Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Is It Time To Form A Taxi Union? & Transporting A Secret Agent To Tacoma

Last week the courts ruled that Seattle efforts to allow taxi and flat-rate and Uber drivers to unionize can now go forward, recent attempts to halt the process by both the United States Chamber of Commerce and a small group of Uber drivers having been turned down.  While this is a potential victory for local independent driver operators, I am suggesting that we in the taxi industry begin our organizing efforts sooner than later because I expect more upcoming legal efforts to stymie this kind of unionization. Why does corporate America want to stop a handful of drivers trying to control their personal destiny?

Because, if successful, it clearly holds national implications which scare Uber, Lyft and any other ersatz taxi-like service.  That they want to hold their drivers beneath their corporate thumbs should not be doubted.  If organized, it will cost Uber money, something they truly do not want to share with their drivers.  Again, Uber has reported a quarterly operational loss of over 600 million dollars, making them more suspect with their investors.  As someone at Wall Street might say, this is no way to keep a corporate romance alive, that first kiss suddenly stale.

And I should emphasize that this same attitude can be applied to our local taxi associations.  Do you ever feel powerless to change anything at Yellow, Orange or Farwest,--- money, the making of money for their personal profit seemingly their primary priority?  While this kind of indentured servitude does hold some advantages, the fact that we have little option but to accept what is dished out daily is something that should change, regardless of any kind or variety of unionization.

And yesterday a driver told me something, that while unverified, is very interesting about Puget Sound Dispatch (PSD) finances.  He told me that he and others figured out that PSD (Seattle Yellow Cab), after taking in account salaries and other operating expenses, is earning $200,000 monthly in after-expense profits, adding up to two million & four hundred thousand dollars.

To where and to whom these potential profits are going is something that should be known, especially since we at Yellow are experiencing the worst summer business-wise in 20 years. As all of us know, we all pay $10.00 per week for advertising, something I have personally yet to see anywhere.  If anyone driving at Yellow believes they are getting their money's worth, both through dispatch and media advertising, please hold up your hand.  But please, not with an extended middle finger.

My last comment about unionizing is that any new union should be run and controlled by the cabbies themselves.  Being babysat by Teamsters Local 117 is not the answer.  While officials there are good people and well meaning,  they do not and can not understand our shared reality.  And what will be my role in any effort toward unionization?  Given personal time restraints, like selling my place and moving and focusing on getting my newest book published, I am still willing to assist in working toward some functional structure and framework.  Again, I know this needs to happen.  Do you agree?

Working with Putin?

He was walking shirtless down East Marginal Way South near the Areo Motel looking for a taxi. Waving his hand, I stopped and the gentleman indicated he wanted to go south to Tacoma.  "Great, I responded, "Money up front and off we go."  As I turned 1092 around, he told me to make sure we weren't being followed, saying he would pay for any necessary detours.

Putting his shirt back on, he proceeded to tell he was on a mission and some nefarious parties were attempting to stop him, in additional to warning me not to answer my cell phone because he might have to kill me.  He also told me me that just 4 days previous, Vladimir Putin himself  had the secret agent's new wife flown to Seattle, the agent finding this all very exciting.

Responding back "That this was all fine." the secret agent slid down in the back, curled up and thankfully fell asleep.  Nearing his requested destination, Tacoma Community College, I woke him up, and rubbing his eyes awake , announced we had just shared an important historical moment. "Glad to hear it," was my thought.

Putting his socks and boots back on, he departed 1092 but not before leaving me with additional words of spy wisdom.  Most importantly for me, he left me a new $100.00 bill, the agent carrying a roll of one-hundred dollar bills tucked in a sock.

Having ignored her calls twice, I called "she-who-can't-be-named" back, quickly describing what had just occurred.  "Are you making this up?" she exclaimed, but no, I swear, this account is completely non-fiction, written and composed by disturbance translated into madness and now delivered to you through the world-wide web.  How exciting, wouldn't you agree, spy work just for you hot off the taxi presses!

Postscript August 30th, 2017

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit entered a temporary stay yesterday against the City of Seattle ordinance permitting unionization by taxi and other for-hire drivers.   A more permanent decision might occur as early as next week.  I also have two new pieces of information that I find somewhat disturbing.

Eastside-for Hire has joined with Uber to form something called "Drive Forward," which appears to be some kind of advocacy group promoting the current status quo, meaning independent operators would remain under corporate control minus any real option or legal recourse and appeal.  Especially in the labor situation with Uber, drivers remain quasi employees minus the rights and benefits of actual employees.  Does Uber, Lyft and other such companies want people's labor on the cheap, interested only in corporate profit and not the actual well-being of their independent operators?  I'll let you answer that.

More troubling information that's new to me is currently, the way the law was initially written, all official organizing efforts must begin with one labor body, that being Teamsters Local 117.  While it appears that Local 117 might be open to some alternatives, I am displeased that the Seattle City Council wrote  this kind of limitation into the ordinance in the first place.  What were they thinking, or were they thinking at all?

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Everything That Isn't Fun About Taxi: Nearly Mashed By A Dump Truck!

Making sense of taxi is like making sense of the human experience: it doesn't always add up to something reasonable; or if it is considered reasonable, that very assessment must be suspect simply by who is making it.  One amazing example of that was taking someone from Dexter Avenue North just west of Lake Union all the way to Bellevue and back again just to pick up a take out order.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked, and yes, he did was the answer.  Forty-five minutes and $89.00 later I had him back at his hotel with his Indian food order.  I could comment further but I will leave it at that, his culinary excursion my biggest fare of the greater taxi weekend.  I will say that, business-wise, this is the slowest summer I have ever seen.  More people and cars that ever before but it hasn't translated into more money into taxi pockets.  Whatever the cause, it is nothing good, that's for sure.

And what happened early Saturday night is past explanation other than pure recklessness because if I hadn't been in the far right corner of SW Thistle Street and 8th Avenue SW, the roaring dump truck would have slid up 1092's hood, killing me instantly. While the situation was simple, the truck driver's actions were anything but, flying up the middle of a residential street and cresting the hill at 30-40 mph, making it nearly impossible to avoid a collision.  That I did attests to my having driven cars since I was 12 and plain, old dumb luck.

As I said in my last posting, I don't want to do this anymore.  This very real question must be posed. Will I get out of this insane business before I am killed?  Stay tuned and hopefully I can respond in the affirmative.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Analysis Of A "Close Call"

Near accidents are a cabbie's everyday, and seemingly, our moment to moment reality, the cabbie exposed to death and destruction and catastrophe each time the car key is turned, the engine roaring to life reminding once again it is time to go and repeat ad nauseam what you did yesterday and the day before.   Who wants to do this?  I don't want to do this any more.

Even when you are not moving, it is dangerous, a fact exemplified by the death August 8th of a NYC cabbie, Mehari Bokrezion, who stopped upon a stand to rest and died from a heart attack, only to be found 18 hours later by his distraught wife.  His death reminded me that recently I found the business card of the late Bob Miller, a longtime Seattle cabbie who stopped his cab at a grocery store, getting out to sit on a bench, and dying there.  

Accident statistics for the United States tells us that a car accident occurs every 7-10 seconds, and every 14 seconds an injury occurs.  Every 12 minutes someone in America dies in a car accident.  If you don't believe this, last night I was driving on a darkened part of south-bound Aurora Avenue North, and suddenly, to my horror there was a homeless man running across six lanes and directly in front of 1092.  Slamming my brakes and jerking to the right I avoided the fool by inches as he dove out of the way.  Recently there was a Seattle Times article about how a large percentage of Seattle jaywalking tickets are issued to blacks (African Americans), with this insane and very lucky fellow falling into that demographic. Something the article didn't mention is that the majority of Seattle jaywalkers are homeless blacks daring you to hit them, a kind of very misguided protest.  

But what I want to analyze instead was a different close call occurring during a run to the airport Sunday morning, the kind of secret and unknown history no one ever knows about unless, as in this case, it is pointed out and examined.  In basic terms, it was something completely commonplace, my attempting to change lanes to the left, only to avoid a near collision with someone in that same lane.

What happened?  What did I do wrong?  I did glance to my left and only saw a white car a few car lengths back, and not the red SUV I almost hit.  Did I not turn my head sharply enough to get a complete view, somehow missing a vehicle in my "blind spot?"  Or did the driver not notice my turn signal and the big, bright Yellow cab inching to the left, entering the lane the moment I turned my head forward?   I will never know but I do know that more and more drivers appear to have no idea that "blind spots"exist, that location on the roadway just behind the driver concealing a car's close proximity.   This particular driver, aged in his early 70s, surely must have known about blind spots but perhaps not.  What he did know was how to overreact, honking his horn and in general acting maniacal and the complete fool

What it did do to me is have me once again examine my own driving, telling myself that regardless of anything, I am the one that must be in control.  Perhaps that reexamination saved the life of that deranged jaywalker.  Sure he was a complete idiot but that wouldn't helped the situation if he had been struck.  

All I can say is, 'let me out of here, please!"

Postscript August 16th, 2017

At least for me, one very interesting and surprising fact came out from all the news concerning the White Supremacist demonstrations in Charlotteville, Virgina, and it didn't personally involve the current president.  It turns out that one of the Alt-Right leading organizers, Nathan Damigo, spent four years in a California prison for robbing at gunpoint a San Diego, California cabbie named Changiz Ezzatyar.  Being a former Marine, and having served 2 times in Iraq, his defense held the claim that he is ill with PTSD, thus altering his normal behavior.  Just recently, during a Alt-Right protest in Berkeley, CA, he was seen hitting an unarmed woman in the face.  What will this guy do next is the question at hand.  As Trump said yesterday, these White Supremacists are good people. They are?  Is that really true?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Maybe Not Understanding At First Glance But A Real Taxi Poem

How can a poem concerning Haworth, England, Yorkshire be about driving taxi in Seattle?  The answer is simple because if I hadn't been driving a cab, hadn't been depressed and in a general "quite-out-of-it" state of mind, not for a moment would I have  found myself walking in Haworth with the woman I reference in the poem.  The poem is also inspired by something cabbies are always doing: reading the newspaper while waiting for the next call, two Sundays ago a travel article in the SeattleTimes featured Haworth and the Bronte sisters, taking me back to England and July 2001.

Many things from that era remain memorable and true, including the sad fact that if she hadn't been completely nuts I would now have a teenage daughter or son to be complaining about.  And as implied, if I too hadn't been nuts I wouldn't have allowed myself to be pursued by a waitress working at  a 24 hour restaurant where "steak and eggs, rye toast" was my usual order, eating out late and avoiding inappropriate relationships of various kinds inherent to the known taxi experience. Such is taxi as I knew it then and know it now, not much changing other than Uber continues to bedevil us, making taxi harder than I want it to be.


                       What was I doing?  I didn't know what I was doing
                       but there I was, walking down the street with you in

                       Nothing you now did or say was surprising because
                       you stopped making sense from our very beginning
                       but that not dissuading me from avoiding the obvious,
                       not acknowledging what was evidently clear:
                       just how troubled you were.

                       Now over a year later walking down lovely Yorkshire
                       lanes you tell me once you were one of the Bronte sisters,
                       which one I can't remember but whether it was Charlotte,
                       Emily or Anne truly not mattering
                      given the woman walking beside me has completely
                      failed knowing herself, and not so surprisingly,
                      not recognizing the man walking next to her,

                      someone suddenly a stranger and totally unknown,
                      puzzling her to just why he was holding her hand?  




Wednesday, August 2, 2017

"Are You A Cop? Will You Tell Me If You Are A Cop?

Taxi driving is, and always will be about meeting people, people of course our industry, the transporting of people from a given point A to B.  Along with the actual physical body is the accompanying personality: who the individual is and all related behavior.  I often tell passengers that I meet everyone, meaning every kind of person possible in every possible state of mind and life circumstance upon our planet's surface steps into my cab; and sometimes I wish they hadn't, the experience just plainly more painful than I want to endure.

As I often say to myself, taxi is bad enough without this occurring, encountering a difficult or unpleasant person, exemplified this past Sunday by a young man in his late 20s coming from the West Seattle Trader's Joe's.  Not only did I have major problems just attempting to stop at the poorly designed parking but one glance at my customer told me everything I didn't want to know, obvious trouble was coming my way.

It was quite evident Trader Joe staff were glad to see this guy go.  Why?  Because he was clearly upset and disturbed in a manner not easily if ever resolved.  He was distressed and the source in part appeared to be a deformed and shrunken right arm, offsetting what was in every other way a normal body, the man not unlike a tilted pinball machine refusing to properly function.  I instinctively knew that he was unfortunately past immediate recall.  In other words this "goose was cooked" and there was no going back to the kitchen, this particular entree brunt to the proverbial crisp.

I initially remained calm as he kept abruptly changing our destination and route, wanting to go where no human, and especially no cabbie could ever take him.  And topping it all off, he kept asking if I was a cop. Having been through this kind of scenario before I just didn't respond, knowing crazy is crazy and there was no changing it.

Upon his persistence I finally joked that it "all depended on what his crime was" before I could determine whether he should be arrested.  That remark essentially had no impact other than to temporarily confuse him, quickly returning to having us turn this way and that in greater West Seattle. Finally, having had enough, seeing no end to it, I hit the brakes at Southwest Myrtle and 39th Southwest, saying "I have had enough.  It's over!"

Thankfully, understanding what I was saying, he peacefully paid and went on his way to where I have no idea.  He was impossible.  The situation was impossible and there was nothing I could do for the guy.  As I again sometimes remark, "I am not a social worker" and more and more I am glad that I'm not, letting someone else try to save this and any other distraught soul.  Besides I am too tired, having other priorities like closing my eyes and forgetting all about it, sleepy avoidance sometimes the best solution to the intractable.

August 1, 2017 Primary Results:  No Bob Hasegawa

Early election returns from yesterday's primary appear to indicate that my favorite mayoral candidate will not make to to the November runoff.  Just as I thought, Jenny Durkan and her $400,000 electoral war chest has surged ahead, with Cary Moon and Nikkita Oliver in second and third place respectively.  As of this afternoon, 250,000 King County remained to be counted, I don't see Hasegawa improving much upon his 8.6 percentage of the vote.  Too bad but why have the son of  interned parents when instead you can have a former US Attorney who will adjust the mechanisms of local government ever so slightly?  Change?  What the hell is that?

Who will be Seattle's next mayor?  Durkan of course, anointed in an election where a mere 34 % of the eligible voters filled out their mail-in ballots.  And by the way, during the campaign it was found that Oliver has missed many voting opportunities but I bet she voted yesterday, casting for herself.  I guess she just needed some incentive.  That's understandable, isn't it?