Monday, April 30, 2012

A Taxi Hodgepodge: Ephemeral History Worthy of the Mayfly

Sitting here exhausted though I did have eight hours of collapsed sleep, my commentary tonight will be on the brief and usually unrecorded history that is a given fare or shift.  One might say that all human existence be it solitary or interactive is history in both the personal and collective sense.  The difference here is that I am recording what is usually passed by and given little to no thought whatsoever. What can be quite fascinating about the taxi fare is the instant meshing or collision of sometimes quite disparate personalities.  Sometimes the interaction is very successful yet often it is disastrous, a spontaneous combustion searing the mind.  I will give you a couple examples now and continue with more tomorrow.  My first two fares of the weekend amply the too typical entering and exiting of the taxi interior, moans and cries and profanities etching the night. 

I always hate responding to what is truly a corner call, in this case the White Center Walgreen's at 4:10 in the early morning.  Too often the fare has disappeared though also the reverse is true, that I wish they had found another form of transportation.  But there they were and not going very far, just a quick jaunt to 108th and 1st Avenue South.  Just as I turned onto 4th Southwest the male component of the couple announced he only five dollars which prompted me to hit the brakes and begin turning around, prepared on returning to the Walgreen's.  This prompted the young lady to announce that she had fourteen dollars which allowed the ride to continue.  Why, I asked the man, did you have to do that?  Thankfully another 60 seconds brought us to the destination and the six dollars that was owed.  What was his point?  That he disrespects everyone?  I kind of knew that already.

Again, near the Walgreen's a feminine arm shot,  a "well-known local prostitute" as she described herself, my U-turn prompting the attention of a King County Sheriff, who proceeded to banter with the lady of the not-so-good night.  After making some promises to that "keeper of the law" we continued on to her connection, telling her that five would do, ten not being necessary, kindness a balm to the earlier insult.  It was my beginning but her summation upon a dissatisfactory essay

Friday, April 27, 2012

Taxi Drivers Everywhere! & I Hate This When This Happens!

Greetings from San Francisco.  She who cannot be named and I have been camping and hiking in Henry Coe State Park about 70 miles south of here plus ambling about both the city here and in Berkeley.  Monday evening we were walking up from the 24 & Mission BART station when my tired self was nearly run over by a speeding Ford Escape Hybrid taxi going perhaps 55 mph in a 30 mph zone.  Maybe it wasn't that close but she was duly alarmed.  I just had to quickly limp out of the way. And referring to past observations relating to industry folks who feel they can say anything, it is clear that taxi drivers in general and particular feel they can do anything including driving like complete fools, their insular reality the only one counting in this human universe. As we got up to Church Street I saw another taxi going 40 mph and understand this is crowded and dense San Francisco.  As much as I love my taxi comrades I also on many levels think they are complete idiots. Why do I have that impression!?

How I hate.........

Last Saturday morning I started off with an airport run.  Great!  Coming back I see that zone 285 (Beacon Hill) is open so I do my "soon-to-clear" and end up first both there and the adjacent 286 (the VA hospital). Terrific except 30 minutes later I am literally talking out loud to myself with the above quote.  Fares are happening everywhere but there.  Maddening!  Finally after 45 minutes I head for the University District and find myself first car to go but oh no! suddenly a cancellation in front of me and now I am second up.  Frustration but eventually I get another Sea-Tac run, leveling out the missed hour.  Ah yes, nothing like silent misery!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Prognosis Post-Script & More New High Point

I wanted to place further emphasis on the "its the wild, wild west" component of taxi industry personality.   Its that amazing and prevalent permission to say and do about anything one wishes without thought and usually minus any consequence. When many years ago the aforementioned "classic" Rick angrily threw a seat cushion at me, how surprised he would have been if I had punched him in the nose!  He would have been shocked because every taxi driver knows that it is perfectly okay to jump up and down, scream and shout and in general be as insane you would would like.  Be responsible?  What the hell is that?  And given that attitude, I feel that is exactly what the commenter in that Saturday morning message was implying, making me just another self-serving taxi driver completely able and willing to manipulate the moment and situation to my advantage.  The why to that is simple.  Why would Blondo be any different?  He is a taxi driver. He is one of us and yes while admitting to driving a taxi I remain insistent  that it doesn't make me instantly pathological. Clearly I resent being covered ( and suffocated) by the taxi blanket.  This of course is an old story, one part fact and many parts fable which convicts before any judge or jury is convened.  Everyone is guilty which means I too must take the blow.  How could it be otherwise?  It is traditional and all traditions must stand.  To refute tradition is to malign established culture, providing new definitions to well-established norms.  But you can't do that.  Redefinitions are not allowed. You mustn't undermine unwritten and unspoken codes.  Why instead we might have sane and reasonable behavior and communication. What a shock to the taxi organism! What would be the alternative if we all stopped shouting?   Perhaps quietude on a taxi afternoon, Yellow western finches singing, and suddenly no one interested in mud slinging.  Ah yes, may we all join Thomas Moore and dream of a taxi Utopia, a land of free leases and no moving violations. Ah, if only such a place existed wouldn't we all be the better for it, daily "soma" washed down by free-trade coffee.  What a brave and new and happy world that would be!

New High Point Again

With no one responding, I step out and knock. A minute later a woman steps out and says just a moment.  She takes a few seconds to stare at me. Oh no! I thought. 

Out she comes and off we go to the local store for beer, cigarettes and ice cream.  No, I don't need anything.

Back at her place it is seven on the meter but she gives me fourteen.  She continues to give me a quizzical smile. She is waiting for me to respond.  I say here, let me open the door for you, and thankfully she leaves the cab.  I also have to grab her backpack to the door.  She is still smiling.  Goodbye I say.  Thank goodness!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Taxi As Cilent: Attempting A Prognosis

My focus this week will be upon a most surprising message awaiting me last Saturday morning but before I do that I instead what to concentrate upon some basic psychology governing the industry, namely its interesting permission to do and say almost anything regardless of consequence. I noticed it my very first weekend way back in September 1987 while driving an actual Checker taxicab for Rick P. and his tiny three car company, Classic Cab.  Rick himself was a taxi "classic", a true wild man confirming what I know to be the undeniable taxi credo: that any behavior is justified and most of all, money is the final argument and goal.  I liked Rick and am past due to say hello again to that complete character but we parted ways just before New Year's Eve 1988 because I refused to pay him $100.00 for the privilege of driving that particular evening.  My error was being too taxi efficient, Rick feeling it necessary to exploit my success. His loss was my gain as I eventually transferred over to a professional company, Farwest, where the pickings were easy, their business a ripe orchard heavy with fruit.  Never had a taxi driver been happier.

Returning to Saturday, upon signing in on the taxi computer it said my  ID was inactive, meaning that there was a message waiting for me.  This continues to be an annoying habit, preventing you the driver from working when the message could be as simple as "call home."  What it means is that you have to ask the driver superintendent to open his/her computer and bring up the message.  What the both of us saw was quite surprising.  Though pleased that my blog is gaining readership, someone found it necessary to comment upon my good fortune at the VA Hospital, saying in effect that I shouldn't be overcharging the government since I was given two separate charge slips for fares going to similar locales.  You might remember that I got lucky when I picked up at the VA Hospital a couple of weeks ago.  What made the comment somewhat shocking and odd is that it implied that I or some other driver had the ability to dictate or influence an account fare. All I did that afternoon is what I have done countless times, arrive at a destination and pick up the fare.  Coincidentally it appeared, the VA had two patients going to Lakewood and perhaps due to poor communication, had called for two taxis, hence the two vouchers. Double-belling happens all the time.  It is an occupational hazard. With staff understanding the situation, dispatch was called and asked if it was okay that I took both passengers.   Yes, it was okay, take them.  I was then handed both charge slips and off we went to Lakewood. Clearly they could have torn up one of the vouchers and sent me off with one but they didn't do that.  Again and again over the years it has been hammered home to all of us drivers that we cannot interfere with an account fare. The message appeared to suggest that it was my responsibility to tell the VA what they can or could do or not. Even a few weeks back, when the VA discharged a passenger off into the night to a closed Greyhound Bus terminal, I did it though clearly knowing it made little sense.  It wasn't my place to challenge their decision.  I can't remember I or any other driver being given that level of accountability.  That is what made the message unique. It was not a suggestion I or anyone else could or can  legally undertake. It could easily be our last time driving a taxi.  The accounts are ironclad.  The message is strict.  Don't mess with them.  Don't argue. Now you know why I say the best part of taxi is the money you're counting at the end.  Everything in between is to be avoided.  Clearly someone doesn't realize that what everyone reading  here is a variety of journalism, nothing less.  As I say, it is taxi in all its facets, good and bad. I do understand objections.  Observing the lopsided world that is taxi can be totally aggravating.  Perfection unfortunately appears to be in some future century, when taxis will fly through the air at subsonic speeds, yellow blurs defying all commonsense and reason. Kind of what we have now, only slower.  May we all hope and pray that all future cabbies will be better prepared.  Now it is just add fuel and mix, resulting in the worse indigestion.  Humankind wasn't designed to travel at the speed of light or even 70 mph.  May we all slow down, exhale, and relax!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Before I Sleep: SafeCo & Professor Mass

Briefly, very briefly as I have had little sleep the past four nights though getting things done. Met this morning with Kenny Pittman and two officials from Seattle Dept of Transportation and it appears progress was made concerning stand or stands for the upcoming major league baseball season.  It was a good session where I was able to accurately describe the reality and needs of the average cabbie.  I will keep everyone updated upon this always important issue. Thanks again, Kenny!

To say that we had a disappointing turnout for the "black ice" seminar presented by Professor Cliff a huge understatement. The lecture itself was excellent and will be used in future training.  I admit I was surprised by the low turnout.  It says nothing good when the death of a driver is not motivation enough to educate oneself thus potentially avoiding a similar fate.  For all of the drivers and owners who were working the day shift I can excuse them.  Nothing harder than to stop what you are doing in the middle of a shift.  But for the others not to take this opportunity was sheer foolishness.  It was free and could save their lives and prevent their children from going fatherless. All they had to do was show up and listen. Unbelievable!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Invisable Money & Double Ain't Trouble

The longer I am out here in "taxi-land" the more opportunity, if I can call it that, I have for additional experiences that could or should be categorized as unique or unusual.  I do prefer the mundane but with the full moon smiling down, different or troublesome should be expected.  Yes, I always anticipate the moon but welcome it I don't.  How can a $4.00 dollar fare become the memorable?  Less difficult that even I can imagine.

This particular customer originated in the New "High Point" as opposed to the old version which was completely torn down and replaced with "mixed housing" meaning an intermingling of wealthy individuals paying $500,000 dollars to folks paying little to nothing.  Interesting concept but wholly successful I believe the verdict remain outs.  Consequentially each call  is a veritable roulette wheel, rich or poor, sane or disturbed you never know.  Like a television game show you never know what is waiting behind that taxi curtain. Given that, each High Point call contains an unavoidable tension.  Certainly every bell holds that dimension but usually a neighborhood's demographics contains some measured predictability.  Highpoint, and its twins in the Rainier Valley, the new Rainier Vista and further south, the new and improved Holly Park all share this unique combination of salary structure and life experience.  Its egalitarianism taken to a social extreme or cultural pinnacle if you like, an accelerated Darwinian experiment simultaneously ignoring the slum and the penthouse.  My customer this past Saturday afternoon, though charming in her mild derangement, causes some personal doubt with this human potpourri.  Is this the most effective method toward societal equality?  I don't know the answer.

First off, I had difficulty finding her given the sometimes layout of the development. Though proud that I discovered her address, once exiting I saw her standing a good  hundred feet away.  Driving back around, the slightly disheveled and short woman (less that five feet) entered just wanting to go the local Walgreen's.  Speaking in whisper I couldn't tell if she was ill or permanently damaged.  Pleasant enough, I got her there in about 2 minutes.  All was normal until it was time to pay me the four dollars.

She had her right hand in an unusual grip. Here, she said, is your payment. Beckoning me to open my hand, her currency was a quick tap upon my opened palm.  When I told her that there was nothing there, she was clearly offended.  Com'on, I said, you have to pay which prompted her to dig into her pocket and pull out an imaginary book of Metro taxi script, placing it in my palm.  Satisfied that she paid the fare she got out of the cab.  Again mildly confronting her, she just stared at me, her indignation profound as how could I accuse her?  On some level it was humorous though I had to place her on the "no-service" list.  How she got back home I have no idea.  May an invisible pathway guided her back.

Not Trouble

Soon thereafter, I got belled into the VA Hospital for a passenger going to Lakewood, which is south of Tacoma, which I knew to be a hundred dollar plus fare.  Entering the ER lobby they had not one but two individuals, both with separate charge slips and destined for Lakewood.  Amazing, doubling my money but not the time. Call it the full moon on the plus side!  This one occurrence nearly doubled my then current roll.  Just like taxi!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Two Immigrants & Important to Correctly Read the Given Situation

As I have said, and will continue to say, as it is completely true, there is nothing like taxi to have you momentarily immersed in a complete stranger's life and predicament .  If I were to mention each situation and life dilemma that passes my way I would have little time for much else, a kind of taxi Ann Landers reporting on the general misery of Homosapien  existence. But this weekend, two stand out, both young immigrant women encountered on a taxi Sunday.  The first was from the Philippines, stepping off a fish processing ship.  The other, from Ethiopia, had just finished a long shift in a restaurant. She was my last fare of the weekend.

The young Filipino woman caught my attention because she clearly did not fit the "fish processor" profile.  That was clearly demonstrated by the individual attempting to hug her goodbye as she left the ship.  Being fairly attractive, with long waist length shimmering black locks, she was a target in the confined dwelling that is a ocean prowling boat.  How she survived a season out upon the  waves is beyond me.  I asked if she was going home, which is the usual destination. She said yes yet there was a clear hesitation.  She said it was her first stint fish processing, and noting her palpable vulnerability perhaps her last.  Upset, she appeared to almost tremble. She made a point of expressing that she was trying to create a life, having already spent a couple of years studying to be a "radar" tech.  I asked if she meant studying to be a radiology technician and yes, that was true.  She again made a statement about trying to find her way, I assume meaning in the USA and Seattle.  Upon answering her telephone, it was "Yes Babe" & No Babe" I will be there soon and other quick explanations sadly uttered.  The fare wasn't much to the Queen Anne area motel but she gave me a twenty, insisting that I keep the substantial change. Such confusion was difficult to process. In a determined march she made for the elevator to someone she profoundly doubted, trepidation her tail wind.  Such as taxi is, a family jumped in, heading for the  Pike Place Market.  One focus becomes another, and usually I forget but his time I didn't.

Belled in to restaurant near 12th and E. Yesler Way, I was past usefulness. Where ever the person was going, it would be my final fare of the weekend.  My body ached so I got out just to relieve the discomfort. After about 4 minutes a young woman opens the cafe door and says she would be out soon.  10 minutes later she hadn't come out though I could see the commotion occurring inside the restaurant as three woman were furiously working to shut down for the night. Finally she came out and said 130th & Aurora North and off we flew. We were both exhausted so nothing else was said until I was making my left turn onto 130th having just exited I-5 when she spoke up, asking if I was turning because she didn't hear the turn signals clicking.  Her question nearly brought me to a complete stop because I thought perhaps she was changing her destination, which occurs more often that one might expect. I just told her I was in the outer turn lane and completed the turn. This interaction made her embarrassed, revealing that she had been frightened that I was doing something odd or potentially dangerous. As we approached Aurora she apologized by saying her working at the restaurant (meaning the long hours) was "taking the life out of her.  She gave me 5 dollars on top of the 28.  She was ready to collapse, ready to sleep.  She had had enough of that particular day.

Two women, two lives, two struggles. Both were emotional, attempting to interpret what had befallen them. Sure, they were in America, the place they had once dreamed and fought to enter.  Now they were here. Now here was reality, bitter as it was.  In the few minutes shared they felt my empathy.  At least I hope so.  Sometimes life as we know it is difficult to watch, and participate in.  Next weekend another series of stories will enter the cab.  I have, and will continue to attempt to express a shared humanity.  Its the least I can do.  And believe me, quite often while driving that taxi, I am at my minimum.

Reading Correctly

Also upon a Sunday evening a young man jumped into the cab heading to a check-cashing outlet., in this case the First Hill Money Tree.  Every taxi driver hates the situation because too often things go wrong. Many refuse the ride. Me, I have seen this scenario many times so off we go to the closed Money Tree.  A new policy has all of the local outlets closing at 7:00 PM on Sundays.  With no alternative, we check out one more venue but no luck and back to Queen Anne we go.  I give him my card and said call me when you can.  He said, sure, sure, he will get me the twenty dollars on Monday.  Finally last night, on Wednesday, he calls. I say I am in Tacoma, and he says that he is working the door at the Hula and drop by.  I will.  I knew he would come through. It wasn't his fault.  He didn't chop down the Money Tree.  I wasn't concerned.  Due to my many teachers I know how to read.  As it is oft repeated, nothing is more important than literacy.  Obvious to me.  Nothing like opening a good book.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Fry Was Cooked From the Very Beginning

One major problem occurs when we are too busy.  Fares bunch up, especially in particular zones, and there they sit, dying upon the taxi vine.  It happens repeatedly minus resolution.  There could be ways of addressing the "river of  fares" rushing toward the taxi sea but at this moment and juncture nothing is being done, at least as far as I know.  Folks like Ms. Fry sit, and continue to sit and wait for the taxi that will never arrive, perhaps like a bad child waiting for Santa. His magical reindeer are parked, their engines idling.  She and so many others are completely naive, thinking that calling and requesting a taxi means one actually might arrive. This unfortunate situation is shared by all of the major associations, meaning the problem isn't confined solely to one company.  That it continues to this day, meaning my nearly twenty-five year marriage to the industry, says everything one would want about taxi. Imagine if a restaurant filled every available table only to randomly avoid serving their hungry diners. Why certainly there would be a nightly riot, tearing the joint apart.  Ms. Fry chased me down the street, such was her desperation for a taxi, any taxi!

Her ordeal began at 10:00 PM at the Bluwater Grill, Leshi, down on the west shoreline of Lake Washington.  She had called a total of four times, not understanding why her taxi would not arrive.  Luckily for her I had gotten a fare from the Sorrento Hotel down to the obscure street of South Fullerton, a winding byway of about three blocks length. Fullerton ends at Lake Washington Boulevard, which put me about five blocks from a tiny business cluster on Lakeside South.  Knowing the situation I headed that way, thinking I might encounter a stranded passenger or two.  Suddenly the before mentioned Ms. Fry came a running.  Wearing only a light dress, her internal temperature matched the lapping freshwater tide..  Eight minutes later I had her up to her First Hill destination, her ordeal over, at least this particular edition.  It was now just about midnight, her wait being of a two hour more or less duration. She was pleasant which I felt was a small miracle.

Every weekend I meet people like Fry, stranded upon the avenues.  There numbers are numerous, adding up to the unmentionable each and every Saturday night.  Some are so angry they wish to kill me though  I council them not to eradicate the messenger. I might be a paragraph but I am not the one composing and editing this particular volume of very real non-fiction. You won't find my image on the cover.  As I tell them, I am not the publisher.  Understandably, many believe otherwise, desiring to write me out of this particular storyline, not interested in neither rhyme or reason.  All they want is a ride from point A to B.  They don't want any excuses. All they want is a ride. And though I am just one individual I do what I can.  Maybe I am my own justification.  Which of course is another definition of the too average taxi driver flying down your local road!