Sunday, September 27, 2015

Realities---Taxi and Others

My last Sunday afternoon in Vilnius allows me the time and space to do something I haven't done before, compose two consecutive entries over a two day span.  It is almost 2 PM and my bus for Warsaw doesn't leave until just past 10:00 PM so I have plenty of time, that is if I put my mind to it and not screw up the works like I did yesterday.  Today I spent a good hour repairing yesterday's damage.  Anyway, now it is time to address issues concerning Seattle taxi.  Too soon I will again be immersed in that world.  You don't have to ask whether I am looking forward to it.  I am not.  I repeat, I am not!

One important issue that needs addressing is the ugly rumor concerning major impropriety connected to Yellow taxi's reporting of out-bound Sea-Tac (airport) trips.  Rumor has it that Yellow, from the very start of its contract, intentionally misstated figures given to the Port of Seattle. What makes little sense concerning this, is that given the level of official scrutiny, why would Yellow, after making this huge effort to gain the contract, intentionally sabotage their own good work?   It doesn't make sense, especially given who was in charge when Yellow won the contract, that being the very conservative and cautious Frank Dogwilla.  I held many disagreements with Frank but I never saw him as a fool, and you would have to be very foolish to think you could present bogus figures over a five-year span without anyone noticing

Now of course I could be naive but what makes this so suspicious is that this accusation occurs just when the Sea-Tac contract is up for renewal in October of this year. Another taint upon the rumor is who is doing the whispering, that being the same folks who, at least up to this juncture, have been allowed to get away with stealing from the Seattle taxi industry for over a three-year period.  Where is the accountability, my friends, is all I ask?  There are people I trust in the industry and others I do not.  Concerning this rumor, I will leave it at that.

Not just idle rumor is that the much anticipated "Seattle taxi medallion lottery" is coming nearer to reality.  A taxi colleague emailed me the City of Seattle's draft copy of the lottery proposal.  You have to have driven taxi  in Seattle for at least five years.  I wanted the City to make this first in a series of medallion lotteries to be open to only the truly long-term veteran drivers but of course, who listens to me?  As I have said more than once, your first five years serves as your initial taxi apprenticeship, meaning you now have the basic foundation to really start learning the craft.  I unfortunately know too many 20 year taxi veterans who are little better than rookies.  Taxi is a stern master.  It is important to pay attention, something many of my cabbie comrades have refused to do.

And if you ever wondered just how we in this country arrived at where we now find ourselves, I suggest you read the book I just finished (all 634 pages, 1995 edition, HarpersPerennial), Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States."  Read it and I will guess you will suddenly be more informed concerning US history than 90 percent of our nation's population. 

I call this a "must read" and after reading it yourself, I know you will agree.  Given my large collection at home, I am going to begin reading other complete US histories because, as good as Zinn is, I want to know more.  Or more precisely, I NEED to know more.  I end today with a quote (chapter 13, page 345, 3rd paragraph) that pertains to how we in the local Seattle & King County taxi industry got to where we are today.

The quote relates to the first part of the 20th century, around and about the year 1914:

"In this period, cities also put through reforms, many of them giving power to city councils instead of mayors, or hiring city managers.  The idea was more efficiency, more stability.  "The end result of the movements was to place city government firmly in the hands of the business class," Weinstein says. What reformers saw as more democracy in city government, urban historian Samuel Hays sees as the centralization of power in fewer hands, giving business and professional men more direct control over city government."

Above references: James Weinstein, "The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State" & Samual Hays, "The Politics of Reform in Municipal Government in the Progressive Era."

Think about recent City of Seattle Council decisions concerning the local taxi industry and you should be able to see why and how we got screwed.  

On that note, off to Poland!


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Lithuanian Postcard---May We Not Only Never Forget, Let Us Know In the First Place: Salaspils, Latvia & Paneriai, Lithuania

No, not Riga, Latvia but Vilnius, Lithuania though I did spend two enjoyable days in Latvia's capital.  Just like traveling, situations can rapidly change, and upon arriving in Helsinki on a Sunday morning I found little to nothing open, and what was open was 30 percent or more higher than Tallinn, Estonia, prompting me to pay my 19 euro ferry passage to Tallinn and off again I sailed across the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland.  I found, at least when the seas are gentle, I love traveling by ship over open water.  There is, I have found, nothing like it, a kind of special loneliness when standing on the bow looking out to sea or the sky overhead.  It is wonderful which easily explains why people are "called to the sea" and remain for a lifetime.

Two nights back in Tallinn, two in Riga, and now, my third night in Vilnius.  Tomorrow I take a bus through the night to Warsaw, then from there to Krakow, Poland.  I already have my hotel for three night in Krakow, from where I will do a day trip to that infamous Nazi death camp, Auschwitz.

Taking this trip, I had four "not-to-miss" destinations:  Saint Petersburg, Russia and its Hermitage Museum; and three Holocaust sites---Salaspils, Paneriai, and Auschwitz.  The Hermitage of course, was for my personal pleasure; and the Nazi death camps part of my obligation as a world (earth) resident and citizen.  I also felt that way when visiting the WW II era Normandy invasion beaches in 2000.  I walked the beaches and weaved through the tombstones of both the German and American cemeteries.  I feel strongly that not only is it important to know history, it is essential that we never "forget history."

The nice woman working at my Riga hotel had never once been to Salapils,even though her daily train passes right by the camp itself.  Why does it take someone like me to come half way across the planet to view the memorial sculptures at Salaspils or the Paneriai burial pits where over 100,000 victims fell into after being shot in the head? I don't understand.  Why is it so difficult to take an hour or two and  pay your respects to the dead?

Yes, all the victims murdered at Paneriai were shot---other than the majority of the children who instead had their heads "bashed in" in order to save bullets.  Nauseating to contemplate, isn't it, but now, by simply reading my blog you too are now more aware than you were minutes ago.  Perhaps now, that woman too will some day soon take an hour and visit the Salaspils transfer camp like I did, or,becoming more inspired, visit other sites like I am doing.

And I hope someday she does. Because she ,you, me and everyone else must know, all of us knowing and remembering, telling everyone who doesn't know what you now know.  It is not lost upon me that while I am free to go anywhere in Europe as I please, south of me there are tens of desperate thousands fleeing the Syrian conflict, with of course many dying in the attempt. It is a bad story.  War has, and remains a bad story, any and all justifications flushed down the toilet where they belong, in history's sewer.

Yes, Paneriai made a deep impression but my visit to the Salaspils Memorial was also unique, stepping off the train at a lonely stop and walking 2.1 kilometers through the birch forest to the site.  A striking feature there is a metronome contained within a block of polished stone, a second by second droning out of a heartbeat accompanying your visit.  Remember Poe's short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart"  and you have a good idea of the affect it has upon the brain.  Most sad perhaps is the memorial marking the children's barracks, child separated from mother.  Awful!  All I can say is, just what kind of animal is man? Certainly, to my consciousness, a question that has yet to be accurately answered.

Editorial note, Sunday, 09/27/2015:  I woke up this morning realizing I had made a series of errors yesterday.  They are now corrected.  Perhaps I can blame a still addled taxi brain!  You should have heard me cursing my stupidity out loud!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Venus Consoling Cupid Stung By A Bee---Greetings From Saint Petersburg, Russia

I know many have been puzzled by my silence.  The answer is that I haven't been able to sign in to my blog but a suggestion from "she-who-can't-be-named" has done the trick.  Later I will explain what happened but for now it is time to catch up and get down to taxi business.  I can tell you that I took a cab last night with the greatest guy, a 27 year veteran of the Saint Petersburg roads currently driving an eight-year old Russian Volga.  Today he is taking a break and going fishing.  On his smart phone mounted on the dashboard he showed me at least 20 photos of recent catches.  I really liked this cabbie.  The fare was 600 rubles.  I tipped him 200 rubles.  Like too many Russians he smokes cigarettes, the American brand Kent his tobacco poison of choice. As always, our taxi experience are similar but, reported by him, the local police appear to be nicer to their cabbies.  Glad to hear it!

I arrived Paris September 8th, after a three-hour layover in Dubai.   September 10th I flew Air Baltic to Tallinn, Estonia.  On Wednesday I took a ferry across the Gulf of Finland to Helsinki.  Later that day I boarded a ship for Saint Petersburg for a three-day Visa-free stay which if why I am leaving later today at 7:00 PM, boarding that same Saint Peter Line ship, the "Princess Maria" for my return journey back to Helsinki, arriving Sunday morning at 8:00 AM, a day that so happens to be my ex-wife's birthday.  After 2-3 days in Finland I return to Tallinn, and from there, take a bus to Riga, Latvia.  Hopefully from Riga I will   again be able to log-on and report further developments.  There is much Seattle-related taxi news to report and, providing I have a number of uninterrupted hours, I will tell everyone about the good and bad and the plainly stupid.

The entire point of this current European adventure (my 12th trip to Europe) was to see the great art museums residing here in Saint Petersburg.  Thursday I visited the "Russian Museum," home to 20th Century and some 21st Century Russian artwork.  Amazing, brothers and sisters, amazing!

And if possible, and believe me it is, that body of insanely good painting was surpassed by what appears to be the greatest collection of paintings and assorted artwork ever assembled in one place, that museum being the Hermitage.  I do not say this lightly, because I have visited the majority of the world's great art museums, be it in France and Spain and Holland and Belgium and Ireland and England and Mexico and Austria; in my home country, Chicago and NYC and San Francisco and Kansas City and Toledo, Ohio---but I have never experienced a more mind-blowing six plus hours. Who needs LSD when you have 24 Rembrandt's staring right back at you?

Suffice to say, I will be back when I have a couple weeks to concentrate on what the collected museums in Saint Petersburg have to offer.  My title comes from the only American painting I encountered, an early 19th Century painting by Benjamin West.  On my 10th birthday, my sister Mary, 13 years my senior, gave me, instead of my requested toy machine gun, a comprehensive history of art.  In that book, which I still have, is a color plate of a Benjamin West painting, though not the one I saw yesterday.  Oddly, the West painting was hung with a large group of British painters. Do you think I am the only one who noticed?  Thanks to my sister way back in 1963, I believe I am.

Again, my apologies for the delay in my weekly missives to you, my taxi public.  All I can will say is that my name is not "Jason Anderson" which is why I haven't been able to access my own blog.  More later on that. First I have a couple Baltic Sea crossings to make and hopefully a scenic ride to Riga.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Inviting The Burglar In For Dinner---Complicity And More Taxi Shenanigans

Alas, be glad everyone that I am tired and have more than enough to do and complete before I fly to Paris this upcoming Monday.  All I can say in short is that I am damn sick of the underhanded maneuvering that is called "business as usual" in the taxi industry.  I will call it rumor but in fact all of what I am about to write, as far as I know, is true.  And those labor professionals at Teamsters 117 should know better but they, as I have known all along, don't understand that unusual species called the "taxi" animal, a beast I have been observing closely now for over 28 years.  Hell, my own father grazed in the taxi pasture Toledo, Ohio 1958 and Denver 1969-75.  Yeah, I know theirs habits and traits.

One taxi driver who thinks he represents the industry (not me, I can tell you that!) has been down at the Teamsters Tukwila hall telling the flat-rate for-hire owners that he loves them and wants them to be able to exchange their flat-rate medallions one-for-one for taxi medallions.  He then comes back to his WAT & Sea-Tac friends and says the offer made was four-for-one.  Amazing, as I said, if true.

That is what I mean by inviting the burglars home for dinner, these same guys who stole from us for over three years.  What could those single owners at the airport and their Union backers be thinking?  Is this how they respond to their threatened Sea-Tac contract, thinking embracing the enemy will somehow eliminate the problem?  Am I the only one who remembers the history of those pre-WW II years 1936-39?

All I can say, similar to the negotiations with Mayor Ed Murray, no one, and I repeat, no one has appointed anyone connected to the Sea-Tac single owners and their Teamsters 117 backers to act as my official agent or as the agent for the 1-3 thousand independent operators and owners currently working in Seattle and King County.  Why they don't know they are walking down a darkened alley is beyond me.  Why don't they understand that any suggestion of prior permission is improper, pretending to represent me and others on issues important to all of us?  Do they have blindfolds on?  Yes, it appears that they do.

Making this all the more farcical  is that those erstwhile flat-rate friends are monitoring the Yellow taxis working the airport contract to see if they have the proper Sea-Tac permits.  Again, these are the same people who illegally operated openly for over three years. Who would take these kind of antics seriously? Why none other than the Port of Seattle itself, having issued new guidelines to Yellow effective August 30, 2015.  Clearly the Port of Seattle has been listening to the nonsense whispered into their ears. In the long run, this kind of silliness will result in more bad decisions and little else.

Luckily for everyone concerned I would rather catch up on my sleep instead of exposing even further the bold complicity of dishonest and misguided "thieves in the taxi night."  Even that good guy, Seattle City Council-member Mike O'Brien joined the comedy,  coming out in support of a TNC/Ride-share (Uber & Lyft) union because the saturated market created by his council colleagues is destroying the innocent.  This kind of naivete does nothing but add more confusion.  Why seek clarity when it is fashionable to put a box over your head and pretend you are some kind of human television.  Just what channel am I viewing, anyway?  This when we all thought cable TV was dead.  Watch out or you will trip over the cable protruding from their pant legs.

My final thought is this.  Just what will the burglars be eating at our dinner table?  Why, our "taxi lunch" of course!  What else could it be?  Just don't come over to my house expecting anything eatable. It ain't gonna happen!