Monday, March 25, 2013


Stress.  There is not a taxi driver in Seattle who doesn't battle it, confront it, and quite often is defeated by the unreasonable pressure associated with the sometimes nefarious craft of navigating a cab.  Much earlier this morning a driver mournfully asked Jack the morning superintendent if there was an extra-board car available because his CNG (natural-gas powered) car would not start. He complained that this would make the third day he would miss work due to some mishap. Stress!  Exhausted past commonsense I had a spasm of empathy and jump-started his car.  Thinking that was the end of it I resumed my conversation with Jack when the driver came back and announced that his taxi (MDT) computer wasn't working.  Jack said he would reset the computer.  When I was walking out the door the fellow grabbed me because he still couldn't "log on."  I jumped into his cab, getting him "signed in" and also booking his car into Zone 270.  Turns out he has only been "out here" for nine months and is still learning the taxi ropes.  Hearing that I felt compelled to give him an instant tutorial about where to work.  Of course he knew very little.  Even the smallest of input will increase his income and perhaps lessen his daily stress.  And of course his wordless suffering.

And continuing upon a theme, the computer again crashed upon a Saturday morning.  Fortunately the circumstances were not as dire, starting at about 7:30 AM instead of 4:00 AM.  It must have been like wrestling with an alligator because the system would flicker on and off.  What a battle it was, with Fred the dispatch supervisor finally winning at about 11:30 AM.  I personally didn't receive a computer-generated bell for 4 hours and 20 minutes.  Lessons were clearly learned from the last breakdown, as they had us call in to receive bells.  The one call I got was gone by the time I arrived.  I at least appreciated the effort made.  Clearly this is a software problem, and Yellow is in transition towards a new system.  It can't come soon enough.  Losing those four hours put me under considerable pressure to make up the lost time.  Stress!   A $70.00 dollar (with tip) airport run in the early evening helped.  And my first call Sunday morning was a $64.00 dollar (with tip) airport run from Zone 115.

Capping my rally was an airport time-call due at 9:00 PM Sunday night on Mercer Island, Zone 430.  The only problem is that when I accepted the call  at 8:56 PM I was at 3rd and Pine, DT Seattle!  Amazingly I made it to a god-awful difficult address in 16 minutes, that after braving the notorious Mercer Island police.  What happened is that the bell on the bid screen was listed as a 430-C fare which meant it was an account fare.  All those inexperienced Sunday night drivers thought it was something that it wasn't.  I  certainly appreciated the seventy dollars but I think I deserved a "stress" surcharge.  It is a wonder I don't need some kind of sedative.  It just might help.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

When The Small Error Becomes Profound & Two Weekend Assaults

A nearly constant complaint has been the small errors originating from the call takers.  The response from dispatch is that mistakes are inevitable.  Whether that is true or not, it appears to be reality that even the smallest transcription mistake can be consequential as evidenced by what happened to me on a busy Saturday afternoon.  This is what happens when a "W" is typed instead of the required "E", resulting in an addressing error that was nearly catastrophic.

I was working in the north end, Zone 105, the "Northgate" which put me squarely in the middle of two adjacent zones, Zone 100 to the west and Zone 110 to the east.  Offered a bell in the 100, the "Greenwood" I accepted as you never know.  The given address was listed as 10740 8th Avenue NW.  When I accepted the call I was near the eastern perimeter of Zone 105 so it meant the call was about two miles from my beginning point.  It unfortunately turned out that I was in reality about 15 blocks from the actual address, which instead was on 8th Avenue NE.  If dispatch only had real typists performing that all important of functions, inputting addresses into the computers I would think that the majority of these errors could be eliminated.   

Knowing the addresses fairly well I had my doubts about its legitimacy, knowing that it had to be just south of that huge greenbelt known as Carkeek Park.  Arriving there I quickly realized that the given address did not exist.  Calling the long-distance number listed in the address information I was told that they were in a large apartment complex at the "NE" address, and please hurry, they were already late as they were heading to the airport for an international flight.

Of course the traffic back was horrible, as I got caught sitting behind a long string of cars heading to the Northgate Shopping Center, their address of course tucked behind the eastern boundary of the mall.  Fun it wasn't as I simultaneously had two very close calls, first missing by a cat's whisker one car, then nearly crashing into another vehicle.

After that stupidity everything else was easy as they were frantically waiting in front, quickly tossing them and their luggage in and off we flew into the rain and heavy traffic.  I got them there without further incident but hell! all of it was so unnecessary, twenty-five extremely painful and wasted minutes expended for no good reason whatsoever.   Why, why, why?  But of course I know why, just not liking the answer.  Who ever said knowledge was liberating is an idiot!

And a sorry postscript to all of this is that while I am writing this my friend Win calls me in a state of desperation because she and Melody, who is in a motorized wheelchair, have been waiting two hours at the Greenwood Fred Myers store and really need a wheelchair van.  Win finally called me at midnight because the store employees wanted to go home.   I called the "correct people in the know" and assisted in the process.  And glad to report that Win just called back this second (12:27 AM) and they have been picked up.  Hurrah!   Win is one of two people (friend Marty being the other) who got me started writing way back in 1973.  And Melody, who has two books published by Saint Martins Press, wrote the praise for my last book.  Thank goodness the van finally arrived!

A Stabbing & a Head Bashing

Here in Seattle serious taxi incidents are thankfully uncommon but this weekend two Yellow drivers found out that the worst can happen at any time and location.

Up on Capital Hill, one driver was attacked by a young white guy who stabbed him in the hand with a butcher knife.  The nurse up at Harborview Hospital had to hold the telephone for the poor guy while he talked to the driver superintendent .

And up in the Snohomish County city of Lynnwood, another Yellow driver was struck from behind and knocked out.  They also somehow broke a hand.  Fun stuff in the ersatz city.

While gassing up very early Monday morning I told a fellow driver about the incident.  You should have seen his face!  Yes we all know it can happen to any one of us at any time, none of us exempt from sudden madness.   What a nice reality!

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Half Hour With Sally Clark &

This morning taxi colleagues Chris, an industry lobbyist and Abebe, the president of Seattle Yellow taxi and me got to spend a bit of time with Sally Clark, the current president of the Seattle City Council.  As many already know, yesterday a city council sub-committee had their opening hearing on that subject of great interest to us, regulation of the taxi and for-hire car and limo (town car) industries.  KOMO TV did a report on the issue yesterday.  See their website for their coverage which I personally give a C minus grading because it did not inform anyone about the historical background, meaning how we got to this impasse, to this mire of bureaucratic incompetence.

Today we delivered a firm message.  We want real enforcement regarding the for-hires' illegal passenger pick-ups on Seattle streets.  We placed the responsibility upon where it belongs, the "unthinking" decisions made by the City of Seattle that encouraged the formation of an essentially unregulated and parallel industry that is in direct competition with taxis.  We outlined the enforcement failures which I have dubbed the "theatre of the absurd." Any other crime or multiple violations of this magnitude, perhaps numbering weekly in the low thousands, would prompt an immediate intervention by municipal authorities.  Instead we get a report heralding the approximate fifty for-hire citations that the city issued over a 90-day period. 

If these same fellows were pickpocketing us they would be quickly apprehended.  But isn't it the same crime as they stop and pick up passengers that in any other situation would be ours?   The for-hire industry is stealing our fares, and making it worst, simultaneously seeking validation. Amazingly, they are asking for their thefts to be vindicated by the City of Seattle.  How can anyone take their position seriously?  Why would they?  Do you?

Yesterday it was mentioned, and repeated today that the city council thinks it would be a good idea to have the for-hires represented upon the taxi commission.  What both a laughable and horrendous suggestion that is.  Isn't that like asking the mugger who hit you over the head to now sit down to dinner and forget all about it. "Pass the butter, please!" and  "Oh, thank you!"

 Ms. Clark is a good council member, very thoughtful and thorough but for at least as long as I am associated with the commission, I will not sanction the for-hires or the limo industry's (as had been suggested by former council member Jan Drago) entry upon what is our sacred territory.  As I have suggested, and will continue to press for, is a commission comprised and occupied solely by taxi industry members.  If the for-hires survive this process, which they well may not, let them have their own commission.  Water and oil does not mix.  We did not invite them to our party. And what happens when we called the regulatory police in?  They tell us to hold hands and be happy. This is not an acceptable response from the city. Again, this is not in any manner acceptable.  It is insulting. 

Today found the three of us compliant and friendly, willing to listen to proposals.  Sally Clark is still in an initial stage of gathering information.  She will also be attending the next taxi commission meeting April 2nd, 2013 at 9:30 AM, Level 2 at the city hall.  Yes today we were cooperative, taking a wait-and-see stance.   But if I am reading the taxi tea-leaves correctly, the industry will have to respond before all of the demand studies and the various council hearings are completed.  In short, we want action, we want enforcement, and we want it now.  We have been waiting patiently for over three years.  It is unreasonable for anyone on the city council or in the mayor's office to think we should continue to trust their leadership.  We know where they want to take us.  And it is to a destination that we not willing to go.  We don't want to go there. We will not go there.  You will be going there alone.

Valuable Website

In an unfamiliar city and need to know how much a taxi is from point A to B?  Then go to and use their site to calculate the fare.  She-Who-Can't-Be-Named, using their system, calculated what the fare would be from my old co-op apartment up on 15th & E. Olive Street to my sister's address near Carkeek Park.  She got an estimate of $28.00 during normal traffic which sounds correct to me.  They also gave estimates based on medium and heavy traffic times.  I was impressed and I bet you will be too!  So next time you are in Paris.........

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Taxi Poster Child & Open Letters To L&I & The City of Seattle

This description of a Yellow driver yesterday blocking the confined construction site that is Amtrak's King Street Station is a situation "tailor-made" for the taxi spy reporting to the "higher" powers.  Every time I think about rumors associated with me my thought is that these "perpetrators" of specious and idle innuendo have failed to have that most important of discussions: with themselves.  I have found that the most helpful dialogue I usually have is internal, the weighting and balancing of incoming information which is then, after thoughtful consideration, disseminated to a larger audience.  I have also just described the writing process , which must be far more careful (and factual and concise) than that actively verbal outpouring known as spontaneous conversation. 

But in every taxi test or criterion that I know, this fellow failed miserably, and this isn't a rookie I am describing.  Instead he is one of the many professionals from the so-called "Third" or developing world who are driving taxi rather than being allowed to practice law or medicine or whatever else they were trained in. I guess speaking four languages isn't good enough.  What he isn't is a good cabbie because, if possible, he has less interest being out here than I am, which is really saying something. 

Too many of these "cultural" prisoners are wasting away beneath the top-light.  Bad attitudes then are understandable if not completely justifiable.  If their degrees had come from Oxford, taxi driving would not have been necessary.  And if you think that the color of their skin has nothing to do with it, think again because you are naive. Racism is alive and well, thank you, and when visiting the state of South Carolina remember NOT to salute the state banner above the local court house.  And wasn't George Washington a slave owner?  Oh I'm so sorry, just another good citizen relating to the morals of his particular time and place.  Talk about naivete.

I was wondering why all these cars  were backed up, and once everyone cleared away, I understood why.  The gentleman in question's taxi was idling, parked a good ten feet away from the curb.  I understood that he was processing a credit card, a common enough occurrence but parking in an unobtrusive spot is essential in cramped environments.

Finally the passenger emerges, cane and oxygen in hand, directly entering the station.  The driver then pops the trunk, leaving the taxi and takes one bag from the trunk, all the while the taxi is idling away.  So far nearly ten minutes has passed.  He remains staring at the station, clearly waiting for the passenger.  2-3 more minutes are expended before she returns.  Then and only then he grabs a box filled with oxygen cylinders which he places about three feet from the taxi. Finally the woman hauls all of her belongings in while the driver, still blocking the roadway, chats with another driver, completely oblivious to any and all consequences.

Of course all of this was like watching paint dry but nonetheless it was appalling given the alternatives like pulling the cab over to the side and turning the motor off.  While the card is being processed, he could have jumped out, putting her belongings next to the station door.  After finishing the transaction, he then should have assisted the disabled passenger with her luggage into the interior of the station.  Isn't that what anyone would do since she could barely walk and clearly burdened by her weighty bundles?

But of course I am being redundant because my secret report has already been filed and I can almost hear the screams of the driver as the bad cabbie is filleted into slender slices by Yellow's in-house torturer.  But don't worry, if he succumbs in the process Yellow provides free cremation services.  And of course for turning him in I received a bonus in addition to my already generous salary.  The sad part is that someone is going to believe this.  Isn't that funny?  Or is taxi completely devoid of humor?  I kind of think it is.

Dear L&I: An Open Letter & Invitation

Hello Labor & Industry,

Since our meeting of August of last year I thought we had mended the taxi fences.  Knowing that everyone seated around the table were good and reasonable public servants  I held every hope that your agency would be responsive to our argument and concerns.  Thus I was shocked to discover that the punitive audits continue, and worst, your agency are making unreasonable demands.  Though understanding that most of us grew up in the psychedelic 1960s, hallucinations and flashbacks, reliving Alice in Wonderland scenarios just can't be included in any public process.  I thought we had all graduated to sipping red wine while reading William Butler Yeats before a roaring fire?  My friendly suggestion is that you toss all those audit reports into the fireplace.  And if they existed, you could also toss all of those thousands of taxi trip sheets from the years 2009 and 2010 in with them.  But since associations are only required to keep them for two years you will probably have difficulty using them as kindling.

And this is where my invitation comes in, inviting all of you down to Seattle and obtain your Seattle/King County taxi-for-hire licenses.  Then, and only then it appears  will you understand that you, like your fellow drivers, are not employees but independent business owners.  And like me, when you do your "turn," that is pay your lease, you will  fill out like I do a blank trip sheet, printing across it the three word statement "For Payment Only" which is all I am required to do.  All record keeping can only be required by the individuals running their businesses.  The associations in Seattle are not the taxi driver's employers.  By joining us you will also wonder "just what are those folks in Olympia doing?" So when you return to your desks you begin scratching your heads, puzzling at just what was I thinking?   I know you will.  I have faith in you even if the voting public doesn't.  Thank you.

Joe Ostrich

Dear City of Seattle: An Open Letter About Your "For-Hire" Car Licensing Decision

I know that on Thursday you will be having hearings about your decision to release all those pesky "for-hire" licenses that are currently plaguing the Seattle & King County taxi industry.  I know you have expressed your concern by authorizing a "demand" study that will take who knows how many months, conducted by someone who knows nothing about the taxi industry.  Though I know you think you are being responsive I have to tell you that it is all too little too late because the damage has been done.  Need I remind you that band aides do little to stem massive bleeding or beat back flesh-eating bacterial infections? 

This is my unfortunate assessment.  That the locusts are devastating our passenger base, mowing down our business like amber fields of ripe grain.  That you released a parallel industry upon us saying, "Oops!" "Sorry about that!"  That you continue (along with your partner King County) to license up to 50 new drivers monthly despite the industry having no requirement for them,  saying nothing whatsoever about impact or propriety.

And that these new drivers are completely unprepared, with no qualifications to be operating a taxi, you again say nothing. That too many of them have car accidents in their first year you have no comment.  And then insurance payments go up, costing all of us money.  All of this you are completely unaware.

And given all of this, you expect us to sit on our hands and wait, remaining patient while everyone talks endlessly about a problem you created.   Your expectations are not reasonable, so don't be surprised if the industry decides to hold you completely accountable, demanding damages.  Because you did this without thinking, without any impact or contingency studies.  And now we have an untenable situation.  And worst, you are making us the responsible party, saying we have to come up with the solutions.  Is this what is called good government?   Heaven help us.  Where is Mayor Royer when we need him?



Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I Believe There Is Nothing That Can Dissuade Me

Yesterday's commission meeting was the final straw that has broken the taxi camel's back, firming my resolve to resign my position at the end of my second year which is June.  Only my sense of responsibility keeps me from walking away today.  Like the straw, the burden is accumulative, idle rumors and absent commission members insulting only further any assemblage of personal propriety I have managed to build.  No, this is not a "polite society."  I want out.

 More than once since my active political involvement dating back to about 2007 I have clearly stated the various problems and their potential solutions.  Finally it appears that King County will begin examining driver training which contains so many inherent deficits.  I lost count how many times I have said that KC & the City are graduating poorly prepared drivers who have no business whatsoever operating a taxi.  One would think that the high first year accident rates would send a clear message. 

But I have found over my twenty-five years that no one is clearly paying attention to the industry, and those involved internally, the active participants, have been to varying degrees immature, socially alienated and generally incoherent.  In other words do the math and when adding dysfunction to dysfunction the resulting equation is chaos.

Yesterday when I put forth a motion to remove a commission member who had missed three consecutive meetings it was tabled to give the individual one more opportunity but why, why had he earned our deference?  If and when local regulatory authorities and the industry itself realize that we must operate professionally at all times we will then and only then begin to adequately function.  Our job and focus is not to administer first-aid.  It is to functionally operate a business. 

Part of my problem personally is that I do understand fully what crazy is.  From 1974, beginning with my first psychiatric counseling position at Community House Psychiatric Drop-in Center to my last professional positions in 1993, a near span of twenty years, I saw crazy first hand.  I know it from the many patients and clients I encountered.  I know it from many of the so-called professional colleagues I worked with.  From 1985-90 I worked with a very difficult population, developmentally-disabled sexual offenders.  That immersed me in the world of sexual therapists and sexual-deviancy related therapies.  I saw the dysfunction first hand and I see it now.  Nothing short of divine intervention will compel me to stay.  Being inundated by madness every Saturday and Sunday is enough.  I can't take it and I will not take the abuse any longer.  And yes, let the rumors begin!  How the inmates love to mutter amongst themselves, slicing their wrists puzzling at the blood.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Snowing On Squak Mountain & Rumors: All The Bad Things I Am Doing

The daylight hours this weekend were wonderful, hints of Spring and blue skies enticing Seattle winter Neanderthals out of their lairs.  But at night, especially the early morning hours late Winter punched early Spring in the nose, frosting the cars and atop the near peaks in Issaquah, filling elevations above 800-1000 feet with snow flurries.

The first half of Saturday was good, meeting what I call my second minimum which meant the day held potential for something special.  I am always persistent but a new focus occurs when big money becomes a possibility.  Many in this business either relax or go home altogether after some initial success.  As I said, that is not my style.  A charity event was ending in the Fremont, with the announcement that their would be voucher customers waiting.  I had checked it out earlier but drove away having become impatient with all of the valets clogging the street with cars.  I got a twenty dollar fare else where but a further announcement prompted my return.  This time I decided to be smart and park in front of the congestion.  Sure enough within 2 minutes I had a female customer going east to Issaquah and up and up to one of the neighborhoods residing atop one of the smaller Cascade peaks.  By that time the predicted rain storm had hit and driving was extremely hazardous.

The woman was fine but I wanted her to stop saying that all her friends get lost trying to find their way off the mountain.  It was a circuitous route though nothing I haven't encountered before.  My concern was that I was almost out gasoline.  "Yeah," I thought to myself, "what a perfect place to get stranded."  Anyway the fare was sixty-six and she threw me a twenty on top.  There was the snow and poor visibility.  Pulling out of the spectacular driveway I recounted by route, swearing that I would stop at the first gas station I saw regardless of the price.  Nearing the bottom I realized where I was and immediately found gasoline at $3.87 per gallon.  There was Front Street and off to Chinatown for fishball noodle, more than happy that my guess translated into eighty-six dollars.


A taxi colleague (and friend) asked me more than once that, "so it wasn't true" that I was having secret meeting with Novan (a primary owner) and the president of Yellow taxi, delivering lists of misbehaving taxi drivers for punishment and execution.  It was simultaneously funny and outlandish and appalling.  How I would have both the time and interest for such a project is something I don't understand.  All I can say, taxi will make you crazy.  We all know that.

Another rumor is that my colleague Chris and I gave someone $100,000 for what purpose I can't imagine.  As I told the person who called me up worrying about this nonsense, if I had that much money I would be giving it to myself.  End of story.  Nuts!