Friday, January 30, 2015

Parrhesia: A Candid Reckoning

Parrhesia is an ancient term dating from at least the 5th C. BC that conjures in these modern times a bold request or speech seeking or asking for truth is its purest form, which some have also translated into the quest for unbridled justice.  I found the word in a recent article written by Corel West concerning the American civil rights leader (and sometimes agitator) Malcolm X.  I have thought of "parrhesia" in relation to my recent Tuesday afternoon experience renewing my taxi for-hire license.  The asking for yearly fingerprints and King County's request for a complete driving history over a five-year span including dismissed tickets and not-at-fault accidents seemed inherently unfair and odd, suggesting connotations and implications going far beyond a simple license renewal, bringing to my mind the worse of "Jim Crow" voting rules once known in the American South.  Twice today I called Eddie Cantu, the current King County Licensing Manager, seeking clarification but failed to reach him, wanting to understand more what is behind these new requirements.  As I will always say, driving taxi is insulting as it is without inflicting further and unnecessary injury.  Any possible insinuation of criminal intent (however minor) remains uncalled for.

This quote, taken from Simone Weil's  (1909-1943) essay "On Human Personality," underlines my concern:

"Every time that there arises from the depths of a human heart the childish cry which Christ himself could not restrain, "Why am I being hurt?", then there is certainly injustice.  For, if, as often happens, it is only the result of a misunderstanding, then the injustice consists in the inadequacy of the explanation."

On one section of the renewal application form it implies an equal guilt of everything that might have happened to the driver minus any and all thorough examination.  How can an accident caused by another driver's negligence be construed as holding equal responsibility?   And how can a dismissed ticket assume something other than innocence?

In my recent court case I had a letter from the head of SPD's Traffic Division stating that I should have, 1) never been stopped, and 2) never issued the ticket.  How can this be taken as an example of reckless or careless behavior?   What King County appears to be saying is that regardless of the facts, you will still be held responsible even though you have been cleared for any legal or personal responsibility. 

The real question is just why has King County and the City of Seattle taken this position?  Isn't this a case of "double jeopardy" where you can't win despite all redemptive evidence?   As soon as I receive some answers I will relay them.  What profoundly troubles me is that many of these new immigrant taxi drivers come from countries with horrible human rights records, and are now innocently expecting they will be treated better now that they are in the USA.  If only that were true is all I can say.  I wish it were true but current stories, like ones from from NYC's Rikers Island says otherwise, shouting out  a municipal failure prevalent across these 50 democratic United States.  We can do better is all I can end with.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Once Again Renewing My Taxi For-Hire License & Openings On The Seattle City Council: Licata & Rasmussem Are Leaving

Again I have renewed my ability to ply Seattle's taxi roads and byways for yet another year.  How do I feel?  Angry that I am still here doing something I no longer find acceptable, knowing, beyond the money I am making, that I am wasting valuable time and breath, nothing convincing me my time is well used.   The many ten dollar tips I received this past weekend tells me folks appreciate my taxi dexterity but it is time for others to step up and provide a similar customer service.  Will my fellow cabbies come through and deliver the perfect cab ride?  Doubtful as impatient drivers this afternoon down at the King County Licensing Office couldn't understand I was just stepping over to have my picture taken and not cutting in front of them, this simple situation another unfortunate example, one too many, of just how unprepared these guys are for what they are applying to do.  My photograph was appropriately grim, my smiling days long over. 

You will be glad to know that my new set of fingerprints have been sent to the FBI, assuring that your Seattle taxi driver is certifiably a wonderful human being unlike all those Uber drivers sporting venomous fangs.  I still haven't gotten a coherent answer as to why everyone has to be fingerprinted annually.  The beleaguered woman taking the prints couldn't tell me, clearly tiring of responding to something she had no answer for.  I will try to discover the rationale but knowing who I am dealing with I don't think there is one.  Justification yes, but rational plausibility, no. Why make sense when there isn't any appears to be the current operational theme, local bureaucrats emulating Mickey Mouse, and Miss Mini too, I am sure!

Openings at Seattle City Council

Within days of each other, council members Nick Licata and Tom Rasmussem announced their intentions to not return for the next election season..  Media pronouncements were particularly kind.  If the timing was different, I would consider strongly running for an open position, potentially enjoying debating anyone foolish enough to subject themselves to a dark but cheerful analysis of their cherished "progressive" positions and pet projects.  And besides, if elected I would have to conduct an investigation asking why my fellow council members reversed themselves, acquiescing to our Uber mayor.  Why would I want to be disruptive when instead one is elected to serve the electorate?  At this juncture, I have no interest in thumbing my nose at fools, having more personal, pressing priorities, like I said, instead getting myself permanently out and away from the cab.

Is business picking Up? 7 airport runs this weekend!

I can now report two good consecutive weekends, perhaps signaling the worse is over.  After averaging 1-3 airport runs I suddenly had seven which is good any time of the year.  The most interesting was an account run taking a young gay man from a hospital ER to a Sea-Tac area hotel after he had been jumped in Freeway Park.  Maybe conditions are different in Columbus, Ohio but at least here you should be wary walking across a darkened park at midnight.  More shaken than harmed I could see him processing what had happened, comprehending his fate.  Be careful is all I can say when walking in the small, bad ersatz city at night.  Today I read a local report of some fool chasing three gay men down a Capitol Hill street brandishing a knife.  He is now in police custody charged with various hate crimes.

People's lives!

First ride of the weekend delivered 3 young adults and a 4-month old infant stranded for hours in South Park.  Finding them at 4 AM they had kept asking passing drivers for a ride home to West Seattle until someone mercifully gave them $20.00 to call a cab.  I made sure they got some change back.

Just what I was thinking. A convenient meeting of like minds!
Toward the end of my weekend I thought, "Time to head to West Seattle, gassing up and washing the cab." when there was a guy standing near the Eagle Tavern and guess what, he wanted to go in that direction too.  Wonderful, and almost enough to make me pious.  Almost!  "She-who-must-not-be-named" does pray for me.  Thank you very much for taxi manna raining down from mysterious, celestial skies. It is appreciated.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Take Me To The Confucian Temple

While reading Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth" during my California travels last week I came across a passage reminding me of the state of most new taxi drivers plying the trade in the majority of American cities, namely having little clue concerning what it takes to be a professional driver.  Buck's description of Wang Lung's situation is one I find both apt and relevant:

"Take me to the Confucian Temple," and there he sat, erect and calm, and there was that in his calmness which allowed no question, so that Wang started forward as he saw others do, although he had no faintest knowledge of where the Confucian temple stood."

Anyone "taxi knowledgeable" instantly sees the parallel between the modern cabbie and Buck's Chinese rickshaw driver, a taxi passenger's expectations similar to this fictional representation.  And too often today's version of the rickshaw driver knows about as much as Wang, meaning little to nothing about his profession and his adopted city.  As mentioned previously, this point was again struck home when talking to three colleagues nearly two weeks ago.  The reasons are many but the results are the same, an overall amateurism downgrading what should be a professional industry, leaving it vulnerable to the current competitive incursions we are all now too aware of.  While business was very good at times this "Seahawk" weekend, it would have been even better minus all the illegal and newly sanctioned ride services.

And who is ultimately to blame for this?  Why all the cabbie "Wang Lungs" who never fully comprehend what taxi driving is and its great potential, diminishing everyone and everything associated with our shared endeavor.  Like the story of the Buddha implies, self-awareness is everything, taking you both internally and externally where you want and need to go.  Instead of assigning complete blame and responsibility upon taxi associations and owners, the awake individual rubs his/her eyes, blinking at the bright sunshine, asking themselves, "What can I do today to make my life better?"  Waiting for others to do it for you is a mistake, sitting beneath that tree of knowledge for eternity and waiting for opportunities to hit you on the head.  Alternatively I suggest get up and stretch, and begin walking, or in the cabbie's case, driving toward a Nirvana of your own making.  If there is another way, I personally don't know it.  The road is your own.  Time to say hello to your next destination.

Seattle Mayor's Misplaced Empathy

Last week in the New York Times I read a short news item expressing Mayor Murray's new plans for expanding tent cities for Seattle's homeless.  While laudable I find it contradictory given how he intentionally blocked the city council's taxi/Uber ordinance limiting competition, instead lifting all TNC limits thus creating an operational environment where many can not provide for their families.  Does the Mayor think that we too are interested with moving into his version of alternative housing? 

As I keep saying, beware of those theoretic people making decisions for the rest of us while receiving a guaranteed paycheck.  A novel approach instead would be a monthly poll asking the voters if the mayor and the council should get paid for that particular period.  I do believe that if in a two or three month span their checks were withheld we would suddenly have more responsive government instead of the current prattle masquerading as effective initiative.  Maybe then the mayor and the city council would understand that holding responsibility for an entire city is a sacred task, not something given to "sound bites" and idle thought.

And we the voters could display our caring by reserving tents for the mayor and the nine city council members.  If they start to shiver, we will call for a special referendum asking if they should be provided with sleeping bags.  That would be a humane response, don't you think, everyone deserving to be warm and having a canvas roof over their heads.  Who can argue with that?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Greetings From Bernal Heights, San Francisco

If brevity is bliss, then everyone will soon be residing in taxi heaven because I am going to keep this posting short.  I am writing from my friend Jake's apartment in a neighborhood southeast of the outer Mission District.  Today "she-who-can't-be-named" and I explored the vegetative wonder that is University of California's Botanical Gardens located in the Berkeley Hills.  It has become a favorite haunt, especially on days like this one, warm with a clear blue sky overhead, the Golden Gate Bridge brightly gleaming to the west.   Tomorrow we go to that wonderful museum, the deYoung while on our way north to soak in Orr Hot Springs.  In other words I have something other than taxi on my focus, and "she-who-can't-be-named" wants to keep it that way, objecting yesterday at lunch any time I broached the subject with Jake.  Still, where can anyone in polite company be called a "serial killer" and not be offended?  Why in the interior of a cab, that's where!

One of my last fares of the weekend was a very drunk, young Ethiopian man coming from the Tukwila Golden Nugget Casino.  As near as I could tell, he might of once been, or still is, a taxi driver.  Regardless he was nearly incoherent, having difficulty telling me what he wanted or where he was going.  Disliking me asking questions, he progressively grew more agitated.  When we finally stopped to buy the beer he didn't need, he said to me, "You give me the creeps.  You look like a serial killer."

Upon his return with a case of beer, he continued with this line of nonsense but my response made him laugh, telling him "I am too busy to kill him now, so I will have to murder you later."  Enjoying that thought so much he tipped me a dollar, providing  me 21 dollars total for the silly 15 minutes dealing with a sotted imbecile.  I suppose this kind of interaction could happen in a bar but perhaps is far more commonplace in the taxi.

So as I will always say, if you want to be called "anything and everything" beneath our shining sun, drive a cab.  You too can be a serial killer.  Ain't that nice?  And of course it isn't but again, always again, welcome to taxi!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Protests, Strikes, Classes, Courtrooms

My original primary goal for this blog was to present taxi as it truly is minus the usual mythology and misrepresentations characterizing it as something it isn't, taxi reality interesting enough, not requiring fictional embellishments.  Much has happened in one solitary week, and if this is any indication of  what the New Year will be like, I am ready to run and hide.  Next week I will be in San Francisco and Orr Hot Springs near Ukiah, California.  Say a prayer and maybe I can just stay there, a good 900 miles away from Seattle taxi-land.  If only is all I can say.

Altercations at the Airport

I only know part of the story but last week a large number of Punjabi Sea-Tac drivers attacked another driver over some protocol violation.  This prompted Yellow to suspend the miscreants who responded by getting a sizable percentage of their Sea-Tac taxi buddies to call an instantaneous strike beginning last Friday and extending into Saturday morning. I've heard reports of profane shouting matches, and occurring sometime today, a massive exodus to the new GM's office demanding his resignation if not his actual head.  Topping this off for me was a request for media help from my friend Chris, the very person all these crazy guys got fired from Yellow's Sea-Tac operations.  All of this is enough to make one's taxi head spin.  And I know why it is all happening, beyond the actual facts and details.  They, like everyone else in this business, are mentally "burnt to a crisp" and have temporary lost their grip.  Eventually they return to some semblance of functionality.  People ask why I am always leaving.  My response, as I said earlier, is who wants to stay?

Post Fender-Bender

Since I am gone next week I accelerated the entire process connected to my accident last Wednesday.  My scheduled "Safety Committee" hearing yesterday resulted in me going to a defensive driving class taught by my long time insurance industry colleague, Robert R.  During the latter section we watched films of cars and buses sliding down icy Seattle hills; road rage in NYC and finally, too many head-on collisions in Russia. Other than taking time, it was all fairly painless.  My three fellow class members took two prayer breaks.  One interesting side note is that the fellow causing the trouble in my back seat was involved in yet another incident this week.  I wish him the best but it appears he needs to change his behavior before something truly serious happens.

Ticket Dismissed

And talk about time wasted, my 2:30 PM court date today extended to 3:30 PM as all of us had to sit through a couple of cases with people acting, and acting is the term, as their own lawyer.  Futile and painful to observe.  My lawyer Doug Silva had already informed me my ticket would be dismissed but being paranoid, I sat through attorney amateur hour. The last misguided defendant initially refused to sign the necessary court papers, with the poor court clerk trying to convince the idiot she had no alternative.  After my dismissal Doug told me they didn't want to do it, handing me a long list of all the tickets I have beaten.  It was good to share a bit of humor. Thanks Doug!

Driving Blind

During the sometimes informal defensive driving class, I had the opportunity to talk to my three colleagues.  What I found, even with the guy who has been driving since 1994, is a shared taxi illiteracy preventing them from earning the kind of money that is out there waiting for the true professional.  When I told the 20 year veteran that to really make money, you had to average $40.00 per hour, he was mystified.  "How do you do that? " he exclaimed.  Even he didn't understand the basic concept of having an hourly and daily goal, keeping track each hour of what you are bringing in.  All the truly experienced and savvy cabbies out there know this is all "Taxi 101," the simple fundamentals of driving a cab. 

I tried in my short time to quickly teach them some of the "tricks" of the taxi trade but clearly it was too much to swiftly comprehend.  I lay most of the blame upon the City of Seattle and King County for licensing folks who have little to no clue on what to do once they are behind the taxi wheel, the complex never becoming simple.  How many times have I told the administrators that training has to be more complete and thorough?  At least fifty times over the past five years.  And why haven't they heeded my suggestions?   Ha Ha Ha! is all I can say in reply. 

Not Wise Not Having Collision Insurance

All cabbies know that our biggest expense is insurance.  There is no escaping that cost, and when you try, you are only bitten in the ass.  The veteran driver I just referred to now owes $12,000 for failing to have his van completely covered.  My friend D. also has $7000. of body damage to his van  that he must pay out of his pocket due to an accident caused by his relief driver.  Both attempted to save money but the reverse happened.  Taxi can be an unforgiving business and that is just the way it is.  Now you know why I now never recommend this business to everyone.  It is a Buddhist "hell realm" and there is no other way to describe it.  I am sure the taxi devils are having a jolly, good time, poking us with those heated tines.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Discordant Bells: Not Quite The Way To Ring In The New Year

The title relates to my working New Year's Eve 2015 but here it is Monday, January 5th, giving me three full taxi days to report and reflect upon.  Maybe the most comical part of the any new year is how it isn't new at all, only a thematic continuation of the well known.  Yes a change in calenders but not in everyday human behavior.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if after all the fireworks have expired everything was suddenly new and different, ongoing wars and conflicts ceasing, with commonsense instead replacing the usual belligerence beleaguering our shared world.  Now that would indeed be something to celebrate.

My last day of the year unhappily began with a fender-bender, a very disruptive passenger distracting me to the point that my foot slipped off the brake pedal when sitting at a light.  The physical damage to the pickup truck I hit was minimal, a telephone call today informing me  $110.00 taking care of the missing paint, but the real problem for any taxi driver is when insurance companies get involved.  This Wednesday I am scheduled for a dreaded "Safety Committee" meeting but hopefully the final consequences will be small.  My accident is a classic example of a "taxi maelstrom" when instantaneously the cab's interior becomes an insane asylum.  Having experienced this more times than I can remember I still unfortunately can be affected by unreasonably manipulative behavior, suddenly delegated to rookie status.

I like to think I am mentally prepared for anything but clearly in this instance I wasn't, losing my concentration as the individual kept repeating he was getting out of the cab then no, I am not etc, a deranged recital somehow effectively disorientating this normally placid cabbie.  Sometimes I have to admire a person like this, who after essentially causing the collision, kept asking me for money.  Coincidentally, Bill, the owner of the offended Toyota truck, told me this passenger was well known around University Hospital, reputedly calling cabs under false names, then subsequently exiting minus payment.

Adding insult to injury was taxi 354's recalcitrant front driver-side window.  Refusing to close on an evening posting temperatures in the low 20 degrees Fahrenheit I drove for nearly six hours with the cold air streaming in.  Thankfully passengers were so desperate for a cab that no one complained, a strong heater helping alleviate the chill.  My first passengers dealing with the situation tipped me 15 dollars.  Thank goodness for good, old fashioned human empathy. Despite everything I made money but having an accident albeit minor is depressing, not something anyone wants, crowding your mind with despair, taxi being hard enough without adding yet another burden to the heavy weight.

And this past weekend was yet another "holiday afflicted" two days with business centered at the airport and train station but nearly no where else.  A $95.00 including tip airport run occurring at 4:40 Sunday morning truly rescued my taxi butt.  On the way back I got a $23.00 bone marrow package from the VA Hospital to University Medical Center.

Sunday itself was extremely slow, the only real action confined to Sea-Tac.  Finally requesting all cabs, including city-plated taxis like my 478 I got my first legal airport pickup in at least 20 years, a nice fellow coming back from a Hawaiian vacation, taking him home to the Renton Highlands.  But wouldn't you know it, there just had to be a blemish, the credit card authorization system telling me that it was saving the transaction info only to authorize the card later.  Thankfully I did receive the $29.50 payment minus any other delays.  The bonus to all of this was getting a fare just down State Highway 167 at Valley General Hospital, taking Dave all the way south to deep Covington, WA, getting $58.00 for that effort. Bypassing fares in the deep South End I scooted to Chinatown for a bowl of soup and glad I did.  Nothing like a steaming bowl of soup relieving the taxi body and mind, and dare I say it, soul.

Taxi Hate Crime Update

Jesse Fleming, the prime suspect in the recent assault upon the Somali taxi driver, has a scheduled "case setting hearing" on Monday January 26th, 2015 at 1:00 PM, Room 1201, King County Courthouse.  I will continue to provide updates as the case progresses through the legal system.

Eighty Dollars to Ballard?

Another bad example of ongoing local transportation theft and the City of Seattle's lack of substantive enforcement was the reporting to me of an $80.00 town car ride from Capitol Hill to the Ballard neighborhood.  Usually it is about a $25.00 cab ride but late New Year's Eve, a passenger and his friends were charged over triple the cost.  This wasn't the famous Uber price surging but just another example of an individual ripping off local customers.  How many times does this have to occur to get the mayor and the city council's attention?  My guess is only when it personally happens to them and not before.  It is the usual "why care when you don't have to," all evidence pointing to that basic reality.  This upcoming Saturday and the Seahawk playoff game scheduled for 5:30 PM, the City of Seattle will yet have another opportunity to protect its local citizens and out-of-town fans.  I think I already know what is going to happen.  Don't you?

Uber Drivers Beginning to Sell Off Their Cars

Is this the beginning of the end of the local Uber gold rush?  Yesterday,while standing in the cashier line waiting to do "my turn," I heard numerous reports of disillusioned drivers getting out of the Uber carousel, backing up my longstanding contention that the local transportation market will not sustain an unlimited number of cars.  Again, while Seattle's mayor and the city council toasted in the New Year, thousands of  taxi, limo, flat-rate for-hire and TNC (Uber, Lyft, Sidecar) drivers hunted for those too elusive fares.  My taxi buddy T. told me he cleared $143.00 for the evening.  Anyone in the know understands that this is a pittance on what some consider the busiest taxi day of the year.  I for one think it is time for the city council to once again reverse itself and impose a limit on the number of TNC cars.  Believe me, it would be an act of mercy, saving all those ersatz taxi drivers from themselves.  As the song goes, "when will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?" At this rate perhaps in the year 2525, or is that just another bad 1960s pop song?

"President of the Drivers?"

During a confounding "two cab" call at Southcenter Mall, where me and another driver had a hell of a time locating the 7 "frozen" young Vietnamese women,  that cabbie said, " I know you.  My friend told me that you are the "president of the drivers."  I responded that, yes, that was true, sort of, but now I am not sure what I am.  It is nice to know some folks still remember my past efforts however futile they might have been.  But yes I still love the "taxi nation" and guess I always will, forever a "cabbie patriot."  I'd salute the flag if we only had one, a proud banner with a glorious beaming top-light!