Who Am I?

My photo
A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

08 August 2018

Minding Your Business

In a recent news story from here in Florida, we have yet another senseless shooting.  This one was the result of an argument over someone parking illegally in a handicap spot at a convenience store.

On July 19th of this year, security camera footage captured a car pulling up into a parking spot on the side of a convenience store in the city of Clearwater.  We learn that this is clearly-marked as a handicap spot.  A man (Man #1) exits the car from the passenger side.  A small child also gets out.  Man #1 and the child go inside the store. The driver remains in the car. 


Street view of handicap spot on side of convenience store

Shortly thereafter, an SUV pulls in and parks near the car in the handicap spot.  The driver of the SUV (Man #2) gets out.  He walks to the rear of the car and looks at something.  Then he walks to the front and looks.  We can deduce that he is checking to see if it had some sort of "handicapped" signage.  He then initiates an animated, extended discussion with the driver of the car.  The police report said it was a "pretty significant yelling match."  It lasted for over a minute.

Eventually, Man #1 comes out of the convenience store, without his child.  (Perhaps he'd been notified of the altercation happening outside.)  He walks briskly toward the car, apparently unnoticed by Man #2. Suddenly, Man #1 body-slams Man #2 violently enough to send him straight to the ground, hard. Man #2 then pulls out a pistol and shoots Man #1, who turns and stumbles back inside the convenience store.  Where he dies.  

Is this a "too many damn guns in this country" issue?  I don't believe so.  Let us acknowledge here that Man #2 was carrying his pistol legally.  Everyone should know by now - especially those who live here! - that Florida has rather generous rules on granting "concealed carry" gun permits.  And even if you "know" this little fact it's something of which people must be more cognizant.  You never really know who's carrying.  If you get into a fight with someone and they become fearful for their life, they just might pull out their gun and shoot you!  So maybe you should think twice before body-slamming someone to the ground, for whatever reason.  

In any event, the police have refused to charge Man #2 under Florida's famous and controversial, “Stand Your Ground” law.  Rest assured, this is not the end of this little story.  Even if there are no criminal charges pressed against Man #2, there will certainly be a civil wrongful-death suit brought by the family of Man #1.

Moving on...  Is there a racial component to this story?  Oh, but of course!  Isn't there always?  The woman in the car is black.  Man #1 is black.  Man #2 is white.  The media has already latched onto this.  Was Man #2's initial confrontation racially motivated?  

In fact, we may never know the specific motivations of any of the players for their actions in this horrible event.  But to a large degree, I think the racial element is irrelevant. What matters is this: A man confronted a woman over parking in a handicap spot. He got his ass kicked, and now another man is dead. Aside from the tragedy of Man #1's death, Man #2 will now have to live forever with the fact that he shot and killed someone for no good reason.

Wait...what? For no reason? Yep!

In telling me about this event (of which I was only vaguely aware), my friend Terry vociferously defended Man #2. "All he was doing was telling the woman not to park there!” Terry said, as if Man #2 was totally innocent and justified in his action.  (And perhaps Terry was implying that he might have done the same thing.)

I had a few questions. To wit:  Why was it important to Man #2 that the woman parked in that spot? What was his gripe?  Was he a cop? No. Was he handicapped and in need of parking there? Apparently not. Was he the neighborhood handicapped parking spot enforcer? No.

So I disagree with my friend, Terry.  My view is that Man #2 should've just stayed the hell out of it. By injecting into himself into a situation that was absolutely none of his concern, he initiated and provoked a confrontation that resulted in another man's death.  Man #2 precipitated the whole thing, and now he'll probably "get away with murder," so to speak. 

In the grand scheme of things, parking illegally in a handicap spot is not a heinous crime worth dying over.  There was no need for Man #2 to intervene. Had he simply not done anything...had he looked and walked the other way, the altercation between he and Man #1 would not have happened. Man #1 would still be alive.  Everyone would have gotten into their cars,  driven off, and lived happily ever after (we hope).

We all need to learn to MIND OUR OWN DAMN BUSINESS.

You can read the story and watch the video of the event HERE.

29 July 2018

More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Uber Tips


In response to my last post about driving for Uber, my coincidentally-named friend Bob asked in the Comments section about tips. Tips? Heh. Let me explain...

Uber is both ingenious and diabolical. They started a taxi service (let's be honest) and convinced the general public that it could be provided more cheaply than conventional taxis. And the public readily accepted this premise, because who doesn't like "cheaper?" Uber also implied (if not coming right out and saying) that tips were "included" in the fare and that passengers didn't have to even bother with them. Uber wanted the experience to be smooth: Call a cab on your phone; get in, get out; and have it paid by your credit card on file, have a nice day. Easy-peasy for the Me-Generation.

The public, while decrying taxis as "smelly, expensive, undependable rattletraps" at the same time must have believed that all taxi drivers were getting rich on those exorbitant, usurious fares. Or maybe the taxi owners were getting rich. *Somebody* had to be getting rich for people to believe that a taxi service like Uber could be run such a discount and still make money. (Hint: It can't.)

No taxi driver is getting rich.

And of course not even Uber is getting rich. Nearly every day we hear stories on the news of how Uber is losing billions of dollars each quarter. But somehow the public believes that it's a viable money-making venture. Odd, that. The logic escapes me.

So let's get back to what a driver makes. Out of those refreshingly lower fares that passengers love, Uber takes 30% in various fees. What does that leave for the driver? Not bloody much, thank you. In fact, when you compare apples to apples (and I do), driving for Uber is just about the same, expense-wise as driving a taxi. ...Except you're driving (and wearing out) your own personal vehicle.

No Uber driver is getting rich.

Here in Pensacola the city-regulated meter rate for conventional, licensed taxis is $2.25 per mile. Uber's base rate is $1.13 per mile (plus they tack-on some extra fees). On short trips, Uber might even be more expensive than a taxi. On longer trips, Uber has the advantage.

And remember, Uber's initial, introductory rates were as low as $0.75 per mile in many cities, including here in my town. That has steadily (and quietly!) increased over time. It's the old drug-pusher's philosophy: Get them hooked first and then you can do whatever you want. Uber, being unregulated, can raise rates as it pleases. So now Uber's fare advantage is not as great as it was in the beginning. But people like the service and so on the Scale Of Importance! the overall rate drops down a notch. Or...customers just haven't noticed that using Uber is more expensive than it was in the beginning.

Uber drivers were making so little money that they pressured the company into providing a tip option. Uber resisted for a long time but finally relented. But it certainly was not due to public demand. Currently, some people do tip; some don't. And it's weird. Unlike my taxi passengers, some Uber tips are totally out of proportion to the ride.

Just today I picked up a man at a local seafood restaurant. His home was well north of town, and we had a lot of time to talk on the way. He had a lot of questions. People are always interested in what other things Uber drivers do...or did before “doing Uber.” Though I'm reluctant to say it, I gave him my spiel about how I've been a helicopter pilot for a long, long time and that I'm semi-retired now, and Uber is a way of keeping me out of the house and meeting cool, interesting people.  (Which is true.)  This sparked many wide-ranging questions from my rider as well as some oddly astute observations about aviation. He obviously knew more than he was telling.

The fare to his house was only $15.00. When we got there, as usual I said that I enjoyed talking with him, and wished him good luck in his career, of which he'd told me plenty as well. Later on, I saw that he'd added a $15.00 tip to his bill. Nice! (I've noticed this before – some people have tipped me more than the actual fare for the trip. That never happened in my taxi.)

I've noticed that if you treat people with respect, engage them in real conversation – not the fake, “How do you like this weather?” kind, and don't “talk down” to them, their tips are usually bigger.

I've also noticed that while I didn't get that many tips in the beginning back in May, more and more customers are tipping now. I'm not sure whether this is a cultural thing, as people are becoming more and more aware that they should tip, or whether it's my sparkling personality generating them. I suspect it's the former. I think we're still in the “honeymoon” phase of Uber.

On the other hand, I am learning how driving for Uber is different from driving a cab, and maybe I'm getting better at this “job.” (I'll deal with those differences in a future blogpost.)

At the end of the day, between thirty and forty percent of my riders tip. I've done 217 trips so far and have received 74 tips. (To be honest I've gotten a few cash tips but they are very, very rare.) My tips are running slightly over 30%, which is higher than when I drove a taxi, where the tips consistently hovered around 20%.

I'm always grateful to get tips. But I'm ecstatic when riders give me a five-star rating, which is important.  I'll explain why in a future blogpost as well.

25 July 2018

Uber: Work when you want!


A lot of people ask me how long I've been “doing Uber?” I explain that I drove a taxi in Pensacola for the last eight years, and then a couple of months ago switched over to Uber. Invariably, one of the next questions is how I like making my own schedule...working when I want? And I laugh. Uber seems to have convinced people that they invented this, “Work when you want” stuff.

They didn't.

I don't know of many cabdrivers in this or any other city who are required to work certain hours. Yes, when I drove a cab for a big company in New York City I had to choose a particular 12-hour shift, mainly because there was another driver who'd be driving “opposite” me. But even there, owner-operators can make their own schedule. Uber's, ”Be your own boss! Work when you want!” come-on is simply laughable. Pretty much any cabdriver can do that. The difference is that with Uber you're using your own personal vehicle as a taxi instead of a car that's set-up, metered and branded for that specific purpose.

But the reality is that for taxi drivers here in Pensacola, “work when you want” means working weekends because that's when the Navy and Marine guys and gals can get off base. There is “some” airport business (but it's dying as customers switch over to ride-share). There is virtually zero hailing of a taxi at the curb, not even downtown on weekend nights anymore. Almost all taxi trips are radio-dispatched. Finally there is “some” street business (e.g. home-to-Walmart), mostly handled by Yellow and recent upstart Lucky Cab. Even these trips are radio-dispatched.

And here we must speak delicately. You must have a credit card to use these “ride-share” services. (Although apparently Lyft allows customers to use pre-paid credit cards.) But there will always be a segment of society who either does not have a credit card, or who doesn't want to share that information with some big company. There are people who, for whatever reason simply want (or need) to pay cash for their taxi ride. Thus, Yellow and Lucky Cab still thrive. And probably always will.

Such trips are usually in the...well...let's say “less-affluent” parts of town. At the cab company with which I was most recently associated, when a trip would come over the radio with a pickup in a known...ahem...bad area, nobody would bid on it. At night, if a driver picked up a fare and indicated (by code) that the destination was “sketchy,” another driver (or two – whoever was free and in the area) would quickly rendezvous with the original car at the destination, or prior if possible.

The joke is that in the ghetto, taxis are called, “rolling ATM's.” People know we have money for the taking. So guess who wouldn't take any trips originating in the ghetto? Right, me. Call me racist...whatever. I may have mentioned before that not long ago a Yellow Cab driver I know was robbed at gunpoint and stuffed in the trunk of her car. The female accomplice kept telling her boyfriend, “Shoot her! Shoot her!” But the boyfriend did not, thank God. (They were both caught, thanks to the dashcam Yellow installed in all their cabs.)

Okay, I kind of got off on a tangent there. The point is that driving for Uber is a wonderful change from driving a taxi. There are pluses and minuses, like everything. For me, for now, the advantages outweigh the negatives.

I worried that my revenue-per-mile would be drastically worse with Uber, but so far that has not proven to be the case. I'm making about the same amount of money I was making driving a “regular” taxi, but I work less hours to do that. The best thing about working for Uber is that I can be sitting in my house, writing crap on the internet with the Uber app on (like now), and I can get a trip without having to drive a single mile.

I wish I could've done that in my taxi.

15 July 2018

Home, Sweet...Hell? (It only feels that way)


Well they said it couldn't be done...said it wouldn't be done! But done, it is. I went up to Washington on June 5th, and now I'm home safe and sound(?) in Pensacola here on July 15th. My deal with the Boss was that I'd come up and cover one of the ships that we have a on 30-day contract. Up, cover the job, and then be gone. It wasn't what I wanted, but not for nuthin' the farm manager of the customer for whom I've been working for the last seven years called and put a little pressure on me too. And so I went back.  It's nice to be wanted.

The thirty days went by surprisingly quickly.  As my departure date from Washington approached, my friend Terry remarked that I had not experienced a Florida summer in quite a while, and I might be in for a rude re-acquaintance since it's been so hot and humid this year in the Sunshine State. This is true; the last summer that I was in Florida was 2010.

And sure enough, it's plenty hot here in Pensacola today. The mid-90 degree heat is exacerbated by the 73% humidity, which makes the air feel not just hot but heavy as well. You go outside and the air just weighs down on you. But that's life along the gulf coast – I'm not complaining.  (Up in Washington today, with similar temperatures the humidity is 13%.  Quite the difference!)

Anyway, it's good to be home. Now, all I have to do is get the exhaust system on the motorcycle, get it registered (which I should have done before I left – oops!) and try to get some riding in between rainstorms.

It's going to be a great rest of the summer!

04 July 2018

Cherry Season Update: 2018

Well it's been an odd year so far here in Brewster, Washington.  We've had more rain than last year...sort of.  But that rain has been usually moving in from the north, which is odd.  Normally it comes across the Cascade Mountains from the west, or up from the south.  Not only that, the rain has often been accompanied by high wind.  

One day the other pilot, Matt and I went out to dry, and the wind was howling...so strong I could turn the helicopter around at the end of the row.  I tried different tactics - like starting at the downwind end of the orchard and working my way up into the wind, but no-go.  I couldn't comfortably make the helicopter do what I needed it to do.  These things are like huge weathervanes.  They don't like to be broadside or tail to the wind.

I'm no hero for one thing, and for another the wind itself does a pretty good job of shaking the trees and drying the cherries.  I let our farm manager know that we were going to stand-down until the wind calmed a little.  He was fine with that; they never push us when it comes to weather decisions.  It turned out though that the high winds lasted until sunset.

 Not only has it been the windiest summer I can remember up here, it's also been one of the coolest, temperature-wise.  By now (first week of July) the temperatures should be well up into the 90's and possibly 100's.  But we've been blessed with remarkably cool days when it hardly gets up above 85.  The nights have been cooler as well, getting down into the low 50's, meaning I've been using a lot of propane with the RV furnace kicking on.  

The grower we work for has already started picking cherries.  Things should go quickly.  The state of Washington dictates that pickers can only work in the fields below 90 degrees.  Sometimes that can happen by 10:00 a.m.  You can't get much work out of pickers who only start work at 5:00.  But not this year!  Our grower has them in the orchards all day.  

Once the blocks of cherry trees have been picked and the number of acres of unpicked trees dwindles, our grower will release one of the helicopters and just keep one on for the remainder of the season.  

The good news for me is that while my original departure date of July 10th may have to slip a bit...it won't be much later than that.  Once I get back I'll still have a good amount of our Florida motorcycle riding season left to enjoy.  

17 June 2018

Rainbows

Last season (2017), we dryers of cherries did not do much work.  There was virtually no rain.  Helicopter operators who skimped on their "standby" charges and figured they'd make the revenue up in flight time were left hurting.  Meh, such is business life.  The guy I work for is shrewd.  Even on no-fly or low-fly years we still make money.  (Of course, it goes without saying that we make more if we fly.)

This year, we've already had more rain and have done more flying in the first couple of days of the contracts than we did all of last year!  It's been weird, too.  The rain has been coming from the north, which is kind of unusual.  Most of the time it comes from the west across the Cascade Mountains or up from the south.  Whatever...we'll take it! 

I'm assigned to a grower that contracts for two helicopters.  We position them on this grower's property in an LZ (landing zone) they've set aside for us.  They've also provided complete hookups for a couple of RV's.  The other pilot and I have individual motorhomes.  It's not exactly plush, but it's not bad either.  Hey, I could stand on my head for two months if you paid me enough.

The other night just before sunset, a big storm had formed just to our northeast, moving to the southwest.  It looked as though it would barrel right over us and drench us as it passed.  The other pilot and I stood outside, watching it keenly.   Thankfully, it dissipated before it got to us, leaving us with only a few sprinkles.  It did, however provide a spectacular rainbow.  I can't recall ever seeing one so complete.

Nature can be pretty interesting sometimes.  I remain unconvinced that rainbow would be there had the earth evolved from...whatever...but had man never come into existence.  Nope, I believe that cool stuff like rainbows were put here specifically for us humans to enjoy.  And that, we do!

06 June 2018

More Changed Plans

When I got home from Washington State last year, I vowed that I would not return for the 2018 season.  I bought a motorcycle and planned to ride it all summer long with my friends, Jacob and Terry.  I live in Florida.  I've made my life here since 1987.  And there's a reason why I stay: I love Florida!

Since starting my little summer sojourn to Brewster, Washington in 2011, my stay up there got progressively longer.  It mostly lasted six months.  And it's fun, don't get me wrong, but it takes a huge chunk out of my life here where I call home.  My boss at the helicopter company would like me to move to Washington full-time, but I just don't see that happening.

This year the helicopter industry finds itself in the midst of a pilot shortage.  The ad we put for pilots got only a fraction of the views and very, very few resumes in response.  We ended up not having enough pilots to cover the contracts for cherry-drying that were already in place.  Early on during the process, it became clear that I'd have to go back and cover one of the ships.  And that's what happened.

So here I go, on the road again...or more accurately in the air again.  United Airlines has agreed to fly my butt up to the town of Wenatchee, where the boss will pick me up for the two-hour drive up the Columbia River to Brewster.  This year, I'm only staying for thirty days. 

Anyway, that's the plan.