Monday, May 28, 2018

More Sea-Tac----The Stranger Article August 30th, 2017: The Same Story Now And Then & Flat-Rate And Cabbie Death Penalty: Is It Necessary ?

A friend sent an article dating from last year written by The Stranger's Heidi Grover, outlining what was going on with Eastside versus "everyone else," confusing me at first as it was nearly identical to what is occurring now, meaning little has changed in eight months, the shouting, if nothing else, gaining volume and range. Last week the leaders of South and North Korea physically embraced in yet another display of solidarity and commitment toward a peaceful and lasting political solution between their two countries.  One then might think that if they can do it, then it should be an easy matter for Eastside and the Port of Seattle to come to agreement and stop fighting over what, in comparison, is a very small matter.

But I must say it appears that some in the taxi community want to end Eastside's Sea-Tac contract now, and not later, which would fully explain their "tooth and nail" tenacity, Eastside literally fighting for its Sea-Tac life.  For what it's worth, my advice is for everyone to just back down, cooperate like the business partners they are, and attempt to operate peacefully for the remaining 1 1/2 years.

And why not, the world not ending if taking that route, allowing everyone to save face and get on with their lives, proceeding to the next chapter.  While complex, let it be simple, turning off the stove and walking away, knowing that when you let the water boil everyone will be scalded. It just isn't necessary regardless of all rhetoric and anger, it just isn't, much better ending both the argument and story, instead giving the commonsense God all the glory, turning out the lights and saying "good night!" to a nonsensical fight.

Lying to the Trademark Lawyers

The Turkish attorneys told me they were charged $75.00 by the ESFH flat-car from Sea-Tac to their downtown hotel.  The normal fare ranges from about $47.00 to $55.00. so clearly they were intentionally overcharged, something I heard multiple times during the week-long convention---that the flat-rate driving were lying to the lawyers.  Why any of them felt this was a reasonable approach is only something that can be answered by them.   But what is clear is that they drove many potential taxi and flat-rate customers straight into Uber's waiting arms, translating into lost income for everyone regardless of your honestly or inherent morality.  One fool even tried to charge a Seattle native $30.00 from DT to the Hillside Motel, an at most $15.00 cab ride.

Given this, I believe it is time for some kind of final directive be issued to all cabbies and flat-raters, telling them beyond all doubt that this kind of behavior will result in only one outcome: permanent termination from our industry.  This is more or  less what should be said to all those ciphers and fools masquerading as legitimate business operators as opposed to who they truly are: thieves and societal ruffians.

This is what should happen if a theft of any amount is confirmed by the City of Seattle and/or King County: the thief should be fired.  And then the City and County should permanently suspend his/her for-hire license.  The offense should be referred to the relevant police department for prosecution.  If convicted of a misdemeanor, all major American city licensing departments should be notified.  And if you really want to be nasty, tell ICE and see what happens to the fool, deportation becoming a possibility.  My guess if all the local associations took this stance, this kind of behavior would instantly vanish.

And if you wonder why I sound so harsh, I too receiving a backlash, passengers now not trusting me.  Hey, I resent being painted with the same stripe, looked at askance when instead, completely innocent, having done nothing personally to create suspicion.  I don't like it.

Another Cabbie Suicide in NYC

$700,000 in medallion debt, 56 year old NYC cabbie Yu Mien "Kenny" Chow jumped into the East River and drowned.  Missing since mid-May, his body was discovered this week.  He was reported to have been despondent over his inability to keep up his payments, thus resorting to taking his life rather than suffer further beneath the top-light.  Again, no cab anywhere is worth that kind of money.

Seattle Cab-Jackers Arrested

Ted told me that his assailants have been captured and await trail.  His cab remains in police custody.

Postscript 06/04/18

A Yellow Cab cashier (and current cabbie) took notice of my ICE comment, and I couldn't agree more, that the last anything I want to occur is for someone, anyone to be involved in having their immigration status questioned.  All I was doing, in shorthand, was stating that actions are consequential, and to not understand that the overcharging of a customer can lead to bad results is more than naive, it is dangerous, posing a direct threat to both the individual and his/her family. 

Due to the cashier's comment, I am inspired to to write a very quick and short history of America's history of blatant discrimination against ethnic minorities and people of color, meaning anyone who isn't "whiter than white" as the old laundry detergent jingo went.  By readying this brief history  I am posting this week, all recent immigrant cabbies will understand beyond a doubt why it is very unwise to think that America's current Federal administration has your best interest in mind.  To the contrary, and exact opposite, is far closer to the truth, meaning a very stern Santa Claus is watching to see if you are being "naughty or nice" and what that means to your immediate future.  Trump and friends are not playing games, doing anything they can to impede the future of anyone with an income under  a million dollars.  They want to "kick ass" and that is simply the way it is.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Summer Hiatus Series: Nine Years & Counting---The Challenge of Writing A Weekly Column

                  "Time, time, I have no time! and it's driving me out of my mind!"

Yes, that's it, that quote, quoting myself capturing my situation as I have no time to adequately accomplish anything, making this achievement of writing 468 plus taxi articles without missing a week miraculous and special, saying much about both dedication and allegiance to a cause,  conviction prompting me to weekly take the time to sit down and tell everyone all about it, even if you truly don't want to know.

But it isn't easy, trying to make this subject, taxi, fresh and interesting and not tedious week after month after year.  And perhaps even more challenging is ensuring that my prose meets the highest standards, too often disappointing myself when I know my prose styling on a particular day is crap, and despite all efforts remaining what it is: barely a small step above the lexicon rubbish bin.

And the reason is fatigue, I am tired, translating into exhausted prose collapsing upon the page.  Having read much JB Priestley, Willie Morris, Willa Cather, Earnest Hemingway, Virginia Wolff, Anita Brookner, Robert Graves, Raymond Carver, Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens I know what good and effective prose is, meaning my standards are high and when falling below what I know is acceptable I am not happy, no, not at all.

Taking last week's article concerning the ongoing madness at Sea-Tac as a good, bad example, my words swollen, over emotional raindrops splattered upon the page, blurring and smudging the text.  And yes, I was fully aware when I was writing that I wasn't at all pleased with my composition but felt helpless to do much about it, a poor swimmer just struggling to make it safely to shore.

What does working like I have the past five days, days filled with trademark attorneys flying from one scheduled event to the next, do to the literary mind in its brave attempt to form coherent and eloquent lines into grand sentences and paragraphs encompassing the well executed essay?

Nothing good, I can assure you, execution the proper descriptive, all this taxi nonsense killing the writing mind---words, words, all my words translating into unintelligible gibberish, sentence structure weighed down and mashed by repeatedly doing too much of nothing over and over and over again, all my well-intended phraseology mechanically softened turnip insulting both taste and sight, indigestible and bad and destined for the overheated compost heap, natural manure not for reading but for the growing of  garden vegetables. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Anatomy Of A Crisis: Debate & Chaos At Sea-Tac Airport

Anyone at all familiar with taxi as a business model understands, without being told, that on an annual basis there are a only finite number of fares, something true in the past and remaining valid today.  While some might enjoy pointing out that taxi medallion values in a city like New York remain much higher than Seattle's, despite recent dramatic declines, that deviation having more to do with artificial licensing caps than actual business volume.  But that doesn't mean that our business climate here in Seattle is healthy, because the exact opposite being true.

The primary reason for this are the high fare rates associated with cabs, often making them the last and not first transportation choice.  Why pay $45-50.00 for a taxi from Sea-Tac to downtown Seattle when instead the light-rail link will cost you $3.50?  You will have reason take a cab if you have 3 passengers and 4-6 bags but if not, why would you?  And overall response has been to choose anything but a taxi.

Unfortunately, now due to Seattle's now legendary traffic congestion, if you are in a hurry, taking a cab might not even get you there any sooner, again eliminating another reason to take that expensive ride.  In huge metropolitan areas like Chicago, New York, London, Paris, Mexico City, becoming an ant and descending underground to the subway is usually a far better and more sensible option. So why take a cab?  Only when are no good alternatives which, in most situations, is not the case.

All this is another reason why the Uber/Lyft/ride-share model, those direct taxi competitors, is ill conceived, trying to make billions from a million dollar industry.  There are real reasons why the recent MIT determined that Uber drivers were only making on average $3.33 per hour,  Uber having invaded a very modest taxi industry in an attempt to make it gold-plated.  Not a very good or bright idea.  But do all those Saudi Arabian and Japanese investors know this?  No they don't.

This truncated, strained business scenario exploded upon the local evening news April 17th when a large number of cabbies (members of the Western Washington Taxi Operators Association) serving Sea-Tac participated in a strike action coordinated by Teamsters Local 117, complaining that Eastside (ESFH), the company managing the Sea-Tac contract, was attempting to illegally downsize their fleet by 85 vehicles.  The rationale behind ESFH's action, thinking they held legal authority to proceed, was the great decline in Sea-Tac taxi passenger usage due to Uber and Lyft's recent dominance, now carrying over fifty percent of potential Sea-Tac customers requiring a ride home or north to a DT hotel.

This development, embraced and encouraged by the Port of Seattle, has upset what heretofore was a very tenuous balance: 405 taxis and flat-rate vehicles (up from an original 235 taxis)  serving a now far smaller market.  Given the ride-share onslaught, what is happening was predictable, along with the ensuing anger because, when including Uber and Lyft,  you can quickly see there are just too many operators sharing the same customer pie.

Along with the thousands of returning Sea-Tac passengers taking light-rail trains, thousands of others are taking shuttles and town cars in addition to the ordinary custom of being picked up by friends and family.  What appears to be clear is the Port of Seattle's focus upon generating revenue has left those once traditional service providers, the cabbies, behind, taxi not only losing their customer base but their very livelihood threatened.  And what is now happening is also too predictable, with the victims turning upon themselves, a kind of fraternal cannibalism ugly in its bloody realism, brother eating brother.  No, not a pretty sight to behold.

In early April ESFH sent out a notice to all its independent operators entitled "ESFH Notice of Voluntary Reduction in Airport Fleet," stating that due to having too many operators, 85 operators out of the current 405 would have to go due to the obvious drop in Sea-Tac business.  What ESFH was offering was a $20,000 buyout to those choosing to go.  But item #2 was perhaps less friendly, stating to "Implement fleet-size reduction if voluntary buyout does not result in 85 vehicles."  This notice also informed everyone that an answer was required by 5:00 PM April 17, 2018, leaving little time to consider a most monumental business decision.

While at first glance, it seemed the announcement was fair until everyone understood that the remaining 320 operators were required to pay $9000.00 each to finance the buyout.   Predictably this pleased no one whatsoever since the majority of them had originally paid $3,985.00 to keep driving at Sea-Tac after ESFH won the contract, this after paying I believe $10,000 over six years ago to Yellow.  An additional "salt in the wound" was the $245.00 weekly dispatch fee for an essentially non-existent system.  That it has reduced to $160.00 ( including a $95.00 gate fee) perhaps assuaged the tiger but never fully taming the beast.  Adding to operator  dismay was a rotation system limiting them to 4 days on, 3 days off at the Port, forcing many to work downtown Seattle and the misery of languishing upon hotel stands staring at the dashboard hours upon end.

The upshot of all this was the portrayal of ESFH as a renegade company that completely disregards established operating norms, often threatening their independent operators with termination while protecting others, especially Somali immigrant operators.  While some of this appears be both reality and myth, it might be indisputable that ESFH entered the Sea-tac market not fully comprehending the financial side of what it had committed itself to, like so many other associations incorrectly viewing Sea-Tac as the proverbial "pot-of-gold," Sea-Tac the "Golden Goose" superior to the turkey that is the Seattle and King County taxi market.

From the beginning, ESFH saw itself as being bullied by the local taxi single owner community, Teamsters Local 117 and the Port of Seattle (specifically the Port Commission); and because of that, took on an aggressive response, not caring who they alienated, their "us against the world" stance a middle finger at all presiding authority, saying, perhaps rightly, that they never wanted all those extra operators forced upon them; and sole responsibility lie not with ESFH but with the Port of Seattle and its labor ally, Teamsters 117.

Initially becoming a shouting match, it quickly quieted down after Mike Merritt, Port of Seattle Chief of Staff wrote ESFH a letter telling them that legally they were not entitled to either reduce or dismiss their independent contractors. That admonishment led to to a May 5th, 2018 ESFH response backtracking from previous statements, even stating a new policy of allowing operators to potentially work seven days a week, even though that might be a terrible idea in Sea-Tac's greatly diminished customer environment.

Given these recent developments, there appears to a temporary lull in active combat but unlike the famous WWI Christmas 1914 truce between front line British and German troops, I have no reports of carols sung or gifts of plum puddings and cigarettes exchanged, meaning tensions clearly remain high and could instantly flare upon the smallest provocation.  I can only wish that commonsense reigns during ESFH's remaining 1 1/2 years contractual years, with everyone focusing upon regaining some small percentage of lost customer base.  My major hope is that the Port of Seattle will somehow, someway enhance the ability of both ESFH and the cabbies to increase profitability because this is truly a economic issue transformed into cultural argument, something many have lost sight of.

As said earlier, this kind of infighting does little good, only heightening animosity.  I believe a huge attitudinal adjustment on all sides is due, and the faster this happens, the better it will be.  Part of what I mean is when I told someone today that some E-Cab single owners held hope to eventually win the contract upon its expiration, the immediate reaction was that they must be delusional.  How can wanting to be in charge of one's own financial destiny be equated to a kind of psychosis?  I just can't agree with that kind of response.

Above all, I feel, coming from all sides of this discussion, that we must have openness and clarity.  Without that, we in the taxi industry are doomed, not only at Sea-Tac but everywhere in the USA where top-lights illuminate the night, beckoning everyone to hop in and move down the road.  Shall all of us then calm down, engaging in productive conversation?  If it can be done in the midst of a shooting war, it certainly can happen with this situation.

And why not?  There is no earthly reason not to converse and shake hands.  None of us are the enemy.  Instead, recognize the opposite, that we are friends.  Once that is understood, then resolution will be found.  It is that simple.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Occasional Summer Hiatus Series: How To Make Money When There Ain't None

What I expected to be offering you tonight was a comprehensive look at the Eastside-for-Hire Sea-Tac labor dispute but instead is replaced by a brief tutorial concerning one important aspect of making money while operating a taxi.  Two reasons for the delay is the sheer complexity of the Sea-Tac situation, along with having 1092 go down with a malfunctioning fan, costing me hours yesterday and today, not to mention $275.00 hard earned dollars out the taxi window.

A very quick introduction to this monetary lesson is that during my first 12-15 months driving taxi I did it minus any real dispatch meaning that if I was going make any money I was going to have to figure out just where it was hiding.  Could it be on a particular hotel stand or the Space Needle or a concert or were the UW football Huskies home that Saturday?

With that fast summery I provided the primary clue to how a cabbie makes money when the town is dead, the weather fine and everyone is walking.  The key to survival then is to know beyond all doubt what is potentially happening, where it is happening and the given times you can expect to see someone get into your cab.

Sometimes it is knowing that a particular  hotel is full and guaranteeing an early morning rush to the airport.  Or it could be that a major college team like the University of Nebraska is down at Husky Stadium, translating into a huge percentage of visiting fans needing to go every which way in the city and Sea-Tac.

In other words, you have to be smart about it, tracking your taxi prey like a savvy hunter knowing every nuanced trait and behavior of whom you are seeking: the elusive passenger putting all that money into your wallet.  Persistence and positivity are key.  Depression, fatigue and anger are not, taking you down and keeping you there.

And just by following these very simple rules you will be ahead of the game, ahead of your competitors, and allowing you to sleep tight while your fellow cabbies are tossing and turning after a nightmarish day.

And as always, good luck, because luck helps when you feel like crying, luck the bandage upon the open wound.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Cemetery Cries

Greetings once again from the Quality Inn, Holland, Ohio, a place (and experience) I see as a composite of America in the nearing end of the first one/fifth of this our American 21st century.  The din of the freeway dominates my right ear and the electrical vibration emanating from the room refrigerator irritates my left.  Is inner peace possible when pervasive noise is our modern 24 hour soundtrack, our brains not for a second allowed uninterrupted silence?  With our brains now in a desensitized and mechanized generated fog, is it no wonder we all accept the unacceptable, somehow not noticing all the disposable Styrofoam plates and plastic knives, forks, spoons and cups tossed in to the motel trash bins, bound up in plastic bags and taken away to a ten thousand year slumber in a local landfill.

Passing the usual array of breakfast diners to fill my teacup I note 7 out of 10 are overweight, some grossly, their Styrofoam plates piled with fried eggs and sausages.  When complimentary breakfasts are not compatible to what we truly require we become misshapen creatures, fattened for our impending cultural slaughter called our daily lives zooming down expressways to no important destination ever.

Bleak is the moment and depressing is the day, taking us to sleep after eight hours of ever so entertaining television.  If this is what we have gained after 242 years of independence from the British, I say blood was shed for nothing, and would it be any worse bowing allegiance to an unworthy Queen?  Why everyone instead could have their own barking Pembroke corgi guiding them around the manicured suburban landscape to the Baskin-Robbins and a hot fudge sundae, how tasteful a treat it would be, and ending in a half-rhyme, Lewis Carroll finding it ever so funny.  But perhaps not.

Four Poems

                                                         The Cemetery Cries

                                     Previously not noticing that Plot 33, my mother's section,

                                              is one large teardrop drawn upon the

                                       cemetery map, I  imagine moisture and sorrow pooling

                                         over a rough, yellowed lawn mourning my mother

                                                      and also her mother

                                               but not their husbands, no,

                                                                       undeserving of tears,


                                            of a feminine hand
                                                                            or  caressing touch.

                                                      Years of Looking (and Reading)

                                     In 1959 I understood my parents were poor observers,
                                     realizing it was up to me to comprehend and watch;

                                    and wandering through the museum today I came upon a
                                    prominently placed portrait and thought "by Gainsborough,"

                                    and it was.   A few galleries down a pastel, horizontally barred
                                    painting suggested "Agnes Martin, and indeed it was she,

                                    her muted vision distinctive.   And exiting through the east door
                                    three trees in a short row hinted plane trees, and amazingly they

                                    cheered "Yes we are!"  excited someone finally taking time to


                                                   Too often when I am ready to write

                                                   I am not, fatigued to the point

                                                   I feel anything and all to be gibberish,

                                                   a theoretical and incomplete me

                                                   guessing each word and sentence

                                                   instead of accurate confirmation

                                                   and style gracing the page.

                                              Life (and awake when I'd rather be asleep)

                                            Unless I said, as I am saying, that I remain awake
                                            in a motel room wishing I wasn't, no one would ever
                                            know nor care that instead of sleep I am finishing

                                           a not very good Joseph Conrad short story,
                                           and between reading local tidbits from the Toledo
                                           Blade, I start Virginia Woolf's second novel,

                                           the opening paragraphs describing a London tea party,
                                           which explains why I am awake, no, not a party but too
                                           much tea, five cups of tea the source, the cause to why

                                           I am sitting in bed writing during these early hours.

A New York Times online invitation to comment

In today's May 1st, 2018 edition, there is an extensive article entitled:

"A Taxi Driver Took His Own Life.  His Family Blames Uber's Influence"

written by Emma Fitzsimmons.  I recommend that every cabbie upon the face of our taxi earth read it.  And contained in the online version is an invitation (and section) where you the cabbie can tell the world what your experience is.  I believe this is unprecedented so I encourage all of you to take up the NY Times on their offer and tell the world your very personal and particular taxi reality.  It is your opportunity to educate, to be the taxi teacher.  By doing this, you will be assisting all of us in our daily struggle to survive in this the Age of Uber.