“People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. . . . This surprises us when the persons concerned are thieves bragging about their dexterity, prostitutes vaunting their depravity, or murders boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because the circle, the atmosphere, in which these people live, is limited, and chiefly because we are outside it. Can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth-robbery, when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories-murder, and when those in high places vaunt their power-violence? That we do not see the perversion in the views of life held by these people, is only because the circle formed by them is larger and we ourselves belong to it.” (Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy, trans. Louise Maude)

New Readers:

Please start reading with my first post "A Cup of Coffee". Originally posted on March 19, the archival date changed when I made corrections on May 13, which is the date under which you can find it now.

I'll learn to manage this all more smoothly someday, but at present I have at most only an hour online each day (that thanks to the San Francisco Public Library system, without which I would be lost).

Sunday, October 12, 2014

How to Use a Taxi Cab

I have said that in the past I myself never used taxis in this town because they were never available.  One never saw an empty cab glide by nor did they come to pick one up even after having telephoned the dispatcher time and time again.  Now that I drive a cab, I realize that the failure of the taxi industry to serve the public of this city in the past has had an ancillary effect:  San Franciscans have no idea how to hail a cab or how to behave when riding in one.

I therefore offer the following words of advice:

1.  When hailing a cab, step to the curb, hold your right arm outstretched at an upward angle over the street, one finger extended as if pointing at a cloud on the horizon, and shout the single word "Taxi!", with an emphasis on the second syllable.  Do not whistle:  I am not your dog.  Do not shout "Hey!":  I have no way of knowing that you are calling to me and not to a friend across the street.  Besides, hay is for horses.

To make this action most effective, perform it with utmost confidence:  think of yourself as Claudette Colbert or Cary Grant, an unutterably beautiful star of Hollywood's Golden Age, back when they made movies for and about adults rather than overgrown children.  After all, you are trying to attract attention to yourself, the attention of someone who is already fully concentrating on variables that include but are not limited to pedestrians, bicycles, parked cars that may pull out into traffic, signal lights, and oncoming cars.  You have to compete against all other factors for notice.  Do not be shy!

[NOTE:  I wonder whether a preference for using apps as opposed to encountering people directly, or even encountering them telephonically, comes from a lack of self-confidence, a shyness fearful of doing something wrong or doing it the wrong way.  Machines, after all, provide the cold comfort of being non-judgmental, even if that means that they are also unsupportive.]

2.  Make yourself easy to see.  For example, if you are hailing a cab at night, stand under a streetlight, or in some other well-lit place.  Remember that the driver you are trying to hail has the lights of all those oncoming cars in her or his eyes, and their dazzling effect can make you difficult to see especially if you are dressed in dark clothes.  (Didn't mother teach you all to wear white at night?)

3.  Make yourself easy to get to.  Do not stand at a corner, where traffic is flowing in four directions (or on Market street sometimes six) thereby causing the cabbie who wants to pick you up to risk hitting or being hit by multiple other drivers.  Stand away from corners and if possible at an empty parking space (oops -- I almost forgot that this is San Francisco and such spots are merely mythical) or at a loading zone, a fire hydrant, or a gap in the line of parked cars.  This placement gives the cabbie a place to pull as far as possible out of traffic and allows other cars opportunity to change lanes and go around the cab without worrying about how they are going to make a turn at the same time.

4.  Enter the cab only from the curb side.  Do not walk out into traffic lanes and open the door into said lanes to get in the cab.

5.  Do not, unless you are in a large party of passengers, sit in the front seat.  The cabbie's dignity, stretching back through history to the drivers of horse-drawn carriages and wagons, rests in large part on the mutual recognition of the terms of his or her hire.  Just as the hackney driver sat on the raised bench at the front of the carriage and the patron sat in the cushioned seats behind, the cabbie has his or her workspace or office, as it were, in the front of the car.  You are the patron, she or he is the teamster.  (One who steers a team of horses is a teamster.)

Americans have a hard time with service relationships.  (Remember Auntie Lee?We like to pretend that there are no differences of class because we believe that differences of class would be barriers that separate us from one another.  But the hypocrisy -- nay, the outright lie -- of equality erects an impenetrable barrier of silence between us, the silence that encases all taboo subjects, and thereby prevents honest dealings among people.  Many of those who work for you in service positions have a perspective of which you have absolutely no idea because of the barrier of false equality.  

You the passenger have hired me, the driver, to take you to the destination you name.  My job is to carry you there safely and quickly, in that order.  I have no authority to drive to a place of my choosing.  It is your right to request music or, if I have the radio on, to request that it be turned off.  You decide whether the car is too warm or two cold, and I adjust the heater or the air conditioner accordingly.  I may ask something to indicate a willingness to converse, but you decide whether or not we have a conversation.  In all of these considerations, the power is yours.  To pretend otherwise is to enforce a lie.

Indeed, to pretend otherwise is grossly unfair to me.  I want only to perform my duty of transporting you and to make your ride as comfortable as possible.  I want you to tell me if you are too hot or too cold.  Otherwise you leave me guessing whether you are or are not happy, and that guesswork makes me anxious.  After all, what I want most of all is a generous tip, which I can earn only by pleasing you.  Any clue you can give me as to what you want gives me an opportunity to do my job well.

At a meeting of transportation workers last July during Laborfest, I heard a panel made up of drivers from traditional cab companies, drivers from Uber and Lyft, a union member, and a graduate student studying labor issue in the taxi industry in San Francisco.  One of the most interesting comments came from a taxi driver who had switched to driving for Uber and then switched back to driving a cab.  "When I drove for Uber," he said, "what I missed most from driving a cab was the conversations.  You can't talk about anything serious with Uber customers.  All they want to hear is how wonderful everything is.  In a cab you can be honest about your work and about the city and about life."

That remark gets to the corrosive effect of the myth of equality. I want my passengers to think of me as a good driver and a pleasant person to pass the time in a car with. If they ask my opinion on some controversial topic, I will be honest but not argumentative. The last thing I would want to do would be to offend. Such behavior is normal. At the extreme,  how many would tell Hitler that his plan to invade Russia was stupid. And how many husbands want to be scrupulously honest when asked whether that dress "makes me look fat." Relationships of power require different standards of honesty. 

[The word "truth" comes from the word "troth" -- a quality of a relationship between two individuals.  Truth is measured by the relationship between the speaker and the audience. ]

We adjust our opinions based on the company we are in, and the adjustments are shaped by the dynamic of power among the members of that company. To pretend equality blinds everyone to that reality and can lead to distortion and conflict.  See what Nietzsche had to say about "the pathos of distance".

Pretending that we are all just friends helping each other out denies and makes invisible the facts of power.  The passenger (or at a restaurant the diner, in a barber shop the customer in the chair, and so on with other commercial relationships) is the employer and the holder of power.  It is in the employer's power to improve the employee's life by paying wages or tips.  It is also in her or his power to make the worker's life more difficult by withholding payment.  In the former case, the worker feels happy, feels proud of having done the job well, and feels respected for the effort.  In the latter, the employee feels disappointed, feels like a failure at the job, and feels as though reprimanded for having failed in some way.  

Do not let an ethic of false comradery blind you to the power you hold and lead you to disrespect another person or to ignore your server's needs.

Please remember that these reflections apply to all service workers who aid you in accomplishing the tasks you face every day.


I have often wondered at the curious fact that when the self-consciously democratic Americans dropped the distinction between the formal and the informal second person (that is, between "thee and thou" and "you and you") we kept the formal term and lost the informal one.  In earlier times, one addressed close friends and family members as "thee", thereby showing a tenderness of feeling and intimacy in the relationship.  One used "you" when addressing strangers or those of a higher class.  But in America people started using "you" for everyone.

I suppose that the usage is a little like to Communist use of "Comrade" as a title of respect for everyone equally, whether husband, wife, elder, child, stranger, or best friend.  The newly "equal" (though falsely so) citizens of the young democracy began addressing everyone with a term of respect:  "you".  Nowadays I think that most people think "thee" and "thou" are terms for a superior person because the only place they are still used is in addressing God.

I think the whole change rather sad.  I cannot now indicate a level of friendship or love or warmth of feeling to someone by addressing her or him as "thee".  I would, dear reader, that I could here so simply show thee such kindness.