Thursday, December 27, 2012

Too Many Moving Parts: Taxi & Time Management

I have concluded the obvious, that taxi as I know it remains chaotic and anarchic because too much is occurring at any one given moment hence the notion there are too many independent moving parts to keep everything in unison, taxi a disparate symphony minus conductor.  Yes as a musical composition taxi is both discordant and dissonant, sour half-notes the donkey's irritating bray.  At least with voice-generated dispatch the dispatcher acts as concert master eliminating much of the cacophony generated by amateurish players.  When you add taxi illiteracy to the mix, meaning individuals who have never driven a cab, having never put in the practice time you have the situation I will be presently illustrating.  Situations and events and mistakes are occurring that are never seen but for the momentary aggravation they cause, accelerating past the minute and hour never to be noted again.  What I am doing today is freezing a situation from last Sunday afternoon, a specimen  prepared for examination.  I want all the taxi scientists in the audience to place it beneath your microscope, searching for the unintended viruses that I know infect and cripple the industry.  Taxi is ill.  It has a contagious and persistent cough.  The remedy appears to be reason and logic and commonsense, ingredients somehow absence  from the usual taxi pharmacy and medicine cabinet.  It is time to refill the prescription.  It is time for mother's chicken soup.

Sunday afternoon the entire city was building momentum toward the 5:20 PM Seattle Seahawks versus San Francisco 49ers NFL football game.  The "Seahawk rush" was on as tens of thousands of fans converged either to the stadium or to their favorite alcoholic watering-hole to cheer on their gridiron warriors.  It is organized madness as all of the taxi companies are overwhelmed with calls and the local police gallantly attempt to direct streams of pedestrians and cars to their various seats and parking places, something that will be repeated this upcoming Sunday, the last regular season home game of the year. It was in this mix that I found myself at about 3:25 in the afternoon having just dropped off a fare south of the stadium.  Fares were waiting everywhere.  I had some choices to make and the one I made was wrong due to the  poor decision-making of others. Time to bring out the kerchief and wipe away your tears (almost a Bob Dylan quote).

Part of the key elements contained in this saga are both zone location and the time of day relating to both the game and the 4:00 shift change.  An experienced taxi mind would have understood what I will be relating.  Unfortunately the clueless are making decisions for the many thus screwing up the works.  If taxi is a machine it is time for an oil change.

As I said, I am now just south of the Seahawk stadium faced with various options.  I could jump on Highway 99 north-bound and work all the points north.  Or, as a good time manager, stay near to where I was and grab a fare nearby.  I saw that I could be first-up in Zone 270 (south of downtown, or as it is called by Farwest Taxi, the "Short Owl") so I took it.  Driving south down First Avenue South I noticed five fares waiting in the West Seattle zone 262 (the Alaska Junction).  Now that the ramp to the West Seattle freeway is back in place I headed in that direction calculating I could be at up there in about 2 minutes.  Just before I made the ramp I got a call in the 270. This is when all my trouble began.

There it was a time call for 3:45 PM meaning I had about 17 minutes to get to a bell located on the 4200 hundred block of 6th Avenue South, meaning I was  less than a mile and 3 minutes away from an empty parking lot.  I knew exactly what it meant, that someone was parking then continuing on to the game, which became true, me being the taxi psychic I am.  As I and everyone else have been telling dispatch, the time-calls recently are poorly formulated, making little sense, in this case fating me to a 5-6 dollar fare and the squandering of over a quarter of an hour.  But that was only part of the consequences, impacting far more than one innocent driver.  The two guys finally arrived, getting ten bucks for my efforts but in reality the time-call in this case was both unnecessary and wasteful, actually hurting efficiency and customer service, not enhancing it.  The repeated justification is that the time-call somehow improves customer service. We who  actually toil beneath the top-light know the truth, tiring of fairy tales.  Or perhaps taxi really is the creation of some new Hans Christian Anderson, the beckoning time-call a modern poisoned apple.  Watch out for that first bite!

Given the shift change, many drivers "book-in" into the 270, our address 74 South Hudson nearly the very center and heart of the zone. Categorizing this short-distance fare as a "call when you are ready"  trip as opposed to a time-call would not have had any negative effect upon the passengers I picked up.  I told them that.  They  would have immediately gotten their taxi..  It also stopped me from picking up one of the 262 fares which I would have served quickly.  The knowledgeable  taxi veteran would  not have scheduled a  time-up so close to the hour and lot, knowing it made little sense.  Decisions good and bad have rippling affects, especially when you are serving hundreds of customers during a crucial  time period. Commonsense and logic need to be in play, not ill-conceived routine and guesswork.

After dropping the pair off I saw that fares were still waiting in the 262.  Hitting the Atlantic Street ramp I was off and flying to West Seattle to a bell I recognized as a regular rider going to work.  Unfortunately it was a no-show as clearly she got tired of waiting, finding another way of getting there.  A lull in West Seattle prompted me to leave and take a fare in the 230.  Do the time computations and almost an hour later I had a mere $17.00 to show for all  my fussing around. And all of it unnecessary.  I can guarantee you that the person who made this time-call knows nothing of the considerations I have listed, and worst, never will.  This unknown individual will remain taxi illiterate while making important decisions impacting many, replicating their error hour after hour.  As I tell my passengers you are just lucky to have a taxi pulling up to your door, and even luckier that it is me, taxi service in Seattle akin to the lottery.  You never know what will happen but perhaps I do, heartbreak the most common cardiovascular taxi aliment.

Another Death in the Taxi Family

On Sunday we lost a long time driver to suicide, Daniel Abebe shooting himself.  That's all I know other than I remember him as a gentleman.  There is a box in the cashier window requesting donations.  Please give what you can.  Daniel, rest in peace.

Worst Kind of Christmas Nostalgia

On Christmas I had the (not very) bright idea to drive upon a holiday, last year's success a fond memory. Instead the morning was the slowest in a decade of taxi days, with the car I was driving reminding of the bad, old days when extra board cars were rolling death-traps. Soft brakes, a worn out computer finger pad and a recalcitrant trunk latch spoke of drivers not taking taxi maintenance seriously.  I muddled through and wrote the cab up, leaving it to Taki & company to provide resuscitation. The cab had a mere 173,000 miles on it.  The current 478 has over 240,000 miles and remains in great shape, roaring down the byway.  Including my 25 years, the three drivers sharing the car have a combined 65 plus years of experience.  We make sure that 478 is maintained.  I appreciate sharing the road with veterans who have their priorities straight, knowing a safe cab guarantees a safe ride.  That is all that we want plus of course a ride to Vancouver, BC Canada.  That would be nice! 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Front Row Seat

I believe I might be repeating myself, stating the obvious that I and every other taxi driver on this planet (and any other possible world) have a free (except for the stress and anguish) ticket to everything that is human behaviorally based.  I may not want to see or experience any of it but there it is, either in the technicolor light of day or the black and white "film noir" of post-sunset evening, humanity in all of its sometimes demented glory flailing away at life's canvas, splattering the surface like the American painter Jackson Pollock did in the 1950s, existence an instantaneous abstraction. I say this as proper introduction to a HopeLink fare I had just past midnight Monday morning, a ride minutely illustrating what I am referring to, life as it really is shoved right in my face.  Again, who wants to know it?  I don't but unfortunately I do.

The fare, originating at the Harborview (Harbor Zoo) Hospital ER was only going to pay me a paltry $5.50 which is why some drivers instantly throw these kinds of fares away knowing full well the pain involved.  The (as it turns out) non-existent address indicated that the passenger was going to some kind of local downtown shelter.  Stepping up to the always cooperative admissions desk I was told that that passenger was in the process of being discharged. Not liking the sound of that I walked back to 478 to wait a few minutes.  With the passenger failing to appear after a reasonable interval I again ask where is he?  The nice woman responded that she didn't know which prompted me to drive around to the west side of the hospital knowing that sometimes the passenger is impatiently waiting over there wondering where the taxi is.  Finding no one I drove back to the ER entrance to try one last time.  By this juncture 10 minutes had withered away which meant I could now receive my automatic computer generated no-show but stuck with it for one simple reason: the vast majority of patients being discharged directly to shelters are in deep crisis, variously deeply wounded by life's circumstances.  I stuck with it because I did not want to abandon this heretofore unknown victim.. My intuition paid off even if I was barely paid for my time and trouble.

Reentering the lobby hallway I was suddenly engulfed by a large posse of police, hospital security and other related personnel herding this frail, diminutive black man out of the emergency room.  He couldn't have been more than five feet tall and one hundred pounds if that.  The expression of a huge highway patrolman is forever burned into my psyche, a bad combination of arrogance and gloating.  Such an asshole!  Clearly K_____ my passenger had been making a ruckus and the collective troops had been called in to quell the disturbance   I quickly gathered him and his various bags up and got him out of harm's way into the taxi.  By this time I had devoted nearly 20 minutes to the fare.  Two nurses came out into the rain-driven morning and gave me a sheet of paper that was his entry into the shelter plus also giving me yet another erroneous address.  On the sheet was the blaring diagnosis, schizophrenia which somehow made the patient into a human hurricane.  I instead found a bewildered human being who was caught in a vortex not of his own making.  He was in total misery.

It took me a few minutes to figure out that I was taking him to the south delivery entrance of the King County Administrative Building. Pushing a button began the loud, rattling motion of the automated garage door revealing a somewhat skeptical shelter employee and thankfully a smiling security guard.  Mister Shelter looked askance at all the stuff my passenger was bringing along but hey, it appears his home is where he is at the moment so what can you do but accept his dismal reality.  Quickly maneuvering 478 around I proceeded out beneath the clattering door thankful to be off and away and down to Chinatown for sumptuous  seafood chow foon at the Honey Court, thirty minutes well? expended.

Other News

Regular readers might remember the shooting death of a taxi driver occurring a few months back.  I can now report some good news concerning Labor & Industry benefits impacting the driver's widow.  L&I recognized that the driver was indeed in the midst of  a covered occupation, solely in the act of providing  legitimate  taxi services thus awarding a two thousand dollar monthly pension to his survivor.  There had been some contention that he was acting solely as a friend. That confusion was thankfully resolved. Something to keep in mind is that she would have been eligible for perhaps twice that amount but her husband, like the good cabbie he was, used various tricks to show a yearly gross somewhat lower than reality.  This should be incentive for many to annually and properly file their tax returns.  This incident also shows that we are getting something for the money we are now paying out for L&I coverage. I personally also have a life insurance policy that would benefit she-who-can't-named.  As we all know you never know when it comes to taxi.

Can't keep our tips?  That is the complaint that was forwarded to me recently, alleging that associations and their related dispatch and cashier services are somehow for some unexplained reason putting a self-created cap on what a passenger customer can tip the cabbie on a credit card.  How this is possible is beyond my understanding.  When was it illegal or improper for a customer of any kind of business to be a big tipper?  I have never heard of such a limitation.  Many might remember the story of the California taxi driver a few years back who took someone to Portland, Oregon  and received a twenty-thousand dollar tip on top of the three-thousand dollar fare?  You mean he should have politely declined?   Again, there are two primary reasons why associations have no authority in this area.

The first is that all Seattle and King County drivers and single owners are independent contractors, meaning they are independent business operators.  I personally just sent my check in two days ago to renew by Seattle Business License.  What we are all doing are leasing dispatch services to reach our customer base and near as I can tell little else.  That cashier services connected to that is very convenient but I suppose each group of drivers and single owners connected to an association could contract their own processing services thus eliminating part of the integrated operations.

The other reason is that none of us are in the position to tell the customer whether they should tip or not or the given amount one way or the other.  If the intent toward any tip limitation is to avoid criminal mischief the simple requirement of putting ID info and telephone numbers upon the charge slip would eliminate any such suspicion.  But again associations appear to have no legal grounds for imposing any kind of tipping mandate upon the taxi customer.  As they cannot require a minimum they cannot impose a maximum.  What also makes this silly is that associations have no input whatsoever concerning the cash-based tip.  Not once in my over twenty five taxi years have associations asked how much my cash tips have been.  So why would they be interested if instead the tip is put upon a card?  Does this somehow put the cash fare in a different category?  If so, what is that category?  I would like someone to tell me.

What this tells me is the same old taxi story where everyone concerned, and I mean everyone associated with the industry has some odd permission to do anything they wish, more of that wild, wild, wild West mentality and tradition whether you are in Seattle or Chicago or Malta.  In 1991 while I was visiting the Maltese capital of Valletta taxi drivers would actually get out of their cabs and chase me down the street.  From my reaction I would not call it the most effective approach. What this local Seattle and King County taxi industry really requires is a legal vetting of all of its operations, which means every facet of the business.  Until that is done chaos will reign and everyone will continue to do whatever they want whether it makes any sense or not, legal or otherwise.

PS   During a quick conversation this morning I was told that objections to large tips could come from the credit card (the banks) issuers, wanting to protect both the customer and themselves which is a reasonable point.  But that still shouldn't take money directly out of a driver's pocket.  Some kind of mechanism should be in place to confirm a customer's wishes and intent.  Proper procedure has never been the taxi industry's strong suit.  And that is a muted understatement.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Proving Yourself Anew Every Day (Kinda Gets To A Fellow)

As I will keep repeating to my final breath, there is nothing like taxi ( the taxi experience) and those who have shared the top-light know exactly what I mean.  But the hardest part might well be always having to prove yourself daily, finding that elusive fare sitting out there somewhere.  Because if you don't you go home broke, and if you are like me working just two days a week it is imperative you find the money. The pressure then is both daunting and intense.  A professional basketball player can have an off game or two, shooting an air-ball or clunking a free-throw but the overall concerns are small because you are still getting paid.  In that sense nobody pays the cabbie except him or herself, by the effort put forward.  Your game must always be one-hundred percent, with you doing your own refereeing.  Yesterday after nearly three hours all I had gained was thirty-three dollars for my 180 minutes of pain and suffering, of self-inflicted torture.  But finally, using every positioning trick learned from my over 25 years in the business paid off in a $63.00 (including an eleven dollar tip) airport fare which jump-started me to a very profitable day.  Yesterday then was like everyday for each and every taxi driver world wide: you have to prove it and if you don't you end up going home crying.  Which is why I said more than once out loud this weekend: God! I hate taxi!  And damn well I do and damn well I am tired.  Tomorrow is my 59th birthday and tonight I feel every mile I drove this past Saturday and Sunday.   Thankfully I only drove the equivalent of Seattle to Ashland, Oregon.  I really didn't want to drive over the Siskyous and coast down that mountainside  to Redding, California.  As a kid hitch-hiking I have seen enough of that town.  Though  a few miles south of there lies the parched town of  Corning and many varieties of olives to sample and enjoy at the "Olive Pit."  I do admit an actual ride there would lift my spirits.  And give me something to talk about for the next few weeks other than my usual taxi snarl.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Greeting From Kansas City & (Lucky?) Maggie & (I've had a bad night!) Mike

I don't know if Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller actually ever made it to Kansas City, Missouri but I can say without a doubt that I have though I am not planning on writing a song about my experience but perhaps all that will change.  Yes I am here to visit that well known (at least to some) Kansas City art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins.  I say that some folks know and others clearly don't as represented by the nice lady at my hotel's front desk.  She had never heard of it and the guy at the Kansas City YMCA said that he had his picture taken in front but has yet to enter the establishment.  This after being in the city for nine years.  A gentleman walking out the door said it was a great museum.  It is good to know that at least one local citizen has been curious.  But I'll bet you that the entire greater Kansas City metropolitan area knows Wilbert Harrison's 1959 # 1 chart-busting version of the song about their city.  Even Little Willie Littlefield, who recorded it first in 1952, put out a 1959 version but it was Harrison who had everyone snapping their fingers and chugging down bottles of Kansas City wine.  It was possibly the first Leiber and Stoller song, both age nineteen at the time, to reach the recording studio, they of course of  "Hound Dog" fame and all those terrific songs by the Coasters.  Sadly one of the original Coaster members died sometime this past month.

More currently I can report that the current Kansas City taxi rate is a $2.50 drop and $2.10 per mile.  A driver I spoke to on a stand said that he usually makes $700.00 a week when he hustles and about $500.00 when he doesn't in his three hundred per week (his total lease)  non-dispatched independent taxi, and like us Seattle cabbies, an independent contractor.  He said the Yellow driver that had just left the queue pays $475.00 for his cab.  If that is for an entire 24 hour, seven day week I am ready to move to Kansas City! and see if I too can find, just like Wilbert Harrison, one of those "crazy little women!"  The cabbie said he liked driving Friday and Saturday nights because his inebriated female passengers start to "put their hands on him!"  It seems that these days the locals are drinking something more potent than wine.  Maybe if they would just dilute themselves with a few good paintings they might all sober up and have a nice turkey barbecue sandwich at Gates like I did.  The cab driver mentioned that he liked the Nelson-Atkins.  See, just another well-rounded cabbie with a variety of interests.  Who can deny that we are a cultured bunch!?

Maggie & Mike

Last Friday morning a number of taxi folks convened at the Yellow lot to discuss relevant topics such as time calls and other related dispatch issues. Gathered around that table was nearly a combined 100 or slightly more years of taxi experience.  What did all that taxi wisdom bring us?  An agreement to meet again in January 2013.  I can only imagine what the peace talks must be like between Israel and the Palestinians.  Negotiations can be tough.  At least no one is building settlements near the garage.  I doubt if either Taki or Randy would approve.  But what is clear is that our
conversation did nothing to improve Maggie's experience upon a taxi Saturday afternoon. There is much work left to do.

Maggie is an older woman, a regular caller who lives in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood.  In her quest to reach the Home Depot at 118th & Aurora Avenue North she took a bus up to the Crowne Hill Safeway located at the corner of 15th NW and NW 85th.  She was trying to save some money and only use the taxi for the last leg of her journey north. She made her first request for a taxi at 3:15 PM.  Her fourth and final request came just before 4:30 PM when fortunately for her it was me who answered the call and was there in my most usual instantaneous fashion.  Unlike some others out there in the taxi universe I don't discriminate between calls, treating a grocery store same as an airport run.  In fact I have gone to Sea-Tac from Safeway and other large stores.  Many eons ago I went to the small town of Milton, Washington from the old Roger's Thriftway located at East Union & Martin Luther King Way.  Every driver's daily credo and motto should be " to serve the call and see where they go."  Sounds simple, doesn't it?

It would have certainly helped that if dispatch had sent the first taxi to the "correct" store, dispatching Maggie's initial call to the Safeway on the top of Queen Anne hill, that is 2100 Queen Anne Avenue North.  This is not an unusual occurrence.  Earlier a woman from the southern African country of Botswana called for a taxi at the University Village Starbucks coffee shop.  Instead it was belled to one located on University Way.  Different zones and different locations but that didn't seem to matter.  She told me this happens all of the time.

I rescued Maggie, telling her to call me back personally and see if I was still anywhere close to the Home Depot.  If I was, I told her, I would take her back to Queen Anne and just pay what you could afford, that the money wasn't important.  The poor woman was just picking up some Christmas lights for her balcony.  She didn't deserve the bad service she had just received.

My next call was to a motel just north of the Home Depot, finding a young man who was going to the big "cage" fight at the Key Arena located in Lower Queen Anne. He was just checking in, so I said go ahead and I'll wait a few minutes.  Sitting there I was hoping that Maggie would call back and then I would ask the guy if he would share a bit of holiday inspired mercy. 

He was a bit slow but ten minutes later we were heading south toward the Queen Anne.  It was then, just as Home Depot came into view that my telephone rang.  It was Maggie and she was ready to go.  I said "let me pick up this lady and I'll cut $5.00 off your fare."  He agreed and the rest is history, getting both of them to where they needed to go, which is what taxi is all about.  Maggie was very appreciative of this small near-Christmas miracle.  I just told her next time don't call from a grocery store. Walk down the street and pick an address which is becoming my general advice.  It is best to fool the reluctant cabbie, and perhaps say a few prayers too directed at your local taxi Gods.

Mike Oh Mike!

Mike was one of those fares that have to be completed even though I wanted to toss him out on his heels but given his circumstances I felt compelled to stick with him.  I found him on the Opera House-side of the Seattle Center, not far from the Key Arena. I was dropping off a couple going to the Nutcracker ballet and there he was, drunk and slightly handicapped and very distraught.  At first he said he was going to Woodinville, then changing his mind and said I live in Monroe.  Both of these destinations cost a little bit and given his current state, asked for a deposit.  He showed me a wallet full of money which was okay but he didn't like my estimate to Monroe which was about 100 bucks.  I even called dispatch and Jeff told me about $104.00 to the Monroe city hall. After various rounds of disoriented discussion and repeated threats of taking him to the police or getting tossed out he relented.  Mike had gotten separated from his wife at the "cage" fight and he was simply out of his mind with grief.  After handing me a C note he repeatedly said "you really aren't going to charge me 100 dollars, are you?"  I told him more than once that he would just be paying the meter, getting any change back.  He kept saying that he was having a bad night. Multiple hands shakes reassured the poor fellow.  Once upon arriving at his home outside of Monroe he he again asked the same question which prompted another "if you don't get out I'll have to take you to the Monroe police" and gave him his two dollars change and also reminded him not to forget his false teeth which were on the back seat.  Again he said he was sorry and thanked me for getting him home.  And I was glad I had put  up with all of his nonsense.  He needed to get get home and simply I did what was necessary to get him there.  Real taxi as it is and always shall be.  Ready to sign up?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Third Occupation & Cabbie Reading Corner: One "Otiose" Too Many!

Reading through various taxi commission documents shouts out to me that this is a full time job, taxi politics that is, and I don't have the minutes and hours required to adequately fulfill the required obligations.  Knowing that many are depending upon my ability to interpret and navigate the maze gives me pause, adding to my conviction that anything partially or poorly done cannot be worth doing.  Not that anyone would truly notice as taxi is a world composed of loose ends, of perpetually unfinished business, of non-conjoined half-circles. Maybe that is the real reason it seems nearly impossible to get anything done, or why nothing is ever truly resolved.  Or perhaps that is the reason each individual problem presenting itself takes years to reach conclusion.  "She-who-cannot-be-named" says I should resign immediately.  Given that my father yearly sneaked out of whatever town we resided in tells me running away  is not a proper nor honorable response.  Being more organized would certainly help, itemizing and prioritizing all that is facing me.  This upcoming Friday myself and others will begin discussing internal issues plaguing my favorite taxi association.  My current weekend forays certainly on some level justifies the effort, the past two working days illustrating again what I have mentioned more than once so why repeat myself?  I did have eight airport runs on Saturday, including a start of five in a row so I suppose I should celebrate the small victories.  Sunday I had one solitary excursion to Sea-Tac but especially enjoyed tutoring the departing student upon sentence structure and basic grammatical rules for the fledgling speaker of American English.  Write, read, then speak the sentence was my advice.  I was duly unimpressed with the instruction the young Taiwanese gentleman had received from the University of Washington downtown center, to them obviously just another faceless, trusting Chinese student paying full tuition.  There are many reasons why I dislike Middle-Class America, exploitation of the innocent just one glaring example. Bob Dylan sang that after all that schooling you are put on "the day shift" but it also leads to privileged punks thinking they know more than they do, caring little about the attentive students seeking knowledge and advancement.  I met many of this ilk back in 1984-87.  That I wish I hadn't is my final comment upon the subject this evening. "A bouche ouverte!"

Post-Script: December Taxi Commission Meeting

Any green card holder in the United States should take notice of the information that the taxi advisory commission received yesterday.  For the past year I have personally wondered if a driver's (taxi, limo, for-hire) immigration status could be jeopardized, even for a simple misdemeanor conviction.  This became a issue as the City of Seattle is in the planning stages on increasing the penalties for picking up passengers illegally upon the city streets.  I have mentioned this to various drivers I have talked to, only to have them scream and call me names.  Yesterday we had a presentation form the City Attorney's Office.  The subject: Issue and Change: SMC 4.18.015 Inquiries Into Immigration Status.  As it turns out I was correct to alert everyone to potential deportation.

This is how the Federal law works.  Even if an individual is now naturalized, meaning  now officially a US citizen,  he/she can still be deported for an offense occurring before naturalization, and yes, even for a simple misdemeanor.  Currently in the news is the pending deportation of President Obama's uncle after being cited for drunk driving.  If they are going after the brother of the president's father, what do you think will happen to the average taxi or limo or for-hire driver?  As I have more information I will pass it on.  Obviously then I advise two courses of action.  First and foremost, do everything you can to finalize your citizenship applications.  And while you are doing that, don't even think about breaking any laws.  I found out about all of this listening to a news report about someone brought to the USA from El Salvador as an infant.  Breaking local drug laws got him a one-way ticket back to that Central American country.  And making it worst, he couldn't speak Spanish.  Your children born in the USA are citizens.  That is not the problem. But the most important question is, are you?  The Federal agencies involved in immigration issues are not playing games.  They will lock you up and send you away.  If have any questions regarding your status, please immediately consult an immigration lawyer.  Protect yourself and your family!

Cabbie Reading Corner (the last edition?): One "Otiose" Too Many!

Unless you out there request otherwise, this will be last self-indulgent entry into my very personal book club.  Clearly I want to write about something else but I know that all of you are logging in to enjoy or not the thrills and spills and chills of a typical taxi weekend, not the musings of a disgruntled soul.  I do think that the our collective nation needs (even if it doesn't know it) a weekly literary column upon all subjects reading and writing.  At least one that doesn't emanate from Ivory (or  Ivy) Towers.  As NPR daily displays there are no shortage of educated talking heads more than willing to gravely expound upon their field of "amateurish" expertise.  "Book-learning" can just be that when it doesn't include real and actual, flesh and blood experience.  "Baptisms of Fire", that is if you survive, is always the best teacher, the religiosity of sweat and tears.

Since my last entry I have finished (finally) that book I started this summer about Obama's use of political power, "Confront and Conceal" by David Sanger.  I also finished those 349 pages of that poetry anthology published in 1904.  While trying to find out more about the editor, Mary E. Burt I came across the same book published free and on-line under the title "Poems (or poetry) That Every Child Should Know."  Especially for those readers unfamiliar with 18th and 19th British and American poetry you will find this to be a delightful volume. Very intriguing to me were her at least four or five references to John Burroughs, including one of his poems.  Burroughs in 1904 was an incredibly influential writer.  I have just begun his "Literary Values."

 Another book I  finished reading is by that author famous for that very good novel, "Hotel Du Lac", Anita Brookner, this time her book from 1998 "Falling Slowly" a tale of upper-middle class malaise.  I recommend this mostly for Brookner's effort toward deconstructing her character's thought processes.  It isn't something easily done, a task illustrated by Poe and Doetoyevsky or on  a more minor scale (in terms of psychic examination) by that great favorite of mine, Sinclair Lewis (though it is hard to beat "The Man Who Knew Coolidge" as the perfect character study).  I think women readers could really relate to Anita Brookner's books, sharing a similar aim with Virgina Wolff.   Another recent writer British writer I can recommend is Barbara Pym and her novel "Some Tame Gazelles."   If you want to read a similar American writer, go back in the literary time-machine a hundred years and read that pride of New England, Edith Wharton. You will be glad you took the journey.  And before I forget, my only real compliant with Brookner was her use of the word "otiose" three times, which for me was twice more than required. The best definition (especially relating to her usage) is located in the "Random House Dictionary of the English Language" variously meaning  "leisured; idle; indolent" or "ineffective or futile" or superfluous or useless."  One of my unwritten rules is never to use an unusual or uncommon word more than once, even if the book contains a thousand pages.  Once is definitely enough.  To me Brookners' repetition is a kind of self-plagiarism, if such a thing exists.  Though I do agree it is sometimes useful to send your reader to the dictionary, word usage should and must be purposeful.  The late Christoper Hitchens could have been rightfully accused of flaunting his voluminous vocabulary.  My few days acquaintance gave me the impression of a very smart but insecure man.  Nothing like an ocean voyage however short to provide quick and intense introductions to soul and psyche. 

Another American writer I am currently reading is William Saroyan.  His little essay "Why I Write" is a jewel.  One of his gifts  is that he didn't take himself too seriously, reminding of perhaps that greatest American writer of a generation, Willie Smith from Yazoo City, Mississippi.  That guy could write, having little time for bragging. 

Thus ending this literary detour, I bid you adieu with a poem generated from Brookner's novel.  Take it for what I intended, a serious effort toward a meaningful poem.  Told you I was being indulgent.

                                                        Brookner's Miriam

                     Similar to (Barbara) Pym,
                                                              (Anita) Brookner's characters
                     languish comfortably upon
                                                               post-Empire sofas
                     financially secure and educated   
                                                                      and fed

                     yet remaining discontent, Miriam
                                                                        (the star of "Falling Slowly")

                    daily translating novels from the French
                                                                                 into English but cannot transpose
                    herself beyond I truly have nothing
                                                                          to live for when of course ambitions
                    reached (plus flats in both London
                                                                         and Paris)

                    isn't enough making her completely modern British sharing an arrogance
                    with those dentally-burdened birds pushing prams past jars of Lemon

                    Curd and canned Yorkshire pudding in Preistley's Bradford, complaining
                    about the dole and their Pakistani neighbors and just why won't they return

                    home because who invited them? they and Mariam not noticing the blood-
                    stained footprints tracing back to Africa and Asia and the hurricane-swept

                    Caribbean asking Queen Victoria for a fair and just recompense.

J. B. Priestley, one of my favorite writers, is from Bradford, England. As you can see, I at times have more than taxi on my mind.  Not only am I tired of driving taxi, I am tired of writing and talking about it.  Oh poor me!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A General Message

In the taxi new computer generated world, a general message is something that comes across my MDT (taxi computer screen) a few times daily, reminding that the roads are wet and other sometimes less vital information. Consider this then one of those general messages whose mission is to inform and remind.  Coming from me of course it will be slightly more detailed or, depending on your perspective, long-winded.  This message is about the dispatching experience from the driver's perspective.  A policy review meeting is scheduled on somewhat appropriately Pearl Harbor Day.  But instead of bombs away I am hoping for friendly and insightful discussion concerning daily taxi operations.  The overall goal is efficiency on all levels.  If there ever was a symbiotic endeavor it is taxi, especially when it involves over 550 taxis and nearly 1500 drivers. It is essential then that we are all  on the same, as much as conceivably possible, taxi page that is both legible and coherent. It might be fun to think about a chaotic and crazy taxi world but it is far less entertaining when bedlam is your working environment. One problem is that everyone has become inured to the madness, accepting dysfunction as normal and some might say necessary.  But clearly there must be alternatives to inefficiency.  The term deficit implies that there is a void waiting to be correctly filled.  It is then all about measurements, not all that different from following a recipe.  A pinch of this and a dash of that is sometimes all it takes to create a successful dish. Taxi ultimately is an easily put together recipe, requiring few ingredients beyond common sense and a very light touch. What follows can be taken as guidelines to a rational cuisine.  Everyone knows the discomfit indigestion gives.  Taxi dining should be pleasant minus of course the glass of vintage wine.  There will always be time later for the relaxing coffee and dessert, and if so inclined, the hand-rolled Dominican cigar.

The following is a quick inventory of fares that I have had over a seven day period beginning Monday November 19th and ending Sunday November 25th.  What you find here are a handful of representative examples backing my contention that an examination of the kind scheduled for December is both necessary and helpful toward reaching a comprehensive overall efficiency. Remedy, my friends, is what is required here, not rancor or acrimony or denial.

 At one in the morning I get a bell, a time call in zone 165 (top of Queen Anne Hill) due at 1:15 AM.  I am literally at the address in two minutes.  I end up waiting the full time or even sightly past when a young woman requests to go down the hill to 1st West & W. Mercer which is roughly a $6.00 fare.  When I asked her why did she make her fare a time call she responded, "What is a time-call?"  What happened is simple. When she called dispatch she said she needed the car in 30 minutes. You should understand that she, along with 95 percent of our customer base understand next to nothing about taxi in general and Yellow Cab in particular.  An experienced customer would have understood that one, Yellow is the largest taxi company in the region, and two, at one o'clock Monday morning your taxi would arrive instantaneously because the fleet would just be sitting around doing nothing, just like I was, bored, bored, bored. What an experienced call-taker would have done (especially during the voice-generated era) was say "call back when you are ready.  We have a hundred cars at the moment doing nothing whatsoever."  Instead the inexperienced call-taker made the INDEPENDENT decision to make it into a time-call, that is, minus a direct request from the passenger. A better approach in these circumstances is to tell the person to call back when they are ready.  The young woman, embarrassed, apologized for holding me up "for fourteen minutes" and gave me a good tip.  After that I gassed up 478 and was done for the weekend, always pleased to end my taxi day!

The next three examples occurred Thanksgiving Day, three honorary turkeys reserved for that special day.  All three originated in zone 152, which is a sub-zone presenting that very busy University Hospital & Medical Center.  They all held in common lead times of fifteen minutes which is about the time it takes to make it to Sea-Tac if you hustle. My average arrival time was two minutes.

The first bloated bird was a time-call originating from one of the wards.  They have this trick of calling in advance for patients while they are in the process of being discharged and collecting their final prescriptions. Anyone with a quarter if not half a brain knows that those combined tasks often hold lengthy delays.  And sure enough fifteen minutes evaporated and still no sign of my passenger.  Twenty minutes elapsed before there they were apologizing because of some pharmaceutical snafu.  "What time-call? " they said.  "We didn't know it was a time-call?"  The mother and daughter combo went to 12th NE & NE 43rd for five dollars, giving me ten for my troubles as the "Orange driver in the morning nearly killed us!"  and I was "so nice!"   I told them that he was angry, that's all, expecting something a bit longer at five in the morning.

2:30 PM rolled around and I was getting hungry, prepared to join my taxi comrades at our annually sponsored Pilgrim feast.  I get a HopeLink time call worth over $30.00 going to West Seattle and near the restaurant. O My Lucky Day! but not quite as the passenger never showed up even though I had him paged.  Another twenty-five minutes down the taxi drain.  These kind of incidents are similar to the numerous trees falling hourly in your local forest, there being no witnesses to these lonely deaths.  As I always say, welcome to taxi!

After my most amazing meal I am again in the University District (zone 150) and get yet another HopeLink time-call at the hospital.  Another 30 dollar plus fare but again I never find the customer, a repetition of the earlier call.  Shall we do the math?  20 plus 25 plus 25 minutes adds up to 70 minutes divided by an actual gross of ten dollars. I did end up making some money that day but I certainly would have liked that extra 65 or so dollars in my pocket.  I did everything by the book, just the way it is demanded currently by dispatch and what happened?  We know what happened.

Fast forward to Saturday morning and the dispatcher is pleading for a taxi account customer (probably HopeLink) in zone 470 which is the City of Auburn located about 25 miles southeast of Seattle.  Desperate, the dispatcher was promising that whoever picked up the fare could have first-up anywhere they wanted in greater Yellow Taxi-land.  I kept wondering where she got the permission to begin giving illicit gifts?  Perhaps she got the holidays confused and though it was Christmas.

Finally, finally I got a time-call to the airport (eighteen minute lead time, I arrived in six) in zone 500 (greater White Center & Arbor Heights), with the passengers coming out 2 minutes past the appointment giving me twenty minutes of wait time.  Coming back from that trip I got yet another airport time-call, this time in zone 452 (greater Skyway).  The address was located off of S. Norfork & MLK Jr South at the 9800 thousand block of 40th South.  The location was an industrial belt I was unfamiliar with, which is saying a lot.  Though enjoying the unusual locale I disliked the no-show. No one answered the telephone and it just appeared to be a badly botched call.  The dispatcher commented that the earlier shift doesn't know how to take time-calls.  That appears to be true.

Later that day I got a call in zone 150 sending me to 808 NE 53rd Street.  Wrong as I called the passenger and instead it was 808 NE 63rd and a "Zip-Car" parking space.

And lastly for your pleasure it is now 11 something Sunday night and I notice two fares sitting in zone 265 (deep West Seattle) and no-takers.  I head that way and, lo and behold, my favorite kind of unexpected fare, a late night bell to the airport.  It was a time-call for 11:30 and I wasn't close.  Still I arrived only 6 minutes late proving the point that a time-call guarantees you nothing whatsoever.  So much for the wisdom of time-calls, just another version of taxi potluck. The passenger, a gentleman named Peter, was both smart and gracious.  Having once worked for a courier company, he knew all about dispatching.  He made two telling comments.  One that he had difficult hearing the call-taker and two, he could hear someone guiding the young lady through the process of taking the call.  When a cab didn't arrive precisely at the appointed time he became alarmed that something had gone wrong.  I did get him to Sea-Tac in plenty of time so in this case, as is often said, no real harm, no foul except maybe one that gobbles occasionally.

And there you have it, hopefully speaking (or gobbling) for itself.  There is a reason this is called real Seattle taxi.  It is the true taxi experience in all of its tainted glory. Hopefully we will be able to come up with some effective and lasting solutions.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Good Food The Best Incentive

Food is the taxi fuel propelling me down the road.  Food, good and delicious food is key to maintained cheerfulness which is a taxi essential.  And what day is more synonymous in America to flavorful cooking than Thanksgiving, that day of culinary excess, breaking the belt and initiating early naps upon the appropriately overstuffed sofa.  Again the Yellow Taxi sponsored Thanksgiving was delicious, three versions of chicken praising that noble fowl, the traditional turkey no where to be seen or tasted.  Thursday's theme appeared to be Mexican leaving me pining for Iranian oriented meals of Thanksgivings past organized by a major BYG owner from Persia.  Those dinners were simply outstanding, grilled meats and gravies ladled over potatoes and vegetables.  But no complaining, blackened chicken its own November Mardi Gras celebration.

Perhaps even more than the food, it is always a special occasion sharing tables with fellow taxi wolves solitary in our daily prowling, all of us enjoying the rarity of complete and utter comprehension, something normally absent from our usual day.  I suppose it is similar to a pack patiently sharing a downed elk.  And there were even countless pecan pies, a dessert not found in mountain and forest.

Afterwards, sated and somnolent I could barely drive but a subsequent $95.00 hour awakened the taxi beast, whetting the appetite for more, the taxi canine ravenous and forever focused upon the hunt. Though hoping this is my last taxi Thanksgiving I will attempt to remember the best and file away the worst, savoring slices of pie served
after the burnt offerings, sweet after the sour never concerned with the sometimes darkened hour.

Monday, November 19, 2012

How It All Returns to Itself

Rereading my last entry it is obvious internally I am the same, meaning my attitude toward taxi remains what appears permanent, I don't like it and I want out.  Of course there were many details from from the weekend which might be considered both interesting and entertaining but twice having three "no-shows" in a row diminishes enthusiasm. At least during my second hour Saturday morning the no-shows were followed by an eighty dollar hour, this weekend the true epitome of the taxi roller coaster.  Further souring my attitude is my now $240.00 weekend single shift lease, up from the previous $200.00.  Given the linkage to Labor & Industry coverage and the transfer of state sales taxi liability to the driver it was expected but still the twenty percent increase was a shock.  The financial changes are tied to the clear economic reality that costs keep increasing in the United States minus real wage improvement across the cultural board.  The  expanding inflationary universe gobbles up gains leaving the unprotected with empty pockets and punctured dreams.  Once taxi was a secret safe haven allowing the lucky individual to rake in a relative treasure completely unobserved.  Those days are long gone as prying eyes peer into our world, extending eager fingers into our wallets.  The operational costs are eating everyone equally, both owners and lease drivers prominently listed upon the menu of the day, dead trout upon a chilled platter awaiting the sizzling grill.  Personally the monetary incentives remain but as I have stated I am both disinterested and bored, bored, bored. Working ever harder for the same dollars seems stupid.  How can I look into the mirror and pretend I have accomplished something?  Self-delusion is a fatal illusion leading to a final imprisonment solitary and suffocating.  Even if that cell is a Ford Crown Victoria, it is becoming impossible to justify the time and commitment to an imaginary mobility, sitting locked in stasis while traveling at 65 miles per hour through incessant rain.  My brother Steve says it is all a plot he calls "Universal Anarchy", a malevolent power ruling and influencing all of our lives.  He just might be correct.  Rarely does he mention benevolent gods bestowing blessings upon the earthly populace.  I can certainly understand why!  Punitive reality is never mentioned during the typical primary school hour.  ABC, what do I read and see?  And just what will I grow up to, and can I, be? 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Scared Myself

There is a song dating from about 1971 or so by Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, "I Scared Myself" and indeed I did while searching for a particularly elusive email pertaining to the release of the "for-hire" vehicle licenses.  My search took me all the way back to August 2007 which is where the trail ended.  What frightened me were the literally hundreds of emails that I have either received or sent concerning all these issues regarding the Seattle & King County taxi industry.  I believe I am underestimating as  the real figure is probably over one thousand and perhaps far more than that.  What I was viewing was my life devoted (or wasted) upon something that remains static, immovable.  It certainly spooks me when four years ago I was stating that trust was at a premium, tiring of all of the suspicion and paranoia. It scares me that I have inserted myself into a quagmire and there is my head disappearing beneath the quicksand.  It is apparent that many in this business do not see how dysfunctional they are.  That is all scary too.  Instead of Thanksgiving it is perpetual Halloween.  All this firms my resolve to quit in the ten months or so I have left upon the taxi commission.  Being a martyr is reserved for the saintly.  Since so many regard me as a taxi Satan I should descend to my dark dominion  and roast marshmallows over the burning coals of Hades.  It is definitely chilly up here on the surface, battling ever persistent innuendo and rumor.  I should even send myself an email reminding that madness is truly optional. There are alternatives, like eating burritos in San Francisco's Mission District.  Or wandering around the Berkeley Botanical Gardens with "she-who-can't be-named."  Yes, speaking of Hell, the Hell with it, and be done, be done with it!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Wednesday After (Definitely Not The Morning)

After writing my analysis of a troublesome issue I thought it would generate an immediate response.  That is what I get for thinking because I know the taxi world all too well.  Jumping up and down and shouting and yelling is great exercise but when it comes down to serious discussion most are not interested.  There unfortunately remains a huge gap between the first emotional response and  necessary effective action.  Quite often that second phrase never occurs, or in the case of the Sea-Tac drivers, they let someone else do it for them.  For me this explains the lack of response from the "for-hire vehicle" industry for essentially the majority of them are all former taxi drivers.  They too wait for others to do the hard work for them.  They hired a lobbyist who is still in the learning phrase about both industries. And now it seems they are waiting for December and the City Council to make everything better.  As I told their lobbyist in an email today, depending upon bureaucrats to solve your issues is like expecting "an arsonist to help you put out the fire."  To me it is an extremely naive approach.  And a very dependent position to be in.  The very folks who refuse to be led are instead led "by the nose."  It is this now inherent industry contradiction that makes every issue so distorted and confusing.  There is this wonderful  word with an Australian origin, corroboree meaning a large and noisy crowd.  That certainly describes us as a group.  Warlike can also be part of the definition. That I hope is not true.  I certainly know that cabbies are not particularly trusting.  Many appear to feel that I am not genuine which is unfortunate. Authority figures they understand and embrace but validating one of their own kin is another story.  A very sad story.

Following up some thoughts from yesterday, I find the City's treatment of the "for-hire" industry abhorrent, punitive and unfair.  Even though I am appalled every time I see a "for-hire" car illegally picking up, sometimes taking the very passenger that is rightfully mine, I have come to the conclusion that the blame lies solely with the very poorly considered decision to release these licenses in the first place. It was ill-conceived and everyone else must both pay the cost and spend the time cleaning up the mess. Yes I want a solution and hope for a quick and lasting one.  But being realistic and knowing all of the parties involved all I want to do is leave Seattle permanently and forget all about it. Must be my prime unconscious reason for buying all those lotto tickets.  I never win but I pray for release from this bedlam, this asylum,this madhouse.  Amazingly I am suddenly religious.  Now that indeed is a miracle.

I can not close without mentioning one delightful but slightly irritating fare from this past weekend.  An older woman (early 80s) stepped out of Vera's Restaurant in Ballard and wanted to go sixty miles south down the road to our capital city of Olympia.  Her response to how was she going to pay the nearly 200 dollars was display invisible money.  When I told her there was nothing in her coin purse she snapped that I needed glasses. Yes I do agree that indeed special glasses are required to see what isn't there.  I loved her smile, simply given minus guile.  As I like to say, rhyme reduces the crime. I can only hope that she safely arrived where ever she might have been heading. Another gentle soul lost upon the streets and earth.  I see too many is all I can say.  Such again is taxi as I know it.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Analysis Of A Situation: Taxis & The For-Hire Vehicles

Frankly I have been avoiding writing about the problematic situation involving the for-hire cars because at this point I would rather discuss anything but taxi and its related issues though given the nature of this blog it is clear a rational discussion must commence.  A decision Friday by the Seattle City Council to finance new Office of Consumer Affairs inspectors from general funds instead of raising fees says to me that I must insert myself into the ongoing dialogue before it is too late to add leavening to an already incendiary issue.  Though certainly not displeased that I and everyone else won't be paying $250.00 (up from $45.00 in 1987) to simply renew our for-hire driver licenses I am very concerned that a cash depleted City of Seattle is only forestalling the inevitable.  This most recent development occurred Friday when I was in San Francisco "avoiding" my taxi responsibilities though I did spend two hours on the telephone listening in on the commission meeting.  Effective lobbying by the Teamsters and the driver bloc servicing Sea-Tac Airport convinced the council that a new direction was necessary.  All this maneuvering appears to sidestep the compelling issue at hand, and that is just what should the taxi industry response be to the newly created "for-hire vehicle" industry?  Should they be embraced as equals, only another version of taxi?  Or instead, as many favor, harassed out of existence?  I believe we are reaching a juncture, a collision of two opposing forces.  The preference must be for a just and peaceful and equitable solution if one is possible.  Given the chaos created by the City of Seattle nothing short of a lawsuit directed at the City could be required though I for one am not recommending it. At least the Seattle City Council recognizes that a problem requiring remedy exists.  That is a small beginning to a long journey.

A short history of this saga is as follows, at least as much as I know of the narrative. If I am missing something, please tell me.  I will always admit that despite my 25 year long immersion in this taxi madness, I remain upon the periphery.  I don't see that changing.

It must have been about four years ago during a City Council hearing that both expanded taxi licenses and these odd animals called "for-hire" licenses were discussed, revealing that 200 or so of these never before known or used licenses were available for anyone interested.  In the ensuing proceedings it became clear that though a theoretic number of taxi licenses might one day be released, many in the audience were launched into action by these ersatz "taxi" licenses.  For many it seemed to be a legitimate option when none other existed.  Official encouragement only further enhanced interest.  Perhaps this was all about dissuading interest in real and actual taxi licenses as the City & County continued (and the practise remains) to issue for-hire driving licenses to individuals who hold no realistic possibility of ever owning a taxi.  Issuing the for-hire vehicle licenses instead answered a pent up demand for the genuine article, allowing the City & County to sidestep the issue. 

Thus began what we now see today, a new industry of 250 plus for-hire cars with no practicable business model mimicking the existent parallel taxi industry.  As Kipling said upon a different subject, East is East and West is West and Never Shall the Twain Meet.  NYC knows this story well, with the recent conflicts concerning the livery (car service) taxis. Unfortunately the release of these new licenses did little to satisfy those committed to them, suddenly evident that these new entities were a mirage, more confined to the active imagination than palpable reality.  After their initial investments these new business owners were shocked to discover that they had been conned into buying something that didn't quite exist, that without years of product investment there was scant opportunity to succeed.  Fees generated by these new licenses benefit and continue to increase City & County coffers which might have been the true incentive of this "shell game" from its very inception. With new mandates stating that the licensing agencies be self-supporting, this monetary incentive fueled the continuation of something benefiting the few while beleaguering the majority.  Similar to my reaction to much of the new art work at the San Francisco Modern Art Museum, it is not a pretty picture, abstraction taken to absurdity, making unsubstantiated claims to the naive.  As I have found all too frequently, the bureaucratic mind is not interested in accuracy, just what is waiting around the next taxation corner.

Meanwhile the new for-hire licensees suffered, not knowing what to do.  Though their response was neither legal nor appropriate, their desperation took over, prompting a decision that has brought us to the current conflict.  Designing their cars to mimic taxis they took to the city streets disregarding restrictions regarding the picking up of passengers directly minus prearranged appointments.  This decision originated from at least two logical percepts.  One, given that King County had no restrictions regarding street pick ups, the activity could be transferred to Seattle itself.  And the other was that the largest taxi market in the county, New York City, was planning, with the blessing of Mayor Bloomberg, to open the outer boroughs to the livery cars, giving them the unprecedented permission to directly pick up from the streets. Potentially the thought and hope locally was that if it was good enough for NYC, why can't it also occur in Seattle?   That the NYC plan remains on hold says much about local ambition.  Its implementation here then grows less likely.  And irritation and resentment from the taxi industry continues to build.  Other than shouting what can be done to sooth tempers and introduce civility and commonsense into the discussion?  My first suggestion is a truce agreed to under these potential conditions.

 Most truces mandate a return to original borders, in this case translating into a cessation of picking up upon the streets within Seattle's city limits. Though stopping this activity places a burden upon the for-hire operators, I suggest the City of Seattle responds in turn by immediately suspending all City of Seattle re-licensing fees related to their industry.  This would take some of the initial financial pressure off of the operators and transfer it to the party who caused this mess, the City of Seattle. I would also like the City of Seattle to reconsider their policy of fining the for-hire drivers.  A suspension of licenses might be a more effective response, eliminating the more egregious offenders.  As I see it, it is long past time that the City of Seattle takes clear and ultimate responsibility for the situation that they alone created and perhaps might even want  to apologize to everyone concerned.  Along with that gesture, the City of Seattle should then consider its next step.  One important question that must be answered is whether the for-hire vehicle concept is a viable business model.  That has never heretofore been addressed.  If the conclusion is that it isn't, then what direction should the City of Seattle take to satisfy the folks who have invested sometimes tens of thousands of dollars in Seattle's version of waterfront property located clearly in the middle of a miasmic swamp?  There are all those potential taxi licenses theoretically sitting there.  Could they be part of the final equation?

But if the City of Seattle decides that they are viable, then part of the solution could be broad financial assistance providing the guidance necessary to create a business model based upon the original premise, of a service that is dispatched or appointment-based.  It is also clear that like the local taxi industry, the for-hire business owners must be required to join an association eliminating the one car companies, understanding that the single operator is an erroneous and ultimately unsuccessful business model.  My premise is that if the for-hire industry is to flourish and grow, the City of Seattle can not keep treating it like an orphan child or even worse an odd version of indentured servant and begin providing real assistance and direction.  Much of what I am suggesting would ultimately be far cheaper than a class-action law suit from either industry.  In other words, real answers for real problems need to be found.  In "wishy-washy" Seattle that may be difficult to comprehend but the usual turning round and round in circles can not be condoned or seen as acceptable.  Again, acrimony serves little purpose, with nothing gained.  Dialogue and understanding will take all involved to where we need to go, and that is to a yet unknown resolution.  I invite all interested parties to join the conversation.  War only creates ruin.  Let us all instead search for peaceful resolution.  I don't see any other option.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Eighty Degrees In San Franciso

Greetings again from San Francisco, having left the deluge that has been Seattle to instead bask in the unseasonal Bay area beaming sunshine that is a joy to behold let alone stroll in.  "She-who-can't-be-named" is off to the "Tenderloin" for ping-pong lessons so I am sitting in a flat located at Church & 28th instead of my usual Kuan Yin seat in the Wallingford.  Climbing up the steps at the 24th & Mission Bart (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station and ascending into the din that is the Mission District it is clear that there is more than just a difference of temperature between the two cities.  San Francisco is a resurrected Lazarus and Seattle is the prone unresponsive corpse.  When passengers tell me that Seattle reminds them of this city I know that their judgement upon anything is suspect.  Hills do not the city make, simplistic comparisons being just that, doing an injustice to both burgs.

As I keep telling anyone who bothers to listen, I prefer either a "real" city (San Francisco, Paris, Chicago, NYC) or nothing at all (eastern Washington, Baker County, Montana, Death Valley, southeastern Utah).  Seattle back in 1973 definitely held some "down & dirty" urban qualities. Now we have the newly created South Lake Union neighborhood containing "Tom Douglas" restaurants and upper-class new kind of superior trash.  Give me burrito joints and rubbish-strewn streets. At least you know somebody lives, loves and dies in San Francisco versus the bloodless crowd insisting proprietorship over everything including the immediate sidewalks supporting their footsteps.  The irony is clear as I know nearly every inch of the Queen now Emerald City.  If I were truly a taxi driver I would move back down here, jump in a hack and finally immerse myself into a local writing environment.  I am tempted even at my nearing fifty-nine years of age.

Tomorrow again will be in the low eighties.  We will be touring the local art museums.  I feel refreshed though having only 2 1/2 hours of real sleep.  I nodded off on the flight down, awakening upon the descent into the Bay area.  Shockingly another jet liner was parallel to us mere seconds from landing.  Always something new and scary on this our shared existence.  If you haven't already, be sure to vote tomorrow.  One to two supreme court appointments hang in the balance.  Life isn't a joke or some comic-book reality like some would like you to believe.  When one or more bozo (clown) says that the consequences of rape are preordained by their GOD you know all of us are in real trouble.  There are many versions of insanity. Driving a taxi, that cultural smorgasbord,  will confirm that for you and that, sisters and brothers and cat and dogs is without a doubt something you can believe in that is undeniably true.  This past weekend the drunk wife had to stop her even more inebriated husband from making a true fool of himself.  Maybe his God (Pan maybe?) was telling him that I was deserving of a fisticuffs redemption.  I guess I could use some sense knocked into me.  Why not?  I'll email Romney and tell him to send his son Tagg over and have him rearrange my nose.  It's too long anyway.  It would be a public service more ways than one, and Tagg can say he did it all for the Son, and simply because Joe Blondo is a bastard and a heretical son-of-a-immoral gun. And I even don't have 47 wives.  For shame, for shame upon me!  Or is it 60?  Where is the woman who wants 40-100 husbands?  What is the name of that Mormon planet?  I do know that there is a place in Mars where the women smoke hand-rolled Cuban cigars and the men drive around in Chinese -made Jeeps, or sorry I meant Fiat cars!  I learned those facts of religious life way back when in Toledo, Ohio, 1959.  It is completely true that my father once worked on the Willys assembly line.  And vow for the fact that he was Hungarian.  My father was a Magyar, not a Han.  But he did introduce me to chow mein when I was ten and I have been using chop sticks ever since.  What would Confucius say to that?  Never mind!

Monday, October 29, 2012

As It Is

Though clearly disillusionment is part of the total taxi experience I think it is time I begin refocusing upon road tales again instead of existential moaning and groaning. Maybe every taxi driver curses his/her fate behind the wheel but one twenty-five year London taxi veteran expressed over the NPR band waves a singular pride that the "knowledge" required by the City of London is equivalent to an academic degree.  You sir! are completely correct with all of you English cabbies deserving of Bachelor of Taxi Science degrees.  I have more than once fantasied of a national driving academy that would teach every element of taxi along with sub-courses regarding a driver's particular city. We would also include Car Driving 101 as one essential element. I am sick of knowing that nearly everyone just starting out in a Seattle taxi are completely  ill-prepared for the experience, leading to failure and heartbreak.  Nearly two weeks ago a local taxi driver slid upon the steel-grated Ballard Bridge careening into a car and tragically killing one of the occupants.  Saturday night one of our drivers' crashed inside the Battery Street tunnel while occupied.  I was called in to pick up the passenger but Seattle "finest" kindly drove the person home.  The ticket was issued for driving too fast for conditions.  The faucet was indeed turned on this weekend, with over an inch of rain falling over Saturday and Sunday.  The Yellow lot was a swimming pool as the taxi sharks splashed through.  And now, in some but no particular order are a few weekend taxi occurrences for your reading displeasure. You might enjoy hearing how I told the totally bewildered young woman to "Get out!" but I hope you will bear with me for a few minutes and stick around and read the taxi goods before they spoil upon the shelf.

What Color Should My Hair Be Tonight

Can you an imagine a Halloween party for 22,000?  That is what I encountered Saturday morning as "Freak Night" roped them all in at $45.00-95.00 per ghoul at the greater Seahawk Stadium complex.  I accidentally accepted a call in the middle of the chaos, nearing getting a ticket in the process of trying to rescue a frantic woman.  I lost her amidst the madness instead finding four youngsters discussing the finer points of hair tinting.  Quite enthralling it wasn't as a young lady lamented her pastel decisions, wrestling with the conceptual brunette.  "Should she be one?"  Does anyone know the answer?

Novel Applications for the Modern Sports Page

He gets into taxi burping foretelling the possibility of vomit cascading into the interior.  A Seattle Times sports page was draped  across his lap along with the appropriate warnings.  Thankfully he made it to 201 Yesler Way with his stomach intact.

And with that, to be continued.

Part II 1:47 AM

Back home and ready to continue. The tea house was packed tonight and a trifle too social to get anything completed.  Normally I enjoy talking poetry with folks coherent upon the subject (rare I tell you that) but tonight I just wanted to get the writing done. I did just read a NY Times taxi article online talking about the intrepid New York cabbies braving the hurricane. Slow down and stay dry is my advice. Now more of the weekend just past.

Four Star Passengers

Post-Husky & Oregon State Beavers game, I pick up an older couple hailing from Corvallis who drove up for the game, a 4 1/2 hour drive minus traffic. Even though their team had just lost a close game they were the most gracious people. They held a rare wisdom, capable of judging importance.  I liked them.

Past Intoxication, Delirious & Dangerous

Belled in late to a Northgate restaurant, the couple were sipping full glasses.  Finally they come out, San Francisco Giant fans who had just watched their team beat the Tigers for the World Series title. The woman was pleasant enough but the boyfriend was gone, gone, gone, his voice and tone on the edge of violence.  She did her best to keep him under control.  He was ready to attack someone who had just unloaded a wheelchair-bound person near their house.  He was cooked.  He was an idiot!

Saved By Lake City (the 110)

Saturday was beyond busy.  Sunday morning was the morning after and besides anyone who was awake was watching the 10:00 AM Seahawk game on their television.  Six dollars my first hour.  Twenty for my second hour.  Making every attempt to remain calm I did a grocery run in Zone 110 then decided to wash the car as I had to do something to prevent madness from overtaking me. I was barely a minute into the wash when I got a call directing me to a neighborhood (non-business) address.  Maybe I said, just maybe and I was correct as off we went to the airport and $72.00 with tip.  From there my day soared. God! I hate this business!

The Young Woman in the Rain

Sorry folks but I am now past anything reasonable but lastly and certainly the least of them all this weekend was this silly person who doesn't know that you can not commandeer the taxi just because you THINK you are attractive and every man wants to ______ you but hey! you have to be polite and as I told her a million dollars would not have stopped me from telling you to GET OUT!  Winking gets you literally no where in my taxi. By the way, young lady, the intersection of Boylston and 10th does not exist, both avenues instead running on a parallel  plane 3 blocks apart.  And that my friends is how it is and the way it is

and sometimes I will even let four Bangladeshi students smoke cigarettes on the way to a concert in Bellevue even though I knew I would not be tipped though three of them made a point of individually thanking me for the ride. Must be a local tradition back home. So hey! you see I do have a heart (sort of)!  And yes if I wasn't exhausted and residing in indescribable stupor I would tell you more of the boring same, eighty-seven rides completed this weekend carrying the kind, the stupid and the simply lame minus a viable brain. And I did it all in an insistent rain which certainly magnified my undiluted pain.



Friday, October 26, 2012

Entry and Descent

Sitting at the Kuan Yin Tea House reading the news, I understand that I am avoiding the obvious.  Though only 6:10 PM in the early evening I have to pack up and get myself to bed.  Currently I have given myself no alternative. There are financial obligations to keep and so again two days will be given to driving a taxi in and around Seattle. I no longer want to do it.  My years of blind justification are over, as they should be.  It is not an exaggeration that I find myself looking at the prison walls of my own making so it isn't surprising that I am planning an escape.  Despite the taxi weekends a comfortable gaol it has been.  I can call it illness.  I can call it self-hypnotism. I can call it self-deception.  Regardless of genesis and fault the consequences remain.  I have kept and continue to keep myself from keeping the promise I made to myself many years ago.  To read and write and publish and daily continue my attempt toward deciphering this life and world and existence.  Reading the obituary of the historian Jacques Barzon serves to underline my notion.  His seminal book, "From Dawn to Decadence," remains unread amongst all the other partially read and unread books stacked at my bedside.  In a few hours I enter and descend into an underworld.  Call it Hades.  Call it a reality no longer worthy of intimate participation.  Call it my undoing if I remain, a scenario demented and grim.  I curse though having avoided one unacceptable conscription I have allowed myself instead to be drafted into something better left to someone else.  I have other items upon the agenda.  Clearly I will begin attending to them, saying goodbye and hello, welcoming myself back.  Hopefully I will look into a mirror and actually see and recognize this person.  I have been too long in the arrival as weekly I leave myself behind.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tone & Tenor: Strain & Fatigue

Rereading my Monday posting over a number of times, there it was glaring back at me, unmistakable to the trained eye: the somewhat disjointed writing of an exhausted human being.  Not that the writing was all bad, not at all, especially holding some wonderful allusions and images but examined as a contextual whole its clear that a big bottle of epoxy is applicable, providing a necessary bonding.  The cause and explanation is simple.  The writer, me, my body and mind, were overtaxed, or more concisely, "over-taxied" to coin an imaginary word, strained and fatigued from too many hours laboring beneath the top-light.  I am somewhat surprised because I was far more intact during my earlier lunch with the licensing officials.  Though clearly tired, my brain at 11:30 AM was still quite whole.  Having observed myself for nearly fifty-nine years now, I know when I'm on or off.  I did get almost 7 1/2 hours of post-taxi sleep which is often more than the usual.  Tuesdays and Wednesdays normally are the days I catch up, averaging ten-twelve hours of reinvigorating slumber.  So it is extremely frustrating when my best effort upon a given day just isn't good enough. Everyone has either painted or written a few clunkers no matter how popular or famous or accomplished they are.  A Pulitzer or Nobel doesn't guarantee much other than you will be getting another contract.  Read John Steinbeck's "Travels With Charlie" and you graphically understand what I mean.  "Of Mice and Men" and "The Grapes of Wrath" are pinnacles. Clearly then anyone can have a bad book or essay or sketching.  The last Picasso show at the Seattle Art Museum displayed that the great man himself could be mundane and average.  Maybe it is all about sleep or the lack of it.  I am dreaming! of the future days when driving cab is no longer part of my weekly routine.  As my friend down in Arcata would attest, it is slowly and progressively killing me.

Many probably don't know that my writing foundation, the words and lines and sentences supporting me, is poetry.  At age twenty-three I was fortunate to have a poetry editor gig. Those three years in San Francisco were good years.  Why we moved back to Seattle I don't want to think about. Unintentional suicide is my final verdict.  Poetry will always will my first love, just like Sylvia way back in 1968 in Good Soil, Saskatchewan will always be my first girlfriend, teaching me the significance of kissing.  Lately I have been reading a bunch of mostly 18th & 19th Century English language poetry, inspiring me to write a somewhat lighthearted poem concerning taxi.  I believe it is only the third poem that I make any kind of reference to cab driving.  Perhaps when I am no longer driving I will feel compelled to explore further my taxi emotions.  Though free verse normally rejects rhyming, I decided to end with some non-regulatory rhyme similar to making an u-turn on a busy boulevard.

                                                                  Though Taxi

                                               Though taxi is not advised for the faint-hearted
                                                                 or the newly minted,

                                               it may not be for anyone anywhere contemplating
                                                                  health or sanity

                                               as commonsense and reason departs when the shift

                                               and you are carried away upon a passenger's decision

                                               south or north up and down rain dampened hills,

                                               remaining captive for twelve hours of the too long day,

                                               thankfully finally stopping and counting your hard-earned

                                               ruefully swearing over and over again,

                                                                    "those god damn sons o' bitches!"

Don't blame me for this.  Blame Longfellow!



Monday, October 22, 2012

I Remain The Same

I realize that this is probably only interesting to me, focusing upon my taxi navel but it appears to be a permanent change.  As I alluded to in my last posting, I have had enough of taxi.  Why it is so clear now as to two weeks previous  I can't say other than it is all about accumulation.  The dam is broken and my living room is flooded.  It is impossible to ignore the river trout swimming in the bath tub.  Or responding to our incredible local deluge yesterday, I am wet to the bone, the damp penetrating my essential core.  So this is my reality, this is my dilemma.  All that remains is my response.  Do I accelerate my books in progress, a novel known to me as "Flat Tire" and my partial childhood memoir, "To Age Thirteen" or do I just remain floating in the taxi morass while progressively sinking inch by inch beneath the debris?  I know the answer and I will take it.  My third unofficial job, that as local taxi advocate, has to be jettisoned.  I said as much during lunch today with two local officials.  I will slowly disentangle myself from my various commitments and by the end of my current term  upon the advisory commission I will call it quits.  Hopefully in the interval a small miracle will occur in terms of a book advance or something similar.  Because of course I am also ready to completely end all participation with driving.  This weekend the local driving environment became nonsensical, with enough serious close-calls to last a life time.  That my life could have suddenly terminated was clear.  Drivers were beyond anything that could be termed responsible or reasonable or rational.  It was madness. I saw the momentum building, finally translating into horrible accidents blocking rain slicked roads throughout the city.  Neither do I wish to be either participant or witness. So that is the long and short and the everything in between of it.  Sooner or later I will be resigning and this should be considered my letter of resignation, however convoluted my statement might ultimately seem.  Merit is only gained when there is nothing left to lose, or phasing it another way, when winning appears inconsequential and defeat is a misplaced victory.  I think Robert Zimmerman sang something to that efffect.

 Taxi has given me much. What both an insane and invaluable experience it has been.  I feel I have been a good and attentive student. Yogananda spoke of parallel simultaneous worlds and numberless planes of existence. As Jim Morrison advised, it appears to be time "to break on through to the other side!" I am certainly ready for a major transition to somewhere else with memory today taking me back to a much earlier time. I had just turned seventeen and I am hitchhiking from Denver to Seattle in early winter 1971.  Waiting for a ride in Hot Sulphur Springs, Colorado a young newly married couple in a big Cadillac picks me up and off we fly into the night, their sole compilation eight-track tape serenading us as we averaged 100 mph all of the way to the Mohave desert city of Lancaster, California.  The Doors were "breaking through" and the Electric Prunes were reminding me that "I had too much to dream" that night but I was wide awake as we flew through Utah and Nevada.  Maybe I too in this instance have awakened from a twenty-five year long dream world.  Where the hell am I! as I examine the room around me.  I have nothing against Washington Irving but I suppose it is past time being a taxi Rip Van Wrinkle.  Fables are fine as long as they remain literary mythology.  Incorporating fairy tales into everyday life reminds one quickly that prince or princesses rarely kiss the frog no matter how melodious your croaking.  Too often I have awakened from a taxi nap not believing where I am. Is this really Kirkland, Washington?  How could all this be possible but there can be no fooling around this time.  I know where I am!  Though Halloween is nearly upon us I have no interest in further legends springing from drowsy hollows.  That notwithstanding I sometimes act or believe otherwise, this is not fictional.  This is me  and only me living my life and I intend to get something constructive completed  in the actual here and now; and that folks, is the entire story and chapter and verse for this particular evening. Autumn has arrived, the leaves are rapidly turning but tonight I am pretending it is late spring transitioning into summer. Why it is 1969 and for the very first time I have flowers growing in my hair.