't sense any permanency.  All I really feel is a strong morbidity and dread.  I'll explain.

The Labor & Industry decision was based on what I see as an erroneous premise, the concept that somehow, someway that we, the lease-drivers that comprise the majority of the local and statewide taxi community, are, and have been maltreated employees, even if we ourselves were unaware of this shared malevolent reality.  In a very real manner, L&I was being parental and benevolent to Labor's wayward children.  It appears that the good folks at L&I felt we were trapped in an untenable situation, meaning we were not covered by any kind of labor injury insurance, and by golly they were going to come to our rescue.  The major problem though is that it wasn't our perception of our own situation.  Yes, life could always be better but the majority of us have been earning a very good living for years. We complain yet move forward.  Babies are born, children are raised, and teenagers are sent off to college.  Yes, taxi driving is hard work yet it is good and honest labor, and we are a proud bunch, we understand our daily achievements.  Enslaved or indentured servants we are not!  This is why I feel so dissatisfied with the Labor & Industry decision.  They misread our situation.  In short they got it wrong. And since they have, we and our passenger-base will be paying the price for years to come.

As the new year approaches, the City of Seattle's Department of Consumer Affairs is calculating just how much to raise the taxi meter rate and to what percentage will the lease cap be raised.  All this is based upon the  L&I opinion that the lease driver is some new version of taxi association or company employee though they know that all of us are required to yearly purchase business licenses and and pay city taxes on our income if it exceeds $50,000.  That the fact that legally we are regarded, and personally view ourselves, as independent business owners and operators did not dissuade Labor & Industry from their grand salvation toward the great unwashed.  And by going forward, their actions have been extremely consequential.

Not only are the lease-drivers being impacted but the "bad" associations and taxi companies have been audited throughout the state, some to the tune of nearly a million dollars.  Some small companies have gone under and folded.  Others are for sell.  And why?  Simply because Labor & Industry has greatly misinterpreted what the taxi industry is doing, and have decided, like some Holy Emancipator to open the Gates of Bondage and set us all free.  I might be slightly exaggerating but that is what it feels and looks like. Regardless though, L&I has upended the taxi world, which is now balancing upon its sore head.  Where we fall, and how hard, is anyone's guess.

Now getting back to the City of Seattle's response, we have now entered the realm of the nonsensical.  As I have just written, all of us lease-drivers have to have a City of Seattle business license.  While fully aware of that, Seattle is planing on forwarding on the costs because the State of Washington has designated us as taxi employees.  Somewhere here, the twain doesn't meet, and I am not referring to Kipling or the directions of East & West.  Somehow the taxi industry has become a Doctor Doolittle character, a "Pushme-Pullyou", a creature with two heads simultaneously tugging toward opposite poles. In more plainer words, none of this makes sense, which is why I can't keep pretending that it does.  If L&I wants the lease-drivers to be covered, why haven't they approached us?  Since we are responsible for everything else, why are we somehow exempt from paying for our own Labor & Industry insurance?  I don't understand it.  And I don't understand why the taxi associations and companies are being held liable for something that is not their responsibility.  I for one would be the first to say that the taxi industry could be doing a much better job.  But in this case I find them to be innocent.  They have not committed the crime for which they have been charged.  And why the lease-drivers and the taxi passenger public also have to pay for this imaginary offense I can't begin to accept or understand.  My verdict is that Labor & Industry is guilty of a gigantic overreach.

So write the governor!  Write to the Seattle mayor!   Write to the King County administrator!  And write to the various members of the Seattle City Council.  And to the County Council.  Do not sit idly by.   Attend the council hearing, whenever they might be scheduled.  Be proud and stand up for your rights!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Weekend: Always Surprises Pleasant & Otherwise

When people ask about working holidays I say that at least for the moment they are not a priority and I work my scheduled days unless I'm traveling which goes without saying though I just said it.  Both days were surprisingly busy which goes right along with the taxi axiom "you never know" and truly you don't, at least I make no claims in that direction though I do admit to have particular expectations.  I can't drive  taxi for free.  It just isn't that compelling.

But before I address Christmas I meant to bring up an intriguing coincidence from the previous weekend.  Why this kind of stuff occurs I don't know but it has happened enough times to make me curious.  I picked up this young man in the deep West Seattle, Arbor Heights area,  and began explaining to him what his own address told him about where he was located, the why and mapping logic of addresses in Seattle. To help it make sense, I picked an imagined address, 526 1st Avenue South, explaining that Yesler Way was the dividing line, making the address five blocks south of Yesler, contrasted with his own locale of SW 100th & 39th SW which of course placing him 100 blocks away from the starting line.  Can you believe that later in the afternoon I took someone from West Seattle to the requested address of 526 1st Avenue South! a building called the Florentine.  Ah yes, the mangled metaphysics called taxi even though the late C. Hitchins who died last week might scoff at such assertions.  Though he is off the taxi subject I might if time permits soon provide some commentary since I had met him briefly in December 2001 and respected his comprehensive research upon given subjects.  I recommend his Kissinger expose.  Not a nice man, that Henry.

The Why & the Wonder of Taxi Driving: Three Examples of the "Taxi" Unexplainable

So unusual to have three $100. plus fares on the same weekend.  Making them even more noteworthy were that none of them were account-based, which the vast majority of my longer fares are.  I would say that nearly 90 percent of them came from accounts.  The large "self-pay" fares are rare.

Miracle One

I was having a great Saturday start, and knowing that there would be a huge drop off in business with actual Christmas eve approaching, I knew I had to build on what I had already accomplished, five airport runs plus a $50.00 dollar personal topped off by a $20.00 dollar tip.  Being a taxi scientist, I understand chemical balances and compounds.  You never know when the beaker will explode into so many shattered pieces.  Two "no-shows" in a row, including an airport run told me I had just added some nullifying ingredients.  Something new had to be added.

The Seahawk-49ers football game was now about 5 minutes into the third quarter, experience telling me that regardless how exciting the game was, people would have their individual reasons for leaving early.  They always have and will continue to have matters more important than touchdowns scored.  Getting down to the game perimeter on South King Street I was somewhat deflated by the poor combination of many sitting taxis and few wandering fans.  Seeing an open space mid-street I pulled in figuring that the Yellow Cab sitting about 75 feet in front of me would soon get off and I would then zoom into his prime parking space.  So often successful taxi driving is all about positioning but in this case you will see it didn't matter.  Suddenly I noticed a fan who appeared to be approaching my taxi having passed up the lead Yellow.  He seemed somewhat dazed so perhaps he just didn't see the other taxi as stepping into 478 he said take me to Bothell, which my friend is a good twenty miles or so north of downtown.  He had Christmas Eve dinner to get to with his wife so off we flew north-bound.  Quiet and polite, he was the opposite of the unfortunately too typical Seahawk fan, too often drunken and anti-social.  Upon our arrival he gave me an additional $40.00 on top of the $60.00., wishing me a Merry CH\hristmas.   I was in a state of shock, amazed at the vagaries of fate and taxi!

Miracle Two

Much later now in the evening, finding myself again in West Seattle with little to do.  The lull had arrived and I was thinking how great it would be to be sound asleep. While contemplating the thought a fare came through and Dee, as she called herself, strode up to 478 looking to cash a check.  She was extremely high on something and had just left an "assignment."  I told her that everything was closed but she was too stoned to hear me so off we drove to the First Hill "Money Tree."  Being closed I called three others, all with the same results. She called her "trick" apprising him of the situation.  Over her speaker-phone he told me to drive back and she would find his credit card beneath the door mat.  Charge what was necessary and thank you very much.  Off we returned, estimating that all her meandering would total to about $90.00 as she had to buy her mother a card. The approval went through and off we sailed to Burien.  Arriving at the 24 Hour Walgreen's at SW 148th & Ambaum SW we joined all the other late Christmas shoppers packing the only place that was still open.  I bought some chocolates and she found a card to make her mother happy she had given birth.

From there we reached the airport strip that is Pacific Highway South/International Boulevard, nearing the conclusion of our shared adventure, and having said a number of times how she liked my "style," suggested how she might like to have me for "herself" for awhile.  Smiling but not saying anything I dropped her off obviously looking to score some dope, bidding Dee adieu into that good Christmas night.

Miracle Three

Christmas Day held even more suspense knowing that everything or absolutely nothing could happen.  But before I would start my day dim sum in Chinatown beckoned with friends, many dating from my earliest days in Seattle 1973.  We had a feast and fun talking amidst the din of hundreds of hungry Chinese. 

Finally getting started it was okay, tips providing many $20.00 trips my way.  Reaching the early evening and having made a strategic error that cost me a $35.00 return fare to West Seattle, I was still arguing and cursing my stupidity when a call came through for the 7-11 on W. Nickerson.  Arriving I found a young brother and sister combination from Calgary, Alberta interested in doing some early evening sightseeing, if such a thing exists.  First we went to the Fremont Troll.  From there we went to the Kurt Cobain house on Lake Washington.  Finally, with some computer assistance from she who can't be named, I had the number and the exit for Greenwood Memorial Cemetery in Renton, Washington,  famous for its Jimi Hendrix memorial and tomb.  Shining my headlights on the shrine, they took numerous photographs and declared themselves pleased with their efforts.  Taking the kids back to their waterfront hotel, the fare was $129.00 and then $185.00 after their amazing tip.  Such is taxi driving and the way it really is.  Makes any sense you say?  Probably not unless one prays to the taxi deities which I have been known to occasionally do!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Taxi News: New York City & Local

Regular readers might remember my entry of a few months' past concerning the taxi situation in NYC.  Why should any Seattle taxi fellow or gal  be interested in the taxi shenanigans of the Big Apple?  Well obviously NYC is the industry leader. Not Chicago or LA or San Francisco, and certainly not modest Seattle despite all of the too many local government officials who think otherwise.  They are wrong.  Seattle & KC & the State of Washington are just an industry afterthought. You might have seen recent billboards (they call them "hoardings" in England) asking the question why certain ailments are particularly prevalent in the NW.  Is it the water, the rain, etc.  Yes, just why does everyone governmental think we are big stuff?  Mystery to me!

Anyway, getting back to New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo & Mayor Michael Bloomberg have just announced that compromises have been reached and the grand plan to expand real and actual taxi service to the outer boroughs and Northern Manhattan will now be implemented.  You might also recall that the governor's father Mario is on the board of something that finances medallions.  I bet they are going to get a big slice of the upcoming medallion pie but perhaps I am just cynical and jaded, and you know what, I am!

Here is the plan as it was reported in the New York Times.  18,000 livery (we call them"for-hire cars" in Seattle & KC) permits will be issued, 20 percent reserved for wheelchair-accessible vehicles.  These new livery "cabs" will have meters, credit card readers and honest-for-goodness top-lights.  They will also have the ability to pick up flagging customers in the outer boroughs.  To sweeten the taxi pot, NYC will also issue 2000 new wheelchair-accessible (Yellow Cabs) medallions, which NYC expects to bring in one billion dollars in a spirited bidding war.  That should make Mario Cuomo's friends at Medallion Financial quite happy.  But in a display of benevolence, NYC will provide up to 54 million dollars in subsidies for the livery folks.  Do the math and please don't laugh nor question the fairness or transparency.  She who can't be mentioned did the medallion math and she believes the 2000 medallions will be going for about $500,000 each, which adds up to one billion, we think.  Not being bankers, we don't usually toss around such large figures in our minds. Oh to be the ONE percent!  The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, the group representing the current medallion owners are taking a wait & see attitude and of course licking their taxi chops!

So  hey! all of you serious Seattle taxi drivers, those livery cabs sound like a viable opportunity to make some real money.  You might want to head East, you taxi beasts!


Be aware that Sea-Tac ground transportation has gone berserk and have begun issuing unwarranted tickets on the airport ticket level.  No, not the Port of Seattle Police but the entity calling itself ground transportation.  Whoever or whatever they are, do not, and I repeat, do not linger on the upper level.  If you have to continue doing your credit card processing, move to the far end past the last ticket counters, past British Air.  But don't tarry there either.  Get your paperwork done and get the heck out of there!

Soon in the upcoming year you will be hearing about the L&I rate hearings being held by the Seattle City Council.  Attend these hearing and tell them you are not employees!  If they insist that we are, then say, where is our health insurance?  Stay tuned!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Driving Taxi On My Birthday

Yesterday, Sunday, was my birthday.  Given my unusual schedule, two days on and five days off,   I  normally (for better or worse) take it in stride, knowing I can and will celebrate later.  Depending on my mood and the situation, I do or don't tell passengers that indeed it is my special day.  Taxi is insanity personified so I can only take everything so seriously though the past two weekends I've been a trifle over sensitive, doing a reasonable presentation of the various facets of taxi psychosis made manifest.  Don't tell me you want to take Madison.  You want me to ____ you?

Can you believe that after my more or less 24 part-time years I can't stand taxi any longer?  Tedium and boredom comprise a monotonous tune mirthlessly sung. My one disappointment this weekend was not making it to Ocean City for my greatly satisfying bowl of soup.  Ocean City is my Chinese stand-in for the Jewish mother serving up chicken broth minus the matzo.  Their broth is sustaining, getting me through and past the Saturday bar rush.  Perhaps that is why I had to pull over in the Wallingford and sleep for a hour.  Getting too busy I didn't stop and then about three AM I took a drug couple to one of a series of cheap motels that reside near and around the 72000 Block of East Marginal Way South.  I knew I was pushing it, going that far south only having to head back north but I liked them, the guy enjoying my response when I responded in an odd tone, no, I would not be taking them for only $15.00 dollars.  We all laughed and enjoyed the ride.

Small Revenge

I was totally surprised when the three upper-middle class kids left the taxi without paying.  It was silly.  Perhaps they were apprenticing as hoodlums.  I always find it humorous when passengers run as if I am going to chase and grab them, pounding them into taxi submission.  But since I know a trifle about basic psychology I yelled after them to just realize I will remember their well-fed faces and when I see them again up on Broadway they better watch out!  Nothing like instilling fear into the foolish, knowing that at least for the short term every time they see a Yellow taxi they will flinch, concerned that it is the big, bad ME seeking equal compensation.   It is well worth the eight dollars! knowing that guilt and their own idiocy will bop them on the head for me.  Now that I am 58 I am too ______to be pursuing goofballs into the night.  I would rather they bite and chase their own tails.  Let them lead themselves down their own misbegotten trail.  I personally am too lazy for such nonsense.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

More of the Same & More of the Same Eating Away What is Left of My Brain!

Yes, always taxi fun & games, with this week adding a Seahawk Monday Night Football game to the mix.  Beginning to learn what I should already know that another day in the cab does nothing for me whatsoever other than making me more tired than I was to begin with.  I did see the early Saturday morning complete ellipse of the moon.  I was able to see about 45 minutes of the event in between an airport run out of West Seattle.  Now for your reading pleasure? a series of vignettes displaying why it is far better viewing taxi from a safe distance.

---from Monday: Pre-game traffic is hell.  I pick up an Israeli businessman from the 3800 hundred block of 1st Ave. South, his destination being a motel north of downtown.  My  "Mission Impossible" assignment was to get him past the various obstacles which I achieve to the amazing tune of only $17.00.  This passenger was the type who wanted to talk philosophy and questions like "Gods' Existence?" and was praising the taxi driver which all resulted in a $1.00 tip.  An average driver would have got him there for say $25.00 or perhaps more plus the pleasure of inhaling exhaust fumes.  Was he a fool?  Of course not!!

---from Monday: Sitting first on the train station when a driver pulls up and said dispatch had belled him in though everyone knows that it is not a "belled-in" destination. Happily there was a Yellow Supt standing by and rightfully directed the young woman toward my taxi.  She went to Ballard.

---from Monday:  After I drop her off I find myself first taxi in the deep Ballard zone 135.  Nothing is happening so I step into the nice little grocery, the "Green Grocer."  Of course I am booked off when I miss my fare and then I sit and sit.

from Monday: A bit later I get belled into Children's Hospital at the Giraffe entrance for customers going all the way to Deep West Seattle.  Pulling up there they go in another Yellow taxi.  They didn't even wave.  Just another duplicate  bell.  Thanks again, dispatch!

and I immediately get another bell, which I rush to, located on a dead-end street but only one problem, there is my passenger driving off in an Orange taxi.  They didn't wave either.  And I am sure that part of the problem was that dispatch was telling all the callers that they would have to wait until some time into the next century before their Yellow Cab would be arriving.  So of course they call another company!

And frankly at this point Sat & Sunday remain a blank or perhaps I just don't want to remember but Sunday's start is worth relating because I would leave one zone to book into another with all the fares then happening behind me, and I am going crazy until I get a 130 Ballard fare, I scare her white cat and the miniature poodles being walked across the street  find me of barking interest but the nice lady with no luggage heads to the airport and gives me $60.00 including tip & then from the 262 middle of West Seattle I take the native of Mexico City who can't believe I love Mexico City to 144th & Pacific Highway South and he give me $30. and what do you know all very quickly I have my lease.  Hey, why am I always complaining!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Continued Quick Summary

Today after four separate taxi appointments I am ready to just finish up and drive back to Tacoma.  But before I head off I will do some instantaneous reporting and finish the madness commentary.

From the weekend-----

Second fare Sunday she requests to be dropped off at a Capital Hill parking lot but only one major problem, an obstacle in the form of an upper-middle class mid-60s woman who refuses to not block the entrance, having decided that parking her SUV and not moving was completely justified but why she wouldn't say.  No amount of mild verbal abuse moves her.  She won but just what it was I have no idea.

Just after I had told the very nice mother and son that indeed, it has been strange, a homeless man holding a bowl of food casually without looking stepped in front of my accelerating 478 upon entering I-5 from the Cherry Street ramp, the same entrance that last week was completely new to me though having used it ten thousand times.  Luckily a combination of a quick foot and a steady 478 resulted in not catapulting the fool into the air.  Of course he gave me the finger.

Yesterday a Yellow taxi driver got out of his car on a steep part of Nob Hill Ave N. and then watched as his car suddenly bolted forward down the hill, unfortunately slamming against a concrete wall.  I have no details as to the cause.

And I also witnessed two cars in separate incidents driving down the opposite direction on one-way streets but this is getting boring, isn't it?  And three cheers for the official full moon coming up on Saturday, December 10th.  I can't wait for the all the surprises awaiting me!

Taxi News

Limo Bill was approved by the City of Seattle city council financial committee.  It has been forwarded for full council approval.  There were no town-car drivers in sight at the hearing.  A sure sign of surrender and inevitability.  There were two taxi drivers present, myself and Deb D.  Jeff from the Supt's office also gave testimony.

During the taxi commission meeting we learned that "for-hire" vehicles are the City of Seattle's new employment opportunity plan, at least according to one man's opinion.  It is rare that I take a opinion that is considered conservative.  Next thing you know I will be endorsing the Koch brothers but I don't think so.

During a discussion with a mayoral aide I received some positive affirmations concerning regional licensing.  Stay tuned.

Took a peek at the airport taxi feeder lot.  What an amazing slight, all these taxis packed tightly in the cramped parking space.  Shook hands with a number of Indian comrades.  Guys are worried about the L&I impact. 

And lastly, had lunch with someone who might be interested in joining my discreet band of political (non-violent) assassins.  Watch out as we might be coming to your neighborhood soon!   I can't expect all of the politicians to be like Cain and Governor Perry and conveniently self-destruct.  Sometimes they require a little assistance.  It would be fun to give them a little shove toward the cliff and get paid for it.  More on that effort as it occurs.

Monday, December 5, 2011

You Are A Terrorist & Other Tales From The False Full Moon (Dec 3-5 Version)

Others have mentioned how strange! it has been the past few days.  As I have said, and will always say, taxi drivers are immersed in whatever is in the local air.  We inhale and exhale the madness. The trick then is not to allow yourself to be colored by the prevalent atmosphere.  There may be a fog but you have to slow down, allowing a safe stopping distance.  Any other course is a cement wall, as I will  briefly explain.

Those limousine drivers!---Tomorrow at the Seattle City Council the Limo (Town car) Regulation Bill, the one passed and signed by governor, will be reviewed by the full council.  The major feature of this legislation is the transfer of authority from the Washington State Highway Patrol to the City of Seattle.  This has been a long and protracted and rancorous issue that has taken years to resolve.  From  the limo driver's  point of view, there has been no resolution.  Worse from their prespective is their shared perception that everything is poised to put them out of business.  And it is difficult to disagree that their continued portrayal as taxis will be terminated.  That they have been acting as "gypsy cabs" for years is without question.  Approach one today and they will without hesitation identify themselves as taxis.  Indeed the vast majority of them have driven taxi cabs.  Clearly they view and see themselves as a logical extension from whence they came. Unfortunately for them, and especially for the customer base, there is little legal legitimacy to justify that view.  Yesterday two fellows jumped in my taxi on the north side of Pike Place Market for a five dollar fare to lower Queen Anne, having just rejected a limo drivers quote of twenty-five dollars!

Last night on the Greyhound, I was speaking to a fellow I know from his years at Yellow, now driving a town car.  He is the nicest guy, I believe hailing from West Africa.  I was encouraging him to attend the city council session, and in my enthusiasm told him that "don't you understand, even though you are a citizen, a misdemeanor violation can get you deported!"  Becoming offended, he pointed to the Federal Court House and shouted, "There they are, tell them to come and get me!" and other things to that effect.  I stepped into the station, and upon coming out a another limo driver, someone who last year had shoved me, called me a terrorist and said he was a witness.  At that I just gave up and I do, I surrender to their obstinacy.  They know what they want to do and reality be damned, they are going to do it.  Sounds like the majority of taxi drivers that I have encountered over my twenty-four plus years. And as the tea shop is closing, so will I till tomorrow.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The L&I Rate Is Now Offical

The time is 2:17 PM on Thursday, DEC 1st, 2011.  I don't know the details of the announcement but the rate has been released as
                                   0.5443 per hour

or in other terms, .55 per hour as I reported yesterday.   More details as they are known.  Stay tuned to an ongoing and developing story.