Sunday, October 8, 2017

Ordinary Rendition: The Public Servants' Quagmire

Media reports about the predicaments of public servants remind me of the passenger who brought my efforts as a taxi driver full-circle.

She started out like most the others: the buzz of a fare offer and "835 yards" as the distance. When the address came through I turned around, turned right, and arrived at the apartment complex in about 4 minutes. I called the provided number. A woman's voice gave directions to a building in the back of the complex.

A group came out; a woman in her 20's got in the cab. An 50-ish male stood outside and gave directions to where his truck was parked. As we pulled away the passenger said, in a flustered voice, “I don't know why he messes with her, she's like 20 years younger...”, and this wasn't the first time they'd had to take a taxi or a bus to get the truck back.

I didn't care, because I was happy to have a longer trip than someone going across the street with groceries. I broke into my standard line of questions.

Before long she asked me her own question: "Did you ever pick a girl up downtown, take her to [West-Valley city], and she wasn't able to pay?"

'I would do that. Let me think.... ... .. .' I glanced at my passenger to jog my memory. Recently: no. Semi-recently: no. Then I remembered, 'THAT WAS A LONG TIME AGO!' I looked at my passenger again, 'Was that... YOU?', and cautiously confirmed that I had.

She said with glee, "THAT WAS ME!"

I remembered her trip well.

Friday, September 22, 2017

America's Make-Work Sheriff: The Anachronism of Joseph Arpaio

The name given to the Arizona Department of Corrections expresses society's hope that we can help people who cause problems for others learn to make better decisions. At some point over my 3.5 year taxi driving career I came to appreciate the harm that is perpetrated on people in the name of "justice", and began to think it more appropriate to call this the "Department of Gratuitous Punishment".

Make-work programs are "jobs that have less immediate financial benefit to the economy than the job costs to support." No one is overtly harmed by make-work programs.

Make-work justice uses the criminal justice system to traumatize people who make mistakes, who get caught in the system through 'circumstances', or for 'doing what they gotta do, to survive'. The usual effect of putting people through the Justice pressure-cooker is not to correct their behavior, but to trap them in a destructive feedback loop that frequently prevents them from ever figuring out how to correct their own behavior.

The deposed-but-still-Notorious Sheriff of Maricopa[Note #1], Joseph Arpaio, branded himself "America's Toughest Sheriff" and instituted a cult of personality around his antics. Really he was a tin-pot attention whore [Note #2] whose greatest skill was attracting media attention and outrage for his actions against politically-disadvantaged groups: depressed people who turn to the street pharmacy to ameliorate their physiological imbalances ("drug addicts"), economic refugees, U.S. citizens who happened to be minorities, etc. He was popular enough to get re-elected a few times, was long under investigation for civil rights violations (costing the county millions for his defense and payments in settlements), and was finally ousted in the 2016 election.

The recently-convicted & pardoned Arpaio was really just a figurehead for the United States' failed approach to helping people 'correct' their problematic behaviors. Other states have justice programs which are just as cruel & ineffective as Joseph Arapaio's brand of make-work justice. These programs don't have a firebrand as a figurehead, so they get a pass from regular media attention.

Justice Trauma: The Predicaments of the Accused and Punished


As told by my passengers...

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Perpetual Quest for Decent Fares

Most taxi fares are short trips. The taxi company's meter started at $2.95; some people's fares only got up to $3.20. The minimum for an insurance-paid trip was $6. It’s hard to make money with a bunch of $6 fares.

Every taxi driver has a strategy for getting large fares. Some drivers will spend hours in certain areas hoping for a 30-mile trip from a resort to the airport. Some will stick to the areas where they’ve gotten lucky before. There are good fares everywhere, so I went to the areas my passengers took me and listened to my intuition.

A friend of mine recently pulled up to a random house in the east valley. The passenger started to bring her bags out. He asked for her destination, so he'd be ready to depart. She was going to Snowflake. My friend was floored: “you know that’s a $300-400 trip, right?” The passenger had been quoted a price by the dispatcher, so she knew what to expect. My friend couldn’t take her because he would have been 2 hours late getting the cab to the night driver. But he transferred the passenger to his friend, who appreciated having a nearly $400 fare.

In my 3.5 years of driving, the best fare I ever had was a trade. It was a relatively short trip. I made out like an bandit.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Introduction

The current posts and pages here were originally posted as diaries at kuro5hin.org (K5). I'd started blogging about my taxi passengers at K5 in March, 2012, after my eighth lease. My original intention was to help me better remember all the interesting people I was meeting. I posted at K5 because I wanted to be anonymous, and was not looking for attention (the site had already shrunk to a skeleton core of users at that time). Kuro5hin.org went down when the site's owner neglected to prepare for when the data center hosting his site moved.

K5 users voted three of my story submissions to the site’s front page, and one to section.

Electronic Taxi Dispatch, v1.0 is about how the taxi company’s pre-smartphone/pre-tablet GPS-enabled computerized dispatch system matched passengers with cabs.

Who Are Your Lifelines? is about the time that I bailed my passenger out of jail. He was a down-on-his-luck tech worker, who could have been anyone. He’d called me because he remembered my phone number.

Humanity’s Second-Best Hope is about the dreadful seasonal job that I had just before I started taxi driving, mixed with some 2012-era political commentary.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

the difference between boys & girls

One night I pulled up to the now-closed 7-11 convenience store near 35th Ave and Thomas. The taxi computer said the passenger's name was Blanca, and did not provide a phone number. A ~20 year old Hispanic woman, whose name was NOT `Blanca', was sitting on the curb. She concluded the sale of her Nintendo Wii to her new friend, who also prepaid me for her taxi fare. The woman got into the cab and we departed towards her destination. After I said a few words, my passenger remembered me and said, "I've had you before." Hmm? "You put your hands on my head."

What? I never do that... Sometimes, when passengers were stressed, I would tell them how to put their own hands on their own heads in a specific manner to help normalize blood flow, thereby helping them process stress better. I briefly looked at my passenger. I remember places not faces, not even faces with distinctive tattoos, and drew a total blank.

"Where did I pick you up?"

"At the Dream C___."

"Where's that?"

"On Grand Avenue."

I still drew a blank. After a bit more of the exchange, the night I'd almost taken this woman somewhere came back to me in a flash. "Oh yeah. How ya doing?"

She was much better - She was proud of having quit meth, and said she just had to kick the blunts and she'd be good.

It'd been about two months since I'd met this woman. Previously she'd been in the middle of an emotional crisis.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Imaginary Workplaces

While reading on the internet recently, I was reminded of a passenger...

The pickup address was at the Mercedes Benz dealership on Scottsdale Rd just north of Frank Lloyd Wright. The passenger was a single gentleman who I estimated to be in his mid-70's. I asked if he'd dropped his car off for service. He said that he'd dropped a car off at the auction, across the street, and was going back to his condo for the other car that he was selling.

One of my standard questions was to ask people if they'd lived in Phoenix all their life. If not, I'd ask how they found their way to the desert. Then I'd just go with my intuition to figure out if this person had something to share that I'd be interested in.

Maybe because he was old, or because I was just a random taxi driver, he told me of some things that younger retirees with security clearances would have never even hinted at.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

electrolytes help people survive the heat

50C (122F) is a a hot day in Phoenix. It's only ever made it to 50C once in the last hundred years, in 1990. We lived in the northern part of the state at the time, but grandparents had a flight that day, so I was present for the record.

Most summers it doesn't get past 49C/120F. Parker and Lake Havasu (along the Colorado River) get slightly warmer. 125F is a hot day in Lake Havasu, 128F is the record. Bullhead City (of Airwolf Helicopter fame), gets up into the mid-120's too. Someone who used to live in Parker told me that the water pipes are very close to the surface, so all their showers were hot showers in the summer.

Poll: heat, humidity, or cold?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Computer Maintenance

When I borked my laptop with the Windows 10 preview this past summer, I was in a bit of a pickle. My Windows Vista desktop was in my ministorage, and even if I got it out, I had no internet but my phone and wifi hotspots. (tl/dr summary of my k5 comment: After the Win10 installer booted, I thought better of experimenting with my only functional computer and clicked 'cancel'. My old Windows 7 install never booted again...)

My father wondered why I supported myself by driving people around in a taxi, when I could certainly have made more "fixing computers". While I'm not a hacker like my cousin, my credentials (degree, expired certifications [CCNA/CCNP], etc) could probably get me a tech support position somewhere. Before I moved back to Arizona, I almost had a job at a community college, and was the only person to recognize one of the items in the box of parts they tested candidates with. Maybe the Taxi company would hire me, if I wanted to be an employee.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Airplane Maintenance

My father had the news on when I went to visit him a few weeks ago. Did you all hear about that Delta flight to NYC that slid off the runway, when it landed in the snow? This reminded me of a pair of passengers.

The later passenger was going home from a neighborhood bar. It came up that he was going to work tomorrow. I offered a guess at his profession, but was not correct - he was an airplane mechanic for Delta.

"Really? Let me tell you about this other passenger..."

A few months earlier I'd pulled up to a condo in a gated community. A woman came out of the house and said to take her to the airport. Then she said that this was her second trip to the airport in a cab that day, and that she hoped that she'd get on a plane to Hawaii that evening, as she only had 9 days to spend with her family there.

She'd gotten on that day's first Hawaiian Airlines plane to the Islands... But the pilots found something in their preflight checks. Hawaiian Air has a maintenance contract with Delta, and the mechanics came over. After a while they all got off the plane to wait in the terminal. The passengers were told that the part their plane needed was in Los Angeles, and to just wait.

My airplane-mechanic-passenger sighed and said, "yeah, THAT plane..."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Twilight Missile Launch

A few months ago I noticed that my laptop's LCD backlight powered off if I leaned the screen most of the way back. The image was still visible in direct sunlight, there was just no power to light it up. At the start of September I bought an external hard drive, imaged my laptop, then sent the laptop off for repair. It was returned a week later. They'd restored the factory image to my hard drive. I might've preferred otherwise, but at least this takes care of the OS-decay problems I was having. For example, Windows Explorer wouldn't always load the desktop when I first logged in. I'd have to ctrl-alt-del, start the task manager, kill explorer.exe, start explorer.exe, and poof, the desktop would appear.

I've been using Dropbox to back up my taxi notes, and to store my keepass password file. The network-sync feature quickly moved these files across the network to (and from) the loaner-laptop I'd borrowed from my dad.

Yesterday I restored my photo directory from the external drive, and was reminded of one of the cooler things I've seen while out and about in the taxi.

Inside: photo gallery, and the back-story.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Predicaments of Imaginary People

For some time I have quipped when asked for an id, "You're not a real person if you don't have a plastic card." This was mostly to acknowledge the plight of illegal people, but I guess we're all illegal if we can't demonstrate otherwise.

Two fellows were trying to buy beer at the convenience store I visited at the end of my shift today. One had his plastic identification card. The other offered a card decorated with a hole punch. The clerk did not accept it for their beer purchase. This aspiring beer purchaser pulled out a second card, which the clerk examined and also declined because it was expired. I don't know if they ever got their beer, as another clerk appeared to take my gas money.

In the cab was my passenger with his own plastic card dilemma. I met him over a year ago, at the QT on Bell Rd. near Cave Creek Rd. in Phoenix. He'd said someone had stolen his car, and he has been without a plastic card ever since.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Spontaneous Restaurant Review

My third passenger this morning was going home from Dialysis - she's on the 3x/week maintenance program. While sitting at the light at 99th Ave & Thunderbird, the passenger gestured to the restaurant's sign avertising 2 tacos for 99-cents:
Those tacos - they look good, and they taste awful. Never again. And I like Tacos...
The very next passenger had basically the same voyage, from a little farther down Bell Rd. to 99th Ave & Thunderbird, approximately (he was helping out his 90yo grandmother). When I drove past the restaurant the second time I told about the prior passenger. As the restaurant passed out of view I thought to take a picture. Fortunately Google has a streetview image.


This was an older kidney patient - in her 80's, probably. I had recently had another who was only 40 - she'd lost her kidney function at 26, iirc. She was exhausted - the doctors had removed her ... parathyroids (?) in December.

Sometimes people offer to buy me fast food, but I always decline.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Italian car, BMW engine

Saturday opened with a prosaic series of fares. A woman going to work stopped at the Shell station for Powerade, as she'd been drinking the night before. Her fountain drink was very blue - not something that I'd drink myself, but to each their own. My next three passengers were going home from two different Frys Food with their groceries.

I had to go to the post office for a flat-rate envelope. The line was long, so I took the envelope back out to the cab to fill, and gradually made my way over to a different post office for the mailing.

The second post office was near 20th St & Camelback, which is one of the more popular areas for the company's taxi drivers. I told the cab computer that I was taking a 10-minute break. In theory, breaks allow us to save our position in line. Before this break I was in Position 2, but when I returned I was in Position 4. This annoyed me greatly, but before long I was offered a fare 4 miles away - in one of Paradise Valley's zones. It turned out to be a rather short trip, but it was interesting enough to take a few pictures to share with you all.

Inside: link to a few pictures, and a poll.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Instant Taxi, Part II: the overly-ambitious rookie

I recently posted a diary about how I am sometimes able to appear instantly. This happened again last Monday night. I only had six fares (and a cancellation) over the 12 hour shift. Much time was spent waiting between my 'appointments'. One good fare is worth 10 small fares, so at least I didn't lose money.

Usually taxi driving is a solitary occupation, but on this particular night I was sent to offer advice to an overly-ambitious rookie.