Monday, September 29, 2014

Excerpt From A Magazine: "Small" Government Emulating Its Bigger SIbling

By now everyone in the local taxi industry knows how much power and sway Seattle and King County elected authorities hold over them, a few votes having turned our operational world upside down.  We also found that even though Mayor Murray and the Seattle City Council identify themselves as liberal and progressive, with Sawant calling herself a Socialist, it didn't stop them, save one brave soul, Mike O'Brien, from rubber stamping and validating the illegal incursion by Uber, Lyft and Sidecar into our protected, regulated (and fee-driven) industry.  Were their actions any different than might have been taken by those ultimate Conservative Boogie men, the Koch brothers?  I doubt it.

There are unfortunate parallels which says to me that power corrupts regardless of professed ideology.  One of the Koch brothers famously donates hundreds of millions of dollars to the arts and also cancer research. Does this now somehow make him an instant champion of so-called progressive causes?  Of course it doesn't, the profound irony being the immense profits generated by the Koch's potential cancer-source based industries and interests. 

I mention all this as the lead-in to an excerpt taken from the September 19th, 2014 issue (volume 14, issue 686) of "The Week, The Best of the US & International Media," which in turn had excerpted quotes from Jonathan Chait's 09/07/2014 New York Magazine's column entitled "Why the Worst Governments in America are Local Governments."  All of us who have been screwed by those wonderful, bleeding-heart individuals occupying City Hall and the council chambers should take note.  This article was featured on page 14 in the section called "Best Columns: The U.S."

"Among conservatives, there is an "almost axiomatic belief" that "government closest to the people governs best," said Jonathan Chait.  But in reality, local and state governments abuse their power far more than does Washington, D.C.  Take the city government of Ferguson, Missouri, "an Orwellian monstrosity" in which predominantly white politicians rule over a predominantly black population, using a militarized police, warrants, traffic stops, and court fines to dominate the population and siphon away its cash.  Throughout the country, it's towns, cities, and states that have the most intrusive regulations: In New York, San Francisco, and Washington, for example, liberal politicians refuse to authorize cheaper new rental housing that the market demands, thus driving low-income workers away.  The same government demand that hair cutters, interior decorators, and taxi drivers obtain a license to work---protecting incumbent businesses and driving up costs.  Why does Big Small Government get away with all of this?  Most citizens pay little attention, re-electing incumbents on party-line votes.  Neither liberals nor conservatives generally understand that "the government that actually oppresses us is that which is closest to us."

Has a truer statement ever been made, especially in light of what occurred and continues to happen to us in the local taxi industry?   Where is the promised enforcement?   Again this weekend, no where to be seen.  To me the local administrative attitude is "why care when you don't have to?"   Remember that when voting this November for your local favorite Populist, he or she may not really be who they seem to be at first glance or otherwise claim as they shout Liberty and Freedom from lofty towers.  Do we really need more Sally Bagshaws?   I think not!  Google " Jonathan Chait" and read his work in the achives of his "Daily Intelligencer" column.

A New Day At Yellow (BYG/PSD) Cab: A Dispatch Manager Is Replaced

Arriving at the Yellow lot early Friday afternoon I came upon a great tumult, a swelling of both owners and drivers having descended upon the office seeking answers, wanting to know why the new system wasn't working.  The numbers gathered were to the point that the meeting door had to be locked and new comers effectively barred.  Probably the best and only way to get a cabbie's full attention is to take money out of his or her pocket.

All this resulted in something very surprising, especially for those of us long  accustomed to the usual inaction and delay.  Sometime later that same Friday afternoon Jim O'Malley, the longstanding Dispatch General Manager, was dismissed.  I have yet to hear official explanations but it is clear someone had to "fall upon the sword" and Jim took the full brunt of everyone's angry and disappointed eruptions.

And soon thereafter, Tom, a long-time dispatch veteran and currently in charge of the HopeLink accounts, was named as Jim's replacement.  I know Tom fairly well and I respect his ability to get things done.  For years he shared the same office with my late friend, Frank Morgan.  I am looking forward to talking to him about immediate dispatch changes and adjustments.  The opportunity for expansive new development appears to have unexpectedly arrived.

As soon as I know more I will fill everyone in.  As the news spreads, the shock and amazement continues to grow.  Whatever one personally felt concerning Jim, no one could argue that he wasn't faithful, having led dispatch for the past 15 plus years or more.  Its too bad his long tenure went down in flames.  One thing is sure about taxi, no escapes being "roasted" some time or the other.  It is always just a matter of when, that's all, in that sense all of us sharing the same fate and legacy.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Anarchy In General And Taxi In Particular

Taxi's foundation is shifting sand minus grounding and meaningful security, quickly translating into a permanent transient state whose capitol and governing assembly is a rancid bureaucracy promoting perpetual bedlam as functional reality, thus making it nearly impossible to feel both coherent and intact, and can it be suggested, sane and happy in what is essentially a chimerical and phantasmagorical and endlessly reckless environment.  That of course is a long-winded way of saying this was one crazy weekend.  Yellow introduced its new computer dispatch operating system with at times disastrous results, thinking that the usual "learning on the fly" would again suffice.  That everyone including myself were mystified confirms there had to be a better way. 

Finally, after four hours of stress and pain someone was able to tell me how to minimally operate the damn thing.  After that it was fairly easy deciphering what once was imponderable. The only problem were the lost hours setting me back, making it all the harder to reach my usual and expected weekly financial goals.  A last fare early this morning from Northwest Hospital to a Des Moines address south of the airport took whatever energy I had left. 

Adding to the weight this weekend was the putting upon me of complete responsibility for last Sunday's second flat tire, someone thinking I had somehow been irresponsible, allowing the tire and rim to be permanently damaged. This after Yellow's self-created dilemma affected thousands this weekend. Excuse me if my taste remains bitter.

Now it has been said that the lesson concerning our new system has been learned and a greater effort will be put forward but unfortunately the harm, however long or short or enduring, has been done.  Whether all of what transpired this weekend will ultimately lead to a greater understanding I don't know but I doubt if anyone remains interested in repeating what happened.  The lead mechanic said to me this afternoon that we are a team which I wholeheartedly agree, allowing me to ask again why can't we have spare tires available after the shop is closed?  It certainly would make everything easier.  That would be wonderful, making the sometimes intolerable easier to swallow.   That would be nice, all taxi sugar and spice and sweetened rice reducing the roar of the squealing experimental laboratory mice!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Most Depressing Ride On Planet Earth & Other Deflated Tidbits From A Broken Weekend

While it might be my imagination, some weekends it feels like some mysterious negative force field has overtaken Seattle and perhaps the entire planet, making life difficult and miserable for all human occupants.  Certainly I had my share of good fortune and success this past Saturday and Sunday but equally I had some of my worse moments in a span stretching from 1987 to now.  Taxi, from my long experience has always been contradictory, the good and bad and the deranged consecutively saying hello, these extremes behavioral "kissing cousins" but unlike the Elvis Presley song everything was not "all right, all right!"

Last night I had---and I still can't believe it---two flat tires, the second, occurring at 11:00 PM meaning  I had to transfer my passenger with the broken knee to another taxi while waiting nearly 1 1/2 hours for the tow truck.  Earlier I called the shop to get another spare tire but they were already gone for the day.  For years I have pleaded for spare tires to be made available after 5:00 PM.  Aren't we a 24 hour a day operation?  You know the answer and so do I but the situation appears to be beyond  all remedy.  For whatever mysterious reason, all of us appear fated to play tire roulette.  Talking to my friend who runs the Yellow co-op he suggested that since there were cars sitting on last night's extra board I could have exchanged cabs which of course was true.  I also could have grabbed a tire from one of those same cabs.  I just didn't think of those obvious remedies, the madness getting the best of me.  But when I asked what do we do when there are no taxis available, my friend just smiled.  "Taxi" God! I just give up!

One interesting coincidence was the guy I was taking home from University Hospital to Magnolia when the second flat deflated the day.  He was my friend Jack's neighbor, the driver you might recall who was killed in a taxi accident two years ago. Unable to locate Jack's family, the police contacted the neighbor, and with the help of the manager, located Jack's address book.  It was that kind of weekend, filled with the amazing and the inexplicable and the exasperating.  I am just glad I survived.

One group of passengers became enraged Saturday after a vehicle pulled along side us, with some dumb cluck of a young woman asking when I had last washed my hair. They couldn't believe her audacity. My response, that "only my hairdresser knows for sure!" totally mystified the idiot, too young to remember the "Chairol" commercial advertising home hair coloring kits.  Lately there has been something in the news about smelly cabbies in San Diego which might have prompted the comment. Who knows and who cares, more madness emanating from the ersatz culture embracing modern 21st Century America.

But I have to say, the simple ride that wasn't and forever encapsulating this weekend originated on Beacon Hill, stopping in front of a young couple standing outside of a yard next to all of their worldly processions. The woman was pregnant and the husband/ boyfriend said they were heading to a Motel Six.  Loading up the cab I was told instead to go to a gas station near S. Othello and Rainier Avenue S. Once there I was taken aback by all of the young men converging upon the station. Told we had gone all this way for a pack of cigarettes, the man returned only to direct me  back to nearly where we had begun, all the while quietly conversing with his weary and bewildered wife/girlfriend.  Stopping on another Beacon Hill street, we again unloaded all of the stuff onto a sidewalk.  I hated this ride, disliking the random sorrow and sheer despondency of their situation.  What in the world was going on?  I have no idea but nothing good  it seems from the looks of it.  Shall we all celebrate life and existence?  Hurrah!  Hurrah!

Watch Out 4 the Baseball

A Idaho family's baseball vacation was ruined when their daughter of about ten was struck in the eye by an errant baseball.  What made this notable was our wandering around the Westin Hotel lobby looking first for the husband, then her 14 year old daughter who held payment for the cab.  I swear the teenager thought I was going to kill her mother, never getting such a look.  Maybe I should have washed my hair!

RIP Bob Miller!

Recently I found out that a fixture at Yellow, driver and Safety Board member Bob Miller, died last month while driving his cab.  Feeling faint, he stopped at a White Center-area grocery and sitting on a bench, had a fatal heart attack.  Everybody respected Bob for his straight-forward approach to taxi discipline.  He will be missed!

Opening the Trunk

This early morning, post-shift, a new driver motioned to me to help him.  Opening my window, he told me he couldn't open his cab's trunk.  The key wasn't working, so I told him to start his car and push the "popper" button.  Not knowing what that was, he began randomly pushing anything and everything on the dashboard.  Reaching over his shoulder, I pushed the correct button.  I watched as his taxi lurched away, the young man clearly not in control of his vehicle.  "Taxi" Lord help us all!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Dancing For Seven Dollars

There are certain "bells" I would rather avoid beyond all others.  The Tug Tavern in West Seattle is certainly one of them, more than once delivering me an incoherent and/or belligerent drunk.  Saturday night the wonderful Tug gave me a passenger fitting both categories.  J______, a short, very muscular man who wasn't going very far, just up the hill onto 18th Avenue Southwest.  His communication consisted of drunken gruff "Turn here!" and a mono-syllabic "Go!", J_____ falling into the completely "addled by alcohol" category, stumbling and stupid. 

Now this fare would have been just another blip upon the taxi radar screen except for one important reason: refusing to pay his $7.00 fare.  J______clearly has a history of using his size to intimidate and pressure people.  While his arms may be as wide as my legs, it made no impression upon me other than this guy is just another garden-variety fool and whatever he thinks is appropriate is completely erroneous because I am just not interested in this kind of behavior.  You think you are tough?  Wrong!  I am tougher than you but please dont' make me prove it.  Knowing it isn't that hard to cold-cock a drunk, I knew I would have been faced with rolling the fat lug off of the roadway, not deserving to become "road-kill" despite his reprehensible behavior.

Thinking he would just saunter over to his house unimpeded J_____ instead found an immovable force blocking his route.  Moving one direction I stepped in front of him.  With J_____ taking another step I closed my distance.  Suddenly comprehending I wouldn't be dissuaded he pulled out a handful of crumpled one dollar bills and counted out three dollars.  "Keep going!" I demanded when he stopped, pulling out what he thought were only two more dollars.  Feeling appeased I then let him proceed forward, smiling when I found the idiot had actually given me my seven dollars.  I called the Tug to complain but they are impossible, too busy over serving their raucous crew, providing their alcoholic faithful with what they want but don't need: too much booze on a near full moon Saturday evening!  As for me I enjoyed the waltz, one-two-three, one-two-three, step left, step right, com' on! grab your partner, and fight!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Taxi Driving Is A Hard Job: Working The Seahawk's Home Opener

Somehow I too got caught up in the hype and hoopla of the Seahawk's first regular season game since their Super Bowl victory, thinking the money would be easy pickings.  How could I imagine that Seattle would become a proverbial "ghost town" once the game started? There it was 6:00 PM and no one was on the streets, freeway or otherwise, Seattle's collective citizenry glued to the television tube watching their glorious champions bash the Green Bay Packers. I did okay, especially since my last hour was a combined two-fare ninety dollars, having already decided to quit but suddenly getting lucky and ending my evening with a $62.00 airport run.  What struck me was the cost relating to making what money I did.  Adding it all up is a bit frightening.  While waiting for our cabs to return from the day-shift, I talked to two taxi buddies who work seven days a week, clearly evident they were both tired and dispirited, feeling trapped in a never-ending scenario.  The following figures tells the story why my two friends had transformed into taxi zombies.

Getting to the cashier window I was facing a Thursday night lease of $75.00.  While business was good post-game, I can tell you that in February that lease is much harder to come by.  The car I drove for just over 8 hours cost me nearly $50.00 dollars in gasoline.  My 160.00 in total debit/credit charges cost me a three percent processing charge, which was about $5.00, and adding to the grand total was the $4.00 tip I gave the cashier.  Adding it all up, my total operating cost for the evening was $134.00, and dividing that by my 8 hours it ended up costing me nearly $19.00 per hour to run my little mobile business.  Pretty depressing, don't you think?  Or after too many months of this kind of pressure, no one is thinking, your brain dead and your body no longer functioning.  As one of my favorite dispatchers used to say, "It's a true story!"  And not a pretty one at that.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Human Nature: The Good & The Bad & The Sour

It can be stated fairly accurately that the average American cabbie is exposed to everyone and everything, meaning that all the positive and negative and confounding and frustrating aspects comprising culture and life and behavior in these United States are presented daily for your inspection, whether of course you are either prepared for it or not.  Not unlike Edith Wharton's famous short story, you are immersed in the Xingu River, capsized in the human river flowing all about you.  Friday we walked for just a few minutes on the trail shadowing central Oregon's McKenzie River, a broad and lively flowing stream popular with rafters.  While the river was wonderful, the human traffic noisily occupying State Highway 126 destroyed the ambiance despite us coming upon two reluctant blue herons sitting on a bridge railing.  At least their protests contained validity, a quality often lacking amongst large segments of America's coddled and pampered and protected population.  In America, life must be "climate controlled" all the way to the grave.  And shockingly, early yesterday evening I almost witnessed the most horrific incident created by some of the attitudes I am hinting at.  When you think life's rules and mandates don't apply to you, the results can be fatal, not only to you but also your family.

Driving south-bound on Elliot near the Pike Pace Market I noticed a most unusual entourage, a combination bicycle contraption containing three separate pedal mechanisms powered by a father and his two young children. Attracted by this I was watching them as we approached a red light.  The father, instead of stopping continued forward into the intersection only to miss killing himself and the children by a spilt second, a car flying past them at 40 miles per hour.  Witnessing this kind of blatant irresponsibility was appalling, prompting me to slow and down and comment. Responding that "it was only a simple mistake" I replied it was clearly more than that.  Reacting angrily to me I only hoped this incident was brought home to the mother's attention by the daughter, a tyke of about 6-7 years old: "Mommy, Daddy ran a red light and we were almost hit!"  Perhaps the little girl also described how he responded to a cabbie's concern.  I still retain faith in America's youth!  Hopefully the father has been consigned to the living room couch.  Far better than a coffin, wouldn't you say?

Yes, another example of life as it really is, denial not replacing the factual.  From my taxi perch I see and hear it all.  Saturday night I told some fellow drivers that the Mariner's game had just ended.  One driver, clearly disbelieving me, said it should be letting out at Ten PM.  It was then 9:30 PM and the Washington Nationals had just defeated the Mariners by a score of three to one.  My response implied he was a complete idiot and that he should turn on his taxi's radio.  Unfortunately he is typical of who is driving currently beneath the local top-light.  And they wonder why they don't make any money?

Sunday's first fare was a Wallingford-area ride to the airport, the woman tipping me an additional five dollars after already tipping on her card.  Why?  Because she could and also clearly enjoying our interaction and conversation.  Thank you very much for both the  recognition and the money.  Today I too have been giving out extra large tips.  Why not is all I can say, why not?