Driving, Recruiting, Training: A Taxi Career in a Changing Industry

Driving, Recruiting, Training: A Taxi Career in a Changing Industry

It was 1999 when I first got into the taxi business. I drove for a mid-sized company here in Central Florida. If you’re from around here, you’d no doubt recognize the name. The training was bad. Well, there was none. It’s not the easiest business to be in when you’re a newbie and it didn’t go well for me. I went back to slingin’ hash; I had had a long career as a waiter before deciding that taxi was a better way to go. It was a good and safe strategy to go back to something familiar, something I enjoyed and was very good at, but I still felt like driving a cab was “the next thing” for me in the career box of life.

After thinking about it for a few months, I decided to try it again, but this time I opted to go to the “big dog” in town to see if the result would be better. I landed at City Cab Co. of Orlando, a company that had been around since 1939, offered thorough training and knew how to be successful in the taxi biz. They had plenty of business over the phone, all the best parks and hotels, including the contract to service the taxi needs of Walt Disney World. And, yes, that proved beyond a doubt to be a better way to go. That’s an understatement. By the way, City Cab Company is the legal name, but Checker Cab, Yellow Cab and Winter Park Yellow Cab are all fleets operated by the same company all based out of the same location. Folks have often been confused by that.

A quick additional note about changes: those separate fleet names or brands will soon all give way to the Mears Taxi brand, but that could be the subject of a different post.

As the company evolved–way before my time–they jumped into shuttles, luxury sedans and became very big in the bus business too. Mears Transportation Group does pretty much anything and everything in the transportation business here in Central Florida, and do it well. I’ve now been associated with the company for 16 years. Just over seven years of that was driving cab, the rest has been in the department that recruits and trains new cab drivers. We also do a lot of administrative work, making sure that the drivers we have already have are up-to-date with driver permits from the city of Orlando, can still pass a vision test and are current with all contractual matters, especially after taking a hiatus from driving. In our industry, drivers are independent contractors, and the admin requirement do not stop once they’re on-board.

But our main focus in my department is getting new drivers contracted and ready to go; we recruit them, screen them, then train and motivate them and pass them on to our Operations Department. Some new drivers decide that our biz is not for them and they move on. Some, like me, take to it like a duck to water and go on to make a good living while enjoying a gig that’s quite literally like no other. I’ve got to say that driving a cab in Central Florida was, hands down, the best gig I’ve ever had.

There have been many changes in the transportation business in the last few years. In the cab business especially. Some of these changes are big. Game-changers, you might say. We who drive taxi or work in the business in administrative or support roles are feeling the changes. None of us can say with any certainty just where these changes are leading. But it’s big stuff. Ride sharing is a huge innovation, one that’s gone over well with people who use transportation services. Uber, Lyft and others have, and no doubt will continue, to change how people move from here to there. Speaking as an old-school “taxi guy” I want to acknowledge that many of us know that ride sharing could do to our industry what the internet did to newspapers. I don’t think that’s a “done deal” by any means but these 21st Century ways of going about our business are succeeding and the ramifications for those of us who’ve had success operating in the traditional way are huge.

I’m proud to be associated with a company that’s had impressive success over many, many years but that is keeping a close eye on the industry and how it’s changing and has put together a vision for how to embrace change and move with confidence into the future. I do not know what our industry will look like five or ten years from now. But I know that the qualities that have always helped a company and their people succeed will pretty much remain the same: having a good, well thought-out and adaptable business model; carefully selecting and thoroughly training your crew; supporting your workforce and giving them the tools they need to succeed; embracing changes in technology and ways to get things done and applying them in thoughtful and effective ways.

Changes. Challenges. They’re coming. Of that we can all be certain. Now as I toss out this pithy remark as my close, let me acknowledge that I need to hear and heed this advice probably more than most of you who might read it: the future belongs to those who will plan and prepare for it. I’m getting off line now so I can meditate a while on the weight and importance of that last sentence…YellowVan-movin-cropped-saturated-23523m

 

Harp god James Cotton turns 81 today!

Harp god James Cotton turns 81 today!

July 1, 2016

Blues harmonica legend James Cotton turns 81 today. James is the real deal, having grown up in Mississippi under the tutelage of Sonny Boy Williamson. James ran away from home at the age of seven and was deeply immersed in the blues from that time on. No one else has that kind of amazing blues pedigree; it’s a seriously over-worked phrase, but Mr. Cotton truly is one-of-a-kind.

I had the privilege to meet James after a show at the now-defunct Disney Institute back in 1996. (The D.I. has since been transformed into a massive Time Share Resort.) The back stage meet and greet had been arranged for me by my friend David McElroy who was the Director of the Theater project there. I’ll always be grateful for David’s consideration; the conversation I had with this living legend of the blues is one of the best moments of my musical career. A wonderful time in many ways.

James had been an able vocalist for his whole career and so we were taken aback when he struggled mightily to sing; it was shortly after that performance that he had to permanently stop singing because of serious problems with his vocal cords.

I just had to post tonight and wish Mr. Superharp a very happy 81st birthday. James was known for playing, recording and touring like a madman since 1953 but has now downshifted just a bit. I wish him good health and continued success on his day today.

 

Tragedy Strikes a Family at Disney World

On Tuesday, June 14th, two year old Lane Graves was wading in ankle-deep water at Disney’s flagship resort, The Grand Floridian, when he was attacked and dragged under by an alligator. Although his father was close by and tried to keep young Lane from being taken, his efforts were no match for a gator’s jaws. Mercifully, Lane’s body was recovered the next day.

The Graves family was visiting Central Florida from Nebraska on vacation and remained here for several days to make the arrangements for their son.

Lane’s funeral was held on the afternoon of June 21st. The service was limited to family and close friends.

A couple of observations about this mind-numbingly tragic event: although the loss of this precious child is first and foremost a tragedy  for the family, it rocked the Central Florida community as well, coming as it did, on the heals of the murder of singer Christina Grimmie and the attack at the Pulse nightclub in downtown Orlando. These three hugely-traumatic events would have weighed very heavily on the heart of Orlando regardless of the “why and when” factors. But having them fall, as they did, in a period of only five days was a perfect storm of shock, incredulity and heart-break for people who call Orlando home. It’s hard to conceive. Honestly. I can’t think of anything remotely like this in my half-century plus of living here.

Having said that, our community began the process of healing from this “unholy trinity” of events pretty quickly. The journey toward healing will be much longer for the families of those who were lost.

A GoFundMe account has been set up for the Graves family. If you’d like to help, follow this link. Please note that if you’re reading this a few weeks down the road from this tragic event, that account may not be active at that time.

To see how you can help the victims and the families of the 102 who were gunned down in the Pulse attack, click here. Note that of the 102 who were shot, 49 didn’t make it. At this writing, two and a half weeks later, only six survivors remain at Orlando Regional Medical Center. One is still in critical condition. But a lot of those folks will be healing from their wounds for a very, very long time.

On the 9th of June, if an angel had come down from heaven and described the events that would soon be happening in Central Florida, none of us would have taken the celestial messenger seriously. Those who might have put some stock in the angel’s revelation could not be blamed if they had taken the first flight out. But much to the credit of our people, this community has risen up and done great things to support the survivors, their families and the ones whose lives were lost. I hasten to add that much love and support has flooded in from places way beyond our part of the world. Like the love and unity which seemed to be everywhere in the aftermath of 9/11, these “warm, fuzzy” thoughts and behaviors will most likely wane as the shock and grief lessen. But the love and unity I’ve seen all around Central Florida in the last two weeks has been extraordinary and I hope it lasts a while.

I Cor. 13:13  New Living Translation

Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.

 

 

June 12th: The Pulse Massacre and its Aftermath

When Islamic extremist and first-class hater, Omar Mateen, walked into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando’s Sodo district he was carrying a variant of the AR-15 assault rifle and a 9mm semiautomatic handgun. And a smart phone. With the two weapons he murdered 49 club patrons and with the smart phone he repeatedly checked to see if news of his hateful slaughter was trending on the internet. Truly a massacre for the digital age.

This was, as you surely know, the worst mass shooting in American history and so much has already been written about it. And will be written about it. By media in Central Florida, all over the U.S. and, quite literally, all over the world. Even without delving into that nauseating social media aspect of this, it was a singular event in America’s history; it was our only mass shooting that was both an obvious act of terror and a clear-cut hate crime. Side note here: to those who think it was only the latter but not the former, I say:  you’re blinded by your hate and homophobia. Try dropping your leather-bound, King James assault Bibles and begin your slow trek away from slavish obedience to the Levitical cult and toward the 21st Century. Do it. You’ll thank me later.

Many of us who live in Orlando followed the events in real time and were shocked to see it all unfold. Shocked, but not surprised, as that saying goes. I’ve lived in Orlando for all but a few years since 1961 and I’ve made my living directly or indirectly from the visitors who come here from every corner of the globe since my first waiter’s gig in 1977. Tourism is our lifeblood. And many of us have always dreaded the possibility that some day some murderous punk–or punks–would visit our tropical paradise and shoot, stab or blow up people and things, shocking and horrifying the world and making even the idea of coming back to this formerly-blissful place too awful to contemplate.

I’m not at all minimizing the human cost of Mr. Mateen’s savage and obscene act; the 102 people who were cut down at Pulse–49 of whom died–should never be thought of as bit players in a larger story about theme parks and tourist dollars. But because so many journalists and reporters have done excellent work covering that primary aspect of the attack, I feel it’s not inappropriate to make some brief observations about some of the ramifications for our part of Florida. We’re a bit more than two weeks from this sad, shocking spasm of hate and I want to focus on some takeaways about the events of June 12th for those of us who call Orlando home but were, mercifully, not caught in a madman’s sights that morning.

Because the scum-of-the-earth perp had his ticket punched by OPD’s SWAT Team, we’ll never know exactly what motivated him, or whether he chose the world’s premier vacation spot with some kind of specific intent. Meaning choosing Orlando to purposefully spoil this idyllic getaway spot for vacationers  in the way that Bin Laden wanted to shock the world by thrusting a dagger deep into America’s financial heart and its seat of government. He did choose the September 11th targets in a purposeful and effective way. A plan that was purposeful, effective and evil. Very evil.

I don’t know if that was actually a part his sick terror plan in the lead-up to this attack. What I do know is that if he was hoping to strike a death-blow to our city and our region, he failed miserably.

The way Orlando has come together in the aftermath of this carnage is truly amazing. I love Central Florida and have known for more than half a century that it’s filled with some real first-rate examples of humanity. But even so, I’ve been surprised and taken aback–in a good way–with the ways in which our community, the nation and, yes, the world have responded to the tragedy of that morning’s events and rallied around our part of the Sunshine State.

The lives of Mr. Mateen’s victims have been thoroughly celebrated in the days which have followed the attack. Some of our local news outlets have really emphasized that aspect of the event and greatly humanized some people who did not get out of Pulse alive for those of us who did not know them. Many local media outlets have done fine work in that regard. Stations WKMG and WFTV led the way and the Orlando Sentinel produced truly excellent coverage all throughout this incredible and gut-wrenching saga. And they still are.

Those of us who are directly involved in the hospitality industry–as were many of the Pulse victims–have seen absolutely no sign that any of the thousands and thousands of folks, both in the U.S. and beyond who enjoy coming here are being cowed into staying away. I have seen, read and viewed many features and articles from so many sources which lead me to believe just the opposite.

We grieve for the victims of the Pulse rampage. And we honor them by moving forward with our lives and with our corporate life in this community. We honor them by refusing to be bullied, intimidated and terrorized.

It’s been said–not a few times–that Orlando will never be the same in the aftermath of this sad chapter in our history. That’s true. But around that intensely sad and shocking story, a greater story of community-building and transcendent love is being written. It’s a wonderful thing and one more bit of evidence that Orlando is an extraordinary place and her people care about one another in an extraordinary way. To see this so clearly only a few days down the road is nearly-miraculous and an invitation to move forward. To move forward together, carrying in our grieving yet hopeful hearts the memories of those lost and the determination that their deaths will not have been in vain. #OrlandoStrong