Tuesday, September 25, 2018

What Taxi Has Done To Me

Of the many things taxi is, beyond all and everything is its obsessive nature, consuming your time and energy, ensuring your primary activities are confined to eating, sleeping and driving cab---taxi an active parasite, a tapeworm striving off vulnerable flesh and blood.  But surely Joe, many might say, you exaggerate, no occupation could be that demanding because, as so many people have commented to me, "all you are doing is driving a car.  What is hard about that?"  And besides, the argument proceeding further, what can one expect when operating amongst the menial and lower caste, you the taxi dalit begging for your bread and butter, as too often our profession equated with the likes of dish washing and cleaning toilets or gravediggers in a pauper's cemetery, interring the nameless, forgotten and tubercular dead.  Frankly, we cabbies are the table scrapes leftover from dinner fed to the family pet or discarded into the compost bin.

But yes, what is difficult about maneuvering forward in some of the nation's most congested streets while figuring out "just where the money is?" because, unlike usual and normal occupations, there is absolutely no guarantee you are making a dime, or what what some like to express as, "a single red cent," whatever the hell that means?  What is hard about finding yourself completely alone beneath the top-light, your day a blank slate, totally left to your ability or not to make your taxi day, with no one caring other than the taxi association screaming for the lease or your wife shouting "why haven't the bills been paid?"  If you think this isn't stressful, that this isn't much fun, then you too, like the cabbie, are completely out-of-your-mind, unsympathetic to your fellows, self-appointed royalty ignoring the unwashed rabble clutching at your heels.

As I keep saying, and will continue to say about taxi, is that your only true guarantee is a kick in the buttock and a sore back and cranky knees and swollen ankles followed by indigestion and insomnia, with  the certified assurance that your chronic fatigue and overall exhausted state of mind, body and soul will forever remain your best friend and worst enemy, that "feeling like crap 100 percent of the time" is normal, and why after a few years you won't even notice you are a dead man (or woman) walking, or should I say it, driving?  Isn't life grand, finding yourself transformed into a walking and talking zombie?  George Romero would be proud!

And what has this done to me personally, besides this dismal list of maladies?  Taxi has stolen my life, reducing it to a seven-day cycle of working three to four days and briefly recovering during the remaining three, only to begin the drudgery all over again.  When trying to make up for lost sleep, sleeping twelve hours, when do I then have time to write and read and exercise and just plainly think while keeping up with the usual obligations paying bills, grocery shopping and brushing my teeth?

Precisely I don't which is why I leave taxi for weeks at a time so I can simply breath and remember I am alive, that an entire world outside of taxi exists, one of joy, fun, and can I say, personal satisfaction.  This remaining week I will be working minus interruptions to finally finish the editing of my most recent book, it being last April since I last peeked at it, working on a few pages.

Anyone thinking driving taxi is more important than my writing is delusional.  Taxi for me is a "day job" that's gone on way too long.  The American composer Philip Glass drove taxi in New York City for a few years but finally got out, going on to complete something far more important---adding to classical music's legacy and cannon, receiving a deserved recognition for hard work done.

Now that is something important but taxi, despite its usefulness in sometimes providing very necessary transportation to medical appointments and hospitals, is not equally paramount.  But the writing of just one poem or essay or short story that will outlive me, something people will both read and enjoy centuries from now, is far more important than all the thousands of cab rides I have provided.

There is no escaping that reality. While making money driving cab it's clear I am wasting my remaining unknown precious years upon this planet in this form, in the personage of who and what I am.  In twenty to thirty years I will be dead, obviously then having no ability to do anything special, like completing my childhood autobiography or bicycle along the River Doubs with someone I love.

No, taxi is unimportant.  Eating good food is important.  Walking along the River Seine in the rain is.  Even bickering over absolutely nothing is better than taxi.

And concerning that, there is, nor can there be, any argument.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Greetings From Besancon, Dole, Chartres, Monsoult : Prevailing Reality After 30 Years Taxi

It's been two weeks since I've been in the cab but before I briefly comment on my three decade plus association with the taxi arts I want to recommend the small central French city of Besancon.  Why, with so many famous French cities to come to, why visit this city located on the River Doubs 70 kilometers west of Switzerland?

Well, if you like friendly, welcoming people you will enjoy their hospitality and helpfulness, daily patiently listening to our rudimentary French.  And if you enjoy being surrounded by 17th Century history, you will be more than pleased, Besancon a living and breathing avenue to the past.

A visit to Marquis de Vauban's  (1633-1707) fort and castle complex "The Citadel" which will stay with you forever.  In addition to walking the ramparts I highly suggest visiting the many museums within the castle grounds, especially the Musee of French Resistance and Deportation.  I have been to a number of similar museums throughout my European travels but the one in Besancon is perhaps the most comprehensive, taking you from Germany in the early 1920s all the way up to 1946 and the War Crimes Trials.  In addition to all this, the many trails along both sides of the river are worth walking or biking, again taking you back in time, fortified walls lining the Doubs.

Due to Google stopping me from accessing my blog, it has been a few days since I first began this particular entry.  At the time we were in Besancon.  From there, we moved about 60 kilometers to the south along the River Doubs to Dole, a medieval cathedral town.  The church spire is unusual, commenting and presiding over the winding streets.

And finally getting to our primary goal, we rented bicycles both Wednesday and Thursday, riding first to the west, then Thursday to the east along rivers and canals.  To call our adventures idyllic would be an understatement, riding in truly magnificent weather, a late beautiful summer warm spell dominating the region. Breaking local rules of civility I removed my shirt, exposing my pale body to the French sunshine.

Yesterday we took a fast train to Paris, and from there to yet another medieval town, Chartres, famous for its 13th Century Gothic cathedral.  Having visited there in 1984 and 2003, this visit was different, being in much better spirits this time around.

In 1984, after spending the late summer and early autumn in Paris, it was abundantly clear my marriage was floundering, that season being the unfortunate beginning of three unforgettable, hellish years, with us finally parting in September 1987, the month and year of my entry into taxi.

Was that merely coincidental?  No, not at all, which is why I call the American taxi industry our version of the French Foreign Legion, taking all comers, an active pulse the only qualification, any disqualification not mattering, the only interest being keeping the seats filled and the money coming in.

My final word concerning Chartres is, "go there," and explore perhaps the greatest cathedral Christianity has given the spirit-seeking world.  This morning we stumbled upon a morning market, such incredible food we hadn't seen in a long time. 

Today I now back in greater Paris environs, this time in the northern suburb of Monsoult sitting in a glass enclosed dining room surrounded by greenery.  It is lovely.


Unfortunately that is the first term I come up with when thinking about my relation to taxi.  Demeaning and degrading are also appropriate terms, taxi translated as continual and never ending insult.  During my early taxi days when I was still working my psychiatric case manager gig, I would sometimes drive a few hours in the evening after consulting with neurologists, etc, and  I finding myself entering a completely alternate world, going from the "penthouse to the trashcan."

At 2:00 in the afternoon I would be treated as a professional equal, someone whose opinion was both valued and trusted.  But later, once in the cab I was instantaneously a cipher, asshole, criminal.  Yes, the juxtaposition was jarring, perhaps even disorienting but everyone around me, the cops etc left little doubt as to their opinion: I was scum, and you better watch out! being the prevailing message, deserving little save a swift kick in the butt.

So all these years later, despite the real money made, and the personal freedom provided, I have little good to say concerning how all of us Seattle cabbies have been, and are treated on a daily basis.  On the last page of my 1995 poetry volume, "The Greyer Elements,"  I wrote a sketch about taxi, describing it as being like a lone tree atop a high hill subjected to all kinds of weather.  That is what it is exactly like, buffeted by societal and cultural winds, blown over and knocked down.

And as I have said repeatedly upon these pages over these many years, much of the blame falls upon the American taxi industry itself, more times, as I just said, focused solely upon making money minus building viable connections with municipal, county, state regulatory authorities.  Why have we been treated like criminals instead of viewed as a viable and trusted industry?  The answer is simple, with everyone knowing the answer.  As the saying goes, it is no mystery.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Greetings From Hafnarfjordur, Iceland & Paris: Seattle's Taxi Complaint Process Part 2

We are already into our third day in Paris where the September weather this week has been in the low 80s F. but I would be amiss not to mention our three day stay in Iceland where the wind does blow, and on our first day, never stopped.  Amongst the various highlights was the directions given to us in Hafnarfiordur by the gruff lady running the local taxi company.  Lost, not knowing how to find our lodging, I noticed a taxi office where I was quickly drawn a perfect map to where we were going.  While having no time for pleasantries she was extremely helpful, a genuine taxi veteran interested only in directing the idiots to where they were going.  Frankly she reminded me of me when I am in certain moods, maybe not the most diplomatic but getting you to where you need to be, plain and simple minus usual niceties.

If you go to Iceland, do visit the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall, more cascading, tumbling water than you could ever imagine.  And if you have the energy, drive south on South Highway 1 (there is a North Route 1) to the small city of Hveragerdi and drive a few kilometers out of town to the parking lot to where your 1 1/2 mile ascent up a mountainside begins, eventually taking you to the warm water Reykjadalur River, yes, an actual hot springs river flowing southwest down a valley.

While we soaked our sore bodies, with the both of us falling asleep, we were joined by legions of hikers seeking the same experience.  Go on a late fall or winter weekday and I am sure you will only be sharing the river with the many grazing Icelandic sheep munching away upon the steep hills.  Only be extremely aware of the many very dangerous bubbling pools reaching 200 degree plus F. though you find them to be well marked. And even the sheep know better to avoid them so you too can say baa! to being boiled alive.  Again, if you like geothermal water and geysers blasting into the air, visit Iceland.

Here in Paris we are staying just off the Pigalle Metro Station in the 18th Arrondissement, not far from the famous Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) Cathedral.  Tuesday we ate at Chez Paul in the Bastille and yesterday, having lunch in the Jewish Quarter we ate crepes at two different outlets, the cheaper being the better of the two.  Last night we ate at Le Relais Gascon, 6 Rue des Abbesses, an eatery to be recommended, their set menu that evening of steak and potatoes delicious.  And if you are wanting to munch upon what might be the greatest croissant Paris has to offer, make a pastry beeline for Pain Pain (Bread Bread), a truly terrific boulangerie and patisserie located in Montnartre at 88 Rue des Martyrs.  You will be glad you did, especially if buttery is a favorite descriptive adjective.

Thursday we take the train to the small central city of Besancon where bicycling is next upon the agenda.  Besancon, Victor Hugo's birthplace, is located southeast of Paris near the Swiss border, making it the first time I have been to that part of France.  I will tell you if I spot Jean Valjean's ghost reaching for a stray baguette. And Javert's wraith trailing close behind.

More Concerning Seattle's Cabbie Complaint Process

Last week's blog was written in a quick frenzy just a few hours before we were due to fly out from San Francisco to Reykjavik, meaning some of what I wanted to say was unavoidably omitted, believing that a review of what the City of Seattle requires of us deserves a thorough examination.  And while not knowing the full history of how we got to this bureaucratic juncture, I can instinctively tell that some kind of complete capitulation by the local taxi industry must have something to do with this application of an iron yoke to our collective necks.

As I have previously suggested, no self-respecting industry or company would tolerate this level of governmental intrusion.  Just as in the elimination of Seattle's Uber/Lyft cap, the industry clearly, like some scared mongrel dog, put its tail between its leg and ran howling away to some dark alley.  Obviously this is no way to defend your vested interests, and when any and all unsubstantiated allegations are allowed to be put forward as potentially factual, anyone serious would know that un-investigated complaints are questionable and libelous, open to all kinds of mischief and abuse.

More clearly for those to don't understand the mechanics of the current process, the City of Seattle forwards all official complaints to the associations minus any or all filtering, meaning that anyone can call the complaint number and say anything they want regardless of its actual and legal veracity.  And who has to do the initial detective footwork?

None other than the associations' themselves, the City, and HopeLink too, turning association staff into their own minions, not unlike that rascal feathered friend, the Catbird laying eggs into a Robin or Sparrow's nest, forcing the nesting mother to feed and raise the intruder bird.  Just as nature is sometimes unfair, neither in this case in the City of Seattle, expecting us to incubate its own process.  How can this be reasonable?

As further example of how the process isn't at all sensible, I told "she-who-can't-be-named" that at this very moment she could call the complaint number from Paris and say anything she wanted about any driver, picking a cab number, even mine, and without any verification or validation propel into motion a complete and utter falsehood,  knowing fully there is no legal retribution for lying.  Is this justice?  I will let you find the answer.

And another important question is to just what kind of legal protection does the City provide to the complainant if the cabbie

Two other legal points that might be impossible to interpret are intent and harm, the intent of the driver and the harm to the complainant.  For example, if the passenger felt the cabbie was rude, how do you prove injury, and how can the City say any one statement or intonation was true insult?   If the source of the cabbie's alleged behavior was a sore back or indigestion, how could that be seen as proof of intent and premeditated action?

What I am saying is that it appears the City of Seattle has simplified something that isn't that simple.  And more, it has singled out one kind of business or industry for a type of scrutiny not applied to other kinds of businesses.  Could this just be mindless bureaucracy gone amok, with its ministerial wheels falling off?

I once had verifiable proof of this when, King County Licensing, during the for-hire re-licensing process, remained insistent upon fingerprinting us year after year.  Upon asking one of the County processors why, he made the huge mistake of telling me it was due to "our fingerprints changing every year."  Well of course that isn't true, and upon making his erroneous statement known, suddenly that requirement disappeared.  And I don't wonder why it did!

And that is all I wish for, sensible modification and little else.  As I said, true accountability is necessary and something I fully support.  But I do believe a thorough reexamination is called for, where legal protection and fairness for all parties is clearly spelled out and known; and since it is in Seattle's and King County's interests to maintain the kind of accountability they appear to be seeking, it should be solely their duty to accurately identify the overall credibility of the complaint.  Given that they created and mandated these rules of acceptable conduct, Seattle and King County should be answerable to carrying them out.

And, I must repeat, without any implication of pre-assigned guilt or prejudice.  In the United States of America in 2018, this is how it must be and remain.  There just isn't any other way or route to equatable and just resolution, our democratic principles leaving little argument to how we must proceed, equality and justice for everyone our goal.  Again, it is that simple.  Isn't it?

Horrible Taxi Accident at North 155th & Aurora Avenue North

Friends alerted me to a terrible accident occurring this week involving YC 736 and a non-taxi driver.  For some yet unexplained reason the other driver crossed over the center line, hitting the taxi head-on, with the impact unfortunately killing the cab passenger.  Both the errant driver and the cabbie were seriously injured and are fighting for their lives.  it is of course an unspeakable tragedy.  I will report more details as I have them.  As I have said here countless times, driving a cab is damnably dangerous!  Damn it all!

Postscript Saturday 09/15/18

With my mind officially on vacation, I forgot to relate an experience I have had hundreds of times: some driver shouting at me that "they have my cab number, and they're gonna get me!"  Yes, petty threats are commonplace, with the cabbie an easy target, feeding into an out-of-balance complaint process.  What is also true is that a workday doesn't pass when I don't experience at least one road-rage incident directed at me.  Usually it is the "short chase" when a deranged driver decides for whatever reason I deserve to be punished.

To me, all this points to the necessity of having the City of Seattle do some preemptive detective work before forwarding a complaint to a taxi association.  One possible way to sort out the true from the false is to require that all complainants sign a statement verifying that their accusation is true.  Requiring a notary would only enhance their credibility.  Perhaps only then would the City have some assurance that the incident as described actually occurred.  Currently, as I have outlined, the City truly doesn't know one way or another the true legitimacy of the complaint.  As I have said ad nausea, there has to be a better way.


Thursday, September 6, 2018

The City of Seattle Taxi Complaint Process

Just imagine the uproar if the City of Seattle decided to post official "call to complain" numbers in every type of business operating in Seattle.  In banks, restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, doctor offices, car dealerships, gas stations, auto repair shops, once you entered the premises you would encounter in large boldfaced letters the City of Seattle telephone number where you the customer are encouraged to file, not comments but complaints. And just so you won't forget, your bank balance slip or your Safeway receipt will have that same complaint number printed upon it.  I am sure that would make a strong impression, perhaps implying that something must be wrong, that these folks may not be the most trustworthy. 

Of course there appears to be no such plan in the offing because the Seattle of City would be slammed by high powered lawsuits financed by Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks,  General Motors etc, making it clear that this is the wrong approach to take concerning consumer protection.  But that same very same approach is reality in Seattle's taxis, immediately implying that you "better watch out!" because that awful cabbie is about to to take you around in circles.  And yes, the complaint number is printed on our meter receipts just in case you think the driver has just ripped you off and now you have the evidence in you hand.  In other words, the suspicion is inherent, something the cabbies can't escape, the complaint process a public invitation to bash taxi drivers upon their collective heads. 

I say this due to a recent official complaint I received filed by someone who, by all accounts, has some misplaced vendetta against Seattle Yellow Cab, and due to that, has been placed upon the "no service list" multiple times.  That he continues to order cabs using aliases perhaps says everything one needs to know about the individual.  And that, like others who have filed claims, seem to potentially have psychiatric issues which says much about many who utilize Seattle's and HopeLink's complaint process.  One HopeLink complaint came from a very obese woman claiming I had been making passes at her. Another HopeLink complaint centered around the fact that I had taken a detour around a closed street, meaning at that point I had no other option because 25th NE was closed both ways due to construction. 

In this current situation, the guy claims I argued about the route, treated him rudely and in general acted unprofessionally.  Why I would do this doesn't make any sense, other than the guy being upon the eccentric side, and at times unclear in his directions, he truly wasn't out of the behavioral norm other than perhaps being more paranoid than the more usual customer. 

That this was bad fiction and a false accusation is true but when you have a process that empowers the powerless, you are destined to have these kinds of manufactured complaints.  It appears that the City of Seattle doesn't understand this kind of dimension they have created but I do which is why Macy's or Target or The Ford Motor Corporation or Marriott Hotels would explode in response if any such effort was directed their way.

What the City of Seattle message to the local taxi industry is simple: you are not capable of dealing with your internal issues in-house, along with the strong invective that you can't be trusted.  Having been associated with taxi these long thirty-plus years, I know this to be true.   I learned all abut this attitude back in 1987 upon the first time I was stopped in my cab by the Seattle Police.  When the officer said "You just ran a red  light." I stupidly responded that I hadn't, which was true which resulted in being issued not one but two violations which I promptly dubbed "PS I Love You!"   Why did I deserve to be treated like that?  Because I was driving a cab and for no other reason whatsoever, meaning I was a bad person deserving of whatever punishment dealt my way. 

Yes, personal and industry accountability is very important, something I strongly believe in and support.  But frivolous and erroneous enforcement is something I most logically can't support.  The worse anything I have ever done in the cab is get irritated.  Is irritation against the law?  I don't think so and neither does anyone else.  Civility is something we all should strive for but given our current resident in the White House can we really expect that, along with personal accountability?  Yes, despite all resistance to the contrary, we should.