Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Greetings From Seattle's Chinatown----The Story Of Why Explaining My Too Many Years Driving Taxi

In 1991, after a mere four years driving taxi, and that mostly part-time, I thought I was completely done with taxi.  How and why I am still here is something that might interest some of you, because, and you can believe it, it was never my intention to slave away at the taxi salt mines all these years later.  But before I do that, I will elaborate a bit about my latest departure from New Mexico.

Given our flight to Oakland, California was leaving Friday morning at 6:10 AM, we wisely decided to leave San Lorenzo early Thursday morning, having reserved an AirB&B apartment in a small town along New Mexico State Route 47, giving us an early 20 mile drive to the Albuquerque  airport.  Another intention was to check out two national wildlife refuges located parallel to Interstate-25, and were we ever glad we did, coming upon thousands of migrating sandhill cranes and snow geese at Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  The first thing we did, before coming upon the birds, was take a 1.7 mile loop walk through this wonderfully leafy, transitional prairie to desert patch of land, unaware of the feathery surprise soon awaiting us once returning to the car.

Continuing on the North Loop road, we soon came upon the first of three mixed groupings of birds, the aforementioned cranes and snow geese along with other bird species, some water fowl, others not, one contingent seemingly of grackles, their purplish black feathers glistening in the sunshine.  Remarkably, further down the road, we were privileged to witness white waves of snow geese swooping in for landings 75 feet away, something normally seen on nature documentaries instead of our front row car seats.  Wonderful is all I can say, and our lodging was fine, getting to the airport minus any serious confusion, filling up our rental car for $2.27 per gallon.

How I got to be a Taxi Semi-Lifer

It really starts when I was twenty, refusing the second of two college scholarships, thus setting myself up for future hardship and my ever tenuous cabbie career.  The first offer was an easy (and rational) refusal, the United States Navy offering me a four-year free ride on the way to commanding my own destroyer or something like that.  But given I was seeking, and granted my CO (1-0) draft exemption, it made perfect sense to say no to that.

My second offer, this time from the University of Washington, was far more legitimate, a fully paid four years plus living stipend, and this dumbbell, totally alienated idiot kid walked away from what would/should have been the beginnings of some kind of scholarly career.  Amazingly to me, especially now, not one person in my circle of college-educated older adults advised me otherwise, the young fool clearly not understanding a great opportunity wasted.  Why did that happen, this avoidance of necessary council by those who knew better?  I could tell you but I won't, it being an embarrassment never admitted by many who still walk our shared earth.

What area of study would I have focused upon, had I chosen to pursue a degree?  I am guessing history, due to a natural tendency in that direction of study.  When I was 18, and in Denver, Colorado April 1972 after two years of wandering the western US and Canada, living in communes and upon the side of the road, I decided getting my GED was a good idea, walking into Denver University minus a second of study and leaving with a "top ten percentage of all high school graduates" history knowledge.  That I knew nearly nothing is the scary part but leastwise I displayed some instinctive aptitude for the subject, knowing that England was actually the United Kingdom and Gambia's primary export was ground nuts (peanuts).

In January 1973, now 19,  I found myself in Seattle looking for my "alternative service" job, and along with my cat Sniffer, hoping for the best. What I didn't know was that President Nixon was about to end the draft in February, leaving me at loose ends in the Great Northwest.  Essentially feeling nuts, out-of-my-mind, I fell into a group therapy situation where transactional analysis (TA) was the primary therapeutic modality, providing some interpretation for our often inexplicable human behavior.  The long and short of it is that I was offered training to become some kind therapist, and being slightly dumb and impressionable, I accepted the offer.  Did I want to be some version of psychologist?  No, not at all. So why did I proceed for three years through the training?  Stupidity is my only answer.

This all brings me up to the subject at hand, how and why I have driven taxi off and on since the Autumn of 1987.  There is much I could say but soon after I refused the University of Washington, I got my first professional "pysch" job at age 20, totally minus a degree.  Two years later I got another one, again with the agency knowing fully I hadn't attended a minute of college.

What this translated to is that by the time I moved down to San Francisco in 1979 to join the woman I later married, I already had nearly four years of professional experience along with my three therapist training years.  Jobs were tight and it was obvious I had to do something drastic to make myself employable, meaning I composed a professional resume saying I had a degree.  Everything upon the resume was true other than that major fib. And for years forward, no one asked for proof like college transcripts and the like.  Clearly I was educated but no one knowing I was my primary teacher.  Also during this time period, I got a poetry editor gig on a debuting magazine.  That I could barely write didn't seem to matter but I worked hard, wrote every day and faked it well to the point that within a few years I was actually nearing competency.  In 1986 they published my long poem "Six Houses," a poetic analysis of my family, including myself.  Given my total experience at the time, it was and remains a decent effort.

Once back in Seattle I continued my degree charade until it no longer worked, given jobs were asking for college records because insuring staff became a tantamount work requirement, legally protecting agencies from staff misdeeds.  When I did begin driving cab, I was in my second year of a five-year long case management gig working with developmentally disabled, mentally ill sexual offenders.  Not easy but I had the skills and it paid well but it turned out to be, more or less, my last psychiatric job.

In mid-1990, I quit that job to drive taxi full-time (4 days a week, 12 hour shifts) at Farwest.  I made bunches of money, saved a lot, quit that and headed for Europe to live and write and concentrate solely upon money-making projects.  I was permanently done with taxi but one major problem occurred.  On the way there, I got sick overnight, something quite mystifying, requiring many years of staying ill before I got a hint to what was going on.  Unfortunately, after only a handful of months, I returned to the USA and Seattle sick, sick, sick.  And soon, with my savings gone, I had to work though I was very ill.

I first returned to cabbing, knowing full well that I probably wouldn't be getting another psychiatric job despite now having a professional resume that included two big-time local neurologists and a therapist specializing in DD-related issues. None knew I didn't have a degree.  And twice I was hired as a Mental Health Professional,  meaning someone going out and making involuntary commitment assessments.  In both instances, I quit after a week when it became apparent there was no getting around the fact that I couldn't provide either agency with the necessary documents.

While there is much more to this story, you now know why I have labored all these years beneath the top-light. The money has been good, and before the Uber Era, I worked two long days on and five completely off.  It worked well enough to be comfortable and get some writing done.  Travel also became a priority.

Yes, that the quick story minus the glory but don't cry, don't cry for me, I was young and dumb and half crazy, and could or should have known better; such is fate, such is life, and my biggest mistake was choosing the wrong woman to be my wife.

A commonplace story indeed. Oh my heart does bleed! while preventing myself the best I can from going to seed.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Greetings Once More From San Lorenzo, NM: A Tribute To Gill & Jim's Taxi Repair Shop & More Food For Thought For Regulating Seattle's Taxi Associations---Where Did That 5 Million Dollars Go?

Yes, back in New Mexico once again, this time with the one and only "she-who-can't-be-named," yes, that very same individual who urged me strongly nearly a decade ago to begin writing this blog; this same someone now refusing to read my words due to her deep-seated hatred of taxi, understanding too well the dire toll it takes upon me.  Ah yes, but what can one do except leave it behind as much as possible while doing everything I can in the next few months to exit taxi permanently?

Though right at this moment, here in tiny San Lorenzo, there is no outside noise whatsoever, cars passing an average of about one every two-three hours in a given 24 hour day.  Dogs bark but I like dogs, their vocalizing music to my ears.  When I was ten years old in 1964, I lived in a very far northern Woodland Cree community in Alberta, Canada, where the 2000 plus sled dogs out numbered the human inhabitants, barking and howling, serenading the frozen night.

Yes, provide me quiet sanity embracing the hours, forgetting about dumbbell politics and who is winning the  next football game, mattering instead---time to think and hike, like we did yesterday, to one of the largest juniper pine trees residing upon our planet, truly a wonderful sight to behold.  What is truly important?  Peace of mind, body and soul, everything else manufactured brunt offerings to the modern gods demanding all our precious time and money. Is it worth it?  My answer, simply, how could it be?
_____________     ______________    _________________  ________________

But getting back to taxi, it is my pleasure to tell everyone about a car repair shop that is less about money and more about making sure your cab is operational and back upon the road, knowing a minute lost is meaningful to the forever fare hungry cabbie.  Gill's shop, located on the corner of South 120th Street/Gendale South and Des Moines Memorial Way South, is a tangle of dead cabs and numerous cars in various stages of repair.   One feels lucky, at least I do, when you find a parking place squeezed between that vehicle menagerie and the bays of the garage, again habitually occupied by a car undergoing day surgery.  Usually, it's Jim I first encounter, Gill being the owner, showing up later, with Joe, a somewhat wild man servitor, bouncing from project to project from opening to closing.  Normally Jim, a mechanic since age 16, makes the first diagnosis, with Gill usually the concurring physician. Combined together, Jim and Gill form a benevolent practice dealing with crazed, frantic, demanding patients wanting their mechanical maladies instantaneously healed, and sometimes they are obliged, and sometimes not.

Last Saturday, mere hours before I was setting off in my personal car, "Taco," a 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, for Arcata, California, I first had to have 1092 ("Gabriel") attended to, as a noise was generating from somewhere in the rear axle.  Jim got right to it, fixing one issue but deciding a visit to the machine shop necessary come Monday or Tuesday.  Asking Gill how much I needed to  pay, he patted me on the back, saying "Pay me when you get back. Have a great trip."  What else can I say but "Thanks, guys, you are terrific! and you are the greatest mechanics on our entire planet earth! Man! do I appreciate such amazing (and unusual) empathy."

The City of Seattle and King County Sitting Upon their Regulatory Hands

Understand, it just isn't Seattle Yellow I fault, because every association I have been associated with---Farwest, Broadway, Greytop---had their obvious flaws and faults and serious blemishes, and if asked, could outline in full detail.  And Northend Cab, the now defunct "far north" company, was infamous for its mismanagement and corruption and in-general dishonest operating practices.

I say this only to point out that Seattle and KC taxi regulators have done nothing whatsoever the past 30 plus years to rein in egregious association behavior, allowing them to operate clearly mechanically dangerous cabs along with violating driver's legal and civil rights. What do the these local regulators do best?  Collect fees for City and County coffers. I challenge anyone to dispute that assessment without telling obvious fibs, history telling us the full, unadulterated story.

And its history going back four, five years is what I am alluding to, when the Port of Seattle discovered that Yellow Cab (BYG Co-op) allegedly under reported $5,000,000 in required fee collections.  I have written about this before but in shortened detail, what the Port of Seattle (Sea-Tac International Airport) believed occurred was Yellow inaccurately reporting long, fee required fares as short, non-fee required fares, thus saving millions of dollars potentially for themselves.

Due to poor Sea-Tac record keeping, the Port decided it wasn't totally possible to determine the real and actual damage, thus allowing Yellow to escape true legal scrutiny by paying an agreed to settlement of approximately $900.000.  I mention this because, for as far as I know, Seattle and King County regulators did little to nothing toward further investigating Yellow's alleged financial malfeasance.

If anyone asks why it should have been necessary, all one needs to know is that the Port of Seattle requires all cabs working the airport to have both City & County medallions, meaning of course Seattle and KC holding the regulatory authority overseeing all association behavior.  One might think that an alleged theft of over five million dollars in service fees would interest them, but since they have seemed disinterested both then and now, it says everything about what they were, and are doing or not, in terms of functional oversight.  Need I say more?  I don't think so.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Seattle & King County's Failure Part 2

While somewhat entertaining, last week's posting omitted some important details as to just why the forced entry into a taxi association is lethal to the independent cab operator, taking away some inherent rights usually connected to independently run businesses, Seattle and King County's decision entering us into a nebulous regulatory state akin to a bureaucratic purgatory, positioning us somewhere between heaven and hell without obvious release.  Before, all us single taxi owners were like all other nonaligned businesses you might see, be it bakery, laundromat, used car dealership, etc, subject of course to local rules and regulations but still, allowed to make their own business decisions as they saw fit, sinking or swimming mostly up to themselves alone and no one else.  While being a regulated industry, there are and were some differences but still, in most cases, the independent single cab owner was free to conduct their business in a manner they were most comfortable with.

But upon City & County intervention, all that changed, transforming the once independent business into a kind of unrequested franchise arrangement, this sudden change altering forever the freedom he/she once had, tying their hands into a kind of Gordian Knot---nothing resolving the dilemma of dictatorial association oversight controlling your every legal movement.  How and why the City & County thinks this is a reasonable and sustainable position is beyond comprehensive understanding, statutorily leaving us completely helpless and defenseless, minus any governmental or regulatory ally.

Again, as stated lest week, this was done to protect the public but does our passenger public truly require this level of governmental shielding from the local taxi industry?  Where is the evidence that it is required?  While Uber nationally deals with approximately 1200 serious complaints a week,  I believe it would take us cabbies in Seattle and King County an entire decade or more to accrue 1200 total reviewable complaints.  A few weeks ago, a former Seattle-area Uber driver was convicted of rape.  In all my years associated with taxi since 1987, I don't remember one rape committed by a local cabbie.  Some very stupid behavior, yes, but aggravated physical sexual assault, no.

My question then, voiced once again, is how did we deserve to be shackled to association serfdom minus option or legal regress?  And when I do contact the City & County, pointing out clear association violations, they plead helplessness, saying they have nothing to do with it.  But as I am pointing out, they (Seattle & King County) have "everything" to do with this, their dismantling of the independent single owner model intentional, enslaving us to the taxi associations minus legal entreaty.  How does this make any sense?

Since this arrangement isn't working, how can he City & County make it better?  A first suggestion is to decide just what kind of business is a taxi association and what kind of legal rights do both single owners and lease drivers have when associating themselves with this kind of entity?   Are we independent contractors or are we employees?

Currently, it appears, PSD (Puget Sound Dispatch) treats us as employees, completely subject to rules created and enforced solely by them.  Multiple times I have requested to see the legal documentation allowing them to do this.  Months and years have passed, and I have yet to see anything from PSD management.  How can they just ignore my request while gladly accepting my weekly $180.00 dispatch fee?  Clearly I am an independent contractor in good standing, so why has my request been denied?

Or perhaps they don't truly know what their legal standing is, or worse, are not interested in knowing.  Easier, much easier, minus no regulatory oversight from the City, County and the State of Washington, to just keep doing what they have been doing for years: trampling upon the legal and civil rights of the cab drivers while collecting an estimated monthly income of $288,000, annually adding up to $3,456,000.  This is a rough estimate based upon 400 single owners paying their weekly $180.00 dispatch fee. Another something that should be known is just how much of this 3 1/2 million dollars is pure profit flowing directly into PSD board member pockets?

Isn't anyone curious?

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

City Of Seattle And King County's Failure To Protect Their Taxi Driver Business Community

When I started driving cab in the taxi prehistoric days of the late 1980's, membership in a taxi association was optional, translating into many single owner companies, or very small corporations  like the ten-car Stanley Cab based in, of all neighborhoods, Madison Park; or Classic Cab, whose three 1982 Checker Marathon cabs personally introduced me to this very strange and puzzling world called Seattle's Taxi-Land.  While Yellow, Greytop and Farwest Taxi did exist, the ratio between association and independently-owned taxi was more-or-less, 50-50, with Sea-Tac International Airport mostly single owner dominated, an extremely colorful array of cabs gracing the arrival level.  That it was a free-wheeling world, I suppose, goes without saying, especially due to all those crazy, very emotional Greeks operating cabs 24 hours a taxi day.  Yes, a bit of the wild, wild west but fun, our camaraderie bonding us together into a reasonably functional organism, protecting and assisting each other as much as we could, given the innate feral quality of "down & dirty" taxi we all knew so well.

Unfortunately, that all changed when, in the early 1990's, the City of Seattle and King County forcing everyone to either join an already established association or form a new one amongst friends, forever ending the world of the jolly independent. Their object in this was solely punitive, stating clearly their goal first and last was to protect the public from all those nasty cabbies, making these incorrigible scoundrels more readily accountable to legal authority.  What necessitated this draconian response was based more upon mythology than factual reality, the ever conservative Seattle and King County regulators misreading the free-spirited cabbies.  But by locking us into penal cab associations, they sentenced every last one of us into a bureaucratic life sentence minus parole, our only option---  escape---breaking through our prison walls to a freedom devoid of association shackles, meaning never once again driving a cab.

I express it this way because it is true, having experienced Yellow for 25 plus years, daily affected by opaque decision making by management and the Puget Sound Dispatch governing board of directors. Similar to the lyrics from Bob Dyan's great song, "The Gates of Eden": "No sound ever comes from the gates of Eden," the PSD "gods" operating Yellow aren't telling us anything about what they are really doing, despite it being our "money, time, and sweat and blood" financing their entire operation.  Recently, PSD de-authorized a WAT van single owner single minus any legal hearing, PSD suddenly their own instantaneous "kangaroo court, issuing sudden judgments like a Zeus thunderbolt emanating from Mount Olympus, striking the cabbie down.

And the fault from this potentially illegal action rests solely with Seattle and King County's taxi regulators, having neutered our legal and civil rights by encasing us in a nebulous legal cocoon suffocating our collective voices, their ultimate overreaction amputating any ability to protect ourselves from an overzealous association.

Yes, this is our daily reality minus all hyperbole. But what to do, what can I or anyone else do about it?  All I can say is I am thinking about it.  Yes, Popeye the sailor man, I am, currently searching for the correct variety of leafy spinach, powering me to any and all finishing lines.