Monday, March 30, 2020

The 78 Cents "Big Tipper" & Other Taxi Vignettes

While America and the world confronts the coronavirus, and with the current standing death toll 30,000 and counting, taxi amazingly remains the same, unaltered save for a steep decline in business, cab passengers remaining easily recognizable--the sane, the insane and the vast majority of everyone else fitting individual categories of the good, the bad and the indifferent.  I say this because many appear disconnected from the pervasive reality created by this pandemic, their corporeal or sentient parameters a small self-contained envelope protecting from the most urgent considerations, creating a false immunity from consequentiality.  Frustrating to have in the cab, it does once again accurately describes the taxi experience when a complete stranger enters and says, "Hello, this is who I am." As I keep saying, I meet everybody, and I mean everyone beneath our human beaming sun.

78 cents

What was her name, was it Mark as dispatch said, or Josephine, though never knowing for sure but Psychotic would be apt and appropriate.  Picking her up at Cascade Hall, a CPC psychiatric halfway house, she repeated, as she did over the telephone, that she was a big tipper.  Deranged from the beginning, she asked if I was going to rape her, this and other inappropriate behavior and comments prompting me to warn her that "I didn't want to involve the staff."  This stopped her for a a minute but being out of control it continued, along with saying I was getting a "big tip."  Finally after arriving back, she was two dollars short of the actual fare, then dipped into her pocket and and carefully counted out my "big tip": seventy-eight cents.

Big Time Social Security

Another RT, this time a huge mother and daughter team living at a Northgate hotel.  They were there due to a apartment building renovation,  the landlord putting them up in this nice  hotel for the past three months.  They needed to cash their SS checks and get takeout somewhere.  I enjoyed their banter back and forth, obviously comfortable with the easy insult.   Due to a bank quarantine, we used the drive-through teller, with a resulting confusion and mixup until told to park in front of the bank, where upon an exhausted employee came out and gave the good ladies their money.  From there we proceeded to a Jack-in-the-Box, further confusing the order taker, and finally, getting everything straight, made it back to the hotel.  The fare was $37.00 and I-couldn't-believe-it, along came a $23.00 tip.  "We'll gonna each pay 30-30," said Mom.  Why they did I don't know what but thank goodness for confusion.

Last Night the Big Liar

I hate it when I know better but, dumbbell me, not checking if he really had a credit card for what would be a $70.00 fare.  But halfway to Kirkland, and more stories than I could stomach, the "HopeLink has a credit card" line got me screaming "You are a liar!" and pulling off east-bound 520 onto Bellevue Way, I would have tossed him out at the grocery store just up the road but he kept lying and, having enough, I made it clear the ride was over.  It cost time and the bridge toll twice over.  I was ready to kill but of course the fool living to see another day.

This afternoon it was "I am 116."

Maybe he is or maybe he isn't, saying he was born in 1903 and joined the US Marine in 1933 and fought in WW II, the Korean War and in South Vietnam.  He was convincing enough and looked in his late 70s, early 80s.  If he was 116 he was truly a remarkable human specimen.  It was also important to tell me he the end of a Royal Italian bloodline, having outlived everybody.  But hell, he could say anything he wanted because I got $87.00 dollars to get him home.   And besides, I came upon a gas station with $2.39.9 regular. That also made me happy.  But it ain't like West Texas, where the couple I took to the airport this morning said they filled up their rental car for $1.42 per gallon.  Wow! is all I can say!

And there you have it, thirty thousand plus dead along with tens of thousands more 'round the world fighting for their literal breath but LIFE IN AMERICA rolls on, oblivious, in part, to the end.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Short And Bitter: Business-wise, The Coronavirus Outbreak Is A Hard Hitter

My taxi buddy Rick, who once owned Red Top Taxi, said it best by saying "In 40 years, I have never seen it like this!"  And in my almost 33 off & on years, neither have I.  Even our standby accounts, Hopelink and MV First Transit, are way down.  It is great that Hopelink has generously added an additional $10.00 per trip but it also seems that Hopelink related no-shows are more frequent, adding pain to misery.  Yellow (PSD) cut the single-owner dispatch fee in half, making it $90.00 from the usual $180.00. I am told that Orange Taxi cut their monthly dispatch rate by 300.00.

A good/bad example of what it's like is today's waiting for an account time-call in Zone 155, home to Children's Hospital, historically the source of many good fares, including many to Eastern Washington.  There I am patiently waiting for the time-call, number one to go when the cab in front of me called a no-show, meaning his time-call blew up in this face, and wouldn't you damn well know it, getting mine.  I haven't had a fare since, which is why I am quickly writing all this instead of trying to squeeze money out of nothing whatsoever.

I have been told that us taxis are considered an essential service and will not be shut down if and when the governor called for a mandatory limiting of movement in and around the state.  France is now requiring written permission to move about.  The first day, 4000 violators in Paris paid a 35 euro fine.  The second day the fine went up to 135 euros per violation.  As I said last week, all we can hope is that this passes quickly but that might be very wishful thinking.

As everyone appears to be now saying, stay safe and stay healthy.  And if you have a God that you believe in, you might want to invoke the "higher spirits" as folks did in 14th Century Europe when confronting the "Black Death" or bubonic plague,  giving us the tradition of saying "God Bless You" when someone squeezes.  Back then, viruses and bacteria were unknown, bad things like disease thought to be caused by "evil spirits, demons and such" having taken hold of body and soul.  The Roman Catholic Church, amongst others, still officially believes in "devil possession" and their ability to be cast out.  I personally think that many of our politicians are "possessed " and should be cast out of office.  Now that would be a true blessing.  Why the mere thought nearly make me feel religious, or something like that!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus And Human Behavior

As the coronavirus narrative dominates the nation, along with diminishing taxi business, I thought, as a certified "cabbie psychiatrist," I might add my considerable "professional" experience to the conversation.  As having noted over the years, I am completely daily immersed in the human dialogue comprising what we know as American Civilization in this early part of the 21st Century, the Pleistocene Era Happisburgh footprints bringing us up to this moment, though our American Neanderthal relatives of 35,000 years ago might disagree, cudgel in hairy hands, ready to bash away any remaining rationality from our prehistoric brain.

Yes, there is no denying that with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are facing an ancient yet modern puzzle knowing what to do when humanity is faced with a relentless and unpredictable disease.  My San Francisco buddy Jake wrote me that, in a worse-case scenario, the CDC estimates that between 160-214 million Americans could become infected, with 200,000 to 1.7 million dying.  With a current USA population of 331,002,651, CDC figures display the possibility of many dire days ahead.  Jake also sent me a translation of an Italian doctor describing what he has been seeing since the coronavirus hit Italy like an exploding bomb, the good doctor issuing a compassionate message warning against complacency, making it clear the situation, as he reads it, is beyond serious.

My concern here in Seattle is panic and overreaction, something I abhor and detest but I realize that my reaction in itself might not be wholly helpful toward combating this viral pathogen residing amongst us.  Commonsense plus caution is probably the best way forward but what that truly means, even I write it, I can't exactly say because this illness appears to compose new, unfamiliar rules baffling even the most experienced virologist, this virus, as the saying goes, "is a brand new ball game," thus making it a particularly dangerous disease.

And yes, people across the nation are panicking, buying out local grocery stores of everything imaginable while deciding to stay close to home, which is probably a good plan in the short term.  For us cabbies, clearly the next month at least will mean an extreme drop in business.  Hopefully most of us will be able to both remain healthy and survive the coming economic storm, advising everyone to remain calm even when the alternative is tempting.

Take lots of vitamin C and zinc and eat well, doing all you can enhancing your immunity.  Sleep and dream well, taking the time to let this living nightmare pass, because it will, all of us doing the best we can not to become an unintended causality to this new disease engulfing our precious time and space and breath.  Cooperate and live, is what I believe all of must do though it might it is advised not to shake hands, virus transmission at this moment our most grievous concern.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Taxi Potpourri: As Spring Nears, Its Unfortunately Filled With Coronavirus Fears

Whether the panic concerning the CONVID-19 virus outbreak is justified, it is certainly now part of local conversation and behavior, especially since a Kirkland, Washington nursing home became an unfortunate epicenter of the novel corona virus, killing a large number of elderly residents, with the Washington State death toll due to the outbreak standing now at 22.  How this all ends globally is anyone's guess but it appears that Seattle-area residents will be well supplied with toilet paper as panic buying continues, my last customer yesterday telling me that at her grocery store, (she's a white collar employee at the local Metropolitan Markets), its been like a "Thanksgiving Day" holiday rush, people flooding the stores stocking up upon everything they can think of.  She also said that no one is buying that most popular brand of Mexican beer, Corona.  That makes about much sense as avoiding eating in Chinese restaurants, something Seattle locals are also doing. Also Costco, that wholesale marketer, recorded record February sales, with crazed shoppers buying buckets of hand sanitizers.  Someone on the worldwide web suggested drinking bleach.  Great idea, don't you think, especially if you are not thinking. 

I attribute all this behavior in part to Seattle's inherent cautious nature, the virus outbreak touching a panicked cord. I have N-95 masks bought for my Mexico trip but I have yet to use one. But it is true that a number of cabbies in Asian countries have contracted the virus in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore.  The mother-in-law of a Japanese cabbie died from the virus, so obviously it is a serious matter.  Cab business in Seattle is down, making it even harder than it was previously to make the usual expected money.  There is talk that the upcoming Alaska cruise ship will be greatly impacted, or worse, cancelled completely.  All one can hope is that the virus subsides and life returns to some kind of normal.  An idle hope perhaps but one I hope comes true. For more info, the Federal government has a website you can link to,

Taxi Potpourri: Last Wednesday's Meeting with City & County Licensing Officials 

A pleasant and cordial meeting it was, talking about tablet placement, taxi association protocol and the City of Bellevue's taxicab ticketing policy.  I was even asked what I would like to see change, with another opportunity to talk further this week.  I did say it would be helpful to have dual (City & County) plates on all the cabs, along with having WA ST Exempt license plates.  Our talk lasted one hour and twenty minutes.  It was productive.  What I found very interesting, two days later, was the City of Seattle's cancelling of the ongoing meter testing until May.  That our conversation prompted that delay I don't know, but it is welcome, allowing any confusion with new policies to be crystal clear upon May's arrival.

He remembered me

Last week I took some folks home to Renton.  Pleasing me, how many years ago I don't know, was the male passenger thanking me once again for picking him up one evening after being passed by a multitude of cabbies.  "I was waving a 20 dollar bill but no one would stop!"  But I did and he never forgot.  When I told "she-who-can't-be-named" she responded "You are a good fellow."  While that occasionally might be true, all I was doing, and still do, was providing rides to those who need them, and nothing else.  Isn't that the cabbie's task?  Yes, yes and yes!

The New Yorker December 30th, 2019 "Cartoon Takeover" issue

Honestly, I find most of the cartoons in the New Yorker tedious, and a magazine devoted to them isn't something I am attracted to but there is a "cabbie cartoon" I felt worth mentioning, only because it reflects the "general attitude" towards cabbies and taxi driving.  This issue features favorite cartoons chosen by the "well known," and the taxi cartoon was selected by Larry David, a co-creator, with Jerry Seinfeld, of the "Seinfeld" TV series, something I watched one time only, not finding it very compelling or funny. But given I pine for the original Twilight Zone episodes, it is no surprise I am not interested in comedic-generated reality.

The taxi cartoon was originally published in the May 22, 1971 issue.  It features a typical white cabbie of the era driving what might be a Checker Marathon.  The cartoon caption is shown as a sign the cabbie placed in the back seat reading, in capital letters:


I don't find it funny, and especially dislike the reference to "minority groups," implying the cabbie's innate bigotry.

Bellevue Court Hearing April 10th

I received my court date for my City of Bellevue parking ticket.  By the way, King County folks plan on talking to Bellevue officials about their ticketing of cabs and other for-hire vehicles. Nobody believes that this can be a real law.  I know how they feel.  Being the nice guy I am, I plan on giving the Bellevue mayor, the Bellevue Police Chief and the Bellevue official who said they don't have any cab stands, the opportunity to explain to the court the details and justification for their unusual ticketing policies, once I figure out how the subpoena process works.  I can only hope I can convince some local reporters to attend this judicial circus.  It should be entertaining if not fun.

Sea-Tac Cabbies Seeking Relief

Those good folks at Teamsters 117 sent a letter to the Port of Seattle requesting that they temporality  suspend their $6.00 per fare gate fee.  One Sea-Tac cabbie told me he is now averaging 3-4 rides a shift since the virus panic has taken hold.  When you start subtracting $6.00 from each fare, it doesn't add up to much.  This also shows that the Port of Seattle is stealing from all those cabbies, caring little to nothing whether they make a living or not, it far more important to keep upgrading the airport for all those billion-dollar airline companies.

Lassoed on 1st Avenue

On my way to a package pickup today, I suddenly found my cab tied up by an errant rope dangling from a very tall building under construction near the corner of 1st and Bell.  To say that was unique is an understatement.  I handed the end of rope back to a construction worker who had been chasing my cab.  It's a taxi rodeo, is what it is!

Seattle Bus Only Lane Cameras on their way

Has anybody noticed that Seattle's exclusive bus only lanes are only occupied 10-20 % of the time, leaving them unoccupied most of the 24 hour day?  While true, that isn't stopping "liberal city" Seattle from installing cameras to catch all us criminals from using an empty lane when the streets are congested up the yin-yang!  Often I tell my passengers that "Seattle is a stupid city!" and you know, it's god damn true!

I keep telling Puget Sound Dispatch that Manila.........

Yes, I do, I keep leaving messages for the PSD GM saying continued use of the Philippines is nonsensical, that their overall performance is outrageous.  Is anyone listening?  Does anyone care? Understand, this isn't personal.  They could be based in Iceland for all I care.  All I or any other cabbie desires is professional dispatching. The calls could be dispatched from the moon, it not mattering whatsoever as long as the Moonies knew what they are doing.  But aren't the Moonies based in South Korea?  Sorry for the confusion!

Dirty Shirt Collars

After doing a post-Mexico clothes wash, I noticed that shirts worn after a few hours in the cab were far dirtier than shirts worn for 2-3 days in Mexico, Seattle shirt cuffs and collars soiled and black with grime.  And I am breathing this stuff in!  Awful!