Thursday, September 28, 2017

Who Speaks For Us?---Taxi Lobbyists and Other Industry Advocates & Update Concerning Changes at Sea-Tac Airport

From my experience, beginning with my childhood years, it is problematic when represented by someone other than yourself.  Of course when I was five my sole representatives were my parents, people I had already found to be, even at that precocious age, dysfunctional and less than reliable in almost all areas of adult endeavor.  So, commencing from that startling revelation in 1959, I quickly understood that it was pretty much up to me to communicate to all concerned who I was and what I wanted and needed. If I needed a lobbyist, it was clear I was hiring myself for the position, obviously picking the best qualified candidate.

 Fast-forwarding up to the present year, 2017,  I find what I knew to be true remains accurate all these years later, that when it comes to explaining my reality to others, it is best left to no one else but me.  I decided long ago, if ever serving in an elected office, it will be me and me alone writing my speeches.  How could it be any other way?  I would find it akin to having someone else lift the spoon to my mouth.  Why would I want that?  I don't, and never will allow someone to do something that I am perfectly capable of doing, much preferring death than artifice mimicking life. 

Which brings to the specific subject of taxi lobbyists, what they do and don't do for our industry.  Amongst these lobbyists are those not specifically designated as lobbyists but who circumstantially serve a similar role, for instance Teamsters 117 and their ilk, who like the professional lobbyist espouse policy minus any true working knowledge of the cabbie experience.  In other words, they have never driven a taxi, and never will, having decided it unnecessary to obtain their for-hire and sweat for a few weeks beneath the top-light, thus gaining what they currently do not have: a nose bloodied by taxi reality.    

And why do they think they understand what they don't know?  From my observation, it sources from being upper-middle class and attending college and being told countless times that more than special, they are seraphic; and since they are, they, like Superman or Superwoman, can leap great lengths in a single bound, coming to understanding and comprehension beyond ordinary less celestial individuals, especially those categorized as the great unwashed: misbegotten children lost in a much bigger adult world, clad in dirty diapers. 

If this isn't true, then what is certainly true, speaking from my own personal experience, it taking years to master a particular field of study, talent being only one small part of the larger equation.  In 1974, at age 20 I obtained my first professional counseling position, finding myself groping forward into the psychiatric darkness.  After bumping my head countless times against unpadded walls, I found it taking many hours and years before I had even a rough idea of what was truly going on inside the schizophrenic mind.

Recently I found my first poem written when I was 9, while also finding my first "adult" poetry published at age  25.  While the young and older poems displayed promise, it was not until I was nearly 30 did I write anything that just might withstand the literary test of time.  A NOSE IS A FLESHY ROSE THAT I BLOWS!  See what I mean!

Taxi was also the same for me, initially displaying talent but little beyond that, my money-making abilities masking my true ignorance of the industry, taking me a minimum of five years to transition from novice to any kind of real competency.  Am I still a Seattle taxi "green pea?"  Probably.

So when a lobbyist says, as one recently did, that riding around with a cabbie a few times makes her totally prepared to speak for us, my quick response is: that isn't possible.  And clearly that reality remaining the same if she were representing plumbers or horse jockeys or graphic artists. How could she know, not knowing the territory but instead speaking solely from her imagination. While she might, in that sense, write a novel it wouldn't be a very good one, guesswork the worse literary foundation, destined for the paper recycling bin.

So why has the industry allowed the uninformed to speak so long for them, to set policy, to literally frame their existence?  I'll respond to that another time but I will quickly say that when you have been stepped upon for years, you begin to think less of yourself, volunteering to be roadkill.   That is the simple answer to something deserving more time than I can currently give it.  As history isn't created in moment, neither is my answer, not wanting to explain 30 years of study in 60 compacted minutes.  What is the hurry anyway?  Is anything going to change?  No.

Good News from the Port of Seattle

I am pleased to pass on that those representatives of Sea-Tac International Airport, the Board of Port of Seattle Commissioners, have decided to give the cabbies and flat-rate for hire drivers a break, reducing their gate fee by one dollar per trip to the now required $6.00 per outbound fare.  This also means there will be no annual fee increases, as was previously scheduled.  And after reports of shabby conditions, four million dollars has been earmarked for refurbishing the building at the taxi holding lot. 

Why now is the commission responsive and empathetic?  I am guessing that a change in Port of Seattle leadership along with a year's reflection have resulted in a more compassionate response.  Was everyone mad at Yellow Cab for under reporting earning?  Yes, they were, and unfortunately it appears the cabbies took it on the chin for transgressions not of their making.  Why they are even looking into solving the short-haul problem, which would be great news for those just driving across International Boulevard to the Red Lion or the Double Tree. 

And it appears the good work isn't completed, with the commission looking further into how they can assist the long suffering Sea-Tac cabbies. Hurrah!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

More SPD & UW Police Overstepping At UW Husky Football Game & Not One, But Two New Seattle Mayors

Saturday night the Seattle police and their University of Washington counterparts were up to their old tricks, denying taxi access to the frenzied hordes exiting the UW versus Fresno State game, complicating everything by closing off streets just mere minutes into the second half.  And adding yet another new dimension to the usual confusion and traffic mayhem, they stopped all access immediately after the game, meaning thousands of fans were left puzzled and stranded waiting for taxis and Ubers that never arrived.  Why the authorities did this I don't know but I will attempt to get an official reply but from my experience I might as well be trying to contact Vladimir Putin, meaning they don't make it easy to communicate with them.  I wonder if this is intentional?  What do you think about bureaucratic distance, the hiding behind grey, opaque walls?  Is it true or perhaps I am just not trying hard enough?

When I did make it in toward game's end, it resulted in two Kirkland trips and one final "searching for my friend Mike" who had evidently taken a drunken plunge into the Montlake Canal, only to have been rescued by a passing boater.  Maybe it was best we didn't find Mike because my passenger kept saying "I am going to punch him in the nose!"  Doesn't that make sense, taking all this time and effort to find someone for the sole purpose of beating him up?  All I can say is welcome to post-Husky delirium, something I have seen too many times over my 30 years working the games.  Go team! rah rah rah!

Mayor Murray Resigns 

The past two weeks two weeks have seen the resignation of Mayor Ed Murray and the installing of not one but two new Seattle mayors.  This all came about when Murray's second cousin came out, 40 years late, to say that he too had been sexually abused by the now former mayor.  One can ask why it took him so long when he could have stopped Murray in his sexual tracks years ago?

There are so many important questions concerning all this, including if Murray has committed what is said, why in the political world did he think he could get away with something that was in plain view?  Could it be that since he never had done anything wrong in the first place, how could he think he would be  held accountable for crimes that never happened? 

Another question is, has anyone been paid?  I say this because the entire situation started with an infamous muckraking lawyer dredging up alleged victims from the far past, some of whom are convicted male prostitutes.  Has any of those intrepid Seattle Times reporters checked out bank accounts and sudden changes in life styles?  If they have, it hasn't been noted.

The outraged rhetoric has at times been appalling, epitomized by former mayoral candidate, Nikkita Oliver shouting just how outrageous Murray has been,  expressing"she just will never understand" how this horrible person got away this long with years of repeated sexual misdeeds?  Yes, it is mysterious on many levels.

I guess she and others have all forgotten how Trump, who was not only accused but actually bragged about his sexual improprieties, has not only avoided prosecution but now holds an elected office? That I am not impressed goes, as the saying goes, "goes without saying" but I had to say it anyway.

At least Seattle Council Member Bruce Harrell gave up his week-long mayoral tenure to Council Member Tim Burgess, who remains the Mayor of Seattle for 71 days.  Harrell brief tenure led to a series of emails between me and a known taxi industry lobbyist.  A focus upon that is something you might look forward to in next week's posting.  She did say that a few hours riding along in a taxi makes her extremely knowledgeable concerning industry issues. Hey, that reminds of Sarah Palin's famous "I understand Russia because I can see it off the coast of Alaska?"  She did?  Maybe she was wearing a special set of eye glasses.  I suppose anything is possible.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Panic In The Taxi Streets & Shirley Jackson Was Correct About Human Nature

Monday night I attended a special dinner commemorating both Merkel Cell cancer research and Merkel Cell survivors with my longtime friend Marty C. (fellow writer & Vietnam-era 1-0), Marty having, a few years back, successfully beaten what unfortunately has proved to be a quick death sentence for many who develop the disease.  The dinner was held at the sparkling new University of Washington Lake Union Research Center located at 750 Republican Street.  The food was quite good, along with unlimited glasses of decent wine.

As usual, having little time to spare, I took in the dinner, and not the accompanying lectures and presentations, wanting to support Marty in his continuing support and advocacy of his fellow cancer survivors.  Like Marty, who is currently residing in Tennessee, everyone sitting at our table were from out-of-state, one couple from Alabama, along with two friends from Albany, Oregon.  The sole reason I have for mentioning this event is that their stories about taking Seattle Yellow cabs were both disheartening and alarming.  Not that I wanted to be but instantly I was appointed lead interpreter for a troubled industry, translating the unintelligible to the novice speaker. 

How do you explain when a Seattle cabbie, one, asks someone from Alabama about how to find a Seattle address; and two, doesn't even know how to provide change for a ten dollar bill?  Another disturbing story concerned being fought over at the train station, only to be insulted by the winner when it turns out she isn't going far despite having luggage, it being her bags sparking the cabbie conflict. Another time, she couldn't get a cab at all, having to call a friend to pick her up.  These and other tales of taxi woe led me to provide explanation for what was for them inexpiable, telling them that inexperience and panic was the more-or-less answer to what they experienced, fully displaying our current sorry taxi state-of-affairs.

I told them that the very nature of taxi makes people crazy, and because it is getting harder and harder to find a fare, cabbie's are panicking, acting in ways they normally wouldn't, impacting both themselves and their customers.  A story featured yesterday on the New York Times front page, "As Uber Ascends, Debt Demolishes Taxi Drivers," reported by Winne Hu, examines what is happening in New York City and in tandem reflected in Seattle and other American cities: cabbies are simply having difficulty making a living.

Early Saturday morning, something very unusual happened, meaning that for the very first time in 30 years I failed to get at least one fare during "bar-break," no flags or dispatch calls, no nothing, being shutout for 2 entire hours.  Amazed more than anything else, I didn't panic and soon thereafter business picked up, leading to a reasonable successful weekend.  As is obvious, if "Mister Pro" is experiencing this kind of stuff, what is happening to the rookies?  They are going completely nuts is what is occurring, their behavior instant psychosis at the drop of the taxi hat.

And relating back to what I mentioned last week, about money-making troubles at Sea-Tac, I talked to someone over at Eastside/E-Cab and was told that they do indeed have a working dispatch system, and more, often can't get those E-Cab drivers to answer the calls, this in direct contradiction to what the E-Cab owner told me last week, saying dispatch didn't exist.  So what is actually true or not?

Perhaps, as I have observed much recently, many of my fellow cabbies, despite living in the USA for a long time, have simply failed to fully transition to the new, sometimes very confusing reality around them.  If there is another explanation I would like to hear it but after much observation I believe I am right.  At least the guys at the train station, after my repeated annoyance, have begun to move forward in line, thus filling the gap and not allowing Uber drivers to pull in and drop off and pick up.  Talk about annoying, being lectured by arrogant Uber operators, trying to tell me about taxi driving.  God help us all!

Shirley Jackson Knew All About it

Shirley Jackson (1916-1965), at least in the 20th C, next to Earnest Hemingway, might have written some of most important short stories during that particular period of American writing history, her story "The Lottery" expressing quite accurately what human nature can be, and perhaps is all about, concerned only about their personal welfare and little else.

The reason I mention Jackson is due to having YC 1092 clipped by a driver Sunday in downtown Seattle.  An unthinking passenger from Florida opened the right rear door into traffic, she being damn lucky to be alive.  The driver of the car was a young woman I suspect was an Uber or Lyft driver who wasn't completely in control of her car.  I have asked the proper authorities to check out just exactly  what she was doing at that moment. If she is Uber, she didn't provide me me verification of commercial insurance.

Where "The Lottery" comes into play is when I told the _______ tourist, that in the State of Washington, she was liable for opening the door into an oncoming car.  Remember, all I had done was pull up to the hotel and park, something I have done thousands of times over 30 years.

But since I told her and her friends something new to them, and potentially consequential, the good ladies, just like the good citizens in Jackson's story, began throwing stones, wanting to kill me while emotionally embracing the young woman who had nearly killed one of their party, thus ruining their Northwest vacation.

It was an amazing performance, made even more amazing because they were following a natural script, instinctively knowing their lines and parts.  AsI keep saying, taxi driving provides a front row seat to all varieties of human behavior, in this case spontaneous theater composed and directed by anger and hatred.  But if you think my ticket was free, think again, my cost of admission more than I could ever or want to afford, the cabbie paying, paying and paying some more to the end of known time!

Postscript 09/14/2017: More Pattern

In last week's posting, I inferred how the downtrodden are stepped upon by those in power, by those who have lots of money, or by people simply marginalizing others for no other reason than they can, their victims defenseless, unable to protect either themselves or their interests. Two good/bad examples of these kinds of behavior came to light last week, one featured in the New York Times; the other in reports about Houston, Texas and Hurricane Harvey's aftermath. Another comes from the most recent economic report concerning American income.

The NY Times article compared corporate eras, featuring a former Kodak (Rochester, NewYork) janitor, who through company care and assistance rose to to become an executive in various companies over the years; and a current janitor working in Cupertino, CA cleaning Apple offices.  One was given opportunity while the other seems fated to work herself to death, making $16.00 per hour and paying over $2000.00 a month for rent.  I know Cupertino because it was the home of my ex-in-laws, eventually moving their business from Saratoga to Cupertino.  I have to laugh at the fact that the great American folk singer, Joan Baez, that battler for human rights, and once married to a jailed Vietnam War-era conscientious objector,  David Harris, was for a period of time, the lover of Apple founder Steve Jobs.  Remember, you read it here first!

And the big hearted Houston-based companies, enjoying a combined 7 billion dollar tax break from the city, announced that they would be donating 65 million for post-Harvey cleanup.  Do the math and you will find 65 million divided into 7 billion 107 times, meaning the percentage of aid is low, and I am not even talking about annual combined corporate profits. 

And one other piece of news is that combined American annual household income is at its highest level ever, $59.000.  While at first glance seemingly a great pronouncement for all things American Capitalism, divide that number by 2 working people comprising that household and you come up with $29,500 each, showing you just how much money people are truly making.  Dividing 2,080 working hours (based on 52 40 hour weeks) into $29,500, and you see that folks are working for just over $14.00 per hour.  Last week I showed how the Federal minimum wage increased by just about 88 cents per decade.  Taking the figure of $14.00 per hour, that shows an increase of $1.76 per decade since 1938.  Real impressive, wouldn't you say, the richer getting richer, and the poor and working class fools, why they are just quietly buried six feet under, that's all. 

It is clear that this pattern of financial inequality is entrenched, and as is the case currently throughout the USA, stridently defended by the worker drones, ever so happy swilling beer and watching football players delivering brain disease causing blows to each other's heads.  Ain't life fun in America?  Sure it is, and I am just a complete asshole for implying otherwise.  Go 'Hawks! pound those hated 49er's into the turf!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

There Appears To Be A Pattern.... & 30 Year Anniversary & Sea-Tac Cabbie Trauma In The News

Two events last week, the bombing and killing of unarmed civilians in Yemen by the Saudi Arabian air force; and the capsizing of boats filled with Rohingya refugees fleeing ethic violence in Myanmar (Burma), drowning at least 46 mostly women and children, got me to thinking about the disenfranchised, the poor, the disadvantaged and simply, the more forgotten residents of this planet.  A New York Times photograph displayed bodies lined along a river shore in Bangladesh, the country where the drowning victims were seeking sanctuary.  And the New York Times photographs originating from Yemen were taken by a reporter who snuck into the country because neither Saudi Arabia nor its prime supporter, the United States, wants anyone to see the destruction first hand.  While this is awful, unfortunately, it is nothing new, not in this century, the 20th century or any other period in recorded history.

What is theoretically different now from say atrocities from the past, like the Belgium killings in West Africa during the late 19th Century of 2-15 million Congolese, or the Ottoman (Turkey) Empire massacre of over 1 million Armenians, is the now popular and  modern (and collective) pretense of caring, where diplomats appointed to the United Nations sit and argue while murder and famine persists in plain view.  As during the murder and maybe in Rwanda during their 1994 genocide, everyone, including the Clinton Administration, just sat there upon their hands and stared at the ongoing carnage.

I am guessing that many readers, while potentially aware of the killing of 8000 man and boys in July 1995 in Srebrencia during the Bosnian War, probably don't know that they were handed over to the Serbs by United Nation Dutch peacekeepers.  Such is how it was then and in the past, remaining to this day and moment.  If you are on the cultural sidelines, like the Pequot Indians in New England in 1636,  or the European Jews in 1933 or the Bosnian Muslims in 1995, good luck because you are going to need it, hatred equalling genocide guaranteeing your fate.

How this pattern of disregard relates to cabbies and the taxi industry is readily apparent to anyone driving beneath the top-light: we are subjected to "last class" treatment; and what is currently happening at Sea-Tac amidst recent labor strife underlines that no one, especially those in power, like  for example the governing members of the Port of Seattle commission, care little to nothing about the well-being of current taxi independent operators.  Not only have they been unaware of the trouble they have caused, I will take a Loyd's of London wager they will do nothing to change the situation. 

More upon that later but even those of us operating in the City of Seattle and King County know full well just how much we are beneath the uncaring (and spiteful?) bureaucratic thumb, the most telling example being the unleashing of over 15 thousand Uber and Lyft drivers, saturating the market and strangling the local taxi industry.  Too obvious, then, that you don't do something like this to a business community you care about and support, the City Council's message to us abundantly clear: you are not important, and even more, we want you to know and understand, minus any doubt, exactly how we feel---you are completely expendable!  Go away!

But as I said in the beginning, this is how the poor, or more politely, how the misconceived have been treated, in this country and around the world.  If you think I am mistaken, consider the history of the Federal Minimum Wage in the USA and get back to me.  And if you hadn't heard, the legislators in Missouri (The Show-Me State) forced the City of Saint Louis to rescind it's minimum wage law offering Saint Louis residents $10.00 per hour, making the city adhere to the Missouri state minimum of $7.70 per hour.  While pathetic, that is more than the current Federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.  Do you think you can live on that hourly wage?  I know I can't, no doubt about it.

In 1938, the FDR administration mandated, for the first time, a Federal Minimum Wage of 25 cents per hour.  If that doesn't sound like much, understand that the cost of living was much lower during the Great Depression.  A loaf of bread cost you 9 cents, with a pound of ground beef only 13 cents.  Average rent across the country was $27.00 monthly, with the cost of a new house averaging between 2-4 thousand dollars.  The sticker price for your new Ford or Chevy or Dodge would be about $765.00.  And how much was the gasoline in 1938 to power that car down the road?  A mere 10 cents per gallon.   Compare those prices with today's and you can see how, nearly 80 years later, a Federal minimum wage of $7.25 is not only wholly inadequate, it's immoral.

If you still are not convinced, thinking that $7.25 is okay, then let us do the math together, rounding out the figures and dividing $7.00 into 80 years, which comes out to a wage increase of about 88 cents per decade, meaning that every ten years the average American worker will not be meeting the usual rate of inflation in terms of their yearly income.

In Seattle, average rent now ranges between $1500-3000.00.  If you want to buy a house, you will have to fork out between $500,000 and $1,000,000.  You think you can do this upon $7.25 per hour? Even with Seattle's mandated $15.00 per hour (at a current $13.00 per hour),  you will still have a difficult time affording much of anything.  Instead, like me, you will have moved to Tacoma but Tacoma too is now beginning to match Seattle, day to day rents and food getting more expensive by the inflationary hour.

One last point about patterns concerning the "thrown away" sectors of a given culture, society and country, is an article in yesterday's New York Times featuring the French city of Marseille and how children from the Arab-majority neighborhoods fail to learn how to swim, something, along with reading and writing the French government back in the 1970s mandated as a human right.  One young man's story is featured, detailing his struggle to become a competitive swimmer as his area pools are shut down and never reopened.

Again, to this day, obstacles, monetary and others, are constructed to keep those on the outside looking in, assuring that those who fall into what can only be called undesirable categories remain there.  Another prime example is how the Roma (Gypsies) are still treated in Europe, Europe of course the perceived bastion of Everything Great that is Western Culture.  It was, and remains a bad story, the Roma too included amongst Hitler's Holocaust victims.

My 30th Taxi Year Anniversary

This September makes it thirty off-and on years for me in this crazy taxi business.  I had quit in the Spring of 1991, thinking I was done, never to return but prolonged illness and other life circumstances forced my return.  While appreciative of the good living taxi has provided, as said before, I am ready to say goodbye to the insanity I know too well called driving a cab.

Trouble at Sea-Tac

An article by Heidi Groover in the  Stranger's August 30th edition entitled "Screwed at Sea-Tac" continued an examination of Port of Seattle policy begun by the Seattle Weekly's Sara Bernard.  This time the focus is upon Eastside Flat-rate For Hire (ESFH), the group that won the current Sea-Tac outbound service contract and how it impacts their single-owner taxi partners, collectively known as E-Cab.  The E-Cab lament is that they are barely making a living while operating under the current conditions; and taking information from available anecdotal evidence, it appears to be more-or-less true.

Sunday evening, an E-Cab owner told me he was facing financial difficulties due to ESFH scheduling protocols, providing him alternating weeks of 4 days and 5 Sea-Tac days on, leaving working gaps of 2 to 3 days where he is banned from working the airport.  He said if he could just work a full 7 day week he would be fine but since ESFH demands that everyone pays the required $495.00 regardless of allowed Sea-Tac days or functional dispatch, he is facing a real dilemma trying to maintain a living.

Given I know everyone at ESFH, I believe I know how they could operate better or more fairly but despite Teamsters Local 117's insistence that Eastside is solely responsible, I instead point to the Port of Seattle and its questionable reliance upon independent taxi and flat-rate operators to fund Sea-Tac operations, requiring that each ride originating from the airport cost the drivers $7.00 for the privilege.  As I have stated in a past posting, my per-ride cost is about one dollar, far less than what Sea-Tac asks.  To me, Sea-Tac is totally unjustified in demanding such an enormous fee.  You also might notice that it nears the Federal minimum hourly wage.  That is to me a pretty amazing comparison. How could anyone think this is reasonable?

And the solution to all this turmoil and angst?   It is clear that circumstances necessitate that the Port of Seattle's Board of Commissioner's revisit their rate structure and recalibrate what they are making drivers pay.  Currently, the fee is scheduled to go up, not down.  Any increase, along with the current fee rate, is not sustainable.  Nor in my opinion is it moral.  As a fellow cabbie, I know how hard everyone is working.  And need I say that Sea-Tac's decision to accommodate Uber and Lyft operations only deepens the issue, making it even harder upon the cabbies.  Give everyone a break, won't ya?  Wouldn't that be nice!