Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Taxi Cartoonville But Why Am I Not Laughing?

Down south in Arcata, California "she-who-can't-be-named" assists Dave who assigns all blame upon "the goons," they somehow responsible when he loses his wallet or having his car stolen after leaving it unlocked and the keys left unattended in the ignition.  The goons, the goons, it is always the goon's fault, and maybe it is but perhaps not, given how easy it is blaming metaphysical or other mysterious influences instead of taking personal responsibility for ones' own incompetence. 

Now I have never heard anyone in the local taxi industry mentioning "goons" but rare is the time anyone has said, "I take full responsibility!" for anything.  Contrarily moderate to mild bedlam reigns, with few attempting to transform chaos to operational tranquility. Why I can't tell you but I am beginning to suspect neurological or cognitive damage stemming from unrelenting stress and disorder.  While the 18th century colloquial term "mad-as-a-hatter" stems from using mercury when producing "felt" for hats derived from beaver and rabbit pelts, everyone knows that taxi drivers are insane, hence the usage, just another "crazy cabbie" which, as we in the business know too well, is sadly too often true. 

Some recent events unfortunately back this contention, all of us toxic from the many years breathing in gasoline, diesel and other related fumes and toxins.  On too many occasions passengers exclaim "that you don't look a day over forty!", prompting my joking response that what they are seeing is a kind "Botox" effect isolated to the taxi.  Now for some recent behavioral examples of taxi behavior better left to the comic pages.  Maybe one day they will come illustrated and the entire nation can join in on the screaming and shouting.

-----Monday, while on the way to the main Yellow taxi lot, the head of PSD/BYGs Sea-Tac operations had his van sideswiped by none other than a Sea-Tac Yellow taxi.  "Unbelievable!" was the response from a long-time taxi superintendent. 

-----As part of a new feature of PSD's new computer system, info announcing a fare's availability has been sent to the entire fleet, hoping someone would get close to the call.  What did happen was a small army of taxis converging upon, let's say, the 700 block of Broadway East, honking their horns and in general causing a ruckus.  There has now been a policy change in response.

-----Many readers know that Seattle and King County cabbies are independent contractors, or in other words, independent business owners.  This known fact makes it all the puzzling, when, beginning next week, PSD says it is planning, similar to Uber, to electronically rate driver performance and punish driver's with "system time-outs" if an offered call is rejected. 

The one major problem with this approach is that the driver and owner is "paying" for the dispatch services, which translated means they are being asked to finance their own punishment.  How is this in any manner conceivable?   I don't think it is something that can be done.  While understanding PSD/BYG frustration with certain behaviors, one would think their response should be within the limits of known legal parameters and beyond challenge.  This appears to be an approach that will be questioned.

While some of this might or could generate a chuckle, isn't the joke truly on us in the taxi industry?  We should be the last ones laughing because if you think any of this is funny then it is truly time to schedule your neurological/psychological testing.  I think it could be necessary.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sick Is Not How To Start A Taxi Weekend

Friday afternoon after eating a fairly benign lunch of rice and vegetables I suddenly fell ill to the point that the tips of my fingers were growing numb, with my body quickly succumbing to aches and chills.  What it  truly was I will never know.  Instant flu?  Food poisoning?  Regardless of the origin, it was clear that it would impact my upcoming working weekend.  Sleeping early probably helped but I still awakened at 1:10 AM with a throbbing head.  Dependent upon these weekends for my economic "bread and butter" meant, short of death, I was heading to the cab lot to again embrace yet another two wonderfully grueling days.  The sour cherry on top was being greeted by the news that I had  to pay $124.00 for running a camera-monitored intersection. 

Totally bewildered, I asked Bill the night superintendent, "When did this happen?" as I am very attentive to these "red light" cameras.  Nearly three weeks had passed and no one had told me about it, and making it worse, paying the damn thing meaning all options were taken from my control.  Lucky I didn't faint dead away but of course I survived, having a great Saturday and an insanely horrible Sunday, finally waking up today at noon miraculously cured.  Nothing like a fun taxi weekend to beat the hell out of whatever ails you.  And no, I don't think it is cheaper than going to a doctor, unless they charge $400.00 dollars plus just for sticking out your tongue.  Three separate 1/2 hour naps on Saturday certainly aided my recovery.  Did I have any choice?

One Blessing I Can Accept

Last night picked up a HopeLink connected passenger who had been waiting over 1 1/2 hours in the rain and cold.  Part of the wait had resulted from a driver having "dumped" the call.  Madder than anything because the gentleman, coming from a late night doctor's appointment, had been unnecessarily and cruelly inconvenienced, I made a couple calls making sure that the cabbie in question would be appropriately addressed.

Though granted my Vietnam War-era CO status upon religious and moral grounds, I instinctively cringe when causally given a god or "God's" benediction but this time the passenger's "God bless you!,"given in appreciation for my intervention, was pleasing.  "Thank you!" I replied and I meant it. 

Something Good from the Bad 

Unhappy that I had come down to the lot this afternoon to pay money owed only to find that Barbara in the financial office had already fled the royal confines,  I was fortunate to discover, while talking to Tom, the new dispatch manager, that George Anderson, our new computer system's guru, was there, and  there was time to talk.  Amazingly, I got five precious minutes to impress home the urgency of our situation.  He listened intently then got back to his reprogramming, understanding that the dysfunction must be quickly remedied.  My initial assessment is that he is far from ordinary, not something I usually say, far too accustomed to the usual and mundane.  There is hope  then for swift and effective resolution.  The faster the better is clearly the best answer.

Earlier in the morning drivers and owners met with the PSD GM and members of the PSD board.  Displeasure was expressed in addition to the real threat of not paying lease fees.  It appears a meeting with Mister Anderson will be arranged.  When providing him with my blog/business card I said I have been "holding my tongue" and believe me, I have, only interested in constructive negotiations.  Anybody can shout but  more importantly, can you achieve your just and honorable aims?  That is the question of the moment and the taxi hour.  One month of this is enough.  There is nothing left to comment about.  The system has to work properly 24 hours a day minus flaws and errors.  There is no other answer.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Young Man Adrift Upon A Rainy Seattle Night

Something I now refuse to do is serve, in any manner speaking, as silent accomplice to a hospital discharging a homeless patient onto Seattle's streets, suddenly subject to wind and rain and uncertain fate.  This morning at about 2:30 AM Ballard Swedish, via a HopeLink charge, put me on the taxi errand of taking an ill young man, minus warm clothing and hat, to a homeless shelter theoretically located in downtown Seattle.  Once on our way it became apparent that one, I had an incorrect address, and two, my passenger was given no information on how to contact or connect with the shelter. 

What had occurred was simple enough.  The Swedish on-staff social worker had flushed the guy out the door before making standard arrangements for this kind of precarious "middle-of-the-night" transfer from one agency to the next.  The young man, new to all of this, was clueless.  The early morning was stormy, not fit for man nor beast and especially not for someone penniless, bewildered and forlorn. 

Once downtown, I understood the shelter we were seeking was not the King County Administration Building at 500 Fourth Avenue but the City Hall located one block over at 600 Fourth Avenue.  Having no telephone number I advised dispatch of the situation.  Saying I would try to find a place for the kid I tried both the Union Gospel Mission and DESC but no luck due to the rain, all usual and available beds taken. DESC did provide a reference list which at least allowing me to call the shelter in question, of course receiving no reply.  After giving 45 minutes to this sorry misadventure I called dispatch again and got a return HopeLink authorization to return to the hospital.  Escorting him back into the ER lobby I quickly told the story, telling them I did what I could, saluted and flew out of there thus avoiding any and all bureaucratic gibberish. 

Having seen this scenario before, as I said, I will never participate again in these kinds of shenanigans.  Evidently immortally is easy for some.  Thank goodness I don't share the same errant predilection and convenient memory loss.  Did they really think they could buy my acquiescence for $21.00?  Shows what they think about cab drivers generally is all I can say.  Money rules the world?  For many clearly the answer is affirmative, even if it means tossing someone out onto the streets, a dollar saved the sweeter the financial bottom line.

The Real and Accurate Concern

While too many at Yellow are concerned about their own buttock, the real issue with the new computer dispatch system is mechanical failure and how it is affecting the system's ability to process incoming calls and dispatching them quickly and effectively to waiting cabs.  While the majority complain and wail about system nuances, the real question is just when will the system operate as designed.  Most cabbies I know are dinosaurs moaning in the bog, not understanding extinction dawns unless drastic action is taken. 

Beyond question PSD/BYG (Yellow) as per usual did not do what was necessary to properly and effectively launch the new system.  There can be no argument on that point.  The real question is how all of us involved collectively will respond.  Hopefully Mr. Anderson's arrival next Monday will save the taxi day.  Beyond anything it is clear system dysfunction can't continue much longer, soon taking away all incentive to call Yellow.  Let the new efficient era begin, and then hold your ears while the dinosaurs cheer!   What kind of prehistoric animal are you?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dedicated To Don "Sterno" of Gold Bar, Washington: A Message From The Poet Robert Service

Last week while taking Route 2 to Eastern Washington, I picked up a hitchhiker in Sultan who was on his way home in Gold Bar.  One thing led to the other with Don, nickname "Sterno" telling me about his three days being held captive in 1969 during the Vietnam War.  Given that my friend Kaus was a prisoner in Laos for nearly seven months roughly during the same time period I was very interested.  That my last book was a Vietnam War related biography provided Don with a ready and knowledgeable audience.  I had already noticed his "POW in 1969" tattoo on his wrist.  Briefly this is his story.

While out on patrol on an illegal incursion across the near Laos border, they were ambushed, with many of his platoon members either killed or wounded, or as in his situation, captured, instantly staring up at a bayonet wielding soldier.  Taken to a camp near the Mekong River, Don found himself in a partially submersed bamboo cage with two other Americans, a helicopter pilot and jet bomber pilot unfortunate to have had their aircraft blown out of the sky.  On the third night, Don decided to escape, understanding that the cage was bound by thin twine.  With each of them taking turns, they lowered their heads and literally began chewing away on the twine.  After a while they were successful, with all three escaping their prison.  The plan was to grab hold of one of the giant lilly pads floating in the river, break it off at its base and drift back across the river border and into South Vietnam.  Don and the jet pilot made it to the same part of the river, not knowing what happened to the other prisoner.  Don began his watery journey only to lose contact with his comrade.  He never saw either man again.  After a few hours his troubles ended when he came upon a camp with bright shining lights beaming into the Mekong.  Hearing American voices he was then rescued, shouting out in the dark who he was.

Just this month Time/Life issued a new magazine/book examining the Vietnam War.  I bought it last Wednesday in a Coulee Dam-area Safeway when shopping for organic orange juice.  It is well worth the 12 dollars, especially for those new to the subject, serving as a good introductory primer.  While some know, most don't that I am a Vietnam-era 1-0, official Conscientious Objector from my draft board located in Brighton, Colorado November, 1972.  I came to Seattle to do what is called "alternative service" but President  Nixon ended the draft in February 1973, meaning I just missed being included in the final call-up of the war.  I say this as explanation to my continued and abiding interest in that most horrible of subjects, war.

Another reading recommendation I have is a new book just recently published concerning WWI, "The Burning of the World, A Memoir of 1914" by Bela Zombory-Moldovan, an Hungarian painter who died in 1967.  The book is a translation by his grandson, Peter Zombory-Moldovan.  It is a valuable read.

I end this digression from "all subjects taxi" with a poem taken from Canadian poet Robert Service's book, "Rhymes Of A Red Cross Man" which he dedicated to the memory of his brother, Lieutenant Albert Service who was "Killed in Action, France, August, 1916."   I really like this poem, an excellent example of its kind.  For further reading, check out the paperback edition of the "Penguin Book of WWI Poetry."  I bought my copy while on a weekend vacation in Calistoga, California in 1980.  That book was, and remains a major influence.  Check out the poems of Wilfred Owen.  You will never be the same, I assure you.

                                                              The Call

                                                 (France, August first, 1914)

                                            Far and near, high and clear,
                                            Hark to the call of War!
                                      Over the gorse and the golden dells,
                                      Ringing and swinging of clamorous bells,
                                      Praying and saying of wild farewells:
                                             War! War! War!

                                            High and low, all must go:
                                            Hark to the shout of War!
                                     Leave to the woman the harvest yield;
                                     Grid ye, men, for the sinister field:
                                     A sabre instead of a scythe to wield:
                                             War! Red War!

                                           Rich and poor, lord and boor,
                                           Hark to the blast of War!
                                     Tinker and tailor and millionaire,
                                     Actor in triumph and priest in prayer,
                                     Comrades now in the hell out there,
                                             Sweep to the fire of War!

                                          Prince and page, sot and sage,
                                          Hark to the roar of War!
                                     Poet, professor and circus clown,
                                     Chimney-sweeper and fop o' of the town,
                                     Into the pot and be melted down:
                                             Into the pot of War!

                                         Women all, hear the call,
                                         The pitiless call of War!
                                   Look your last on your dearest ones,
                                   Brothers and husbands, fathers, sons:
                                   Swift they go to the ravenous guns,
                                          The gluttonous guns of War.
                                        Everywhere thrill the air
                                        The maniac bells of War.
                                  There will be little sleeping to-night;
                                  There will be wailing and weeping to-night;
                                  Death's red sickle is reaping to-night:
                                          War! War! War!

                                 Robert Service

There you have, War! in all its glory!  May it end, but when, but when, but when!

Post Script added October 23rd, 2014

Another book recommendation:

"The Long Shadow, The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century" by David Reynolds,
published 2014 by Norton.

Well researched and the photo pages are incredible, looking at those alone, separate from the text, will provide you with important and long lasting insight.  As is obvious, wars' impact lasts far into the future, peace treaties little better than a band aide covering a festering wound.  There are no heroes, only the dead and maimed.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Who Is George Anderson And Why Is He Coming To Seattle October 27th, 2014?

Last night I had an alarming conversation with a taxi buddy, my colleague distressed and panicked, expressing the opinion that PSD/BYG (Seattle Yellow Taxi) is set to implode and vanish from the known taxi earth.  Rumors of bankruptcy and other dire predictions left his lips.  I tired to reassure him that what we were experiencing was a temporary "rough patch" and the result of poor planning, something that was being addressed as quickly as possible.  I know he remained unconvinced, and who can blame him, one bad financial week leaving him battered and bruised. "How can I pay my rent?" he lamented, which of course is a good question that hopefully will be answered by an uptick in business the next few weeks.

It has been occasionally scary, Yellow's new dispatch system's initial problems troubling and puzzling, confusing to the point that sometimes me and others had no idea (or concept) of was going on one way or the other.  Though clarity has arrived, and PSDs new dispatch manager, Tom Holler, is working non-stop to resolve all the issues, that still doesn't repair the emotional damage done to our collective confidence and psyche.  In taxi terms, the remediate balm is money, cold hard cash in our pockets, money being the first and everything in this grim business, making money again taking care of all worries and complaints.  A suggested strike on the weekend of October 25th would only make a bad scenario worse, further irritating an already agitated customer base.  Why make more troubles for ourselves, especially when we the drivers and owners are not responsible for the crisis, trusting that the correct decisions were being made. You can be assured that local media would have "fun" reporting our work outage.

Tom and I had a good talk yesterday, going over various points and problems and issues I have witnessed over the past weeks.  It was pleasing to know he was well aware for the most part of what has occurred.  As all of us drivers and owners know all too well, that couldn't always be said of his predecessor.  He is planning on coming out with me soon and watching how the system operates in real time.  It is good to know he is interested in actual practice, not solely in textbook theory.

Tom did go to San Francisco and observed the same system we have in our cabs working efficiently. And how many times need it be repeated?  The failure we have witnessed has everything to do with how it was debuted.  I feel we must go forward toward solution, especially given there is no alternative because, love it or hate it, the new system is here to stay.  Patience is called for. 

Once the "bugs" are worked out, the drivers and owners who know how to make money will continue to do well.  Others, including some friends of mine with ten-plus years experience or more, will continue to stumble regardless of conditions.  Back in 2001 I regrettably got my friend Steve into the business.  Business was good but poor Steve remained a "fifty-dollar a day take home" cabbie despite everything I did to improve his skills.  Coaching session after coaching session held no effect, Steve, for whatever reason, remained a lousy taxi driver, at least in terms of making money. He was a nice guy but bad cabbie. 

And George Anderson, of Wireless Edge and GJ Anderson Group Inc will be in Seattle Monday October 27th, 2014 to do more "hands-on" fine tuning. George Anderson, if you didn't already know, is the creator of the system in your taxi.  He is already involved from his San Francisco location.  Again, be assured, PSD/BYG is going forward toward resolution.  To be frank, they have no choice. Normally must return soon.  That is clear.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Strange Weekend I Would Have Rather Avoided

Coming back from Lake Kelema and Steamboat Rock and Northrup Canyon Nature Preserve I was unfortunately greeted this weekend by post-full moon madness in all its demented and shining glory.  It would have been preferable not switching taxis four times over or receiving my first moving violation in nearly four years.  Since all this trauma was clearly avoidable, it was the lamentable influence of the moon making it optional, too many choosing confusion and mayhem over quieter and saner approaches.  One understands after their initial introduction that taxi is innately chaotic for all the sorry reasons known too well to us veterans of the craft.  But it is also apparent that too many others disproportionately embrace behavior better left to infants crying over clabbered milk.  Just because its served doesn't mean you must quaff it down like Heavenly Nectar delivered by the Gods.  As is all too obvious, be careful whom you pray to, malevolent and mischievous spirits mutely waiting  in the celestial ether seeking the gullible and unbalanced, all too happy anointing all unaware takers with disorienting spells..  Sanity remains rare.

Not knowing that 478 was locked in the shop, I wasted 20 minutes before comprehending  the real situation. Why didn't anyone tell me the cab was down for days due to computer issues?  Poor communication continues to plague Yellow.  A simple email would have notified me but no, that's too simple and basic.  Making it worse is, when later in the day, calling and asking whether 478 was ready to go, I arrived only to find out it wasn't true.  Making it all the more serious, when finally taking the cab out I discovered too late that the computer issues were not resolved as told, necessitating yet another transfer at 4:00 AM.  I parked 478 with the expectation that it would be repaired later in the day, giving the shop all morning to make it right.

Later Sunday afternoon Larry, a lead mechanic told me, "I don't work on computers!" fating me for yet another transfer to a different cab.  If it had been repaired properly in the first place I would not been put through the laborious task of shifting all my taxi gear multiple times plus gassing up the tank and driving how many miles back to the lot.  Each minute taken is yet  another lost opportunity to make money, taxi seconds precious, not something to be squandered.

Crowning the "Mad Hatter-ness" of the weekend was receiving a ticket for responding to the call for cabs needed down at the Amtrak station.  Located adjacent to the Seahawk Stadium, I know well the procedures dealing with all of the police posted for traffic duty during a game day.  Allowing us in is usually perfunctory, SPD knowing Yellow Cab holds exclusive rights to picking up there.

Not seeing anyone barring the gates I assumed I could proceed forward. Wrong! as a cop flew at me in an unmarked car, acting like I was attacking the White House!  Angrily rushing out of his car, the officer was completely beyond rational conversation.  Explaining I was simply heading in to pick up waiting passengers had no influence upon his behavior or demeanor.  He appeared to enjoy punishing me, the "bad" cabbie trying to pick up customers.  Half an hour later they were still asking for 40 cabs, meaning there were a good hundred or so passengers standing there in line wondering why they weren't getting a taxi.  I am sure many blamed us for the unusually long wait.  How could they know that instead it was a failure perpetuated by the City of Seattle, poor planning cementing their fate.  I hope no one was attempting to make a flight.

Capping it off, while writing  me out a ticket, an Uber-X "Black Car" was allowed in, making the entire experience surreal.  I will be sending a copy of the ticket to Seattle's new police chief.   I believe she will find my description interesting.  It might be time to de-criminalize taxi driving.  I can only hope she agrees.  If anyone is still wondering why the Federal Justice Department intervened into SPD operations, you should only drive taxi for a few minutes, and soon, at your own peril, you will quickly understand all too well, the reasons why no longer mysterious. You will know beyond all reasonable doubt.

A Comment Answered

A reader wondered why I haven't been reporting the upheaval, pain and turmoil connected with PSD/BYG's disjointed introduction to their new computer dispatch system, perhaps implying my silence is intentional.  Understanding that people want to know I will say that I have been working behind the scenes seeking remedies to real and serous issues.  Like everyone else, I have not remained immune to the less than pretty debut.  I have made my opinion known.  Tomorrow I am meeting with someone who, together with me, is interested and vested in finding permanent solutions.  The true cause is cultural, taxi-culture too often myopic, not  able to see beyond its own nose.  Many times I have attempted to be the local taxi optician.  I have written prescriptions.  It is unfortunate they haven't been filled.  I agree fully.  The situation needs to change quickly.  There is no other option.  The problems could have not arrived at a more dire juncture.  With autumn's arrival, business is slowing.  The Alaska cruise season is over.  Drivers are suffering, unable to pay their leases.  I agree.  Improvement is needed.  I will keep you informed on any and all progress.  I know it is hard staying patient when after working your butt off you have nothing to show for it.  It is not a good story.   I am making an attempt to rewrite it.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Nearly Three Months Later, Enforcement Remains Non-Existent

It was in mid-July when the Seattle mayor signed the bill altering the local taxi regulatory landscape forever. Much was spoken at the time of the cooperative nature of the negotiations helping shape the final version.  While I for one understood the new bill replacing the council's version was a complete disaster for us, there were others who said it was the best we could expect considering the political climate.  Well, at least upon an initial assessment it appears we got nothing at all in return, blotto! zilch! zero!  unless you think getting the privilege of wearing your pajamas to work is a fair trade in return for allowing unlimited and unfettered competition into your previously protected operational sphere while remaining capped and stifled and completely beholden to people who hate and disrespect you. 

Last night it took calling 911 to convince the Uber driver sitting on the Deca Hotel taxi stand that he had to leave.  I told him I would call Craig Leisy and he said go ahead, call Leisy because he knows as well as I do that the City of Seattle is not serous about enforcing anything concerning the taxis. It couldn't be clearer.  Where is even one of the promised ten taxi stands even though there have been four, count them, four home University of Washington Husky football home game in a row, with no effort made to accommodate the  long-suffering taxis attempting to serve up to 73,000 thousand fans?  All we have in the taxi industry are broken and diverted promises leading to nothing whatsoever.  None of this will ever be acceptable.

Yes, the mayor's deal is laughable and we undoubtedly have gotten shafted.  And what about the verifiable rumor that up to fifty taxis operated for over two weeks from mid-November to just 3 days ago minus real insurance though Seattle regulators had been notified of the situation from the very beginning?  What is going on here?  Hell! it is obvious what is happening.  Tomorrow I am going back up into the Cascades and then into the Eastern Washington high desert country.  Good time to stare at the full moon and consider sanity minus deranged taxi!  Com' on black bear, com' on friend coyote, shake my hand, I''ll take your paw!