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!

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