Thursday, July 31, 2008

A note about posting

At the present I have no internet connection at home or in the car. I'm considering my options right now, and hope to be more connected soon. In the meantime, I take notes in the cab, and then, about twice a month, post everything I have.

Due to the lack of internet, I'm behind in reading my favorite blogs, which are all listed on my sidebar. If you host one of these blogs, you probably haven't seen me in your tracking stats, and I've not been making comments. Once I get re-established online, I'll be back! See you soon.


USS George Washington change of command

Various news sources reported yesterday that the captain of the USS George Washington, a Nimitz class aircraft carrier in San Diego right now, has been relieved of command. From AP:

    The announcement by the Navy came as Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, relieved the carrier's commanding officer, Capt. David C. Dykhoff, and the executive officer of duty, Capt. David M. Dober.

    Willard cited lost confidence in the commanding officer and his failure to meet mission standards after the investigation found unauthorized smoking by a crew member appeared to have ignited flammable liquids and other combustible material that were improperly stored. The other officer was relieved of duty for substandard performance

I've driven many sailors and a few officers of the Washington in my taxi. I heard a lot of things in the back seat that weren't meant for public consumption. I drove four carloads of enlisted sailors last night, the day the news came out about the change of command. I asked each what they thought about it. Every sailor said the same thing, paraphrased here:

    The fire was a serious problem, and it could have been prevented. The captain should not have been relieved, though, because somebody in the lower ranks made a mistake.

They also said they hope it doesn't destroy his career, but none were hopeful for Dykoff on this point.

The official website of the George Washington has this to say about Dykhoff:

    Captain Dykhoff is a graduate of U.S. Air Force Air War College, U.S. Navy Test Pilot School, U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN), Joint Forces Staff College, Air Command and Staff Command, and Naval Nuclear Power and Prototype Schools. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics, and a Master of Science in Systems Engineering. He is authorized to wear the Legion of Merit, Joint Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Joint Commendation Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, and other awards.

    Captain Dykhoff took command of USS GEORGE WASHINGTON on 14 December 2006.

This is an impressive naval officer. I hope he can overcome the present troubles. With my admittedly small knowledge of the navy and the events that took place on the Washington, I would say the navy needs men like him. There's an old custom on the high seas that a captain should go down with his ship. The Washington was damaged, but it didn't go down; perhaps this is what will happen to its captain.

License plate

Model A

This is a Ford Model A, isn't it?

The cost of avoiding Reed

I got a bell to an address I didn't recognize, so I asked the others on the stand if they've heard of it. Nobody had. It was also from another cab stand, and I knew we had at least one car over there, so I asked about it on the radio. Dispatch said there is one on that stand, but he announced he's "holding the hotel," which means he's only taking calls from the hotel he's close to.

My bell also requested to use a credit card, which I despise. I lose 10% and have to wait 2-3 weeks to get the credit. It turned out to be a very nice lady going all the way to La Jolla, and after a $52 ride, she upped it to $62 with the tip.

When I returned to our zone I stopped by the stand where the guy was holding the hotel. It was Zach, a good guy, and he was seething that he missed the La Jolla ride off his own stand! He was tracking Reed's movements, and thought the next call would be Reed wanting to go home, so he held the hotel to avoid him. Ha! That cost him.

More posts on Reed can be found here. If the link doesn't work, just search for Reed in the search box at the top of the blog.


San Diego survived another Comic-Con, where 125,000 people descended on us to enjoy some pop culture. The LA Times had a front page story on opening day that said the event began more than 30 years ago as a place to buy, sell, and browse comic books. Today it's about comic books, movies, animation, TV and the web.

We saw a spike in business, but we weren't extremely busy. In past years I've driven people dressed up like Superman and Chewbacca, but I had no people in costume this year. I actually drove more people who were working at the event than attending it as a fan. These included Sean Phillips, with Yahoo Movies, and he was a very nice guy. I brought him to his hotel, and we had a nice discussion the whole way.

Another guy I drove is the owner of He was also a really nice guy, though I didn't get his name. He was in San Diego to cover the event for his website.

I also drove several groups of animators working on various films. Star Trek is the only film I remember specifically. One group was discussing, among other things, how it's expensive to pay people to create digital models from scratch, and how money can sometimes be saved by purchasing pre-existing models.

Couple of night shots

The Look

I believe I've mentioned the look before, but never as The Look. Sitting around a cab stand one night we were discussing how strange it is that some people just watch us drive by, saying nothing and making no hailing gestures, but then when we're several car lengths past, they'll shout angrily. It's as if they're willing us to stop, and then get angry when this strategy fails. Finally, somebody referred to this as The Look.

It's nice to have a formal name for a common, and comical, phenomenon. We often leave these people to their own devices, assuming if they're foolish enough to try to hail a cab with only their eyeballs, they're probably not going far and they're probably not big tippers.

Boredom shots

Honest or dishonest?

I believe I spotted a pattern (no Beautiful Mind jokes, please). A customer gave me $20 on a $13 fare and it took me a while to get him the change. Usually I'm organized, but when it gets busy, I stuff money into my pocket and organize it later, and it takes time to dig through the mess to make change. So I'm digging through my wad, trying to find the correct change, and the customer got impatient. "Just give me $2."

It has worked many times since then, and I'm certain the tips are bigger. Some people are so anxious to get out of the cab and into the next bar, they'll settle for a couple of quick singles to expedite matters. Sometimes they watch me fumble with the money for a while, then say, "Keep it," and jump out. I don't believe this is dishonest. I'm trying to make the correct change, and they're impatient. If they want to pay for fast service, that's great! I'm all for it.

Does anyone think this is dishonest?

If they're too drunk, the trick doesn't work, but there are other tricks for them. I don't use them, but we have drivers who do: ask for the money up front, saying that "at this hour, it's policy." If they're drunk enough, they'll wake up at their destination, look at the meter, and pay again.

Some guys leave the meter running from the last ride, and a properly inebriated person won't notice, and they pay for their ride and the previous one. I hear there's an art to this. You have to judge the person correctly or they'll cry foul. The fix is to apologize and say what the fare normally would be, and if they are still angry, you can tell them the ride is on the house.

The term for these games: You pay to play.

I offended Mark

I've been following Mark's personal life as a curiosity (see this post) for some time. Last night he walked up to one of our cab stands, where I was second in line. He asked if I could drive him, and the first driver graciously said he didn't mind. Then Mark saw me smoking, and said he'd have a smoke with me before we set off.

Mark doesn't smoke, but I saw he was extremely drunk, which would explain it. So he puts a cigarette in his mouth backwards and lights a match. I told him to stop, and he changed it around. I started laughing, and he got mad. "Are you laughing at me?" Yes, I told him, I am, because it's funny. What's the problem? He threw the cig on the ground and jumped into the back of the first cab.

    First cabbie: Am I driving him now?

    Me: Looks that way.

Boredom shots

Trash pizza

Myself and two other drivers, Oakland and Zach (Oakland having been renamed after getting a flag to Oakland, Calif. three years ago), were kicking back at a cab stand during the lull between midnight and 1 a.m. Oakland, having arrived first, said there's a pizza "over there" if we wanted any. Zach walked to a city trash can on the sidewalk and came back with a pizza box. He opened it and there was half a pizza inside, cold.

    Me: From the trash? No.

    Oakland: It wasn't in the trash. It was on top.

    Me: You're selling, Oakland, but you ain't buying. Let's see you eat a piece.

    Oakland, smiling: I just ate, I'm full.

    Me: Riiiight.

    Zach, shoveling in a piece: Looks fine to me.

I made a ham of watching him to see if he'd keel over. We laughed that Zach was a true cabby, eating pizza found in the trash. Then Oakland got a bell and went into his car and started it. On a whim I took a piece of the pizza and set it on his rear bumper. He left, returning 15 minutes later after a short ride. Zach and I hurried to his car and found the pizza was still there. Oakland got out and asked what we were doing back there.

    Me: Oakland, you are a smooth driver.

Zach picked up the pizza and put it back in the box alongside the remaining slices, then put the box in the back seat of his car.

    Zach: The drunks will be calling soon. I'm sure they'll want some pizza. Maybe I'll get a good tip.

We laughed at the thought of drunks eating pizza that was found in a trash can, one piece having toured the neighborhood on the bumper of a car. This spawned a discussion about entrepreneurism. If food was kept in the cabs for bar rush, we could probably sell it. If Zach's pizza experiment goes well, we may raid the trash can for morsels before each bar rush and make some extra cash. Drunks are hungry, and they're usually not picky. Most are so drunk they'd never notice they're getting a half-eaten hamburger or something like that.

That episode was about four days ago, and ever since, on every cab stand when Zach is around, somebody will point to a trash can and suggest he get himself something to snack on. We'll be laughing about the trash pizza for weeks to come.

Another aside: On the day when Zach ate the trash pizza (earlier that day), he got a civilian to shake a fist out his car window and curse at him. It was fantastic. I was unloading at the airport, just behind a civilian car, against the curb. A cab swung in and parked, blocking the civilian car, which had just begun to move out. It was Zach, and rather than move his car, he ignored the civilian and got out to unload his customer's luggage from the trunk.

On the way back to our zone I followed Zach on the freeway and hailed him on the radio. "Did you see the guy in the black car back there?" He never even saw the guy, but was greatly amused that he earned a shaken fist. "I just don't care anymore," was his response. I wasn't sure if he was joking or if he's getting burned out.

The new guy

We got a new driver early last week. About 40 years old, he looks normal, but he is a little odd. During his training period, where he rides with an experienced driver, I was on stand with him. Me, his trainer, and him broke out my football, the leather one this time, and it turns out this guy has a hell of an arm. He claims to have played quarterback through high school, and I don't doubt this. I told him I don't care what kind of cabbie he becomes, just stick around so we have one great arm in the bunch.

Eric is his name, and he had a doozy of a first night with his own taxi. I just came on duty when I got belled to a street corner. Then I heard the excitement.

    Eric: 22

    Dispatch: 22

    Eric: There's a flag at XYZ address. You sent me here, right?

    Disp, who is the ever impatient Louie: No, no, no! I sent you to ABC, not XYZ. You aren't picking them up, are you?

    Eric: Ummm, no, not really.

Louie let him have it. She red him the riot act and then some. The trainer had trained him well, though, and he handled it magnificently. He was told that Louie is the meanest woman he'll ever deal with -- under no circumstances do you fight with her. Let her win, swallow your pride, and go with the flow. Eric got to feel the heat on his very first ride!

Now, three out of four guys would have taken the flag and ignored the bell and let Louie complain all she wants. Eric wanted to do it right. I do it right, as well, and respect guys who care enough to get the right customers.

Eric said fine, and went and got the correct people. Meanwhile, I was belled to the flag he had discovered, and when I picked them up I asked about the other cab. They had heard him getting worked over by Louie and sympathized. "He said he just started, and we were going to be his first customers. He's a really nice guy." I agreed, and we had a nice ride across town.

Later that night, Eric made headlines again. All I heard at the time was, "22 calling, I'm coming to the office." At a cab stand a half hour later I asked if anyone knew about what happened to him. He had been sent for a PD call, and picked up two drunk navy guys, both of whom vomited all over the back seat of his cab. Poor guy! Talk about a trial by fire! He gets Louie at her finest, and gets the vomit. In my three and a half years, I've never had a vomit incident inside the car -- well, twice, but they both brought their own bags to barf in. One or two people have done it out the window.

Now, two nights later, he's still working. Some guys would have quit after a night like his first night.

One odd thing about Eric: He doesn't say the word "the" on the radio. One of our drivers commented about this while sitting around a cab stand. We all paid attention for a few hours, then compared notes later. Nobody has ever heard him utter the word. How weird is that? It's okay, because his throwing arm more than makes up for it.

Train at night

My old cab partner and a lot of cursing

An old mystery has been solved. I do a lot of personal stuff in North Park -- renting movies, going to restaurants, etc. I don't live there, but I like the area. Once in a while somebody would yell at me as I drove along. Usually it was prophane, like: "Cabbie get the fuck out of my neighborhood!" Once it was: "We don't like fucking taxis around here! Fuck off!"

I would always scan around, but I never saw the perpetrator. The North Park crank is the third time I found somebody who had an irrational hatred of cabbies -- maybe sometime in the past these people got taken the long way round, and their hatred is deep at this point. Who knows? It's not uncommon, so I pay it no mind.

Well, Saturday night I was in the middle of a long ride, and we made a stop at the Pink Elephant at 30th and University. I was waiting while one of my two passengers ran into the bar to find a friend, then we were going to continue on to El Cajon. Somebody came to the passenger window and said, "Can I have a ride?" Without really looking, I said, "No, I'm driving someone right now," and motioned to the back seat. The guy repeated the statement, like an idiot. This is typical of some of the people we find on the streets.

Finally I looked right at him, and it was Tom, a former cab partner of mine. Even though he left the company under a cloud, and sort of left me holding the bag, there were no hard feelings. Being a former cabbie, he knew exactly how to imitate a dumb customer. We laughed and chatted while I waited for my customer to come back.

Then, hearing his voice again, everything clicked. I accused him of being the guy who tells me to "fuck off" whenever I'm around the area. He admitted it, and we had a great laugh at that. "Yeah," he said, "I see you around here all the time. I'm just messing with you." I asked him if he'd ever run into random citizens who actually do that to cabbies, and he said yes, that's why he imitated it.

Tom is moving to Rhode Island in a few weeks. I wished him well.

As an aside, the two ladies I was driving at the time I met Tom were very entertaining. One lives in San Diego, and the other is a friend visiting from Arizona. They had been out drinking and told me about all the guys (described as pathetic) who tried to take them home.

They said one even tried the "cancer approach." It has been tried many times in the past, they said. Apparently some guy had bought them drinks and ended up saying that because he has cancer and doesn't have long to live, maybe they could have a threesome?

I asked them if he could have been telling the truth. They thought not, considering how often they've heard the line. "Besides," one of them said, "cancer isn't very original." Eventually there was a lull in the conversation, and I said: "Did I mention I have Lou Gherig's Disease?" That brought gales of laughter, but alas, it wasn't effective.

Random paper box

This is from some time last week. I'm guessing this is India's prime minister.

Presidential pool (poll?)

Here's a pool I started with drivers on April 23, 2008. I specified that this is "who you think will be president, not who you want to be president." You can see I crossed out the first Clinton guess, obviously because she's not in the running any longer.

Jim, who entered "Clinton/Bush?" is technically still in. He said Bush means "George W. Bush," because he feels there's a chance W will stage a military coup and stay in power. Jim is a conspiracy theorist, and he's also a very nice, intelligent guy. I'm never quite sure if he believes in the conspiracies, or if he's joking. For instance, Jim says at least one of the Apollo moon landings was faked.

Here's food for thought. From what I know of my fellow drivers, I think they were unable to distinguish between who "will" be president and who they "want" to be president -- or there may be something deeper going on. I know they also want their picks to win. For instance, the guy who guessed Obama is reading the Collected Writings of Marx and Engel right now, and he just finished a two-inch thick biography of Che Guevara.

Replacing the battery

Last Friday my cab partner, Vitao, was 40 minutes late for the second time in a row. He apologized and offered to turn the car over at 3pm instead of 4pm next Friday. I agreed, with no hard feelings. Vitao is a good guy. While we were talking, he mentioned the shop had changed our alternator the day before. The battery was discharging during his shift. It seemed fine after that.

New alternator installed by Fred.
Looks like new plug wires too.

Saturday afternoon I picked up the car and the battery idiot light was glowing, and the voltmeter was reading low, and it was dropping slowly as I idled. It was 5:30 p.m., so the mechanic would be gone until Monday morning. Knowing I have a knew alternator, I decided to drive to Auto Zone and buy a new battery.

Typically I check things out with my own meter, but it disappeared from the trunk compartment months ago. I suspect Fred, our thieving mechanic. Also, I wanted to fix it myself since bringing a car to Fred is quite an ordeal. The last time I needed a battery, Fred gave us an old one that he had cleaned to make it look new. My cab partners and I embarked on a three month odyssey of having the car fail to start when we got belled -- cost us a bunch of money and time. We had to get jump starts several times a day before I got Fred to admit the battery wasn't new. Doing things myself avoids all this pain.

New battery installed by me

Ninety dollars and an hour later, I started the car, with the new battery, in the Autozone parking lot to find the problem was still there. Belatedly I checked the grounds and cleaned and tightened the clamps, especially where the copper wires are crimped. No luck.

Bad picture of the battery light and voltmeter

I got on the radio and explained the situation. This was actually quite tricky because the dispatcher was repeatedly calling a single car number. Apparently this driver vanished, and now he was long overdue for the night shift driver. It took more than five minutes to get through.

The dispatcher, Louie, said the cab company owner was in the office, heard me mention the problem, and they told me to drive to the office. I was given a loaner car which looked a bit grim but drove quite well. The last guy to drive it was The Fat Bastard, who bent the seat into a permanent reclining position. All I needed was a sideways baseball cap to complete a gangsta image.

The following idiot lights were glowing on the dash of the loaner:

    Air Susp
    Check Engine
    Air Bag

Judging from the amount of space on the dash, that was every light except maybe an oil light. At least I had that going for me. At night, with all those lights on the dash, it was like driving a christmas tree. But holy smokes! the car had a lot more power than my 92, and the transmission is much better. I'm actually considering giving Fred $200 to sneak into the shop on Sunday and swap the engine and transmission with my cab. Nobody would be the wiser, and I'd be a lot happier. Of course, Fred owes me $100 from last October, so that would be worked into the deal. I'll let you know if I make the proposal.

Incidentally, all of our cars with air suspension leak (as far as I know). Instead of removing the garbage air equipment and simply putting in standard Crown Victoria coil springs, the policy is to fill the system beyond capacity, and then let it slowly leak out over two weeks. Repeat. When I picked up the loaner it was jacked up really high in the back, kind of like a 60s muscle car. It is an absurdity that only exists in the wonderful world of taxis. I'm riding around in a car that's jacked up in the back, with nearly every warning light flashing on the dash. I just buckle the seat belt and sigh. If I was a religious type, I'd have crossed myself.

This car is jacked up (hard to see in this shot)

This gives you an idea of the ridiculously
jacked-up stance of the car

Several hours later, while sitting on a cab stand, I found out what happened to the missing driver. He had locked his keys in the taxi down in Imperial Beach, and then walked a very long ways to the Palm Ave trolley station, then came back up into town on the trolley. He didn't have his cellphone with him, and for reasons unknown he didn't stop to use a payphone. His replacement (the evening driver), who told me about this incident, had to wait three hours to get the car. After the driver showed up at HQ and explained himself, the car had to be retrieved from IB. Par for the course.

Coffee and Fire Hydrant

A few days ago I cleared in downtown, near Ketner and G, which is in the southwest area of downtown. This is close to the It's a Grind coffee shop on 1st and G, so I headed that way to see about a parking spot. They also have free wifi. There were no parking spots open, so I decided to take G all the way up towards 11th, then get on I-5.

While sitting at the light at G and 1st, I got my green and started to move, but I had to slam on my breaks because a Red Cab ran the red going crossways. I looked closely, and I'll be damned if it wasn't Fire Hydrant, the guy who got fired from our company after backing over a hydrant and causing an awful mess and thousands of dollars in damage. This isn't the first time I've run into him -- almost literally -- since he got fired from our company. See this post.

One of our cabs crashed

I saw this at HQ recently. People say it happened on the freeway, and there were no injuries. I'm guessing he hit an SUV or truck because the bumper is relatively unscathed, but everything above that is wrecked.

Witnessed a bad crash

I had just cleared at 1st St and Orange Ave, out on Coronado Island, and was waiting in the left turn lane on Orange at 4th. Fourth leads to the bridge going back to San Diego. It was 2:15 a.m., 15 minutes after bar close. A black Toyota Celica was coming towards me on Orange (it's a boulevard, separated by a large median), and ran the red (I think), broadsiding a white car that I never saw closely.

I heard and felt the huge impact in the middle of the intersection, maybe 30 feet from my car. By the time I turned my head and looked, the cars had already hit, and were coasting to a stop. Thick smoke was billowing out from under the hood of the Celica.

My green arrow came on, but I didn't move. Before I could think about what to do, a Coronado cop was on the scene. He must have been very close. I made my turn, figuring he could handle it. In my mirror as I drove away I saw a second police cruiser show up with his cherries on. It was the worst crash I've seen in three and a half years of driving cab.

Cabbie slang

Drivers have nicknames for many places around San Diego. This list will grow as I remember them. We usually limit them to the cab stand, but most have been used on the radio at one time or another.

National City = Nasty City, National Tragedy

Horton Plaza = Ho plaza

Chula Vista = Chula

La Jolla = (Anglicized, exaggerated pronunciation)

Little Italy = Widdo Iddowee (making fun of one particular driver's mispronunciation)

Hardrock Hotel = Hardcock Hotel

Night shots

I don't look when I shoot from a moving car. I just hold the camera up and take the shot. The first picture is Front St just south of E, downtown. The second is on G St, with Ralph's on the right.

Reed and my new roommate

Last Feb 1 I got a new roommate, making what turned out to be a mistake -- the guy's a cab driver! I'll call him Carl. We both drive for the same company, and while the roomie is known for being honest (sets both of us apart on the streets), he is turning out to be a disappointing roommate. Carl, you see, is a raging, out-of-control boozer. An oiler. A drunk. A dumbass. Plus he hires hookers almost every night. His normal routine is to work five or six hours, then go to a strip club and get smashed, and hire a hooker which he says costs $300. He says he's been going to the same strip club for many years, and he knows everyone, and the girls are for hire if they know and trust you. I won't name the club.

Fortunately, he never brings the women home. On second thought...

As a good Libertarian (I'm a practical libertarian), I don't mind what sort of hobbies he enjoys, as long as they don't have a negative impact on me. Sure enough, he has never been on time with the rent, and he usually begs money from me to pay his cab lease. July 1 was the last time for being late. Not only did he make me a promise, I promised myself I'd throw him out if it happens again. I cut off the revolving credit account when he was into me for $450. If a person is borrowing money from me, he's in rough shape.

Did I mention I had a financial crisis late last year? I've been working an average of nine hours per day, six days a week all year, and for the last three weeks I've worked 10 hours per day, seven days per week to save money for the slow times this winter. Meanwhile good ole Carl lives like he's on vacation, spending all kinds of money on hookers and tequila, while borrowing money from me to pay rent and cab lease. Anger doesn't begin to describe how I feel about Carl.

We were extremely busy in June, and most cabbies were flush with cash. I heard one guy say he saved $3000 that month alone. I myself banked $2000. Carl couldn't pay rent at the end of June. He left me a note that said something to the effect of, "Sorry about being short on rent." Now, for July, it has been slower, and he has been leaving work even earlier every night.

This situation called for a pool, and when I presented the question to drivers (everyone knows he's an oiler and that he goes to the strip club every night), everyone agreed that he wouldn't have rent on time for Aug 1. Not much of a pool when everyone agrees!

It just so happens that Carl has personalized Reed, a peculiar little man I've written about in the past. Personalizing means the customer either calls your cellphone directly, or calls the office and requests you by name and/or car number. Old Reed, as I've mentioned previously, goes to one of three restaurants every night of the week, and because Carl leaves early, one of us gets stuck driving him home. I sometimes chide the roommate when he announces he's leaving for the night. "Hey, you can't leave yet. Reed hasn't gone home!"

Two nights ago I was unlucky and got the Reed bell (or Ratclaw or Rainman, as we like to call him). After helping him to the cab, as he pretended to have trouble walking, he mentioned that my roommate must have gone home early (he learned this when he called the office and requested him).

On a whim, I filled him in on the situation:

    Me: Well, Reed, he leaves early every night to get a hooker and get drunk off his ass.

    Him: He does?

    Me: Yes, he does. He usually can't pay the rent because the strip club gets all the money. Ask him about it some time.

I haven't heard anything back yet, but if old Reed's mental faculties are strong enough, which is a 50/50 proposition because he's an idiot, he'll mention it. I wonder if Carl will consider it a joke, or get mad? It's not like his hobbies are a secret. After all, he blabbed all over the streets that when his mother passed away three years ago he received a $250k inheritance -- and within a year it was all gone. He admits he drank it away, and what he didn't drink went to prostitutes. "It was a great year," he likes to muse. No shit it was a good year, drinking and carousing $250k down the drain. He could have bought income property, he could have bought CDs or blue chip stocks. Nope, not this dumbass. Tequila and hookers.

I suspect he'll be late for August rent, and, because I'm an extremely nice guy, I'm giving him two months to get out.

Fuel pool

I made this pool with drivers in the first week of May, guessing what fuel would cost at a certain gas station, using 87 octane, on July 4. The winner guessed $4.40. He switched to the morning shift, so it'll be awhile before I can tell him of his victory.

Mystery destination

I was belled to an alley address, and by the house number and neighborhood I knew it would be a problem. Older folks congregate in that area, and while I have nothing against the elderly, they don't make for good taxi customers. What follows is typical.

A man and woman, each over 80, and the guy may have been in his 90s, were waiting for me. They spent several minutes getting in the car, talking the whole while.

    Me: Okay, where are you going?

    Him: What?

    Me: Where are you going?

    Him: 6th Avenue

    Me: What city?

    Him: 6th Avenue

    Me louder: What city?

    Him: 6th Avenue

    Me, remembering that he hears quite well, as he and his wife were conversing at a low volume just moments ago: In what city?

    Him: 6th Avenue, then I'll tell you where to go.

    Me, turning to stare at him: I need a city, and I also need a cross street or address.

There was dead silence as he looked at me, then past me out the windshield. I started my stopwatch (part of my wristwatch) about ten seconds into this, holding my hand high so he could see what I was doing. He responded when the chrono showed 28 seconds.

    Him: Why aren't we driving?

    Me: Where on 6th Ave?

    Him: 6th Avenue.

A man cannot sigh longer or louder than I did. It simply can't be done, even with training and determination. I can't scream at him -- I'll be him in 50 years. I gave up and drove him towards 6th Ave in downtown San Diego. For all I knew he wanted National City or Losfuckingangeles.

    Dispatcher, after a few minutes: 92

    Me: 92

    Disp: Did you pick up?

    Me: 10-4

    Disp: Where are you going?

    Me, with teeth clenched: No idea.

    Disp: Why not?

    Me: He won't tell me.

    Disp: Do you need assistance?

    Me: I need a Tums.

    Disp, in an understanding tone (she had taken his original phone call): 10-4

When I got on 6th Ave, I pulled over as soon as I found a clear space along the curb. After an eternity he and his wife were out of the car. The rear door was open, and I saw that they were both up on the curb (well away from the car). The man was looking through his wallet. I realized I didn't want the money, I just wanted to get away. I jammed the throttle, which automatically closed the open door, and drove away.

Fred is back

To our great dismay, Fred, the mechanic, is back. We heard he had been arrested for possession of marijuana, and had been fired. We were so happy we talked about throwing a party. Yesterday I heard the cab company owner speaking with a driver on the radio, and mentioned that "Fred is at the shop now, so drive over there."

I earned a few laughs at the cab stand with, "Look at the bright side. He'll continue stealing our fuel and improperly fixing our cabs, but now I have a chance to get my $100 back from him."

We're speculating now that the cab company owner bailed him out and brought him back to work -- he's extremely kind hearted, so it's very plausible. I believe it was Zach who said: "He bailed Fred out of jail? It must be hard to find a shitty mechanic." That's dry.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dodged a huge bullet

Tony is leaving for six months, which he does every year, and his son isn't replacing him for those months. That probably means nothing to you, but it's everything to cab drivers in my area.

Here's the deal: Tony is actually a fat Polish guy, maybe 50 years of age. He's a really nice guy, and I love talking to him. Tony is his "American name", I don't know what he's called in his native Poland. Anyway, Tony does what many drivers do when they get behind the wheel of a cab -- he turns into a dishonest bastard. Behind his back, we refer to Tony as The Fat Bastard. He's also fat. A while back he got us permanently kicked out of a hotel because of his gluttony. We used to go into that hotel to use the lobby restroom, and The Fat Bastard would help himself to all kinds of Danish and rolls from the free table on his way out. Eventually the desk clerks figured out he was a cab driver, and not a hotel guest. They called the cab company owner and announced that no cab drivers were allowed inside that hotel again.

His son is not fat, but he's 10 times worse than him as far as stealing rides and lying on the radio go. In fact, only Ana is worse than his son.

Now, Tony and his dishonest boy work in 6-month shifts. Tony will work 15 hrs/day for six months, banking cash, then go back to Poland and relax and live the life of Reilly. While he's gone, his boy works for six months, and so on.

This time around, when Tony arrived six months ago, he announced that the Little Bastard wouldn't be coming over to the U.S. anymore. He's finishing a degree at a university in Poland, and then he's going to find a job there. We were elated, but I was too polite to say so in front of Tony.

Then, two weeks ago, Tony announced to a group of drivers, including yours truly, that his son had changed his mind and would be coming in July to work for six months. "Great," I lied. "I can't wait."

Today Tony announced that the cab company owner told his son there are no cars available. This may be true, but it may be that the owner knows what an ass the boy is, and telling him there are no cars for him is an easy way to get rid of him. I put on a really good show for Tony: "Oh, that's a shame. I was really looking forward to working with your son again."

When Tony got belled off the cab stand, we practically high-fived each other with glee that the son would not be ripping us off this year.

Interesting chain of events

Maybe this is not interesting. I sometimes don't know what might be interesting -- I've seen so many odd things after driving for three and a half years, it's all just another day to me!

Last Thursday, July 3, I noticed there was a metallic clunking coming from the front left suspension. This is the 4th time I've had this problem since I got this cab last September. The last time it was serviced, I had a little chat with the owner, and it didn't go very well. "I think your partners are driving the car too hard." I don't agree with him. I believe the mechanics are doing their usual lousy work. Also, the hood has never fit well, which tells me the car has been crashed in the front some time in the past. It's possible there are bent pieces, possibly the frame itself, and that's causing undue stress on anything that's mounted to it (i.e. suspension pieces). But no, it must be the drivers!

When I finished working I dropped by the office to fill out a work request. This had to be a stealth operation, conducted in the dead of night, to avoid the owner. I really didn't care for another lecture about driving the car gently when my partners and I always drive the car gently.

After describing the clunking sound in detail on the work request, I included this note:

    MECHANICS: Please do not remove anything from the cab. The last time the car was in for service, a full bottle of glass cleaner and a new roll of paper towels disappeared. Thank you!

Also while at HQ, I got to see what the new graveyard shift dispatcher looks like. To my great surprise, he doesn't look retarded. He wasn't even drooling. They don't make people more stupid than him, so I wasn't expecting a normal looking person. This guy cannot manage the lineup and mispronounces absolutely everything, in a very comical way. We've been mocking him mercilessly on the radio, and I don't think he's bright enough to realize it. The drivers often discuss the mystery about where on earth these people come from. Where does the owner dredge them up? There must be a headhunter in San Diego who specializes in extremely low IQs.

I took off the next day, which was Friday, Independence Day. Even though I usually make around $400, I decided it's not worth the effort. The owner dispatches on the 4th because it's really busy, and he makes everything stressful and problematic. Also, the streets are so crowded with cars and peds that it takes forever to get anywhere. And people are angry they had to wait so long for a cab. I decided I'm no attorney -- I won't do anything for money, so I took off the 4th.

Saturday night I worked, and it was fairly slow, but I had several nice rides, like Pacific Beach and Chula Vista. The clunking was still there. I work nights, and so the daytime driver of my car handles bringing the car in for service. I often have no idea if work was done, or when. You'd think I would know the car was in for service because something that used to be broken is now fixed. With our mechanic, Fred, you can never really tell. Things he has "fixed" usually break two hours later, and it often takes three or four tries for him to actually fix a problem correctly. Instead of relying on a "fixed" car, I know we've had service done because all the stereo presets have been changed, and I'm usually missing something from the car -- like the pliers I keep in the door pocket for fixing the trunk latch (fails at least three times a day).

When I first checked in with dispatch at the beginning of my shift, she announced that the next ride I got that went anywhere near HQ, I needed to stop by and pick up an envelope. This is radio code for: "You've been selected for a random drug test." Three hours later I still hadn't had a ride out in that direction, so I called her. "It doesn't look like I'm going to get a ride out there. Does that paperwork need to be picked up tonight?" I was hoping not. The rules say we have to get the test done within two hours of picking up the paperwork, so if I can miss the pickup, I can skip the test. Delay it, anyway.

I despise drug tests. I don't do drugs, ever. I don't even drink, except for maybe three beers in the course of a year. As a good Libertarian, I don't believe that my habits on my owner, personal time are any business of my employer. On top of that, it can take two hours to get the test done, and that's time I could be on the streets making money.

"I don't know," she said, "I guess so." So I was off the hook for the night.

On Sunday the 6th I was off again, as Sunday is my usual day off. Monday I worked, and it was slow. Tuesday I tried to work, but the car wasn't in front of my house. I called the office and spoke with the 2nd shift dispatcher. She said she didn't know where my car was or if there was a spare available. The owner was long gone. She did mention that my partner had also called to inquire about the car, which was a clue that it was being serviced. So I was forced to take the night off. Not a big problem. It doesn't really take much to get me to take some R&R time.

Tonight, Wednesday, the car was there. When I climbed in I found a plastic bag containing a new roll of paper towels and a new bottle of Windex glass cleaner. My complaining about the mechanics being thieves paid off. There was a sticky note on the bag saying I may want to keep them in my house. Interesting. The mechanics are robbing us blind, and the solution is to keep things away from them, not fire their thieving asses and hire honest people.

On the dash, blocking out the speedo, was a handwritten note saying: Alignment at XYZ address, 7:45-8 a.m. Thurs or Fri. I left it there after I was finished working tonight. My cab partner will have to take care of that. There is no clunking in the suspension, but the car wanders all over the road; hence the alignment.

Ahhhhhh, and to conclude the festivities, I ran down to the health place for that urine sample. After a half hour of waiting, I was called to the back room where I was asked to piss in a cup, but not until they looked under my hat to make sure I had no contraband piss. These drug screens are humiliating.

Lo and behold, I could only manage a few drops! I was told I had three hours to come up with some more, and I am not allowed to leave the building. I downed a 20-oz bottle of Coke I bought from their vending machine. Normally I can take a 19-oz piss 10 minutes after drinking a 20-oz Coke, but this time -- nada. So I chugged two, 20-oz bottles of water.

By now I needed a smoke, but they wouldn't let me. "You can't leave the building."

It was two hours before I could manage enough to fill up the little cup. What a waste of time. It was a two and a half hour piss. I must have been really dehydrated.

Now that the cab is fixed and I've gone through the drug screen, life can get back to "normal".

Mechanic fired

Our mechanic, Fred, has been fired. The rumors have circulated for a week that he was arrested for marijuana possession and that the owner fired him over it. He must have had a lot, because it's not a big crime to have just a little in California.

I confirmed today from an office worker that this is true. Now I know why the cars usually come back half fixed, or the same problem crops up two hours after Fred claimed it was fixed. Also, he can't steal our gas anymore, nor can he sell the owner's car parts to anybody who wants them, and pocket the cash.

The sad thing: the bum still owes me $100 from many months back. See this post.