Thursday, December 28, 2017


Cliff Mass, our local Puget Sound weather guru, assured all his devotees last Friday that Seattle definitely would not experience a white Christmas but, as we all found out Sunday afternoon, his forecast erred, in fact missing that Seattle experienced its first back to back snowy Christmas Eve and Christmas days, both delighting wide-eyed children and thoroughly alarming the average driver  suddenly braving icy roads.  And how did I feel about this modest one-inch snowfall, having learned to drive a car at ages 12 and 13 in New Mexico and northern Alberta, Canada?

At first I felt fine, thinking I knew all about it but that quickly changed when, coming back from a long ride to Issaquah along Issaquah-Hobart Road, 1092 suddenly took off sideways, propelled by black ice and instantaneously putting me in the direct path of oncoming traffic.  Looking like I was about to die I fortunately remained calm, allowing my over 52 years of driving a car to "click in," thus spinning 1092 to the right which somehow facilitated a snowy soft landing into an adjacent ditch.  That it was the closest of calls is the proverbial understatement, causing me to repeatedly question myself "just what the hell did I think I was doing?"  Rocking 1092 back and forth, I roared out of the ditch, and then, very carefully, made it back to westbound I-90.

In retrospect it seems two things occurred.  One, I must have been going "too fast for conditions" though I wasn't in any way speeding; and two, it appears a sudden drop in temperature altered road conditions in a few minutes span.  That I almost killed myself made me very unhappy.

But cab driving being cab driving, I just kept on going, that night making great money despite nearly entering the closest morgue and causing "she-who-can't-be-named" unbearable grief.  As I later told her, if she had been watching a live video stream she would have screamed out loud. And I am not kidding!

Have I ever mentioned at least once or twice that taxi driving is crazy, crazy, crazy!?  No doubt friends, it is crazy!  And when it comes to cab driving, it is impossible to be careful enough, it just beyond human ability, and that night, at that moment in time, I felt incredibly human, the homo- sapien made of very vulnerable flesh and blood and muscle and of course, breakable bone.

And as one very minute part of the universal mystery, extremely alone!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Present Reality Of Taxi Ownership In Seattle & King County

I write this as warning to all those interested in owning a cab: don't do it is all I can say.  Why, you say, why not embrace the freedom of running your own small business?  Simply because it isn't freedom.  Instead it a kind of debtor's prison, where you remain shackled to a never ending series of expenses.

When Yellow was good, all I had to do as a lease driver was show up and work, making my money minus any of the inherent expenses that come with cab ownership like insurance and car maintenance.  Now I have Yellow's weekly $180.00 dispatch fee to deal with along with everything else.

And if you have drivers sharing the cab like, until last week like I did, you have the constant friction of communicating with the American Cabbie (americus hypocriti), a species I have decided I'd rather avoid.  Last night when parking my cab two rather large coyotes ran by me, nervous I was up to no good.  But I'd rather have "canis latrans" driving my cab.  Least I would know what to expect, when instead feral cabbies are and remain unpredictable.  And disrespectful, these guys ultimately not very nice, wanting everything while giving little back in return.

I mention all this because the City of Seattle is planning on issuing 55 more City-Only medallions in an upcoming lottery.  Today I wrote the folks guiding this questionable venture, telling them that the last thing we need are more cabs upon Seattle's streets, that business is bad and it is plainly irresponsible to be adding to the ongoing misery.  Do I think my warning will be heeded?  No, I highly doubt it, little stopping the bureaucratic machine once it's gained momentum, and in this case, plowing headlong into a wall, smashing everyone involved.

Why then is the City of Seattle adding cabs to an already saturated market?  Sadism must be the solitary answer, somehow enjoying the suffering of innocents because it will be a struggle for every new owner to survive a business climate that is suffocating the life and breath out of all of us.  It is not funny and certainly no joke to raise the expectations of the desperate who once thought taxi ownership to be a direct path to "the promised land."  Well, as I personally know all too well, this promised land is another version of hell and little else.

So in that sense I beseech the City & County: don't do it, don't release those medallions.  Lord have mercy! Don't do it!  Let people scream that you are being unfair.  You will be doing the right thing by waiting until business improves but in what upcoming century I couldn't tell you.  But it won't be in the years 2018, 2019 or 2020.  The wait will be long, and it will be hard.  Cabbies will be crying if not actually physically dying.

Again, Lord Have Mercy!  Don't do it!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Taxi Blues

As much as driving down the road, taxi is listening to the radio, often finding myself searching for something decent to hear while my choices remain confined to AM and FM bands, YC 1092 only having an old fashioned audio system which oft translates into tuning solely into the sound of my tires and nothing else.  Often the choice is 98.1 King FM, the local classical station transmitting "real music" when little else at the moment meets that definition, "junk music" and "junk conversation" dominating the musical and radio sphere.

If you ever wonder why people vote for total fools, quit wondering once you have listened to what is popular amongst the listening public, folks clearly choosing the worst over the best except perhaps what happened yesterday in the state of Alabama when voters, by a mere 20,000 vote margin, choose Doug Jones over Roy Moore for the US Senate.  I guess you never know but it appears not-so-idle-rumors about wandering around shopping malls bit him in the electoral butt though I am sure Moore isn't too disheartened given that he knows it was "God's will" that he lost the election, his God in someway having other plans for the pious Moore.

But getting back to taxi and radio, two local Seattle blues shows often save my day, especially Johnny Horn's "Preachin' The Blues" program broadcast over KEXP 90.3 FM each Sunday morning 9:00 AM to Noon; and secondarily, Saturday and Sunday nights, on KNKX (old KPLU) 88.5 FM, at  6:00 PM to Midnight, there is John Kessler's "All Blues" and his 8:00 PM feature, The Blue's Time Machine, spotlighting blues standards over the course of musical time.  I favor one over the other due to Horn's emphasis on more foundational artists while Kessler often spins more contemporary songs but thankfully he is a big Muddy Waters fan so we get to hear a lot of Muddy's Mississippi-transferred-to- Chicago electric blues.  What Horn does is play forgotten songs that should instead be forever remembered and played everyday upon every radio station on our planet, his song selections  that good, every Sunday "just blowing me away!"  again and again.

My true introduction to the blues began in the summer of 1970 when I was sixteen and living on a commune in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada.  My friends there, all older, had a bunch of great records including Mississippi Fred McDowell's "I Do Not Play No Rock "n" Roll."  I can't recommend that higher, with Fred McDowell, in about a ten minute long monologue, telling you "all about it!"   I also was introduced to Muddy Waters through his "Electric Mud," a record remaining a long favorite, marveling at the both the playing and musical direction, simultaneously embracing psychedelia and the blues.

If you like blues-oriented rock and roll, then the late 1960s, early 1970s was the time to be listening to the radio, when bands like Savoy Brown, Aum, Canned Heat, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream, Paul  Butterfield, Johnny Winter, Cactus, Chicken Shack, Animals and the first version of Fleetwood Mac featuring Peter Green filled both the AM and FM airwaves; and who can forget---because I can't--- Jeff Beck's cover of Howlin' Wolf's "I Ain't Superstitious" on Beck's "Truth" album, a record featuring Rod Stewart on vocals.  Those were the days, as Cream rang out, those were the days to be listening to the radio!

Amazing music, and to my listening ear, never surpassed by any other era in rock, the closest I think we will ever get to Mozart and Beethoven in the popular genre though bands like Curved Air, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and The New York Rock & Roll Ensemble certainly made a real effort toward combining classical and rock. No, ELO doesn't make the cut!  Sorry.

Someone you might enjoy listening to is New Orleans cabbie and blues guitarist Mem Shannon, his 1995 release "A Cab Driver's Blues" and the cut, "Taxicab Driver," telling you clearly why he and I and all our taxi brothers and sisters have the taxicab blues.  It's real, people, it's real!  Listen to the music! and swing down the beckoning roadway, be it Highway 61, Interstate 5 or  "you are just getting your kicks"  on Route 66!"  Turn on that ignition, and go!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Passenger Profile: Maria

I knew the address, 1012 South Myrtle Street, was strange, saying to myself "what the hell could that be?'" And what it turned out to be was the new, improved version of the homeless camp dubbed "Nickelsville," named not so affectionately after a recent mayor, he being the same individual who gave away the local NBA franchise, and as popular myth has it, plowed his West Seattle street while leaving the rest of Seattle to struggle through a rare heavy snow fall.   Approaching the place, I saw someone who had to be my passenger, and "Isn't that someone I know?" and indeed it was, being none other but Maria, a customer I ran across over 20 years ago, and here she was exiting a homeless camp.

I first encountered Maria when she worked at a local Circle K convenience store while attempting to finish her schooling at the University of Washington.  What always made her stand out, in addition to perhaps being 125 pounds overweight, was her clear persona of a recovered (or recovering) mentally ill person who had somehow overcome enough of her disability to more-or-less function normally.  That she supported herself and went to school seemed to me a major, not minor miracle, an accomplishment beyond all normal expectations.

Perpetually cheerful, Maria is like an adult child, someone, in the terms of the therapeutic modality, Transactional Analysis, permanently residing in her "Child" ego state, rarely leaving what is clearly  a comfortable and settling mental environment.  I see people like Maria as similar to cars operating with a malfunctioning transmission, immutably stuck in a particular gear allowing movement at one prescribed speed and no faster.  That she cruises along as she does, avoiding serious collisions is something remarkable, and rare, an achievement unusual amongst a particular afflicted group or category, Maria boldly defying accepted categorization.

So while pleased to see Maria again, and this time accompanied by a new a companion, a spaniel mix named Raffles, I was distressed to see her homeless as previously I have always dropped her off at various rooming houses in Seattle's University District.  But what Maria has found, like so many others, that Seattle's economic boom left her behind, shoving her out of permanent housing and onto the street minus real options other than a tent or an organized encampment like "Nickelsville."  The positive for Maria and other folks like her is that this camp is organized into individual tiny houses where she has "her own television," a medium somehow keeping her linked to a society and culture that is simultaneously throwing her away.

I gave her my card and hopes she calls me again, always glad to meet an amazing survivor of what has been many wrong turns down our human highway.  "I should have studied harder when my father was paying my tuition," she responded when asked whether she had finished her degree, "because back then it was $165.00 a quarter." Yes, all of us can say that to some degree, if only, if only but too often, decisions made are decisions later regretted.  That I once rejected a fully paid scholarship to Maria's same U of Washington is something I oft think about.  Should I have accepted it when offered 44 years ago?

I think the verdict is still pending but I do doubt I would have ever driven a cab, an occupation I usually despise, having told myself it is only temporary, a means to a better end.  But in the meanwhile I continue on down the road, meeting Maria and others like her, adding to mind and soul, adding to an ongoing narrative you both read and hopefully enjoy, somehow making all my crazy taxi miles just a little bit more satisfactory than just putting dollars into the pocket.  If it wasn't for folks like Maria I truly would be nuts, making the taxi moments just a little better, and dare I say, saner.