Get Back to Work, Tide Won’t Sell Itself!

• May 10th, 2008
  1. Big Time DJ voices!
  2. Four months in a correctional facility!
  3. This podcast detritus won't litter the Blogosphere!
  4. Run for the Board of Directors? Me? Only if I'll be humiliated!
  5. Lone Wolf cabbies can't be herded into an online forum!
  6. Your PDX Cabbie on Vimeo! http://www.vimeo.com/pdxcabbie
  7. Murderous passengers and their ardent affection for cheap guitars!
  8. My sponsors are both angry and ready for an intervention!
  9. and Tide won't sell itself!
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I Knight Thee…The Benighted!

• January 4th, 2008

I’ve delivered two babies in my taxi! Thankfully they were still in utero. Gotcha! It’s true; some women still take a cab to the hospital while in the early stages of labor. It didn’t happened last night but it has happened in the past. I usually ask that the parents give the children my name. None have committed to the idea.

I hold out hope that someday, long after I’ve passed, there might be a club composed of the “not yet born” that were transported in my cab. They could meet, infrequently, at a sort of gathering where, when grown, they’ll talk about how their parents named them after the taxi driver who delivered their mothers to the hospital. What a sight it could be; a veritable cornucopia of colorful people, each imbued with a uniquely magical first name paired with their own unexceptional last name. This elite circle could congregate and reminisce. They could share stock tips and golf stories, comparing lawyers and bought politicians. Perhaps an evening could unfold into au pair trading and maidservant giveaways. One might be able to barter their sommelier for the shopworn tennis-pro of another. They could each keep the other abreast of the latest trends by providing their perspicacious coterie with all the voguish cautions needed among the well heeled. Timely advice could be exchanged, such as when to jettison a Portuguese jockey for that of a Taiwanese. The latter being so dernier cri among the wealthy and fashionable and those not quite born in a taxi.

So it is to them that we must pay deep obeisance, for in the generation that comes, we shall know well their names; PDX Cabbie Chu Fat Ho and PDX Cabbie Rufus-Cabeza con Marinara, alongside PDX Cabbie Von Drunkenstumblebum and PDX Cabbie Federline de Rothschild. I think you’ll agree; tint thy windows for the future is bright.

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Shaving Off Degrees of Separation

• December 18th, 2007

Driving the cab is like spinning a roulette wheel, if not a pistol cylinder. You never know where, or in what, you’ll land. Last night I was fortunate enough to have been dispatched to pick up Daniel Mondok, the owner and executive chef at one of Portland’s newer and more highly esteemed eateries, Sel Gris. As we discussed the issues surrounding small scale farming, sustainability, and the privileged access that we, as Portlanders, have to fresh and highly valued produce, he let slip that Sel Gris has a beef, lamb, and foie gras burger served with pommes frites finished in duck fat. Watch for my review to soon follow over at Portland Hamburgers. I just hope I don’t get scooped.

Spin the wheel again and whom do I get but Megan, an effervescent and absolutely enthusiastic new server over at the Miss Delta on North Mississippi. I knew, but had forgotten, about this location. It seems Anastasia Corya sold her Delta Cafe of Woodstock Ave fame and opened this culinary paean to the American South back in August. I’ll need to stop in for some jambalaya, a dish from a warmer, more humid, climate that works oh so well in Portland’s misty winters.

There is no six-degrees of separation in Portland. To be removed any further than three degrees would mean dwelling in cave. That’s one of the more attractive aspects of living here. It’s where this deeply ingrained and perpetually nourished idea of high-density development within the urban core of the city is both encouraged and rewarded. Individually, we may not always acknowledge it, but collectively, we reap the benefits daily. It helps if one is both ready to tell his or her own story and still be willing to listen to the stories of others.

Now, everyone, together; Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya…

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From St Johns to PDX with Robert Goulet

• December 8th, 2007

It doesn't take much to get me riled up about the Portland International Airport (PDX). The City of Portland and the Port of Portland have failed many of my customers by not establishing basic expectations for the cab drivers that service arriving passengers. Too often, my costumers complain that they are cheated by drivers that take meandering routes, others that have tampered with the taximeters, and still more who have gone apoplectic at the thought of any trip that pays less than $50. Bad manners aside, the drivers aren't entirely to blame. It's the Port and the city that have tried to control access to the business at PDX, yet have stopped short of making it a lucrative cash point for seasoned cabbies.

Cab drivers from Radio Cab, my company, have a city to service and very little time to sit, for what could be hours, at the airport waiting to move through the queue. This means that we are denied the right to access the airport, even when we are reserved, unless granted a special permit. I have to admit, I have a permit and I use it, albeit judiciously, to service my returning customers. But, with that said, the process for gaining a permit is ill-defined and its necessity seems to conflate more issues than PDX should try to tackle. The procedure used to vet applicants is couched in the same language we've come to expect after 9/11. It's all for the sake of security, both for the passenger and for the airport. Of course there's no concern for the safety and security of the airport when I drop off my passengers and end up closer to the terminal than when I pick them up. Doing so requires no permit, no checkpoint, and no scrutiny by airport personnel or the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Inefficiency abounds under this model. PDX has detailed records of how many cabs are needed to service arriving passengers because access to the arrivals area is contingent on swiping a proximity card that charges the cabbie $1.50. This fee is then passed onto the traveler in the form a modified flag-drop accounting for the additional charge. The rate at which this gate is accessed provides all the needed metrics for determining the number of cabs needed at any given time of the day. Why these statistics are not more closely evaluated by PDX, or better yet, provided for real-time evaluation to all taxi companies for the sake of streamlining logistics, is beyond me. Only the airport benefits from this mediation in the free-market affairs of travelers and transportation providers.

If you're a traveler, ask yourself; Is my discomfort only worth $1.50? If the answer is no, than demand change. PDX should recognize that all licensed cab drivers (Portland has no gypsy-cabs) are screened prior to being granted a city permit. If the city has determined that I'm safe enough to transport every other living creature outside the airport perimeter, perhaps I'm safe enough to transport you after a long trip and host of other airport related indignities.

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Thanksgiving Epilogue and Christmas Prologue

• November 27th, 2007

The older I get, the further I move, in an emotional sense, from familial traditions like holiday gatherings. That isn't to imply that I'm making a conscious choice to avoid these traditions. It just means that the pull, the gravity if you will, and the need to fulfill my role in these traditions has diminished over the years. It should come as no surprise given the fact that I'm unmarried and have no children. Furthermore, due to the fact that my parents married each other very young and then divorced only to both remarry others later means that all my siblings are at least fifteen years younger than myself and have yet to begin any new traditions that I might feel compelled to attend. At forty, I'm some sort of over-the-hill 'tweener.' Acknowledging this, as I have, does little to improve my standing within the family. Quite the opposite, it makes me seem as though I've purposefully avoided taking part. My new role after this lazy descent into exile is that of pariah. If that teeters on the maudlin, than perhaps a more fitting synonym, such as 'black sheep', might right my posture.

I bring all this up simply to illustrate that after years of living away from family and therein filling out the ranks at many orphan Thanksgivings and Christmases, I've come to understand that once one stays out, one runs the risk of being left out. Like so many of the restless passengers I've had in my cab over the years, I too have had to sit idle and anxious at holiday get-togethers, clock-watching and waiting for an opportunity to bolt after having said all my strained goodbyes. Mine is just one example among many. And yet I have to admit, most of the anxiety has been of my own creation. These events needn't be staid but, at the same time, one shouldn't presume they be frivolous either. It might be that the best course for all families may be to acknowledge that holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas are in need of a more cohesive ritual, one that places importance on each attendee. That way, each member will see that he or she is properly integrated into the whole and not left to feel as though the invitation was forced and their presence somehow superfluous.

There's always a great economy practiced around ritual. This is where only essential elements need play a part in explaining the formal nature of any given rite. In light of this example I can't say which casualty occurred first; the unraveling of the family or the profane celebration of the ritual. But what I can say, with great certainty, is that the two play off one another perfectly. Each allowing the other to further marginalize and alienate with little concern for conviviality and sharing. Left this way, the rituals will seem dated and their constituents atomized, each pursuing his or her own individual celebrations denuded of any greater importance. All for the sake of simply marking off the days till the next holiday arrives. And with that said, I may just be home for Christmas.

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You’ve Got to Know, and the Operative Word is Know, When to Hold’em.

• November 14th, 2007

It’s no play on words to say that each time I record a podcast; I’m really just calling it in. That’s how the podcast is set up. I call from my cell phone and record over the line in the least sophisticated manner possible. There’s no postproduction, no bumpers, no sound effects or transitions. It’s just me recording my latest observations for the sake of sharing with my audience. This podcast seemed easy enough until I started to reflect upon the subject and what it might mean in the greater scheme of things.

As I sat down to write about gambling and what I see of it from the driver’s seat of my cab, I thought I’d be able to point the finger at all the gambling addicts both seasoned and green without considering much else. But before I could shine a harsh light on their habit, it occurred to me that the gambler in front of the craps table or the slot machine, the one that takes risks and assumes the inevitability of future losses, does so in a very deliberate manner. They’re aware of the stakes and fully prepared to accept the losses. It may be argued that, while gambling, an individual’s judgment might be impaired or that he or she wasn’t completely able to comprehend the extent to which losing would impact their lives. But, with that said, the gambler, in the act of gambling, is living in the moment, fully aware of the fact that he or she is gambling.

Life and every action we take while conducting our lives, from stepping into the shower to eating a hamburger, carries some sort of risk. If there is risk involved than we are, in some small way, gambling. The question then becomes; is the gambler the only person among us truly aware of what’s at stake?

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Why Yes, I’ll Have Another Vodka-Tonic.

• November 6th, 2007

Wow, that's a splitting headache! I spent the better part of Monday afternoon in a sort of hangover triage, recovering from my umpteenth dose of vodka-tonics. There's obviously a direct correlation between how much one drinks and how much one spends to drink. If liquor is free and the time spent waiting in line is less than 2 minutes, it looks like I'll drink a gallon of whatever they're giving away.

Such was the sight down at the Mount Tabor Legacy on 48th and SE Hawthorne Blvd. for the November 4th Barfly Awards. Good lord, there must have 500 people in the joint, each smoking 15 cigarettes apiece. I blew through a pack in less than 4 hours and managed to yammer on about this blog and its attendant podcast (which picked up 12 new subscribers over the next 24 hours, I might add).

Many thanks to Jen Lane, the publisher of Barfly Magazine, and all her crew, for putting together an absolutely fantastic party. I also have to thank Jen Procter and Scott Gillan who, independent of each other, nominated me in the "Favorite Cabbie" category. I didn't win but it was a great honor just to be considered and a lot of fun just to take part in the campaigning. Congratulations go out to Holly Morgan of Radio Cab fame, she took home the prize and deservedly so since she's a great asset to the company.

It was my intention to podcast from the event and I did so with all the aplomb of an ape with a tape recorder. What a mistake! Thankfully my subject, Julian Chadwick, a Portland blogger over at PDX Pipeline, was gracious enough to provide me an impromptu interview and somehow fought the urge to submerge the mic in my last few ounces of Stoli. There's a reason we never hear good content spoken in that woozy slur of heavy inebriation; vodka not friend.

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The Scary Boyfriend Halloween Costume

• October 28th, 2007

In the taxi business, a driver tries to rely upon his or her instincts to determine whether or not someone is a threat. It isn’t enough to simply rely upon the sort of instincts one develops from accessing obvious danger at first glance. It’s true; one can’t judge a book by its cover but one can tell if the book is too heavy to begin reading. We’re all less inclined to begin a weighty tome if only looking for light fare over a three-day weekend. The same holds true for passengers that attempt to flag down my cab.

Over the years I’ve come to understand that four young men, disheveled and drunk, with one retching in the gutter, may not be the best fare to stop for if only to collect an additional $3.00 in extra passenger charges. Live and learn. That doesn’t mean that the bright-eyed stripper I just picked up isn’t a sociopath or that the sober and brooding young hipster isn’t Dr Lecter’s protégé. It just means that I have to try to rely upon my ability to interpret a vast mosaic of behaviors and attitudes. I have to suss out the tells in people’s voices, those little snags that betray their ulterior motives.

Todd, my last fare of the night, was not complex. Among other things, he was just some girl’s scary boyfriend. Stranded on the bad side of town, far from his home, he was like so many that just needed to get away. But, in doing so, he spent too much time and money all for the opportunity to find out that his girlfriend wasn’t home after his raucously good night out with his mates. His costume was only his street clothes and his makeup, at least for one young lady, had long worn off. Oh well, you can’t dress like a clown every year.

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The Secret Lives of Women

• October 22nd, 2007

I often try to guess, at times too cynically to be correct, as to what my passengers are out doing at all hours of the night. Some are more obvious in their dealings than others. If I remain curious long enough, I usually find a way to pry it out of them. Some are more giving, others more reserved. None of them truly shock anymore. I’m just jaded that way.

Prostitutes, escorts, call girls, strippers, fire eaters, cleaning women, bingo players, nurses, steel workers, cops, bag ladies, and debutantes; they all pass through the cab and into the night. Each one of them is someone’s daughter. Some are sisters, mothers, and wives. They’re all women.

When I picked up Janie, a nurse’s aid at a local Alzheimer’s care facility, she nearly fell into the backseat. Tired and ready for her days off, she sighed heavily and explained that she seldom calls for a cab. Tonight her son was to have retrieved her yet hadn’t due to his off-road adventures in the family Jeep. Leaving it stuck in the mud, the son walked to a phone and called mom and a tow truck. Janie promised she’d collect his set of keys.

I pressed Janie to describe her work around the elderly, specifically the women and their lost memories and assumed identities. She spoke of their mental and emotional hold upon specific eras of their lives and yet, at the same time, their inability to grasp the goings-on of an event that had taken place just minutes earlier.

What she told me stayed with me in a profound way. I was reminded of women, their secrets and memories and the precious qualities of the three.

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Customers Coping

• October 16th, 2007

Death touches all of our lives. Some of us are able to weather the hardship and cope with the circumstances while others experience the ordeal through their own uniquely skewed sense of reality. How much more difficult is the death of a loved one if you're dealing with the debilitating effects of methamphetamine addiction?

In the dismal grip of mourning, meth addicts are forced to again reach for the same false elation from a drug that is slowly devouring their own lives. How do they cope with it all and continue day after day?

I once had a former cabbie in my taxi, himself a recovering meth addict, tell me of his final days as a driver. Having long ceased to pick up any dispatched orders, his only fares had become his drug confederates. His addiction had reached such epic proportions that he would go sleepless for days at a time only to "crash" from exhaustion and sleep, without interruption, for several more days. Stories like his are so ubiquitously generic that it's impossible for a keen eye to fail in spotting these lost souls.

Mindy, whom I picked up at the hospital, after she had visited her dying father, is one of those lost souls. We spoke very little but her story came out loud and clear.

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