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.

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