Saturday, September 24, 2016

Donald Trump Stories From My Cab

No, I’ve never had Donald Trump in my cab.  Now that would be an interesting story, of course, because it would be firsthand data for me, secondhand data for you, as opposed to information received via the media.  However, since the primaries began in February of this extraordinary election year in the U.S., I have had several passengers in my taxi who told me Donald Trump stories of their own.  And that does count for something.  It’s source information, unedited.

Here they are, in chronological order, without embellishment:

1. March 8 -- an older gentleman, in his seventies I would say, got in the cab in Midtown and we drove up to his Park Avenue address at 81st Street.  ("Park Avenue address" is code, btw, for "old money, very wealthy").  He was on his cell phone for most of the ride, but when he'd ended his call I asked for his opinion about the upcoming election.  Without needing any prompting, he told me he'd once had some kind of business deal in progress with Trump (no specifics were given).  He said he'd never met him in person but had spoken with him on the phone.  He said he should change the name of his book from The Art Of The Deal to The Art Of Changing The Deal At The Last Minute.  

The implication here, as I understood it, was that Trump was unscrupulous, not good to his word, sneaky, and that the deal, whatever it was, did not go forward. 

As he left the cab his parting words, referring to Trump, were, "He's a bad man."

2. May 3 -- I had a middle-aged woman en route to the News Corp. Building on 47th and 6th, where Fox News is located.  She told me that her husband works as an "ad director" there, meaning he arranges which commercials will be shown in which time slots.  She said that recently her husband and a colleague were waiting for an elevator to arrive in the building and when the door opened there stood Donald Trump with a couple of security guards beside him. As her husband and his colleague moved forward to join them in the elevator, they were stopped by the security guards.  But Trump intervened, allowing them to come in with them.  As they rode together in the elevator, however, there was no conversation with Trump because her husband, she said, was "in shock".

3. July 10 -- a middle-aged man in my cab told me he is a construction contractor in Florida.  He said that a friend of his had once been in charge of a Trump construction project there and at one point during the operation he pulled all his workers off the job and refused to allow them to continue working until he was paid the money that was owed to him for work already done up to that point.  Apparently Trump had a reputation for not paying his contractors and his friend was wise to this.  The ploy, my passenger said, was successful.  Trump paid him what he was owed and the construction continued.

4. August 7 -- a 30-something woman going from 30 Rock (Rockefeller Center in Midtown) to the Upper West Side.  After chatting with her for a few minutes she told me she is a makeup artist at NBC and used to work on the show "The Apprentice".  Realizing I had a rare opportunity here, I began quizzing her about what it was like to actually do Donald Trump's makeup and, of course, what about his hair?  Here's what I learned (and this is breaking news)... 

a) His hair is real.  At least, it's not a piece.  She couldn't say whether or not he has plugs because she didn't work on his hair and couldn't get in there, but it's definitely not a toupee.  

b) Regarding the orange face: Trump has a skin condition known as rosacea (the enlargement of facial blood vessels, giving his cheeks and nose a flushed appearance).  She said that when she worked for him she used makeup that gave his face the appearance of a natural skin tone.  Now, however, he does his makeup himself and is using a yellow substance which, when applied over the redness of his face, creates an orange tint (yellow + red = orange).
According to my passenger he won't listen to advice that he should change to another cream or ointment.

c) What it was like to be an employee of Donald Trump: she enjoyed working for him, was treated respectfully, and was well paid.  She said if she worked only half a day she would still be given a full day's wages.

d) Trump's children: she liked them, too.  The only thing she found objectionable about any of them was that Donald Junior is a hunter.  Other than that she thought they were fine people.

e) Would she vote for him?  No.

For me, stories number 1 and 3 add credence to reports we’ve been hearing for months that Trump has a long history as an unscrupulous businessman, a shark swimming in the shark-infested waters of real estate development, that you cannot believe what he says, and that he is not to be trusted.  Stories 2 and 4 lead me to believe that on a personal level he can be a nice guy.  Story 4b suggests that reports are true that it is difficult or even impossible for him to accept advice from people who are experts in a field and that he trusts his own instincts above all else. 

Ah, the things you can learn driving a taxicab in New York City!  Should I come upon further stories from a firsthand or even a secondhand source, I will pass them on.

For more of my thoughts about this election please click here for the post, "What The Man From The Atomic Energy Commission Told Me".  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What The Man From The Atomic Energy Commission Told Me

You never know who will show up in the back seat of a taxicab.  It’s like a talk show on wheels, really.  A guest enters, we chat for a while, then he or she exits and the next one gets in.  It’s quite a remarkable human situation, if you think about it, especially in a city like New York where the movers and shakers of the world tend to congregate. 

Back in 1992 I had a passenger in my taxi who made a puzzling statement to me and this statement, considering who he was, has kept me thinking about its meaning ever since.  This story is actually one of the most frequently told stories to passengers in my cab, although I’ve never written about it until now.  And I do so now because with presidential politics being what they are in the United States at this time, I feel a responsibility to share this information. 

My passenger was an American man who I estimated to be in his ‘70s at the time.  I remember thinking that he looked to be in great physical condition for his age and that he mentioned to me that he walked ten miles a day, which impressed me.  I don’t recall how it came up in conversation, but somehow the following datum emerged: he told me he had once been a member of the Atomic Energy Commission. 

Whoa.  You may not be old enough to know what that meant, but if you were around in the ‘50s and ‘60s you most likely do.  The Atomic Energy Commission was the highest level federal agency in the United States which regulated the use and development of atomic energy, including the creation of new types of atomic weapons.  In terms of its importance to the country, it might be compared today to the National Security Agency (the NSA) or the CIA.  Top secret, hush-hush agencies with great, sometimes controversial, responsibilities to the security of the country.  

Realizing that I had a rare opportunity here, I tried to make the most of it in the limited time we would be together.  I know I asked him several questions which he was glad to answer, but there is only one thing I specifically remember asking his opinion about, something I’d already had some attention on for a few years.

And that was this: it had occurred to me some years prior that there seemed to have been a shift in the public consciousness concerning the threat and consequences of atomic war.  It seemed to me that people weren’t nearly as concerned about it as they had been before.  You didn’t see articles in the papers or magazines about it anymore, or hear people talking about it anymore.  Nobody seemed to be worried about it anymore, even though the Cold War was still going on.  I don’t know when this change occurred, but I supposed it was a gradual thing that may have started in the early ‘70s, perhaps when the Viet Nam war ended — I don’t know.

When I was growing up in the late ‘50s and throughout the ‘60s, the seriousness of even the possibility of nuclear war was very much in the public consciousness.  I would say that it and the arrival of television were the two things that shaped the psychology of my generation.  These two developments created a significant “generation gap” between us Baby Boomers and our parents, actually.  They had lived in a world where nuclear bombs and televisions did not exist.  This resulted, I think, in a different view of the world for us and certainly a different view about warfare.  For all the millennia preceding the advent of the atomic bomb, warfare meant men fighting directly against other men with some sort of hand-held weapon or by shooting short-range explosives at each other.  Even in the most horrific wars, it was still understood, if not consciously then subconsciously, that when the war was over, or even if it was never over, the human race would still exist and although it might change for the better or worse, there would still exist what is called “civilization”.

The invention and then the proliferation of nuclear weapons, however, changed that very basic reality.  For the first time in human history, weaponry had been created which could mean the extinction of civilization, if not the extinction of the human race itself and perhaps even all forms of life on the planet.  Man had developed the means of destroying himself as a species.  And this would happen not through masses of armies going up against each other but by certain people pushing certain buttons which would launch the nuclear missiles.  Thus the new reality was that even if everything seemed harmonious and peaceful, this world would always be a very dangerous place.  It could all end tomorrow, complete destruction, just like that, if certain people pushed certain buttons.  That’s a pretty depressing thought, isn’t it?

I grew up knowing, and worrying, about this.  With the Cold War brewing it was always in the back of my mind that this day could be the last day.  This fear was heightened considerably by the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962 when the Soviet Union and the United States came to the brink of nuclear war.  It was horrifying.  

I remember one specific incident which occurred in my 8th grade music class during the crisis.  Our teacher brought out a record of the music from a new Broadway show called Fiorello! about the former mayor of New York City, Fiorello LaGuardia.  We were to listen to the record and there would be a discussion about it when it was over.  She placed the record on the turntable and we waited for the music to begin.  However, this show didn’t begin with music.  It began with the blaring siren of a fire engine.  (Mayor LaGuardia was famous for showing up at fires.)  The entire class, hearing the sound, let out a collective scream.  Not a funny, teenage scream — a real scream of terror.  That’s how on edge we were, and we were only kids.

So I brought this up with my passenger.  I asked him if I was correct in my observation.  Did something change?  Are people in general not concerned about the possibility of a nuclear holocaust like they used to be?  He thought about it for a moment and then told me that I was correct, it was true.  And then he added this comment, and these were his exact words:

“A country that’s worried about a nuclear war is a country that won’t buy a new car.”

I don’t remember if I asked him what he meant by that.  I don’t think I did, actually, maybe because we were at the end of the ride.  But his comment has stayed with me all these years.  If it had come from just anyone, I suppose I would have forgotten about it the next day, but this was coming from the guy from the Atomic Energy Commission, so it carried significant gravitas.    

After giving it much thought, and after hearing the opinions of many passengers in my cab, I came to the conclusion that what he meant was that a country of worried people was bad for the economy, with the implication being that a robust economy was an important ingredient in keeping the peace, not only in America but around the world.  Plus this: what’s the point in having the media and governmental agencies agitating the population about nuclear holocaust when there’s nothing the average person can do about it, anyway?

I decided he was right.  This made sense.  A population which believes the world may end tomorrow might well turn out to be a population of nihilistic, live-for-today stoners.  What it takes for a society to prosper — the steady flow of commerce — could be reduced to a trickle.  No Brillo pads to clean your sink.  No gravy on your mashed potatoes.  No invention of the iPhone.  No Pokemon Go.  If things get bad enough in a country, people will become desperate.  Governments can be overthrown by violence and atomic weapons can get into the hands of some very destructive people.  So the man from the Atomic Energy Commission was right. 

Or was he?

As this presidential election cycle rolls forward in the United States I have given his comment even more thought, and it seems to me something was overlooked.  A country that is not keenly aware of what atomic weapons can do is a country that might elect a rabble-rousing loose cannon to the presidency -- a person who could conceivably blunder our way into a nuclear holocaust.  

So there is something the average person can do about it.  He or she can understand that the risk of atomic warfare is the number one issue in any presidential election, and vote accordingly.  No other issue even comes close.  Not bad trade agreements, not student debt, not illegal immigration, not even psychotic lunatics opening fire in airports.  

Please consider this: the president of the United States, when it comes to nuclear war, virtually has the power of God.  By his or her command all we know of civilization could quite suddenly come to an end.  By his or her command billions -- billions -- of people could perish, perhaps even every human being on this planet could perish.  Perhaps even every living thing on the planet could perish.  Is that not the power of God?

So temperament, sanity, intelligence, and empathy mean everything in a presidential election.  It’s the great decision we as Americans must make every fourth year, and it tests our wisdom as a nation.  Candidates who are rude, impulsive, thin-skinned, angry, and impossible to give advice to can be elected to the offices of mayor, governor, and senator all day long, and sometimes are.  

But never to the presidency.

The motto of one of the great American presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, was “Speak softly and carry a big stick”.  There are plenty of big sticks in the United States arsenal.  It’s the “speak softly” part that is so important in a nuclear age. 

If you’re an American, I do hope you will give this your most sober consideration before you vote.


There are links to several Wikipedia pages in this post.  I’m giving three of them again here in case you missed them:

I suggest that you to go to these sites and read the articles. I know it’s disturbing to read this stuff, it really is, but I feel we cannot afford to be unaware of what is really at stake in this and in every presidential election.  Go to the Cuban Missile Crisis page first and listen to the riveting audio of President Kennedy addressing the nation.  Then imagine the wrong person being the president at that time.

I feel strongly that all Americans need to be conversant with this subject. "The Nuclear Age" should be required study for everyone at the high school level, in my opinion. 

This is the world we live in.  

Let’s not kid ourselves.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Driverless Taxis? My Op-Ed in The Guardian

There was an announcement in the worldwide media several days ago that Uber and Volvo have been working together to develop the technology for a driverless taxi and that the first of these cars are already being tested on the streets of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania (USA).

Is this the beginning of the end of the profession of Taxi Driver?

I was asked by The Guardian, one of the UK's top newspapers (with an online edition for the US), to write an Op-Ed on this disturbing news...

Click here: