Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Disservice & A Seminar Upon Ice Formation

One of my great dislikes concerning taxi is its seemingly dysfunctional nature.  It is difficult if next to impossible to avoid the whirling vortex that is taxi as I know and certainly don't appreciate.  Webster's II New Riverside Dictionary defines disservice as a harmful action: injury.  The fifth edition of Webster's Collegiate Dictionary adds ill service to the definition.  The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged Edition contributes an ill turn.  All this and more occurred to me and more on an early Sunday afternoon when I brought the new 478 in for service, that is its monthly maintenance review.  Every so often upon a weekend day I receive the dreaded message to bring the taxi in, dreaded because it takes away from my very finite hours.  Since I am only out there two days every hour is precious, not to be abused or taken lightly.  That I lost nearly three hours and was castigated and blamed to boot causes this commentary.  When entirely innocent, one is rankled by unjust chastisement.  It pisses me off is what it does.

Given that the new Crown Victoria is a wonderful car, performs well, and is just a terrific taxi, I didn't mind bringing the car in.  I got the message late because I slept til nearly 10:30 AM and only turned on the computer just after eleven.  Thankfully I got a fare to the Coleman Ferry Dock, $27.00 including tip which put me much closer to the lot.  They were calling for cabs at the train so after a short trip I was there at the garage.  Initially everything went well, telling me it would take a maximum of an hour, I sat down to finish last night's chicken chow foon with black bean sauce and read the paper.  Normally I would be able to find a replacement cab but recently the weekends' superintendent's office has been chaotic, manned by folks who have never spent a second beneath the top-light.  It appears their incompetence has even caught the jaundiced eye of Yellow management and soon there will be replacements.  In other words, they can't figure anything out so sat I did munching away.  I am still awaiting the return of an old colleague who is back home in Somalia.  Last year he said he wished he could get rid of me but as I have been saying, who wants to be there?

Everything appeared fine and the car was done until a brake line blew and it apparently was all of my fault.  Someone had apparently hit a curb who knows when, damaging the rim, with that somehow impacting the brake line.  Since I was the one most recently in the taxi it was of course all my fault.  So much for my positive and patient attitude.  They blew that up.  And to make it worse, the mechanic assigned to 478, after insulting me, said he was going to lunch.  I yelled "Taki!", who of course is the big boss and Taki mumbled something, gave him a look and the mechanic got right back at it.  When he pulled the car out of the shop I pointed out a blemish on the right-hand bumper that could have only been caused by the new night driver or perhaps one of the early replacements.  I was attempting to make a point.

If anyone thinks I overreacted all I can say that once I got started again, I pulled in 50 bucks between 3 and 4 PM.  But hey, 478 was again running well and with new rear brakes I was ready to go.  Like I have been stating, I have reached a limit.  This one tiny incident displays why.

Weather Lecture April 10th, 2012, 2:00 PM

Date and time is set, money for the banquet hall has been paid, and Professor Cliff Mass, our famous local weather guru and local NPR radio star, will be talking to hopefully hundreds of interested cabbies on the not so esoteric subject of black ice formation.  It will be held at the Tukwila Community Center located next to the Duwamish River.  Address and directions later.  All drivers and owners of the various local taxi associations are welcome.  I can still see those two airport Yellow taxis flying by me at 60 MPH on that snowy and icy January 15th evening.  I was pedaling along at 40.  I wonder why?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

When Vision Is Hallucination

You might have difficulty guessing by the title that I am referring to the most recent taxi advisory commission meeting.  That it is tied to sentiments expressed in my last posting says it all.  My frustration has entered into a personal crisis mode and how that translates I am not altogether clear.  But before addressing the meter increase, which of course was the topic and purpose of the special session, I can report of some positive movement generated by King County.  At least in this isolated subject I couldn't be more pleased.  It shows that indeed folks in licensing have been listening to what the industry has been saying.  For those of us old enough to remember the good, old bad days of Ron Sims & Jim Buck, we can only exhale in a huge sigh of relief!

Before we began our meter rate discussion, Jodie Trueblood presented us with an outline of King County code changes.  There were two in particular that caught my immediate attention. Code 6.64.370 Vehicle Standards---Restricting Top Light to Taxicabs, which means that those "for-hire" cars will hopefully soon be forced to remove the "false" top-lights which are currently confusing potential passengers, providing the clear impression that they are legitimate taxis, which they are not.  They are a different species of commercial passenger transporting vehicle. 

The other noteworthy code was 6.64.690 Soliciting and Cruising Standards---Restricting Cruising to Taxicabs, which allows King County codes to match the City of Seattle which forbids "for-hire" cars to cruise and roam the streets like taxicabs are wont to do.  Previously there were no restrictions in place.  This new rule puts further emphasis on the original operating limitations applying to the "for-hire" industry, meaning that all passenger pickups must be made by prearrangement only. The cruising that has been so wide spread recently upon Seattle's streets will now also be forbidden on all King County streets.  I am assuming that also means that they will be barred from sitting on hotel stands,which would make sense. Both of these code changes means that the "for-hires", at least for the moment, have been thwarted in their attempt to receive the kind of official recognition recently awarded to New York City's livery cab industry.  During the recent explosion of new "for-hire" vehicle licensing, certain elements of that community whispered that soon they too would be given meters and allowed to act like normal and real taxis.  That this fantasy had no true basis in fact is too typical of my experience during my nearly 25 years association with the industry.  Reminds of all the promises made by the original leader of the Green Cab applicants a few years back.  He would tell people anything while taking their money.  In the taxi industry, honesty unfortunately hasn't always been the first policy.

And now returning to my intended subject, all I will say is that my framing of the issue appeared to be misunderstood.  For me, clearly it was the State of Washington and its agency, Labor & Industry who forced the taxi industry's hand by applying over six million dollars in audits to taxi companies both large and small throughout the state.  The response, instead of hiring a lawyer and suing, was one of compromise, which resulted in HB 1367 and the capitulation of the industry.  As I have noted in earlier postings, my involvement with the issue began during the very latter stages of the argument and negotiation.  If I had been enlisted earlier, I would have pressed for a legal fight, and would have of course involved my lease-driver brethren in the tussle.  Now all I am hearing is the predictable moaning and groaning, which of course achieves nothing whatsoever.  What I wanted the commission to do yesterday was to understand that our only real path toward success and viable conclusion would be to have both King County & the City of Seattle inform the State of Washington that they would not be implementing the meter increase, thus returning the entire mess directly back into Labor & Industry's bureaucratic lap.  That my proposal appeared obtuse to my fellow commission members, again, perhaps seen as a kind of conceptual hallucination lent further to my already raging sense of impotency.  Can I take this madness to its preordained illogical conclusion?  And of course, being a real "red-blooded" cabbie I can endure endless abuse.  But do I want to?  My answer is short and simple.  I do not!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Building Up To Something

I could tell, once again, after visiting my friend Frank, who is rehabbing from complications related to diabetes, that I have had enough of taxi.  The question is, just what will I do about that obvious fact?  Visiting Frank appears to bring out the complaint in me, probably because we have a similar knowledge and attitude toward taxi.  He actually has more years in the industry than I have though he hasn't driven beneath the top light for over two decades. Currently he is the resident computer hound and works in the Yellow HopeLink accounts office.  Frank has a unique position in my mind having survived a gun blast inches from his head.  His hearing in that particular ear remains impaired.  Frank understands taxi thoroughly and the endemic madness peculiar to the occupation.  It's rare that I trust someones' knowledge.  Frank knows the territory which allows me to vent my frustrations, and believe me, they are legion. Taxi drives me wild, and I am feral to begin with.  Doesn't take much to get me going.

The money was excellent this weekend, in a sense a personal record given I am now starting later since Jack's death.  A combination of events, including a Saint Patrick's Saturday night threw folks into the taxi.  I did 61 fares that day, totalling up to 84 for the weekend, translating into 3 full trip sheets plus 8 fares.  61 isn't my record but it is close. Sunday I had a $110. fare including tip.  All of this is great but unfortunately devoid of personal meaning.  Clearly I will be accelerating my other writing projects.  Nonsense is nonsense and taxi for me now represents the nonsensical.

Tomorrow the taxi advisory commission is holding a special session addressing the proposed meter increases that are related to the Labor & Industry decision.  I will probably have some commentary upon that later this week.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Taxi: "It's Gambling!"

While my brother Steve and I were driving near downtown Toledo, Ohio on a fine, early Spring afternoon and talking about taxi he suddenly exclaimed, "It's gambling!" and truly I couldn't have put it better because everyday you throw your dice upon the taxi streets hoping to come up with some nice numbers.  Each day or night is self-made.  You can never  completely know what is going to happen, or using the gambling analogy further, what cards you will be dealt.  Of course every cabbie  anywhere in the world knows this.  It is their creed. You can not force it, as the cabbies in Malta tried, literally chasing you down the street; or in Lima, Peru, blocking your way as you wandered in the airport.  Better to take it as it comes.  Like Steve says, it is a gamble.  My advice will always be to either play the game properly or get out.  Cheaters end up with a sore nose.  That is guaranteed!  Taxi has its own innate honesty, and justice!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Palisade Resturant Dishwasher: Another Story of Inequity & Woe

As I have said too many times already to countless passengers, the best (and worse) side of taxi is being assigned a very unique front row seat on life as it REALLY is, total and unblemished reality dumped on your lap, kind of like a clumsy waiter spilling the main course on your Sunday best.  That happened this past taxi Sunday when, upon missing two buses, the young man working as a dishwasher at one of Seattles' most prominent restaurants, had to grab a taxi to a job he had no interest in doing, desperate because his job as a non-profit office manager ended too many months ago.  The going rate for a dishwasher at the Palisade, located below the Magnolia Hill bluff, and famous for its sweeping view of DT Seattle and Elliott Bay, is $10.50 a hour.  The average menu item is $31-50.00.  His current wage is nine dollars less than his last position.  It cost him $20.00 to go from West Seattle to the restaurant, even after I had cut the meter at the Garfield Street Bridge, translating into essentially one quarter of his total daily wage. You should understand that Palisade policy is to begin tracking your time if you are late.  There is hell to pay if you are seven minutes plus late. The poor guy was spooked.  He could not be late.  As he said, he had alimony and rent to pay.  In other words he felt trapped.  He had returned to school but the schedule was just too much.  He now plans on taking one course at a time.

The bus ride and journey to work is in itself a testament of endurance.  First the walk to the bus stop, then the 15 minute wait DT for the bus which drops him about 3/4 of a mile from the restaurant.  He has little time to spare.  One miscalculation and the clock starts ticking on his precious job.  I offered to train him in the finer points of taxi driving.  As horrible as taxi is, it is heaven in comparison to this personal hell.

And you might do the math in relation to the Palisade customers.  Two $31.00 appetizers plus two $50.00 entrees & wine & dessert & coffee and a couple walks out of there with a $250-300. bill before the tip.  Believe me, this is one popular joint. Corporate types are always going in and out with their clients, their expense accounts ringing up grand totals. You should just hear their important conversations! And they pay the dishwashers $10.50 an hour!  I told him about my first job when I was 15, washing dishes, making the hash browns and doing about 5 other chores all for ONE DOLLAR a hour at the Air Park Truck Stop in Watkins, Colorado during the Summer of 1969. Yeah, you might say that on some level I understand what he is going through.  I did enjoy the 5 cents all-you-could-drink coffee at the Air Park.  Those were the days on the penny-pinching prairies!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cabbie's Reading Corner, 2nd Edition

I feel extremely lucky to have found four volumes of the "Works of John Burroughs" at Twice Sold Tales for the steal of one dollar each.  Burroughs (04/03/1837-03/29/1921) you might know was an American naturalist of much renown in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  I read a small collection of his perhaps 10 years ago and was extremely pleased to discover these beautiful books complete with the most wonderful illustrations.  The publication date is unclear, along with the total number of books in the set.  I do know that each volume I have were published separately in various years.  The book I have started with, "Locusts and Wild Honey," was published in 1879 and listed as volume IV. I have a long way to go as I just finished the first 23 page essay "The Pastoral Bees."  In those distant literacy days writers did not fool around, composing in depth upon a given subject.  Here is an excerpt, a homely old stanza he called it:

                                             A swarm of bees in May
                                             Is worth a load of hay;
                                             A swarm of bees in June
                                             Is worth a silver spoon;
                                             But a swarm in July
                                             Is not worth a fly.

I have at least a months' reading ahead of me.  I am looking forward to it.  The other volumes I have:

                                             Fresh Fields, Volume VI, 1884
                                             Riverby, Volume IX, 1894
                                             Literary Values, Volume XII, 1902

Reading about the bees I was struck by its simplicity, by a country life portrayed before the horror that was the 20th Century.  I long to live in the country again, as I did as a child.  I am ready to join Burroughs and write about buzzing bees.  Anything but taxi!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Gainesville, Georgia Taxi & The VA Discharge at 2 AM

Today on the radio program "The World" from PRI (Public Radio International) they featured a story about taxi drivers in the small southern US city of Gainesville, Georgia, population 33,000, and how they drive workers to and from the various chicken processing plants.  Business has been booming lately for the eight cab companies comprising a total of 179 taxis since the State of Georgia passed a bill allowing Georgia police to check the immigration status of anyone they might stop, even for the most minor of offenses.  It has resulted in folks taking taxis instead of driving their own cars.  Everyone is afraid of being arrested and deported. I highly recommend that you go to the website "" and click on the feature from Wednesday March 7th, 2012 where you can listen to the original interview with driver Maria Romero and also watch the BBC video concerning the story.  Another slice of the taxi pie!

Sending Curtis Back to Tallahassee

My last fare of the weekend was one I should have argued against, telling the nice woman at the Veterans Administration Hospital ER that I wouldn't be taking the passenger to the Greyhound Bus Station at 2 :00 AM because the station would be locked.  Going against my better judgement I took the extremely distressed Curtis B. from Tallahassee, Florida down to the closed bus station.  Occasionally they will let someone in.  On this particular morning we encountered a new employee who barred the door. The story I heard was painful.  Now you too can share in the pain.

Evidently Curtis was told by his local VA people back in Tallahassee that they had arranged for him to receive treatment for his post-traumatic stress here in  Seattle.  Curtis paid the $250.00 fare and endured the five-day journey to Seattle only to be told that he would be receiving nothing whatsoever but a kick in the behind.  Adding insult to injury they discharge him in the middle of the morning to my Yellow cab and the cold and alienation of the Seattle streets.  His bus was scheduled to leave at 10 AM.  The station didn't open until 7 AM.  Talking to his girlfriend over the telephone he spoke of suicide.  I called dispatch and eventually took him back to the VA Hospital.  Being from Florida he was freezing in the early morning cold.  No, I didn't get paid for taking him back and didn't care.  I called Senator Murray's office and told them about the situation.  Hopefully they intervened.  Nothing like taxi to have LIFE crammed in you face.  Life's sometimes harsh realities, that is.  Com' on everyone, join the Army, see the world, and guess what is going to happen once your service is over?  Try asking Curtis.  He'll tell you all about it!