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.
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