Friday, October 30, 2015

Recommendations---Seattle Election November 3rd, 2015

As has been said a million and perhaps a billion times over, "better late that ever" which is probably self-serving since I am sure the majority have both made up their final choices and put their ballot in the nearest mailbox. But if you are interested in my opinion, read on especially if you want to know why I strongly feel that Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Council incumbent, and vying for the Council District # 3 seat, is not only not qualified to remain on the council but clearly fraudulent and dishonest, misrepresenting herself as a socialist. Take note of this current cultural fact in today's America, that self-labelling is rampant.  If Sawant called herself a ballerina it would be easy to see if she can actually dance. Just as the Independent/Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist, there is again no evidence this is true unless being a reliable vote for NRA initiatives makes you a socialist but that is highly doubtful. Another thought is why would someone want to be something they are not?

Anyone then can and will call themselves anything minus proof and real accomplishment.  Add water and mix appears to be the prevailing message and recipe. National candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson ask us to believe they are qualified to lead a huge and complicated nation without any viable evidence proving they have the experience to have their fingers inches away from the nuclear trigger.

You might call this a national tread and disease that is highly infectious, which might explain why someone like Sawant, an upper-Caste and upper middle-class emigre from India can be placed in a similar category, having become ill by close association.  But superiority it appears is an essential part of India's cultural and societal dialogue. America's inherent classism pales in comparison to India's theologically-based class prejudice. When God says you are inferior you know without any doubt you are in deep trouble. Didn't American 18th and 19th Century slave owners say their ownership of other people was sanctioned by their God?  Watch out is all I can say!

The Recommendations

City Council District # 1----Lisa Herbold over Shannon Braddock.  Two very similar candidates.  I like Herbold's idea for endorsing one for one replacement for affordable housing, making the City and developers accountable.  My first apartment in Seattle in 1973 was $85.00 a month, this for the second floor of a house overlooking Green Lake.  I rented a 4-bedroom house on Capital Hill in 1975 for $240.00 a month.  I bought my first home, again on Capital Hill, a co-op apartment in 1987 for $29,000.  In 1998 I bought another Capital Hill co-op apartment for $35,000.  As we all well know, those kinds of prices are long gone.  It is a mistake to let developers take over Seattle like they have in San Francisco.  I lived in San Francisco in 1979-82, and our Glen Park flat was $300.00 a month.  I am guessing that the same flat is now renting for $3000.00 a month.  How is that reasonable?

City Council District # 2----Tammy Morales over Bruce Harrell.  Morales is another fair housing advocate.  Harrell of course is one of those eight City Council votes that sold the local taxi industry down the operational river.

City Council District # 3----Pamela Banks over Kshama Sawant.   My basic assessment of Sawant is that she is disingenuous, not a sincere individual despite theoretical pretensions to the contrary.  Some important background information is that she is from the largest middle-class grouping on our planet, a number surpassing the population of the United States.  This pool of privilege exists while nearly half of India's population is under-nourished, creating catastrophic conditions for the poor.  While India sends satellites orbiting into space, millions of Indian babies are born stunted due to their under-weight and malnourished mothers, the infants sentenced to lower IQs and less than average physical heights. Sawant's mother was a school principal and her father a civil servant.  While Sawant grew up in a literate household and graduated college with a computer degree, 37 percent of India's population of 1.28 billion people remain illiterate. Not a good statistic.

I find all this relevant because Sawant calls herself a socialist but nothing in her background provides evidence she has ever involved herself in the actual day-to-day mechanisms of true socialist activity.  A retiree drawing Social Security is more closely involves in a "socialist" action than Sawant.  Listen to any tried-and-true GOP supporter angrily rave about FDR and his "New Deal" to fully appreciate what I am saying.

Sawant came to this country and got her PHD in Economics from North Carolina State University.  She then taught at Seattle Central Community College. It all sounds reasonable but I don't see where her claims to be a socialist comes in.  And if she is looking to help people out, freeing them from unfair bondage, why isn't she doing that in India, her country of origin?

I think the answer to that is simple, answering why so many of her  fellow Indians are flocking to the USA and Seattle.  For the money, honey, for the money!  Professionals in the United States make a hell of a lot more that those in India. It is true.  Check it out.  Tell me one story of an American-born professional moving to India for the big salaries over there.  I would like to hear it.

You might by now be curious why I am concentrating upon Sawant and her contradictions?  Sawant was the eighth vote uncapping Uber, Lyft and Sidecar operations in Seattle.  Her odd explanation backing her vote for an Uber company valued at the time at over 40 billion dollars was that corporate expansion was inevitable, implying there was no use in resisting Big Money and Big Government interests.  I was seated in the audience when she said this.  It was both shocking and confusing, her vote making little sense.

And also during this time period I witnessed Sawant speak on more than one occasion during City Council proceedings, lapsing into what I saw and heard as incomprehensible rants.  All of the council proceedings have been recorded and her unusual performances are public record.  Check them out and see what you think. Aside from the Uber vote, in general I question her overall effectiveness as a public official.

As for her opponent, Pamela Banks, she is currently running the Seattle Urban League, whose stated mission is to provide support for African-American and other underrepresented communities.  If the immigrant population driving taxi in Seattle isn't underrepresented, then I don't know the definition of the term.  I know it has been said that Banks is supported by big money interests like Alaska Airlines.  She has disavowed this kind of backing.

Council District # 4----No position.  Michael Maddux and Rob Johnson seem to hold nearly identical positions concerning City issues. A coin flip, near as I can tell.

Council District # 5----Debora Juarez over Sandy Brown. Juarez is a Puyallup Indian who has served as staff attorney for the Native American Project.  I believe her empathy would be a plus on the City Council.

Council District # 6----Mike O'Brien over Catherine Westbrook.  O'Brien was the lone positive vote toward stemming the Uber tide.

Council District # 7----Deborah Zech-Artis over Sally Bagwell.  Zech-Artis recognizes that Seattle's lights (stop & go signals) are not synchronized, telling me that she more awake than at least 98 % of those folks running Seattle.  As for Bagwell, I find her both naive and disinterested concerning City of Seattle issues.  I would love to see her behind the wheel of an Uber vehicle.  Maybe we can collect a fund and buy her a used Prius and get her started.  Wouldn't that be something like sweet justice for someone prone to making disingenuous statements?

Council District # 8----Jon Grant over Tim Burgress.  Grant is the former director of "The Tenants Union of Washington State."  Sounds good to me, someone who will finally protect renters in Seattle.  Burgess was and is a reliable Uber vote.  What else do I need to say?

Council District # 9----Lorena Gonzalez over Bill Bradburd.  I like both candidates but I am endorsing Gonzalez because she has the potential to become the City Council's resident idealist.  Bradburd, perhaps more of a pragmatist, would also be a good choice.

And that folks means my time is up.  All the other measures and candidates I leave to your good discretion.   Unfortunately I hear, however faint, taxi's siren song beckoning me to the unforgiving urban reefs.  I can only hope that my posting today added something to the overall discussion.  If nothing else, you know I am not a Sawant fan.  If I have one guiding principal, it is sincerity.  I attempt that in my own life and expect the same from others.  It is simple while remaining complex.  Be who you claim to be minus digressions.  Anything short of that means I don't trust the person's motivations.  I don't see how my position will ever change upon this most important subject, honesty being, or should be, everyone's personal policy.

And be sure to pet your cats and dogs daily.  Very important!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Lottery Number 51208

Yes taxi brothers and sisters, the City of Seattle medallion lottery drawing is upon us, Wednesday, November 4th being the big day.  From 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM they will be choosing at least 100 entries for the first 35 medallions that are to be awarded in December, with another 65 medallions coming in January 2016. For those who are mathematically deficient (count me amongst you) that adds up to 90 medallions.  I was told today that they plan to release even more medallions in 2016 on top of this initial 90. While that might be exciting to some, remember that our market is already saturated to bursting, making it even more difficult to pay those bills.

One very big negative is that the lottery is open to anyone meeting the minimum requirements, meaning any current medallion owner also qualifies, which many of us would call unfair but the City of Seattle says it is bound by law and cannot limit entry.  Need I remind anyone that it was the City of Seattle who allowed illegal Uber and flat-rate for hire operation within Seattle city limits for over three years, thus making any adherence to legal guidelines farcical.

But they have added a provision mandating that any current medallion holder relinquish 50 % of their ownership interest.  While on first take that might sound fair until you realize that by shifting ownership to a friend you have essentially retained ownership.  If you don't believe me, let's say that I am a current owner and I win a medallion.  All I need do is shift 50 % to that most famous of personages, "she-who-can't-be-named," and end of story, I am still completely in charge of the medallion.  Another condition is that you have to actively drive the taxi for three years.  Even in this down market, you will probably be able to sell the medallion for 25-50 thousand, so from whatever angle you look at, winning one of these licenses is a good deal.

In other taxi news, Yellow's move is imminent, moving to the old STITA taxi lot, at S. 128th & Des Moines around the second week in November.  Yellow (BYG) is dramatically changing its business model by eliminating car ownership and financial overhead by leasing out its medallions.  Just before I left for Europe, in a rushed decision, I took over YC 478, buying the car and taking on all  responsibilities, including insurance and maintenance.  It is interesting being a "quasi-owner."  I have two veterans of the taxi byways driving the day and night shifts, Tom on day, and Ray at night.  I  am back to my tried-and true weekends.

Another "something new" that Puget Sound Dispatch is doing is eliminating all cash transactions and transferring all account transactions to individual debit cards.  Opening up my envelope today I was completely mystified by the entire process.  All we can hope is that the transition will be better thought out than the flawed computer system debut.  That was, as reported, nightmarish.  But any screw-ups regarding accessibly to our money will cause a riot.  Nothing to fool around with, that is for sure.

Two Deaths in the Taxi Family

Terry Davis, a long time taxi industry advocate, recently succumbed to prostate cancer after a long battle with the disease.  Terry was once president of a driver organization called the "The Cab Drivers Alliance of King County.'"  I knew him as a fellow TAG member.  There will be a memorial and remembrance for Terry on Saturday, 11 AM,  October 31st, 2015 at Matthews Beach Park, located just off Sand Point Way.  The official address is 5100 NE 93rd Street.  An enduring legacy is Terry's push to have signs in Braille placed in all Seattle and King County taxis. Thanks to him the vision-impaired have more information literally at their fingertips.

Also dying recently was my friend and former Taxi Superintendent, Jack McQuirk.  I have no information other than he is dead.  It is disturbing news to say the least.

Municipal Elections

November is 3rd is election day.  Tune in Friday and read my recommendations.  This is an extremely important election for us in the industry.  We require friends, not active opponents on the Seattle City Council.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Paris Goodbye

My last night in Europe. It has been a good trip even if at times I have been confused and unsure where I was and what direction I was going.  Today has been a good example, trying to find places that no longer exist and getting turned around and missing what has been there for decades.  Paris is a big city.  And frenetically busy.

Where I am staying, my second hotel in Paris this time around, the first being an utter disaster, is near the Gare du Nord ( North train station), is an area of non-stop motion, taxis and buses flying around corners. What makes this area all the more interesting is the large North and former French West African residental population, along with untold number of Pakistanis and Indians.  It is quite an interesting mix, creating an unique ambiance not easily found elsewhere.  Last night I ate in "Lahore, Lahore," a Pakistani restaurant filled mostly with North African men.  Everywhere there are bars and coffee shops filled with young men, with not a woman in sight.  The food at the restaurant was just fabulous.  And very spicy.  A big change from the terrific pirogi I was eating in Poland.

The only positive about the first night was the Parisian cabbie who assisted me in finding the hotel.  My flight from Krakow ($70.00 one-way on EasyJet, quite a deal) got in about 10:30 PM so I knew I would be searching for the hotel in the dark.  The smartest decision I made the entire trip was buying train tickets when I was here in September, making it easy to quickly locate the Paris-bound train, not having to fuss with ticket dispensers. It also helped that I had figured out which metro stop I needed.

Once stepping out of the metro station I was bewildered. Thankfully I saw a vacant cab parked next to a Turkish kabab cafe, with the driver sitting inside eating. He didn't speak English but showing him the address he motioned with his arms forward, then making a right turn motion, which were perfect instructions, making it easy to find the hotel. When I told him I was a "United States taxi driver", he gave me an enthusiastic "thumbs up!"  Yes, that's right, taxi brothers to the end!

I'll conclude with two poems relating to my travel experiences.  While a trifle self-indulgent, and of course, off subject, I hope you will enjoy following some of my recent adventures, or misadventures, depending upon the point of view.

The first is about my trying to find the beginning of what is known in Sanok as the "Trail of the Ikons," which is a series of old churches spread along the countryside.  Confusing doesn't accurately describe the difficulty I had. Regardless, by my second weekend I had more or less figured out where I needed to go.  That particular day I must had walked a total of 10 km, my feet were sore and tired by day's end.


                                      I wanted to arrive but not reading Polish
                                      I didn't know how to start yet regardless
                                      I began, turning left down the lane
                                      avoiding the scattering chickens
                                      and the leaping puppy I walked
                                      and walked, the River San to my right,
                                      and to my left, farms then forest climbing
                                      the hill, all the while scanning ahead, and 3 km
                                      later, just as the sign promised, a grey onion
                                      dome above the trees.
                                      There is my ikon.
                                      I have found my church.

It was a beautiful old Greek Catholic Church now used by the Polish Roman Catholics.  Have I neglected to tell you that Poland is wall-to-wall devout Catholic?  My next poem is all about that reality.  Anyway I was pleased  to have found at least one of the churches, making my time in Sanok just a bit more worth while.

This next poem is a "real" travel story, meeting someone in a favorable manner, and boom! it all blows up. The person I am talking about boarded the same bus, the one taking me from Smerek in the Carpathian Mountains to downtown Krakow.  She got on in Solina, a town on a large lake about 30 km south of Sanok. In the course of our conversation she showed me pictures on her telephone of "ikon" painting she had done.  I wa astonished at their quality. She also told me that she had gone to Rome with a choir to sing for "Papa," namely the Pope.  Turns out she was "crazy" about Jesus, and I made the mistake of being honest.  Oh well!

                                                  Today God Was Polish

                              Our conversation was satisfying to us both

                              until my saying, "Evil doesn't exist, only confusion,"

                             which, explicitly contrary to Catholic doctrine,

                             shocking her into a sudden disdainful silence clearly

                            implying I sinned by suggesting realities not containing

                                                   autocratic deity

                                               and by ignoring dictates

                                                   I kneel and pray

                                              thanking Him for an existence

                                             I have no understanding of


She was on her way to a week long retreat at a Catholic  monastery. I was just dis-invited. Don't think they had room for a secular rationalist anyway.  Actaully I am sure of it!

More soon from Tacoma/Seattle.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Again In Krakow---And Taxi Lottery Update

After a 5 1/2 hour bus ride from Smerek, a tiny community on the edge of Bieszczadzki National Park, I am back for two nights in Krakow before flying back to Paris for the last three nights of my trip.  Upon leaving Sanok Tuesday morning I paid for a bus to Wetlina only to discover the guest house I was staying was about 2 km north, in Smerek.  The only advantage to having stayed in equally minute Wetlina is its location next to the "Yellow" trail into the park, which was the route I ultimately took on Wednesday, hiking up a mountain, past the colorful (and informative, if you read Polish---within the park resides an adder---vipera berus berus) park boundary sign, and up and up and up to the most wonderful grassy ridge line.  Though still too low in elevation to be called "alpine" or "sub-alpine," this surprising grassland was still above the local treeline.  Incredible views awaited me both to the west and the east on what was the one fair day out of the three.  The eastward view was an unending horizon of wooded mountains stretching to the Ukraine and Slovakia.  If I had rented a car in Sanok (good idea past-tense) I would have visited both countries yesterday.  Check out a good map of Poland and you will see why that was possible. Coming back via the "Red" trail almost crippled my poor taxi body due to the extremely steep decent.  Crawling into bed I was seriously concerned I was injured but morning brought me some recovery, enabling me later to walk a short distance on another leg of the "Red" trail that thankfully was flat, at least to the point I took it to.  Gathering some "wild" apples I had found, I fed the hungry ponies in a field adjacent to my guest house.  Fall is definitely "apple season" in Poland.  Delicious apples abound!

More Taxi Lottery Info

Beginning Monday October 19th, 2015, everyone with the following qualifications (five years driving taxi at least 30 hours a week; and/or 10 consecutive years of holding a for-hire license)  can go down to South Dearborn Street, along with both your for-hire and WA State driving licenses and apply to get one of 90 medallions that are to be issued in 2015 and 2016.  One point I am not clear upon is whether you are disqualified if you are a current medallion owner.  I will let you know later on that issue.  There is a way to put your name in via an absentee application and I will also provide that info to you soon, probably when I am in Paris.  While I was surprised on the number of new medallions to be released, that might have been sparked by the Seattle City Council receiving requests to deregulate the entire industry, allowing unlimited entry.  While understanding emotion, does little Seattle really require the combined transportation equivalent (taxi, flat-rate for hire, town-car, TNC/ride-share) matching NYC's 13,000 Yellow cabs?

A few figures tells us the entire story.  Current NYC metropolitan census figures say there are between (depending on the area applied, which includes nearby suburban areas of New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania) 20-23.6 million residents.  Combined Seattle & King County residents (our service area) is, according to 2010 census figures, 1,322,589.  Even with the population growth over the past two years, we don't come close to the NYC figures.

I estimate, including the town-cars, we have about 8000 full and part-time independent operators trying to make a living with a population base that is one-22nd in size to NYC.  Even if you add the area reaching to Everett to the north and all the way down to Olympia to the south, as some data does, we still see a figure of just over 4 million residents. The entire state of Washington has, according to the 2010 census, 6,724, 546 residents; with an estimated 2014 census of 7,006,530. The entire state of New York, not counting the out-of-state areas that make up metro NYC, is just under 20 million.  So why have so many independent operators been added, with more on the way?  Good question, isn't it?

Kind of Funny, But Not

I finally get around to writing an email to one of the Port of Seattle Commissioners voicing my concern about the pending Sea-Tac contract renewal and rumors of wrong doing, and what kind of reply do I receive?  Why only to be put on the person's mailing list, which included the most recent posting praising that arch-enemy of the taxi industry, the now deposed Jean Godden.  Are you laughing?  I'm not!

Sunday, October 11, 2015


                                                   "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
                                                    What I was walling in or walling out,
                                                    And to whom I was like to give offence,
                                                    Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
                                                    That wants it down!"

This somewhat "out-of-context" quote from the American poet Robert Frost (1875-1963) is of course from his famous poem, "Mending Wall," coming from, if I remember correctly, one of the greatest poetry volumes in American literary history, "North of Boston."  Everybody loves to quote Frost.  In a book I just read, William Styron's "Lie Down In Darkness," "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is referenced twice.  There are only a small number of writers I truly admire, and Mr. Frost certainly is one of them.  And today his poetry will assist me in, yes, again making further commentary upon current Seattle taxi issues.

While enjoying ending my last missive with "animal talk,"  I find it necessary to expand further on the implications of what the Seattle City Council is doing and why it is potentially important to us taxi industry stalwarts. The title says much of what I believe they are doing, and have been doing for at least the last four years---namely the creating of operational barriers, or walls, to our ability to function as the governmental regulated industry which we undeniably are.

During the past couple of years I have dutifully reported on both City Council and various Seattle and King County decisions curtailing our ability to thrive and prosper.  It has not been a pretty picture, and as many of you know, our future only continues to darken.  The latest chapter in their ongoing effort to punish and suffocate Seatttle and King County's taxi operations, as I said in my previous post, is by partnering with  Teamsters Local 117s' effort to further legitimise flat-rate for-hire and rideshare/TNC (Uber & Lyft) inroads into our traditional operational sphere.  By offering collective-bargaining rights to entities that, from my position, should not exist in the first place, the City Council and Teamsters 117 are only further entrenching into permanency what are nothing but invasive species choking the taxi soil.  That Teamsters 117 pretends to also represent a sizable group of taxi drivers and owners, mostly consigned to Sea-Tac Airport, we have a situation both contradictory and schizophrenic, creating more confusion and despair.  Our historic disarray only works to their advantage.  The question, as usual, is what to do; how and why; and should and can we respond?

To do nothing is easy, which is what we collectively as an industry do well.  Another equally ineffective response is address one's own personal interests, which is what happened during the now infamous "Mayor Murray negotiations," resulting in the city being over run with Uber vehicles.  What the Mayor provided the taxi industry was a "garden hose" when the blazing fire was inches from the house, the smouldering embers inevitable, burning the skin.

As I have noted, Ed Murray is the consummate politician---like any good poker player, understanding a favorable hand.  Friday on-line I saw a photograph of Mayor Ed Murray, KC Executive Dow Constantine and Govornor Jay Inslee greeting President Obama on the airport tarmac.  That, my friends, is about as big as it gets in our current political reality.  And this is where Murray wants to be, with the major players, where he thinks he belongs.  Look for him to be part of any new Democratic Administration, post-Obama.

Again, Murray "toyed" with taxi industry representatives, even storming out (from all reports) during one session.  And there he is now, rubbing elbows with the US President.  For once I am not laughing.  I am wincing.  Oh yes, that's right, the smoke getting to my eyes. 

Why did we lose?  Why did we succumb so easily?  The simple answer is the lack of a bonafide organization truly representing our industry interests.  If we in Seattle continue to rely solely upon association leadership, and the duplicitous Teamsters Local 117, I foresee only a continued deterioration in our business model, meaning our ability to make a living.  Our opponents will not be letting up, I can guarantee that.  If you doubt that, you only have to look as far as the endangered Yellow Cab Sea-Tac contract.  If you don't see or understand what is happening at Sea-Tac, you are blind.  It is that simple.

So what to do, what can we do to stem our bleeding?  Well, the answer, and continues to be, is to organize, to once and for all create a viable, legal Union (or whatever else you want to call it) and start defending our industry in every possible way.  I don't see an alternative.  Delay will only lead to a diminishing of our industry and personal wealth.  It is the truth.  And thinking about it for a few seconds, I know you agree.  The walls are closing upon us. Soon they will tower, blocking out all sunlight.  Is that what you want to happen?  Not only will it happen, it is occurring right now as I sit here typing in faraway Sanok, Poland. I know you know what we must do. It is obvious.

More Travelogue

It has taken me a while but I am finally getting more oriented with Sanok's general vicinity. Thursday I made it to the top of a small mountain, Oril Kamien.  The view was wonderful but my favorite part was on my way back,. noticing a very "solid" older Polish farmer staring at me like I had just appeared to him in a vision.  As I approached he spoke, with me pointing back from where I came.  Nodding, shaking my hand  with his very large and cold hand, pleasantly remarked back to me in incomprehensible Polish. He then waved ggodbye. I liked our interaction a lot, showing humanity at its best, displaying the many levels of what can be construed as "positive" communication.  Who needs language when you can smile?

Friday afternoon I took a bus to nearby Lesko, rented a bicycle and explored the adjoining countryside, finally napping in the autumn sunshine next to the River San.  A historical moment later in the day was my entering the one few surviving synagogues in the area, a weathered but lovely building just off the Lesko town square.  Prior to WW II, Lesko's population was 60 percent Jewish.  By the wars' end they had all been murdered by the Germans.

Yesterday I walked the first leg of what is known locally as the "Trail of the Ikons," a three km jaunt along the river taking me to Miedzybrodzie, a Greek Catholic church dating from 1899.  Along with a grey onion-shaped dome, the two parallel windows held matching red crosses, late sunshine lighting up the northern-facing window.  Beautiful!

Tuesday I finally leave Sanok after 12 restful nights and head south to hike in the high grasslands in Bieszczadki National Park.  Friday will find me back in Krakow.  Sunday I fly back to Paris. October 21st back to the USA.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Northeastern European Taxi---An Anecdotal Appraisal & More Seattle Taxi Updates

Given that I find taxi interesting, I will attempt to to give you my observations about taxi in the various countries I have travelled to, where I have both taken and avoided taxis; for instance, not liking the looks of those ruffian cabbies waiting in front of the Vilnius train station. Wow, what an ominous looking crew.

But before proceeding with that somewhat unscientific analysis, I would first like to introduce everyone to this amazing part of the world we share that I literally stumbled upon, that being the southeastern corner of Poland better known as the region of Bieszczady which is, in turn,  the Polish province of Podkarpackie.  I feel lucky to have found myself here accidentally nestled in the Polish Carpathian Mountains foothills.The surrounding green hills are lovely to behold.

Where I am, and will remain for another five days, is the Hotel Jagiellonski in Sanok, a city of  about 40,000 residents located on the River San. My corner room on the second floor allows me to do what I have been needing to do for months if not years: have a sustained rest and collect my often weary thoughts.

It has  been a month now since my departure, and still, thirty days later,  the ill effects of too much taxi remain.While slowly regaining my departed strength, I remain alarmed at how much damage has occurred.  As I have always said, taxi is a perpetually fatigued industry, and folks, I can say definitely that I quality as exhibit A to that notion. But if soup qualifies as medicine, I will soon be healed due to my nightly supping upon the delicious soups served in the hotel restaurant as part of their daily special, 17 zl, translating into about $4.00.

Sanok itself is a historical place, having been here for centuries, now posing as a mild tourist attraction, at least during the prime summer months of July and August. The center, or "centrum," is located upon a hill overlooking the rest of the city.  Today, for the second time since my arrival, I walked up and up the sidewalks in the wonderful city park to what appears to be the highest point, a lookout allowing you an expansive view of the city and the River San valley and the surrounding forested  foothills.  I know I am sounding like a travel pamphlet but Sanok is truly a pretty place.

A couple blocks adjacent to the park is the town square, and also near by, is the city museum located in what they call "the castle."  Anyone visiting Sanok, and especially those interested in religious art, should immediately enter those doors and allow themselves to be embraced by the most astounding collection of 15th to 19th Century Polish Christian artifacts and paintings.  Anyone halfway familiar with the subject will be simultaneously astonished and pleased.  A museum guard told me that it is the finest collection in all of Poland, and I have no reason to doubt him, the large case of Crucifixion figures more than enough to convince me.  Another reason to to go is that a  large portion of the museum is dedicated to local artist Sanok, Zdzislaw Beksinski (1929-2005), whose mature work is both surreal and symbolic.  A statue of Beksinski can be found in the square just outside the Tourist Info Office door.

Everywhere you will find, especially if one is paying attention, reminders of Sanok's both distant and recent past. On the walls of the hall, Dom Sokola,  built  in 1889, is a  pictorial history of the events that have taken place over a hundred-year period inside that venerable hall, including, from 1943, a photograph of an auditorium and stage filled with Nazis and local Nazi sympathizers. In the church located on the square, I found a painting of an obvious Auschwitz inmate standing in front of the barbed wire fences.  I was told the man portrayed is considered a local saint, having given up his life to save another.

And just outside the square, is a memorial with the following inscription written in Polish and Hebrew and English:
                                      Opposite To This Place Stood A Synagogue
                                                         Desecrated And Burned
                                                         By The German Occupiers
                                               In Memory Of Over 10,00 Jews 
                                               From Sanok And The Vicinity
                                               Murdered During The World War II
                                                      By The German Genociders

Perhaps not the best translation but, the message sent is clear, so very clear.

NE Europe Taxi

In this description I include Poland which is more central than the Baltic regions but close enough for taxi government work, and besides, this is intended, as implied, to be anecdotal and not to be regarded as thoroughly comprehensive.  Part of what I know has already been noted in recent postings, especially my first taxi ride in Saint Petersburg.

At least in the three Baltic capitals of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius, but also in the Polish city of Krakow, the taxi industry appear to only be partially regulated, resulting in all four cities having an "anything goes" meter or rate system.  My taxi fare from the Tallinn airport was just 13 euros, but later in the week, to my shock, a very short ride I took to get from the 'train public market" to the other side of "Old Town" cost me 10 euros.  I did mention it to the driver but what he told me was accurate, the cabs have different rates.  I still think he overcharged me, the asshole.  I did file a complaint with Tallinn's taxi commission, and getting quickly back to me, explained to me, the best they could, with how the situation stood.  And making it worse, the driver tried to take me to the National Library, not the Tallinn City Library.  I HAD to show him where it was. Ridiculous! How many days did I stay in Tallinn? Eight!

In Riga, having learned my lesson, I had the Tourist office located at the bus station call me a cab.  A green-colored "Baltic Cab" pulled up about 10 minutes later and took me to a genuine "Latvian" sauna. The driver, having once lived in London, spoke some English, telling me that in three weeks he was joining his brother in Norway to work on a construction site.  After three years driving Riga cab, he wasn't making enough money to justify his 24 hour shift on, with two days off.  The best he could expect to make was about 100-110 euros for 24 hours.  I can see why he was looking forward to Norway.  When he gets back he plans on buying a house on a small plot outside of Riga.  He appeared motivated.  He was a good driver, skilled at maneuvering in heavy traffic.

In Vilnius, the thugs waiting outside the train station alarmed me.  I know what waiting too long does to the taxi mind.  I quickly learned how the bus system worked and went everywhere I needed to go, thankfully avoiding what looked like a very surly taxi crowd.  As much as I defend my fellow cabbies, I am realistic, understanding better than they do what desperation does to the malcontent taxi driver.

In Helsinki, passing through like I did to and back from Saint Petersburg, I could tell, just like the city and Finns in general, the taxis were organized, their lineup outside of the extremely busy central train terminal making sense, as opposed to Seattle's "King Street Station" which is both stupid and chaotic.  I doubt if the Finns would allow the rates not to be standardized.  It only makes sense, ultimately serving both the drivers and the passenger public.  Waiting at a Krakow, Poland tram stop, I was able to read the various taxi rates while cabs waited at the light.  The variation in rates made little sense.  It became clear which cabs to take, and not. And besides, this kind of system usually results in unhappy drivers and unsafe cabs.  I saw that in Seattle when the City allowed this kind of system.  It just doesn't ultimately function, resulting in poor service.

A ride I haven't mentioned yet was the taxi I took from my Saint Petersburg hotel to the ferry terminal.  I had the hotel call, and within five minutes the cab was there.  It was clear the driver was uncertain about the address and soon, after we got under way, I understood why.  The cabbie, a truly nice guy, was a genuine part-timer, his primary gig instead driving cement trucks.  His English wasn't great, and my Russian non-existent but still we had a good time, telling me we were driving by his home as we took a direct route back to the ferry.   He showed me both his taxi and truck driving licenses.  I gave him a very big tip.  I enjoyed his forthrightness, making both of my Russian cab experiences terrific rides, one by a complete professional; the other by this gentleman, the congenial amateur.

Seattle Taxi Forever On My Mind

I am going to make this short and expand further in a future posting.  What I will leave you with is that the Seattle City Council, in its confused wisdom, is now joining "liberal" forces with Teamsters 117 to forge ahead with an effort to allow collective bargaining for those thieves (having stole from the taxi industry for over 3 years) known as the anointed flat-rate for hire drivers and Uber (TNC) drivers.  It appears that the council, after unknowingly (and unwittingly, it appears) essentially de-regulated the local transportation industry, is now attempting to mend its evil ways by recognizing that the Uber drivers are little better than indentured servants.  And need I remind anyone that Seattle's resident Socialist voted for their servitude? Comical yes but serious they are, serious of course for a bureaucratic circus.  But of course, being good progressives, they have banned the tigers and elephants but oddly, have left the baboons.  How could that be?

More later from Sanok.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Krakow, Poland---A Visit To Auschwitz

Tuesday I made it to Auschwitz, the third and last Holocaust site I will be visiting on this trip.  Later this afternoon I take a bus to Southeastern Poland and the small city of Sanok, gateway to that section of the Carpathian Mountains.  I will there to continue my recuperation from all things taxi, and hopefully, if my new laptop cooperates, coming close to finishing  the final draft of my newest book, To Age 13.  That I am ready, as I keep repeating, to finally bid goodbye to taxi permanently, is, to put it mildly, an understatement.

Yesterday, while getting bus information for Sanok, I saw the taxi driver who had taken me to the Hotel Felix, my Krakow home the past three nights.  Great driver, friendly yet totally professional, reminding me much of my own taxi demeanor, he of 25 plus years driving in Krakow.  And there he was, sitting, as he does seven days a week, looking slightly worn, waiting, always waiting.  Recognizing me as a fellow veteran, we had quick yet meaningful conversation.  Clearly he saw his life position as unchangeable, something he will be doing until physically unable.  Not a fate I want to share. Please, no, no, no!

Auschwitz is everything bad that you could or have imagined.  Everything you might have heard is true, reality punching you in the face.  Like the Holocaust sites I visited previously,  the madness and inhumanity is shared but only magnified in scope.  Interestingly, my descriptive tongue today is leaden, weighted down by what I saw.  That the Germans of that era, regardless of whether they were official members of the Nazi Party, were able to plan, let alone carry out murder on such a scale, says much about German society and culture during the 1930s and 40s.

As I am sure has been stated elsewhere, this kind of hatred cannot be accidental, or in another sense, incidental, confined to a small percentage of the German population.  The killing of, not only Jews, but Roma, Gays, Russian soldiers, Polish priests and so many other groups says that German society as a collective whole, was out-of-control. Yes, the treaties post-WW I were unfair but nothing justifies what happened at Auschwitz.  Nothing.  There is no excuse and there never will be.  That is today's and tomorrow's reality, matching the reality of 1939-1945.  If the opportunity ever presents itself, go to Auschwitz.  You will not have a good time but nonetheless, go.  You will understand, once you have passed through the two barbed wire fences, why it was necessary.  Go.