Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Again From Toledo: For The Taxicab Passenger, Taxi Is Life

 Taxi is Life!

As I have previously described, taxi for the cabbie is at best drudgery but for the usual passenger, it can be life, and quite often, sometimes life lived to its fullest, many on the way to a domestic trip or European adventure, while for others, they are simply glad to be getting home after a long, tedious workday, pleased to having avoided a laborious and lengthly bus ride.  My first numerous cab rides occurred on a 1982 honeymoon, five weeks in West Germany, Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal, taking cabs to dinner and elsewhere, we the happy couple oblivious to the thoughts and emotion of the drivers taking us to pleasant destinations, Madrid especially memorable, zipping around, for us, in that Easter Sunday city in Spanish-made Fiats.  

The taxi then, for many tourists and travelers new to a given city, is freedom from the perplexity of unknown streets, the cab their magic carpet ride to restaurants and hotels and cars and nightclubs.  For the many medical patients also using the cab, the taxi is often what keeps them alive, dialysis and cancer patients at times very reliant upon taxi services taking them to and from life-providing  and life-sustaining appointments. 

Yes, taxi can be seen as death to the cabbie, a never ending night minus morning's dawn but for many passengers it is a celebration about everything worth living, embracing each breath as they exit the cab, life and all it entails waiting at the next curbside, the cab their vehicle to the next pleasant minute and hour waiting around the corner, surprise and exultation host and hostess to an expressive and exciting night, cab a quick pathway to what all we hope may be an earthly heavenly garden.  While the cabbie growls, the passenger smiles, and "thank you," they say, "thank you very much, we enjoyed the ride!"

Art is Life!

Instead of first flying off to Paris or Madrid or Rome or Amsterdam to see the art and explore all of their great museums, first consider these terrific museums here in Midwestern America,  a wonderful trio all residing within a compressed, narrow 280 mile triangle of each other.  I know because I have just visited all three and all of them are world first class pillars of art and the creative spirit.   The three, in order of my visitation are:

The Art Institute of Chicago 

The Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art

Detroit Institute of Art

The highlights are many.  In Chicago, the Thorne Miniature Rooms are unique, located nowhere else.  In Toledo, the Glass Museum located across the street from the main building, along with the two Van Goghs, are enough to incentivize a visit, and do check out the incredible Max Beckmann painting, "The Trapeze," an artistic expression of post-WWI Germany.  Detroit has Diego Rivera's "Detroit Industry Murals," along with an incredibly comprehensive collection of art from every corner of the planet.  

Chicago is 245 miles from Toledo and 281 from Detroit.  Toledo is only 58 miles south of Detroit.  Take seven days and explore.  Rent a car like I did in 2012 and drive across Indiana.  There is so much to see, not only in the museums but along the rural roads taking you west to east, east to west.  I love Paris but these museums are a match, and you don't have to fly across the Atlantic Ocean to see them though looking down at Greenland is always fun.  See Greenland before it melts away into climate-change gloom and doom.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Greetings From Toledo,Ohio:Taxi Is Death

Early Tuesday Afternoon in Toledo

Having arrived yesterday, I will be leaving on September 3rd, heading down to West Virginia, then into Kentucky, two states new to me.  Driving here I really enjoyed much of what I came across, including parts of South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.  Northern Iowa can be damn beautiful, lovely terrain along with nice small towns filled with many ornate wooden houses.  Viewing the many old downtowns along my travels has also been fun.  Contrary to rumor, much of America is alive and well and thriving, yes, doing okay, thank you.  And many folks along my route have been downright friendly, even to a counterculture relic like myself.  Above all the noice and rhetoric, the majority recognizes that we are all equal citizens of our wonderful country.  "This land is your land, this land is my land....." sang Woody Guthrie, and its true, his words, his lyrics ringing genuine and true, a liberty bell minus any cracks. 

Now for an essay describing what taxi is really like for me and for the many others driving beneath the toplight.  I call it death because, for me, there is no other way to accurately describe what is essentially an inhuman experience.  While many jobs and occupations dominate one's life, taxi is a specter haunting body and mind, no fun for those tied to a nightmare never ending.  

After leaving the parking garage after my visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, I saw a taxi with a sticker advising "Call 311" to report the awful cabbie.  Catching up to the driver at an intersection, I was able to ask him about it.  He said, "It's the money.  They want my money!"  And I said, that's right, I can now call and say you have done anything, running me over, etc and they will make you responsible. "Yes," he laughed, "Yes!"   

And there you have it, the ongoing insult that is driving a cab.  Think you are gonna see that sticker on the back of Lyft and Uber cars?  No way, Mister Jose!

Taxi is Death

Driving taxi is a python, a boa constrictor squeezing the life out of you as ply the streets of any given city.  Why is that true?  Its due to two foundational elements that is taxi: a stressful work environment and a high overhead---a never ceasing request for your hard earned money, because taxi is all about money, both the money you make and the money everyone wants to take from you.  Whether you own or are leasing, you are liable for expenses from the beginning.  If you lease, you have your "gate" or "nut" plus all that gasoline to pay for.   And it's even worse for the owner, with insurance and dispatch fees hanging over you, along with local government medallion fees and costs, which in NYC can mean, even with the now celebrated "medallion loan" reductions, another $1200. monthly payment on top of gasoline and potential car loan payments.  More than just squeezed, it is a heavy weight crushing, pressing you into the ground.  These kinds of financial pressures can be overwhelming, destructive, sometimes leading to utter despair and suicide.  

Then there's the "human punching bag" working environment that daily pummels the cabbie, the taxi driver never forgetting that he/she is "public property" permitting anyone who wants --passenger, cop, fellow motorist---to abuse and attack and assault you in whatever fashion they wish.  Add the stress of working in a congested city dealing with traffic, pollution, unrelenting noice, excessive heat in the summer, icy roads in the winter, all of it tied with having to make the MONEY! lots of MONEY! to keep the taxi wheel turning, you have the living nightmare that is taxi, death on four rotating wheels, keeping you from actually living the peaceful life you deserve.  Taxi ain't heaven, it's hell!

What should be clear is that driving taxi is not truly living.  If it is, it is life encased in a moving metal box, a yellow coffin with a meter and toplight.  Since leaving Seattle August 13th, I saw the rising full moon transition from a glowing orange to yellow to a pure beaming white coloring the night desert sky.  In Montana while driving along a forest road, I was forced to stop for a herd of big horn sheep, fifty or more ewes and lambs crossing from one grassy pasture to the next.  The next day, also in Montana,  I woke up and walked a mile to Upper Potosi Hot Springs, having the pool entirely to myself.  What a beautiful, sunny morning it was, treading my way through golden fields.  In Iowa, after surviving a night filled with hail and driving rain, the eastern horizon a flashing light show much of the night, in the early dawn I stood next to a meandering river, unknown birds singing.  Further miles down the road, I found a trout stream bordered by flowering bushes---both orange and yellow slippers delighting the eye, thrilling the brain, the air clean and fresh.  And yesterday, in a kind of punctuation, while waiting at a light on Route Six in Edgerton, Ohio, a ruddy-headed perhaps eight-year old boy crossed in front of me, catching my eye and flexed his right bicep, an unexpected human communication.  All of this and more I would have missed if I had instead been in the damn taxi.  

Yes, driving the taxi is death.  Stepping out is life, and thank goodness for that, stormy weather, big horn sheep and flowering bushes embracing my life.  Thank you, thank you very much, drenching me with life!


August 21st Lost in Rockford, Illinois 

In the night,
my camp rained out,
my hair and clothes wet,
I drive east seeking shelter 
upon roads new to me, numerous
construction detours transforming 
vague notions into "I have no idea"
except continuing east toward Chicago
and a hopeful theoretical respite through
this infernal Midwestern downpour
reminding me, if I had ever
forgotten, I remain very
much alive. 

This was after yet a second night of torrential rain.  I found a motel and was glad of it.  Expensive but I was dry and able to dry out my tent.  

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Greetings From Quincy, Washington: "Do Local Governments Understand The Taxi Industry?"

From the Eastern Washington High Desert

Day 2 of my sojourn from taxi to where I exactly end up I don't know but last night I camped in the Quincy Game Range, and at this very moment I am in the wonderful library that is the town of Quincy's public library.  Being open on Sundays, 1:00-5:00 PM is a boon for travelers like me wandering these sage brush hills.  And I now can finish what I began a few days ago in Seattle, an essay on why it is important to have officials who intimately understand what they are overseeing.  I use the example of David Trimble and his Roman Catholic counterpart and Noble Prize partner,  John Hume, to helpfully illustrate that essential point.  Having visited Belfast in 1991 and witnessed the many British troop carriers patrolling the streets, seeing personally how misguided bureaucratic meddling impedes rational outcomes.  Has the Seattle and American taxi industry ever had regulators taken directly from those plying the taxi streets?  Not that I know of, which is why our industry remains the mess it is.  Would you take anybody off the street, hand them a scalpel, and say "here, this patient needs a brain tumor removed, start cutting?"  No, of course not.    


"I believe that a sense of the unique, specific and concrete circumstances of any situation is the first indispensable step to solving the problems posed by that situation." 

David Trimble, from Northern Ireland, speaking in 1998 when accepting his shared Nobel Peace Prize

Intractable, Unresolvable Taxi?---The Misunderstanding of an Industry

I quote Mr. Trimble, he a veteran of "The Troubles" that afflicted Northern Ireland until the Good Friday agreement was signed in 1998, bonding Protestants and Catholics for the first time into a cooperative, power sharing government.  The above statement relates to the many experts saying that the Good Friday agreement could serve as a template for resolving similar sectarian conflicts but Trimble disagreed, inferring that each situation is in a sense endemic to its particular environment and circumstance, underlining how important it is to know the entire anatomy of the subject at hand.  If you don't know it, how then can resolution be reached?  A similar example is when police are called to intervene in an domestic argument, the officers suddenly finding themselves immersed into personal histories totally unknown to them, making each step forward fraught with danger.   Even when proceeding cautiously, the atmosphere is potentially explosive.   Knowledge then of every parameter is imperative if resolution is to be achieved.

This preamble brings me as to why the USA taxi industry is severely wounded and what should be done to stem the bleeding and subsequent infections.  Yes, in 2014, when municipal governments embraced Uber and Lyft, they began what has been the taxi industry's precipitous fall to where it is now.  But even before Uber's arrival, the industry was in serious trouble due to regulators essential cluelessness in how to effectively manage what was then America's most important 24 hour, seven days a week ground transportation system, taxi filling the gaps when the buses, subways and trains were not running.  This explains why New York City government promoted million dollar medallions, encouraging the innocent to make insane investments thus jeopardizing their future and personal finances, NYC not caring in the least any longterm consequences.  If real cabbies, like myself, had been involved, we would have put a stop to this kind of nonsense.  

When visiting NYC in 2010, a medallion broker offered me a medallion for $750,000. but said, if you want two, we'll sell them to you at $675.00 each.  Such a bargain it wasn't.  Any veteran cabbie knows that a medallion is only worth as much as you can make in a given year.  Most taxi drivers I know are making between $50,000 to $75,000 dollars per year.  Good money but in expensive cities like Seattle, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, that is little better than minimum wage.  Experienced taxicab industry professionals know all about this, which is why they are the ones who should be sitting in the City, County and State offices making the rules and decisions for their respective taxi industries, and not bureaucrats who have never driven a cab, no matter how well meaning they might be.  

One good, bad example I participated in was the Seattle/King County Taxi Advisory Commission, a great idea until you saw how it was put into practice, providing equal status to non-taxi driver member participants.  It was pure chaos, and even when appointed Chair, productivity was stymied by an inherent dysfunction sabotaging our every minute.  Nothing could have changed the situation other than removing the ordinary citizens off the commission but the City of Seattle and King County had their theories on how to manage the taxi industry, translating into the opening Uber stepped into.  The commission's taxi professionals were neutered, preventing anything good to occur or come to fruition, blocked from using what we knew for the betterment for both drivers and passengers.

So to answer the essay's title, do governments understand the taxi industry they are regulating?  No, barely at all.  And if they were interested in truly understanding it, they would recruit and hire people like me to run the show.  But that would be too scary, allowing a bunch of taxi renegades to infiltrate the Ivory Towers of non-functional government.  Why they might have to hire armed guards to watch over us, no telling what kind of efficiency we might effect.  All hell might break loose and customers would start getting their cabs arriving on time.  But that would make Uber very unhappy, and Uber must be happy, and never, ever sad.  No, you can't make Uber mad!

A desert haiku, August 13th

a rising full moon

coloring the night sky orange to

yellow to white.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Was Saturday July 30th, 2022 My Final Day In The Cab? I Certainly Hope! So & Uber Update: Profits, Losses And 4 1/2 Minute Response Times

Is It Really Goodbye?

Well I certainly hope so, with circumstances allowing me to take a few months away from taxi, and if other projects work out, like finally finishing my newest book and getting a good publishing deal, I will be permanently away from a world I first entered in September 1987.  I have too many good reasons to leave to ever want to come back to the thankless task that is driving cab.  Thankless?   That seems a harsh assessment because passengers do appreciate a good ride, often showing their appreciation by tipping me more than I warrant and deserve, along with verbally expressing an esteem for obvious taxi professionalism.  

While yes, that's great but my body has been telling me for a long time now that it is tired, that it needs a prolonged rest, and I damn well will be providing that, just exiting out of the cab for how many weeks a balm for body, mind and soul.  But if a miracle happens in October, and the resurgent Mariners baseball team makes it to the World Series, then I will be sorely tempted to come back and work what would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Having early on worked a NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four Tournament here in Seattle, I would enjoy the exhilaration of being in the middle of a city-wide celebration.  It would be fun, something taxi has long ceased to be for me, fun.  Drudgery, yes but pleasurable, no.  Screw taxi?   Yes and no.

In the upcoming weeks and months, expect a different approach to this blog, shifting away from daily concerns to book reviews and even a serial novella, "The Five Thousand Dollar Cab Drive (Plus Expenses)."  For you Charles Dickens fans, you might remember that the majority of his books were published in weekly serials in the newspapers.  No tale of two cities here, but two states, Washington and Montana, and maybe three if you count Idaho's panhandle. 

The books I will be reviewing, in no particular order:

"Super Pumped---The Battle For Uber" by Mike Isaac

"Today In The Taxi"  by Sean Singer, poetry by a once cabbie

'Transportation Network Companies And Taxis---The Case Of Seattle"  by Craig A. Leisy.  My blog is quoted therein.  

I will also be writing short essays on all subjects taxi.  One possible title could be "How American Taxi's Inherent Criminality Welcomed Uber and Lyft."  Yes, stuff like that. 

Uber No Friend of Mine

Uber reported its first quarterly free cash flow of 382 million dollars since it started trading stocks in 2019, but it also had a quarterly loss of 2.6 billion dollars.  But what really got my attention was their 4 1/2 minute average response time from getting the call to picking up the passenger.  That is really good.  At one point not that long ago, the average passenger calling Seattle Yellow could expect a response pickup time of 5-15 minutes depending on which part of the city you called from.  Of course those days are long gone!  Whose fault is that?   The City of Seattle and King County for providing Uber an open passage to our customer base, thus destroying in mere months what took decades to build.  Oh well go to hell was their message.  And hell is where we reside with no place to hide!

New Haiku

thimbleberries a 

pleasant surprise reddening

my eager fingers 


Most recently I have been walking daily in the Llandover Woods, 14499 3rd, Avenue Northwest, Seattle, and have been coming upon these wonderful berries, rubus paraviforus, in larger numbers than I have usually experienced.  They are very soft, breaking easily once picked, the juice reddening your finger tips. Yum!