Monday, January 30, 2012

An Unexpected Death in Our Collective Taxi Family

I have the worse of news to report.  My friend Jack Magerstaedt, the driver involved in the black ice accident last Monday, has unexpectedly succumbed to injuries related to that unfortunate event.  The communal family that is Yellow Taxi/BYG is in complete shock.  This is the story as well as I know it.  I can say that this is the first driver death directly related to injuries sustained in a crash that I know of.  A couple of years ago an Orange taxi driver died on State Highway 509 after spinning out on an icy roadway.  He was killed as he stepped out upon the roadway and struck by a passing car. Jack's story is unusual because he was released from Harborview on Monday.  I will have further details later but this is the tale as I currently understand it.  As I initially said, even Jack thought his injuries were not serious. I am extremely curious to know more.

Saturday Afternoon the superintendent's office received an unusual telephone call from Harborview, asking if they knew anything about Jack's next of kin.  Oddly, the folks would not say why they wanted the information.  Alarmed, I was contacted and asked to go to Harborview and find out what was going on.  No one answered at Jack's home. Finally, at about 10 PM Saturday evening I made it to Harborview and indeed Jack had been admitted.  Arriving at the assigned floor, a very friendly nurse told me that Jack had been readmitted to the hospital due to breathing problems related to thirteen rib fractures.  At that very moment he was having a breathing tube inserted and that there would be a wait of about 30 minutes before I could see him.  Reassured that all of this was routine, I told her to just tell him that I had come by and would visit him later.  This afternoon, at about three PM, when I was about an hour away from dropping by, Tina from Yellow called, being extremely distraught, telling me that the hospital had just called and Jack had passed away.  That is where the story currently stands, more coming as I know it.  A more detailed Mexico City report will be coming later this week.  I am exhausted and looking forward to an extended sleep.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Post Mexico, Post-Winter Storm

After my upcoming taxi weekend, I will comment more fully on my trip and some details I think many will find both useful and interesting.  Taxi news awaited me and I am still in a state of shock.

Jack M., day driver of 478, and a long-time taxi veteran, hit a patch of black ice early Monday morning south-bound on State Highway 509 on the way to Sea-Tac, crashing into a wall.  Both he and his passenger spent the day in the hospital with none-life threatening injuries, Jack being seriously shaken up with his passenger suffering a couple head wounds.  Faithful 478 is totalled.  I will miss that car!  I talked to Jack late this morning and he was weak but okay.  He is unsure when he is returning.  Monday I deliver various items left in the car.  I often say taxi driving is akin to a war.  I am sure Jack agrees.

My old taxi friend Frank M., past designer of my last book cover, and currently working in the BYG (Yellow) Hope-link office, is back in a rehab center again recovering from further diabetic complications.  I will be delivering him a care package on Monday.

Barry, long-time beloved Yellow driver superintendant  appears to be very ill with a lung related virus.  He is battling for his life at Saint Francis Hospital located in the city of Federal Way, WA.  All our best best wishes and prayers are directed toward Barry and we can only hope for the best for our taxi comrade.  I remember when Barry once rode in my taxi as a green-pea student.  He was a good taxi driver, his years on the City of Seattle police force providing useful insight into the taxi humanity daily entering his cab.  Good luck, Barry!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Christopher Hitchens & Metaphysics Concerning Taxi Driving

Ever since the recent death of the British writer Christopher Hitchens I have wanted to find the time and space to comment upon him for various reasons.  Given that I am sitting here in my Mexico City hotel room provides me that opportunity.  I had met Hitchens briefly in December 2001 during a Nation Magazine event that was an exercise in pure absurdity.  Hitchens was one of the few people in attendance that wasn't a political parody though a propensity toward a kind of superior pomposity made him slightly puffed up.  Though given that trait, I still liked him, his honest intellect refreshing especially when presented in a panel featuring the worse of political hubris. They were all smoking Cuban cigars but of course they weren't though still the stage was smoky from poorly ignited rhetoric.

The other reason is his book, "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" which I read on my Eastern European journey last March.  I really enjoyed it though I feel he missed a couple obvious details.  He never explained why the average anyone is or might be interested or compelled to discover why they are alive and just what might be controlling their existence or not.  He also offered no alternative save there isn't one.  All atheism appears to be is the denial that God or some kind of magical creative power or God-like entity made the world.  It offers no alternative explanation. Science in this case is guesswork. We can discover new varieties of frogs but have no idea why a frog, why anything? That we are born from a mystery, exist in a mystery and then exit into mystery is clear.  Where did Hitchens come from?  And where did he go?  He didn't know and I certainly don't.  The book's true strenght, sharing the writer's known skills, was his vast compendium of knowledge upon the subjects of all things religious.  To me that was Hitchens' greatest gift, his ability to be relentlessly thorough.  Plus he held a great and workable vocabulary.  This made him an impressive writer though the often accompanying praise as prose stylist is not totally warranted. More on that in a bit.  To me what he was saying in his book is how stupid thinking poisons everything, including his own vast generalization concerning the human experience.  He unfortunately ignores one of the most common of shared human experiences, that is of the metaphysical.  A jaunt down the aisles of the great "Museo Nacional de Antropologia" tells you that ancient folks were trying to decipher our shared mystery thousands of years ago. That there appears to be a palpable invisible reality is something I noticed from age three.  What it was then and is now I have no idea.  Though something is definitely occurring. To me it is undeniable. I experience it in the taxi all of the time.  It is the parallel with Hitchens' book.  What in our world is going on?  I will attempt to describe it "taxi-wise."

I have been telling my old taxi buddy Mark Z., who has joined me on this Mexican trip, about how often I get the "ride home" on my final fare of the night.  I know I have mentioned it before and it is true.  Literally 80-90 percent of the time I get pointed in the correct direction.  It is something that is shared by other taxi drivers.  Call it synchronicity or great luck or "God's guiding hand."   Whatever it is it exists.  You might call this truly our last and great frontier, the exploration of what we cannot see though definitely sense and experience.  What Hitchens is talking about is false and incorrect definition.  I agree with that.  What I can't agree with is white-washing the entire concept.  That doesn't make sense to me.  How many times has the "fare that I have needed" arrived just before utter despair?  More times than I can count.  When these kinds of things occur they are tangible.  They are real.  The money in my wallet verifies it.  Hitchens probably should have driven taxi for a spell.  He just might have written a different tune.

And lastly, concerning his repetition as a great writer, I will say he was a very good writer, his only weakness being one of style.  Maybe he was just too concerned in getting all of the information competently upon the page.  I am sure that folks were at times intimidated by Hitchens which led to a wrong assessment.  I will give you two examples of two great prose stylists, one American, one British who excelled with writing the most fluid fiction and non-fiction.  The American is that native of Yahoo City, Mississippi, Willie Morris, who might be the American South's greatest writer.  Pick up his novel, "Last of the Southern Girls" and in the beginning passages read his description of Washington DC.  Wow is all I can say.

Virgina Wolff is my British nominee.  She who can't be mentioned took a photograph of me in a bathtub on the island of Volcano reading"To the Lighthouse."  Begin with that wonderful narrative.  I will leave it at that.  And I am getting hungry.  Writing is hard work. But compared to taxi?  I know the answer to that!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Greeting From Mexico City

Ola.  While all of you are braving? snow and ice and whatever winter nonsense being tossed upon your head, I have been enjoying a balmy 75 degrees Fahrenheit down here in the land of 20 cents subway rides and 45 cents tacos.  Mexico City is teeming with taxis, and I took one from the airport to my DT hotel, costing about $17.00 flat rate, and tossing an additional five on top as the guy was a true taxi professional taking me directly to my somewhat obscure hotel.

Briefly a few words about my just past taxi weekend, and thank goodness the Sunday storm was modest as I drove from its beginning to its whimpering conclusion.  As I have recently alluded, during these "you never know what is going to happen" winter days and months, I wondered what would bring in the money that weekend. Knowing the weather reports, I thought that a bit of snow would turn the trick, which is exactly what happened.  On early Sunday afternoon I even had a rare "triple load" which made me think for a moment that I was in Manhattan but that illusion quickly passed.

Saturday got off to a positive beginning, with a Zone 120 (greater Green Lake) taking me all of the way to the East Hill of Kent, Washington.  With tip I suddenly had a $82.00 trip translating to having my entire weekend nut in four hours.  Unfortunately later it slowed down but I was still hopeful that Sunday would be bountiful.

Sunday I awakened to a snow-covered morning though the major roads were wet and clear.  It was when I was attempted to reach a time-call in Madison Park (Zone 200) that I realized that we were in for some unpleasant weather.  Watching various cars spin and slide at about 32nd & Madison informed me I better rethink my strategy, extremely clear that at least for that moment no taxi would be making it over that hill. Taking a side road bordering the Arboretum, I believe it was 28th East, I carefully headed North to the University District.  Picking up a guy in the Wallingford neighborhood, the snow bellowed its arrival as we headed south down Aurora Ave North, huge white flakes inundating the roadway.

Dropping him off I went to the train and picked up a lady headed to the Pike Place Market.  At a stop light another woman going to 1st & Cedar jumped in, and half block later a gentleman from Vermont climbed into the front seat, wanting to go the Sea-Tac Hilton.  This, my taxi ladies & gentleman, is my kind of action.  After an urination stop on the side of the road, we ambled south-bound to Sea-Tac, the kindly passenger flipping me $25.00 on top of $40.  Anyway, even with various no-shows and other kinds of silliness I had a great day and a profitable weekend indeed. 

My LA-bound flight required some de-icing but nothing beyond that small delay hindered my eventual on-time arrival in Mexico City.  Tonight the night is clear and my friend Mark pointed out Jupiter.  Who can complain from the the 6th floor of an ersatz modern hotel?  Not me, not a discouraging word to be heard nor spoken.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Always Accompany Your Taxi Lawyer: Appealing Ain't So Appealing

Yesterday was a day of complete futility, going to my King County Supreme Appeals Court hearing only to find that I could offer no new evidence, the good judge in session only allowed to make her opinion from facts generated from my original municipal court hearing.  Given that I failed to accompany my attorney that particular ill fated  day,  I will never be able to officially state in court that the officer made a false statement leading to me being found to have committed the infraction, when in fact I had done nothing whatsoever. The lesson here, is always, I repeat always make your appearance in court.  The first time I break that steadfast golden rule I get burned. I could appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court but since the same rules apply there is exactly zero incentive to do so.

I did file an internal investigations report with SPD, and gave a fairly lengthy taped statement over the telephone.  What do I expect to come of that?  You and I already know the answer.  Isn't taxi fun?  We already know the answer to that question too!

The biggest surprise was to find that my faithful attorney had paid my fine months ago.  When I called his office to tell I owed them some money they said don't worry about it, my lawyer paid it evidently appalled that he had lost the case.  We have always had a good relationship, with him having saved my taxi butt on various and sundry occasions.  I owe him an apology.  Not only have I been a fool I have compounded my crime by being an idiot. Oh well!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Question & Answers Plus Trouble On the Greyhound

A taxi driver emailed me requesting that I take questions and provide answers upon "all topics taxi", becoming a kind of taxi "Ann Landers."  Since I like that idea, fire away, leaving your questions in the blog comments.  Next week I will be in Mexico City for nine days so will have some time to ponder your taxi dilemmas. 

A taxi buddy called me tonight to say there is trouble afoot upon the DT Greyhound stand.  One of the Yellow taxi (zone) signs was evidently covered or marred with black spray paint.  The other sign has been removed altogether.  My friend also voiced his old suspicions concerning a certain female security guard who at times appears to be more intimate with the limo drivers than would be considered appropriate.  I have also observed her being chummy with our limo outlaws.  I have notified the City of Seattle concerning he situation and hopefully we will soon have a tranquil sea upon the taxi ocean.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Thank you Joyce!

During these, the doldrums that can be these chilly winter months, I take a deep breath before each shift knowing that luck and especial circumstance can and will make all of the difference, making or breaking a day or weekend.  January and February and March have traditionally been down months, a time when many of the foreign-born drivers return home for a two or three month hiatus, only to return in April or May to concentrate on the "cruise ship" months to make and take the relatively easy money.  Approaching then these the uncertain months with a cautious trepidation is I have found to be a beneficial route, and sometimes a Joyce will appear altering the bare landscape into a brief Spring, the crocus pressing upward through uncooperative soil.  Joyce appeared, or more correctly, reappeared in the West Seattle Admiral Junction, after moving to a very exclusive assisted-living facility.  I last saw see at her condominiums near Alki Beach, remembering her for an unusual generosity.  Though her state of health has changed, her kindness has remained consistent.

On a Saturday morning I took her to Belltown for a hair appointment.  $19.50 turned into $39.50.  The rebound which included a grocery store stop became $30.00 & $30.00 equaling $60.00.  She said she might call me on the morrow for some shorter jaunts.

A vibrant lady, age of eighty, had suddenly and unexpectedly passed, shocking the enclosed community that is the facility.  Her daughter had flown in from Berlin and Joyce, and another resident, Richard, needed to reach the Sunday occasion that was a celebration of this woman's life.  Down the street was $7.00 becoming $30.00.  The resulting $6.00 in return translated into $26.00.

Talking to her who can not be named I voiced a concern that Joyce might be early onset of something and I remained concerned that cognizance was an issue. But upon the Belltown return I understood that a mild eccentricity was not dementia.  So I accept Joyce as good fortune and welcome her calls as I never know what the taxi winter winds might bring.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Taxi Commission Goes Bonkers

Great headline you must admit, for the New York Post or the National Enquirer, and it is all true, unlike "Taxi Driver With Three Heads" or "Taxi Marsupial Hops Over Smith Tower."  Smith Tower,by the way, in Seattle, Washington was once the tallest building west of the Mississippi.  Now it is dwarfed by taller but inferior buildings though it is now for sell.  Anyone interested?

But it is true, the commission outdid itself yesterday by the sheer audacity of what occurred.  It started off pleasantly enough with a presentation by Bill Moomau, my Labor & Industry contact who, you might remember rode with me in 478 a few weekends past.  He was explaining the new L&I rules which I have been commenting upon the past few weeks.  Bill was accompanied by L&I associates Al, whom I have spoken with over the telephone, and Ethan, who is the taxi industry L&I account manager.  I kind of put Bill on the spot, asking just what the definition of "covered worker" is.  One thing I am learning about politics is that I don't like it.  I don't like maneuvering people into positions, especially people I like and respect.  It is distasteful and I end up feeling foolish and dishonest. I found a dead squirrel this weekend and felt like crying.  I don't think I was made for this rough and tumble world.

Complicating Bill's presentation was the "speakerphone attendance" of one commission member.  The member had difficulty at times hearing and following the conversation. This kind of attendance is not to be recommended.  Regardless of that, everything went quite well save for some rambling and disjointed questioning by some commission members.  Mister Moomau, with his usual grace and aplomb, avoided stepping upon any hidden land mines.  Did you know that for a number of years the leading cause of death of Falkland Island sheep were stray land mines placed by the Argentines?  I'll have to leave that for another day.

It was only when Craig Leisy of Consumer Affairs began his "for-hire car" presentation that everything went sour.  He had evidently notified various "For-Hire Car" associations that he would be doing this.  The "Eastside for Hire" president was the only one who made it to the meeting.  He by the way is an old taxi buddy and associate of mine, one of the key figures who along with me and others initiated the legal fight with Ron Sims and King County.  Due to poor supervision, he was allowed to sit at the commission table, unfortunately supplanting a King County Licensing supervisor.  That the commission remains disorganized is all too apparent.  And once Mister Eastside was invited to explain to the commission just what a "for-hire" company is, the commission, like a dysfunctional porcupine, displayed all its inherent flaws.  It was quite embarrassing as the L&I contingent was still in attendance.

Mister Eastside, like too many other _____cabbies I have seen at official hearings and meeting, began railing at everyone concerned including myself, his old trusted comrade. The biggest problem was the inaction of both our commission chairwoman and the KC liaison who oversees the commission to instantly put a stop  to his inappropriate outburst.  He even had me shouting at him to stop.  Making it worse was the howling of the electronically connected member who himself became his own version of indigant, flinging around accusations aimed at me and others.  It was quite the entertaining madness if one enjoys insanity.  Compounding the silliness was that for some untold reason our chairwoman thought it reasonable to invite Eastside back next month for what purpose I can't imagine. This was after his most amazing display.  When I said that we needed a vote of approval I was curtly informed by the KC liaison that it within the chair's discretion to do so independently of other prevailing opinions.  So there we were, suddenly transformed from a democratic commission to a single-party dictatorship.  Wow is all I can say.  We do have some seats open on the commission.  Don't all of you break down the door applying.  Why Position Three might be opening up soon too. I would not be surprised.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Why Is Everyone Trying to Hit My Taxi?

Last week I mentioned the subject of miracles.  One occurred early Saturday morning of quite another variety.  It would portend a series of near misses, especially last night when I was definitely a moving target.  It becomes boring quickly when drivers are constantly cutting you off to make turns both on surface streets and the freeway.  Clearly too many folks feel they can do anything behind the wheel and anything is exactly what they do.  But the first occurrence could or should have been the worse, disabling 478 for the entire weekend.

I had picked up a DSHS client who had been waiting nearly two hours for a taxi.  As I left in a message to  dispatch, when we (Yellow Taxi) are acting like an ambulance service we need to do better as the passenger was in severe pain and had no other option getting to the ER.  It wasn't that busy so there is little excuse except the usual incompetence which is never ending.  Taxi drives with a limp.  Painful to observe.

I get her to the hospital ER and notice a white van imperfectly parked in front, straddling the lanes.  Having come across this kind of nonsense countless times I parked about 20 feet away, allowing a safe distance from the offending vehicle.  As my passenger was stepping out, the white van suddenly drove toward us rapidly in reverse, clearly unaware of my taxi.  My passenger literally dived out of the way as the van made impact but amazingly missing both her and the open door and the body of the cab, the van's bumper making impact against the passenger-side rear tire. I truly felt that 478 was about to be demolished as I was helpless to move as the passenger was only halfway out of the rear compartment.  That the foolish young (I'm so sorry, she said) woman missed causing any damage or killing my passenger was the taxi divine intervention I referred to.  A video of this incident would leave you gasping in sheer astonishment.  The  girl's mother, who obviously was in terrible shape, came running out of the ER scared that her daughter was in serious trouble.  Clearly there was no damage.  Taxi angels had directed the van into the tire.  I said my usual prayers after such incidents and drove on to more fun and games.  Such is taxi.  Near disaster then on to the next fare.  Can anyone wonder why I am ready to exit this business?   What undiluted madness it all is. 

A few examples of those aforementioned fun & games:

The two guys coming from Hot Mamas Pizza flag me down but don't want to tell me where they are going,  a surefire hint that these guys don't like me and certainly are not very nice.  I say I have to have the address and one spouts out, "226 Ponitus North."  I ask him why he just hadn't told me the address and his answer prompted me to stop and say it was time to find another taxi.  His companion (drunk) said he couldn't believe that I was telling them to get out.  "You suck!" and I agreed that I did.  Getting out he proceeded to hopefully break his hand repeatedly slamming the trunk.  Though thankfully 478 is one tough taxi hombre and wasn't brothered in the least.

I pick up  a really nice guy going to Mill Creek from the greater Green Lake.  I later pick him back up.  He has been involved in real estate and we had a very informative conversation about the drop off in the local market.  He lives is in a house that he built for sale and thinks he might be able to keep his loss down to about $300,000 dollars. Sobering reality of trusting a system that doesn't care if you live or die.

But thank goodness for Mister McIver, a 15 year old Cairn Terrier who gave me a kiss.  Without him the entire weekend would have been bereft of meaning.  Nothing like the wagging of the canine be it short tail!