Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Greetings Again From Hippie Arcata: Criminality And The Taxi Industry: Fact Versus Mythology & Seattle Yellow Cab's Fabled Thanksgiving Dinners

 From the Redwoods

I always enjoy being in Arcata, a faint reminder of what might have been if America and the world had truly embraced the 1960s Hippie Cultural Revolution but alas, tie-dyed T-shirts and organic food and long hair only small incremental steps toward where the world needs to proceed, Arcata a few inches forward to the kind of sane outlook that might save our disinterested human species from destroying the very foundation that is our spinning planet.  At least here in Arcata there is some pretense that we can change. Elsewhere, in cities like Fresno, that fantasy is just that, a kind of fanciful delusion spoken in whispers in the dead silence of middle-class nights---instead cowboys in big pickup trucks race into the sky, circling the moon and stars and the Milky Way. 

But one positive minus argument here in Arcata is the Cafe Mokka/Finnish Country Saunas located at 495 J Street, 707-822-2228, the hottest sauna you'll find this side of Tallinn, Estonia. $12.50 for half hour sessions, $24.00 for the full hour.  Hours are 11 AM -11 PM.  If passing through on Highway 101, call at 11:00 AM beforehand to make a reservation.  They also have hot tubs.  Soak, bake, and enjoy.

Criminality and the Taxi Industry: Fact versus Mythology 

Any cabbie everywhere has heard this accusation more times than they can remember: "You are taking me the wrong way!" or "The long way!" or some variation upon a crooked theme, the passenger knowing beyond a doubt that you, you the disreputable taxi driver---"nature's criminal"---is doing what we all do: ripping off the customer as a matter of general practice. and routine.  Yeah they know, and how do they know?  Because everyone knows the cab driver is Mister or Ms "Botton-of-the-Barrel," desperate and barely employable, driving a cab because they "can't do anything else," otherwise why would they do what others would never in a million years consider doing?  

While the preceding description might be slightly exaggerated, it accurately describes a prevalent attitude toward cab drivers and the taxi industry overall: you are not to be trusted.  Try as you might to find one but there is no other industry or occupation that lists customer complaint telephone numbers as the door is opened.  Imagine entering a Macy's or Starbucks or an United Airlines 737 and festooned everywhere are complaint telephone numbers encouraging you to report all the bad things they are doing, or will do to you their hapless customer.   

For the cabbie, it is their reality, tried and convicted before moving an inch down the road.  But is any of this actually true or only a kind of demeaning mythology unfairly denigrating an entire industry minus real evidence, a kind of mindless discrimination embraced by unsophisticated dopes, fools and ciphers?  How, one could ask, did we arrive at this unpleasant juncture?  

It might have started long ago in 19th Century London with horse-drawn hansom cabs.  Who knows what are all those bad horses did?  More likely the mythology began with the 1922 advent of Checker Motor Corporation onto Chicago and New York City streets, the beginning of Checker's domination of the taxi car industry, fully extending into the late 1970s and early 1980s.  

Anytime an industry flourishes, the potential for abuse expands, perhaps explaining the genesis of a suspicion coloring every driver and every taxi ride today.  When there has been real criminality, it has been usually connected to large cab associations or individuals owning multiple cab medallions.  But while some drivers will succumb to temptation and deviate from honest procedures, most just keep their nose to the taxi grindstone and work, work, work until they drop, go to sleep and begin all over again the next morning or day.

One of the fundamental reason for this is that grim taskmaster called time, going the wrong way taking valuable time away from the next fare, and the cabbie is always focused upon the next fare, already knowing what he will getting from the passenger sitting behind him.  The key to making money driving cab is volume, putting as many fares into a given hour as possible.  Scrounging for an extra dollar or two makes no economic sense whatsoever.  Does alienating the passenger generate a good tip?  No, not at all which is another incentive for playing it straight, dishonesty a deep, dark hole no cabbie wants to fall into. 

As someone who once returned over $10,000 left in my cab by an elderly couple, I can attest that the vast majority of cabbies would have done the same.  We are not thieves.  Yes, often ill-tempered and many other fill-in-the-blanks but robbers we are not.  If you don't agree, like many of my brethren, I will pull to the curb and invite you out of the door.  But believe me, it isn't personal, merely not interested in being treated poorly.  And thinking I am out to steal your money is insulting.  Please, I repeat, get your butt out of the cab, pronto!

The Biggest Tragedy

Big bully Uber "busted" up much of American taxi, and the damage done in Seattle led to the cancellation of an annual tradition: Yellow's sponsor of a superb Thanksgiving Dinner for all of its drivers and their families.  The food was usually fantastic, cooked by various ethnic restaurants from year to year, the traditional turkey teaming with various delicacies changing the mundane into a dining adventure.  And of course the meeting of friends only usually seen flying by was wonderful, the dinners a time to sit and relax and be with whom, though few would say it, we loved and cared and would kill to defend. And that is what Uber destroyed, not caring one iota concerning an intimacy lost, never to be regained. 

Poem: Into The Ansel Adams Wilderness

Walking to Doris Lake in the high Sierra,

a perfect blue sky morning warm upon a trail

hugged by granite formations taking us up 

and to cold amber colored water, 

and jumping in, hundreds of tiny fish 

questioning our unclothed flesh. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Greetings From South Lake Tahoe, California: Bellingham, Washington Taxi & More Concerning Uber

Too Wet

Greeting from the California/Nevada border, writing from a local Motel 6, rain chasing us from campgrounds to more standard shelter.  A wide-reaching storm in this part of California and Nevada, while making life somewhat difficult for us, is bathing the parched landscape along with putting out the Mosquito Flat fire northeast of Placerville.  The rain is welcome though somewhat dampening our overall experience.  Again, more on my travels in a later post.

Deb and Ron---Salt-of-the Earth Bellingham Taxi

A few days before setting off on this car trip, 7000 miles and counting, I finally got to my oft delayed visit to Bellingham Yellow where I met Ron and Deb, two real taxi denizens if I have ever encountered one, and in their situation, two.  Ron is originally from San Francisco and drove in that Golden Gate city for many years, Ron a counter-culture relic transferring from the Bay area to that Canada gateway city, Bellingham.  

At first, Ron and his wife Deb didn't initially start their company but a few years after their arrival, they decided that owning their own cab company was a good idea.  Even Deb's mother, who had been driving cab on Cape Cod, migrated from the East Coast to assist, driving for few years for her daughter.  As you can see, at least for us in the "taxi know," I am portraying "real" taxi people who know the business inside and out and back inside again.  It was refreshing to spend a few hours with them, with folks who speak the language and lexicon. 

Upon my visit, they were in the last hours of finalizing the sale of their company to former and current employees, ready to say goodbye to something that has dominated their lives for all these many years.  During our visit, they took many calls from their dispatcher, making it clear what I know too well, you don't just drive taxi, you "marry" taxi and that it how it is regardless all argument.  

The reality of taxi is many, and when they decided to transition from a lease-only driver base to an employee-based company, "Big Government" began making demands by saying your Washington State Labor& Industry (L&I) insurance payments would now be $1.25 per hour, prompting them, amongst many reasons, to say "they kinda have had enough" and begin planning their exit.  All I can say is that I hope they enjoy their retirement and forget about taxi altogether, otherwise it will remain a sinkhole drawing them in to its terrible bottom.  And who wants that!?


Ron is originally from Lynden, Washington, a town near Bellingham, which explains why, after leaving San Francisco, he moved back to that part of the state of Washington.  The sale is still pending.  And the transition from lease-driver to employee-driver was to better provide for the drivers, government demands notwithstanding. 

Asshole Uber

In Mike Issac's book, it was clear that Uber in its formative years had no interest in embracing normally accepted business practices, doing whatever it wanted both here in the United States and around the world, not caring who it hurt and what damage it caused.  Why that was true is less due to Uber's founders than a prevailing attitude from all involved, that being "we are the anointed" and because we know more than you do, we have the privilege to do what we want to anyone we want at any time we choose.  Where does this come from, what is its foundational basis?  

Obviously to me it is the too old story of class privilege and how people from the economic so-called Upper-Middle Classes, believing themselves to be superior are then just that, superior.  As I have just written, when you have this attitude everything you might want to do is justifiable, destroying people's lives the least of your concerns.  

And that in short, is the real Uber story.  Bribery, bullying, lying, it was and is all okay, as long as the business organism known as Uber strives, nothing else was and is important.  Yes, it is a standard American corporate attitude but Uber took it many steps forward past known bounds, "screw you" and "go to hell" their operational credo and motto.  

The sad part is that Uber found so many business and government partners willing to grease the wheels, letting Uber bludgeon anyone who might get in their way.  But when the "superior" gather together, hold hands and dance down the financial highway, you will be run over and that's how it is.  Scream and yell, no one cares, you are dead, roadkill festering upon the roadside, carrion vultures picking at your bones. Whoever has the money are the bees that make the honey.  Welcome to America, the ghost of Christopher Columbus forever proud, the blood of the Kalinago staining his hands.


Saturday, September 10, 2022

Greetings From Williams, Arizona---Book Review: "Super Pumped---The Battle For Uber" By Mike Isaac

Since leaving Seattle on August 13th, I have driven nearly six thousand miles plying the many interesting roads taking me first to Ohio, and now finding myself heading back west on I-40 (old Route 66), where on September 13th I will be stopping at the Fresno, California airport to pick up that famous personage, "she-who-can't be-named," where we are then off to someplace called Mono Hot Springs and peace and quiet in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  And in between all these miles I have been able to get some necessary reading in, finally reading what is the 2019 more-or-less biography of the ex- Uber CEO and Founder, Travis Kalanick, Issac's book a slightly myopic examination of a subject broader than the irascible Kalanick.  

Sometime during the next month or so I'll provide a condensed version of my travels across two/thirds of America, as some of my readers appear to be as interested in my wanderings as they are about all things taxi.  The Ohio river is one big drink of flowing water!  And southern Missouri just above the Arkansas border is a wonderful blend of green rolling hills and verdant deciduous forest, the Mark Twain National Forest encompassing much of that area, Route 9 taking me through and past all that delightful country and into northern Arkansas.  

A Review: "Super Pumped---The Battle for Uber" by Mike Isaac,  W.W Norton & Company, 2019  

For those who are interested in learning the genesis and rise of Uber, this book is for you, a smoothly written account by a New York Times reporter whose primary focus was Uber and what it was doing.  If only I had known much of this narrative before Uber came calling at Seattle's door in 2013/2014, my response would have been much stronger and better informed.  The title of the book comes from 14 bullet points Kalanick presented at a 2015 Las Vegas Uber convention, "Super Pumped" being number twelve in that long list of what he saw as "Uber values" conquering the known world. "Pumped" is a term adopted by the tech world in Silicon Valley, something emphasizing one's energy for your project.  That Uber's "energy" spiraled out of control is also part of Isaac's story.

The car hailing concept originated not with Kalanick but with Garret Camp, a newly minted 75 million dollar tech millionaire who was irritated that he had trouble getting a cab late at night in San Francisco.  Being who he was, and having absolutely no understanding of the taxi industry, he thought that an app-based ride hailing service would be the answer.  Relaying this to his fellow tech millionaire (22 million dollars) Travis Kalanick, the rest is history of how and why they decided to take on the evil, uncaring taxicabs, bent upon a destructive and arrogant campaign to overwhelm and conquer the taxi-like transportation world. 

Much of the book then is about how Uber did that, raising money from people and companies whose primary purpose was only to make money regardless of any and all consequences, and how their ruthless CEO battered anyone who got in his way.  While that part of the book is comprehensive, much of the story is left out, as the recently released "Uber Files" have made clear, Isaac's book half of the story, if even that much.  One big criticism I have is, that in total print, Isaac wrote less than a full page about "Big Taxi" and why, from Uber's standpoint, it needed to be destroyed.  As I personally know, that kind of mythological world did not exist in Seattle.  Far from it, as the local industry was forever victimized by City, County and State governments.  

In short, Isaac knows "shit" about the American cab industry, this serious shortcoming weakening his overall narrative.  While clearly a great researcher, he shortchanges the reader by not fully understanding the territory he entered.  Yes, he does make brief references to other related issues, like how Uber and car leasing companies trapped immigrant drivers into catastrophic financial deals, but Isaac not going far enough in dealing with this and other examples of a company completely out-of-control.  Did Kalanick care about what happened to the very people making Uber successful?  No, not at all.

Despite its deficiencies, I  strongly recommend that all taxi industry related folks and interested parties read the book.  You will be better informed having done it.  And Travis Kalanick is once again in the news, raising money for his newest tech adventure.  All I can say is that there is something seriously wrong with the guy.  He can't stop himself even though he now has over 5 billion dollars in the bank.  He doesn't seem to know how to stop and that again is the Uber story.  Will it ever stop tormenting the world?  That history is yet to be written.  Stay tuned.