Sunday, December 23, 2018

After Orwell's Animal Farm, An Essay---"What Happened To Snowball, What Happened To America's Taxi Industry?"

Rereading George Orwell's "Animal Farm" after first reading it 45 years ago, was revelatory, though clearly realizing I had forgotten, other than the startling ending---Neapolitan and the other pigs taking on human features---most of the story other than Orwell's strong message: that revolutions fail to sustain themselves, the rebels themselves acting like the oppressors they once fought to displace.  Modern examples of this dimensional sacrilege are everywhere.  Zimbabwe's Mugabe.  Cuba's Castro brothers. South Africa's Zuma. Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega. And of course, the man who was the basis for what Orwell was writing about: Stalin and his Soviet Union of the 1930s and 40s.  "Animal Farm" was, and remains a polemical classic, foretelling North Korea's corrupt regime and Communist China's political redaction into an authoritarian Capitalist state. And while forgiving a few narrative flaws, I have ended up with one gigantic question.  What happened to Snowball?

While Snowball is oft mentioned after, like the very real Leon Trotsky, he is chased away, running for his life, Orwell fails to tell us just what his ultimate fate was.  I find that a great error, something I probably would have mentioned if I had been his editor back in 1945, "Animal Farm's" year of publication.  And that very question got me to thinking how I could link that quandary to what has happened to the American taxi, neither Snowball nor us cabbies deserving such ill abuse.  Poor Snowball!  Poor us!

                 What Happened to Snowball, What Happened to America's Taxi Industry?

Snowball, along with his other porcine comrades and their fellow barnyard brethren, led the takeover of Manor Farm.  Snowball, truly an intellectual and idealistic hog, was inspirational and enthusiastic, forging ahead with many plans for the new Animal Farm commune, including a windmill potentially bringing both electrical power and new comfort for all the animals to collectively enjoy, all the good farm animals deserving equal and democratic treatment.  But Snowball's swine brother, Napoleon, held other ideas, including making himself supreme leader, and after transforming nine innocent puppies into his snarling bodyguards, gave chase to his surprised comrade, Snowball barely escaping before torn into so many pork cutlets.

Thereafter, Napoleon, and his official spokes-pig, Squealer, blamed everything bad upon the now vanquished and discredited Snowball, even rewriting Animal Farm history, making Snowball not a hero of the Battle of the Cowshed, as he truly was, courageous and bold but instead a secret agent of the farmer attackers themselves, Snowball not friend but forever dangerous foe.  While understanding Orwell's method, I will never comprehend why Snowball's ultimate fate is not reconciled to us the reader.  Orwell provides hints but no conclusion, leaving us to unsatisfactory  guess as to Snowball's final condition---did he die, or did he collude with the farmers, or even wilder, emigrate to Russia?  Alas we will never know, Orwell's death in 1950 forever closing that particular question.

All of which brings me to the United States of America's taxicab industry, and not just what has occurred, but what is happening as I sit typing in late December 2018, what can we expect in 2019? Our story begins in 2009 when an Animal Farm Napoleon-type figure, Travis Kalanick emerges to form the app-ride hailing service known as Uber.  I find it important to note that the word uber means topmost or super, its Germanic language roots translating to over, or above, meaning above everything else.

As the company quickly progressed over the years, that kind of implied superiority became manifest, Kalanick, not unlike Orwell's pig, Napoleon, telling American municipal, county and state governments to essentially to "go to hell!" that Uber was in charge and don't you forget it, similar to Stalin, and more currently, China's Xi Jinping.  And like Orwell's Napoleon, who had Boxer and all the other animals do the hard work building the windmill, not once, not twice but three times over, Kalanick has similarly fooled millions of into buying new cars and working for Uber under the pretense that they are completely independent workers striving for their own personal benefit.

All this happened while the American cab industry sat on its hands, doing little to nothing to stop the Uber tidal wave from inundating and taking away all of its business.  And all occurring with the organized complicity of local government, further shackling local taxi associations with onerous oversight while simultaneously telling Uber they can regulate themselves, that we love and trust you.

While there has been some recent pullback from government's bureaucratic romance with Uber,  Uber continues to expand it business foundation as taxi's shrinks, our overall business depleting monthly, America's taxi industry literally drowning in millions of gallons of its own salty tears, and quite possibly, floating down an ever flowing strident river only to be swallowed by the historical sea.  What has happened to our once proud cab legacy?  Clearly, we are sunk, slowing sinking below our own horizon, waving bye bye, goodbye as we disappear beneath the wave, saying hello to 2019 as water fills our mouth and lungs.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Quick End Of The Year Report----State Of Seattle Taxi Industry December 2018

There really isn't much to report, at least not much good news as 2018 stumbles to a close.  The City/County does plan on adding 25 more WAT (wheelchair cabs) in 2019, along with a yearly $5000.00 expenditure stipend, but does nothing to improve the overall financial viability of everyone else, failing once again to recognize all the unofficial "handicap" fares non-WAT cabs serve weekly, going un-supplemented but taking valuable minutes out of every day.  While rumors have been many, like forcing Uber and Lyft to nearly match our rates, or that all taxis will be dual plated with both City and County licenses, nothing at all has occurred.  As the saying goes, don't hold your breath, as you're gonna turn blue in the face before anything changes.

In other taxi words, it is the same old story, single owner expenses continue to eat everyone alive while Uber and Lyft provide 91,000 fares a day in Seattle.  The only response we seem to receive from the City of Seattle are "sting operations" targeting cabbies with undercover officers or informants approaching parked cabs with alleged stolen goods, offering prices too good to be true but suddenly arresting anyone who says "Yes, I''ll buy that."  All I can say to Mayor Durkan is "Is that the best you can do?"  And that appears to true, to be the TRUE & ACTUAL state of taxi affairs Seattle-wise 2018.  Happy Holidays, anyone!?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

When The Passenger Has No Money, What Should You Do?

Late Sunday night a classic taxi situation arose, with a passenger saying she wanted to go a long ways minus any obvious means of payment.  In this case, going from West Seattle to some unknown part of Federal Way, Washington, the fare somewhere between $50.-70.00.  And besides, I was at that point tired, meaning if I am going to push myself down the road, I need some guarantee of payment. 

That I had to ask whether she had the money spoke volumes, knowing as I do the kind or type who are thinking of not paying, expecting "taxi civility" to get them there, only to say "someone else is paying."  In general terms, when that is the case, the caller has already informed dispatch, along with the telephone number of the person paying the bill.  None of course happened in this potential scam, the passenger suddenly showing up at the cab not from the given address but somewhere off of the street, a ghost suddenly appearing out of the gloom.

Saying I wasn't taking her anywhere expect perhaps the Seattle Police Department's West Precinct just down the street, she pleaded, "Take my purse, take my license!" promising I would get paid.  She also wanted me to turn on the meter only once upon reaching the freeway.  All this said to me "No way Jose!" and worse, making me shout it was time to depart the taxi, forcing me to come around the cab to toss the lout out.

Understanding I meant business, she jumped out but almost immediately approached the cab's left side, slamming her hands upon the windshield, then grabbing a nearby plastic garbage can and tossing it against the cab. Hitting the gas, I got out of there, not interested in further deranged discussion with a clearly enraged woman.

Her behavior I think can be interpreted in at least two ways.  The first is that she was being completely honest, and how can you be so insulting, not trusting me.  The other was proving me correct, displaying just who she really is, a conniving, unscrupulous woman not caring about me for a second, perfectly willing and able to steal from me and everyone else.

That I have had passengers skip out on me in the past is obvious, estimating that over a 30 year span I have lost a total of more or less one thousand dollars, amounting to about $33.00 a year.  Not a lot but these days, almost filling up 1092's tank.

As any veteran cabbie knows, there is a fine line between kindness and stupidity; and while empathic when someone is miles from home, I am at this point not a social worker but only an exhausted cabbie trying make the proverbial buck.  I even tell passengers this but not this time, not having the opportunity, she taking the situation literally in her own hands, tossing rubbish bins and whatever else she could grab.  Maybe next time she will be more prepared, now learning what is required when traveling to the big, bad Seattle city, all those MEAN cabbies ready and prepared to eat you alive!  Pass the mustard and catsup please!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

My Personal "Best Of" In Seattle & Area---Part 1

Given all my years plying Seattle and area streets and neighborhoods, I have made up my mind on what is the best of everything there is to offer to the discriminating consumer.  I am a bit fussy and do demand value for my dollar so I guarantee you will be pleased by selecting any of my various suggestions.  If I don't mention something that you yourself think is obvious, it doesn't mean I don't know about it, instead strongly implying I either don't like the establishment or it just isn't worth mentioning.  While yes, opinionated, I also try to know what I am talking about, guiding you to the "best of" and not the worst of anything, for instance in the "best free view of Seattle" category I recommend the top of the Volunteer Park water tower located on the top of Capitol Hill.  There is no better 360 degree view in the city and you don't have to pay a dime to see it.  And while taking in the view, you can also read the permanent installation detailing how Seattle's great and wonderful park system was created.  And you get exercise to boot, climbing those spiral stairs!  Yes I know, huff & puff, ain't it ruff?


My favorite small park, Llandover Woods,  is located at the NW corner of 3rd Avenue NW and NW 145th Street, adjacent to and just south of the Highlands gated community.  This narrow strip of woods heading down a hill provides just enough unexpected solitude to help one forget that you are in the middle of an urban center.  I also have a couple of favorite napping spots allowing me a few minutes of much needed "rest & recuperation."

Two other parks, both overlooking the Puget Sound, are worth mentioning, Discovery Park in Magnolia; and Carkeek Park in the Broadview neighborhood.  Both are a bit wild and containing enough up and down twisting trails to get slightly lost in.  Often at night I hear the resident coyotes at Carkeek yipping and howling, telling you that civilization will never totally win out over persistent Mother Nature.   Check out the Apple Orchard trail on the south side of Carkeek, enjoying the creek as you descend toward the Sound.

I would be totally amiss if I didn't mention what perhaps is the crown jewel of the City of Seattle park system, Kubota Gardens located way down south in the greater Rainier Beach/Skyway neighborhoods.  This somewhat hard to find park in located just off Renton South & 55the Avenue South.  The official address is 9817 55th Avenue S.  You will be pleased, I assure you, for taking the time to go there.  And as you are nearby, drop by for a snack at the Redwing Cafe.

If you are in West Seattle, take the time to walk along the walkway above the beach at Lincoln Park. In the summer, take a dip in the public saltwater pool.  The park is adjacent to the Vashon Ferry Terminal taking you to Vashon Island, a great place for a daylong excursion.  Some nice beaches to walk on once there.  The shopping district has some good cafes.

And after walking up and down at the Volunteer Park water tower, head over to the once free Volunteer Park Plant Conservatory, now charging a $4.00 adult admission fee.  Regardless, it is one of the better "can't miss" destinations in Seattle.  After taking in all the flowers, you might be inspired to proceed slightly north to the historical Lakeview Cemetery.  Many go there to visit Bruce Lee's graveside.  North of Lakeview is a Civil War cemetery.  All worth your time and energy


As will you quickly notice, my preference is for Chinese and Asian cooking.  Having first tasted my first Chinese food at Denver's Lotus Gardens in 1964, I have been hooked ever since.  The first four joints listed is where I mostly eat out, interested in good, very digestible food along with quick service.  When driving cab, I am usually in and out in 30-45 minutes, no time for argument, no time for delay.

Tai Tung is Seattle's oldest Chinese restaurant. I have eaten there over 5000 times and not counting since 1987.  Since writing that book about their waiter, Milton Wan, I have become even closer to the ownership and staff.  The food is good and basic Chinese food.  Service is fast and competent.  Say hello to owner Harry, he of the white apron standing behind the front counter.  655 S. King Street, Seattle, WA

Around the corner from Tai Tung is the Honey Court Seafood Restaurant, open late 7 days a week at 516 Maynard Avenue South.  Great friendly staff.  Often my choice is the seafood noodle soup.  And also go there for their dim sum served for breakfast and lunch. Enjoy!

As I often find myself late in the north end, I have two mainstays, both located across the Seattle N.145th boundary line into Shoreline, WA.  Yang's Noodle is a "real" Chinese restaurant tempting you with dishes you have never thought of.  Their seafood noodle soup is great.  And their steamed pot stickers are perhaps the best you will find anywhere short of the People's Republic of China.  And yes, I have chowed down in China and Hong Kong too! 14725 Aurora Avenue North (Highway 99), Shoreline, WA.

Nara Chinese Restaurant, 15033 Aurora Ave. North, Shoreline, is open late to 2 AM.  Lately I have been eating their House Seafood Noodle Soup.  Request "no added" msg.  Cheap and good which is what we need and want.  And generally fast service too.

Across from Tai Tung is an old favorite, the Kau Kau BBQ, 656 South King Street, Seattle.  Best barbecue pork in all of Seattle.  Their soy sauce chicken is also good.  They have a takeout window just inside the door.

If you are in the lower Queen Anne, check out the diner, the Mecca Cafe, open late and ready to serve you "old time Seattle" cooking, the way it used to be.  Nothing fancy and the bar can be loud but who cares, old style is good style! and enjoy the booths and jukebox.  526 Queen Anne Avenue North, Seattle.

Also in the Queen Anne is the best Vietnamese soup in the entire Seattle area, Pho Viet Ahn Restaurant. Skip all of the others, their broth laced with msg. Not so at this place!  372 Roy Street, Seattle, WA.

If in the mood for Thai instead, cross over the street to Bahn Thai, open since 1984 at 409 Roy Street.  One of the best of the too many Thai joints in Seattle.  Choose the Bahn Thai and be happy you did. 

East of Chinatown on South Jackson is the Moonlight Cafe, a Vietnamese joint featuring both outstanding regular and vegetarian menus.  Was once a restaurant of first choice when I lived on Capitol Hill.  1919 South Jackson Street, Seattle, WA.

As mentioned, the Redwing Cafe is in the far south end, just off of Rainier Avenue South, at 9272 57th Avenue South.  Great bakery along with breakfast items and coffee. Currently it is featuring homemade eggnog.

Pizza worth eating:

Soprano's, 7729 24th Avenue NW, in the Ballard/Crown Hill neighborhood. Seattle.  Run by a family from Bulgaria.

Northlake Pizza, 660 NE Northlake, Seattle, WA.  Big, thick pizzas.  Go there when you are hungry.  Old time Seattle at its pizza best.

Next week, part two.  Want to know where to get your beard trimmed or where to wash your soiled socks?  Stay tuned.