I was working for the Government of Ontario when we reached 3.5% growth for several consecutive quarters, eliminated the deficit, balanced the budget and created 1,000,000 million new jobs. I remember getting the newspapers from the front door to see the headline that Ontario had created 45,000 jobs the previous month.
I ran upstairs, pounding on Dave and Tom’s bedroom doors and shouting them out of bed:
“WAKE UP! WAKE UP! THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER* – YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT!!! THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER – GET OUT THERE AND DO SOMETHING!”
I will never forget the feeling of joy and elation, optimism and energy I felt pounding through my veins. I had worked like a dog for my entire life to keep Casa Des Smiths up and running, lights on, food in the fridge, bills paid, in our Greektown house close enough for the boys to take the subway to University of Toronto. When Mike Harris pulled off everything he promised he would – including enough university spaces for the Double Cohort, which included Tom and Dave – and I could see they could have any future they wanted if they were willing to work for it, I honestly felt like all of my dreams had come true.
All three of my kids worked an incredible daily grind for years, going to school full time AND working full time (how did they do that??) and have landed on their feet in good jobs, with wonderful partners and happy lives. The world is indeed their oyster!
““WAKE UP! WAKE UP! THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER – YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT!!! THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER – GET OUT THERE AND DO SOMETHING!”
*One of my favourite memories from this period was the time I celebrated receiving a large cheque by taking them to Barberian’s Steak House for dinner, where they were allowed to order anything they wanted (“Can we have, like appetizers and dessert too, or just dinner?” they asked me. They were conscious of budget from an early age…)
Looking at the menu, David noted “The ancient Romans used to pay for oysters their weight in gold, because they believed they had an aphrodisiac effect and improved their performance with women.”
“Good God!” Tom exclaimed. “What did they pay for the WOMEN?”
Friday the 13th turned out to be quite a special “Dog Day” here at Rita’s Rest Home for Wayward Dogs.
Forest, Leia, Rosie and I paid our first visit to the Bowmanville Leash-Free dog park, where we met up with Dalmations, Labs, a Bassett Hound and a Mastiff presciently named “Ruckus.” Tiny Maltese Rosie held her own with all of them.
The highlight of the adventure, however, was definitely meeting Nikita, a born-and-bred Alaskan sled dog who is actually one-quarter wolf.
I need to preface the Nikita story – very sad beginning, very happy ending – by offering a belief that I have long shared with my brother Pete about dog souls.
Human beings only think they are the ones in charge when it comes time to find a dog; in fact, somewhere out in the Universe a dog’s soul is looking for YOU. When that soul and the dog in which it resides (albeit, temporarily) locates you, you may persuade yourself that you’ve reached a logical, rational executive decision to acquire a dog.
Meanwhile, that dog soul has been looking for you, has located you, and has no plans to let you get away.
Upon arrival at the dog park, I scanned the perimeters of the field for other dogs; Rosie is very small and sometimes a bit nervous, although that passes quickly. When I spotted Nikita laying in the shade with her owner all the way across the field, I was automatically a bit worried about whether or not she was friendly to other dogs, as not all Husky/Malamutes are.
Wandering along the fence, pre-occupied with picking up dog poos, I did not even notice quiet, stealthy Nikita cross the field; when I looked up, she was sitting in front of Rosie and wagging her bushy tail furiously. With one bright blue eye and one brown, she has an exotic, mysterious look. She seemed to know better than to run or jump around Rosie the way a more obliviously enthusiastic dog would.
Before I had time to get anxious, her owner walked up.
“What a beautiful dog!” I exclaimed sincerely. “She looks like she is part wolf!”
“She is 25 per cent wolf,” he nodded. “I had her DNA tested when we got home. Nikita is from Alaska.”
“How did she get here?” I gasped.
“I stole her,” RJ shrugged philosophically.
Fascinated already by the idea of a wolf/dog from Alaska finding her way to Bowmanville, Ontario, I asked RJ how he came to “steal” her and this is the story he told me:
“I was in Alaska, fishing with a buddy who has a boat there. One day we were sitting high up on a hill, and I could see a fenced-in property below us.
‘What is that?’ I asked.
‘That’s a breeding and training business which raises sled-racing dogs,’ he told me. ‘It’s not a nice place.’”
RJ went on to explain that dogsled racing is a huge business and important part of the economy in Alaska; Nikita had been bred and was being raised to race in the Iditarod, the world-famous race which takes place between Anchorage and Nome every year.
“Humans seem to love it, but it is a cruel and awful life for the dogs,” he said. I could feel the anger starting to rise in his voice.
“They spend the first four months of their lives chained to a post on a chain about 3 feet long…they are not pets. Every so often, the owner walks through the yard with a taser and shocks them, to keep them mean. Dogs die running the Iditarod. Nobody cares.
“Coke and Exxon and other corporate sponsors….they pay money to be part of it. Nobody cares about the dogs.”
I nodded sadly: “I caught about an hour of the finals on TV last year,” I agreed. “It looks just brutal for the dogs. Walt Disney even made a movie about it, ‘Snow Dogs,’ it was so happy and looked like so much fun.” In the real Iditarod in 2017, four dogs died of exhaustion. In 2016, one was run over by a snowmobile.
“The breeder didn’t like Nikita – she is small and too submissive, not mean enough,” RJ continued, obviously upset now. “One day I saw him kick her through the air, right across the yard. That night, I hopped the fence and stole her.
“I’ve never had a dog before,” he noted. “She is the first dog I’ve ever owned. She is the sweetest, quietest, most obedient dog I could ever have wanted. Now, I can’t imagine life without her.”
I shared with RJ the “Pete & Rita Theory of Dog Souls in the Universe.”
“You think you rescued Nikita,” I pointed out. “Actually, she rescued you!”
“That’s very true!” he laughed, ruffling her head and ears as she gazed up at him adoringly.
I read once about the fact that there must have been something very special about wolves, because aeons ago human beings were inspired to share their food and the warmth of their campfires with them as the very first domesticated animals. Not cats, not bears, not birds, not deer. Wolves.
Humans have been providing food and shelter, and the descendants of wolves have been sharing love, loyalty, companionship and protection ever since. Our souls have been entwined for a very long time.
Stop to imagine: every single dog in that dog park, whether sleek Dalmation, jolly Labrador Retriever, massive Mastiff, baying Bassett Hound, or lap-dog Maltese – traces its ancestry back to the wolf. Vastly different in size, in intelligence, in personality and in demeanor, all those dogs came from the same original dog, the wolf.
It was very special, to have Nikita there to remind us of this miraculous fact. In a symbolic way, she represents the Mother of all Dogs.
It was a nice Friday the 13th.
 As far as I know, it is not legal to own a wolf hybrid in Ontario, although they are very common in the north where unsprayed female dogs breed with wolves on a regular basis. They are less common in other areas. In Alberta, owners with a special license are allowed to own wolf hybrids.
Feb. 12 Update: My column below ran in Taxi News in November, 2017. I did not post it to my website or Facebook because, as I noted a few times in the piece, nobody cares about the plight of taxi drivers.
However, Douglas Schifter’s suicide in front of New York City Hall last week was so sad and so compelling that I decided perhaps it was worth posting.
Additionally, I have decided that any politician or public person who promotes Uber and Uber’s criminal business model and then hypocritically runs out to support mental health causes and events should be called out and shamed. John Tory, come on down…
New York City taxi driver blows his brains out with a shotgun in front of City Hall
Early Monday morning, Douglas Schifter, a longtime New York City livery driver, posted an emotional 1,700-word note on Facebook.
Later that day, Schifter took his life outside of City Hall in Manhattan. His suicide has underscored the financial and emotional challenges for professional drivers, whose industry has been disrupted by companies such as Uber and Lyft.
Bhairavi Desai, the executive director for the New York Taxi Workers Alliance notes: “I’ve been organizing taxi drivers since 1996, and I’ve never seen the level of desperation. I’ve started to receive so many calls from drivers seeking resources for suicide prevention and talking about homelessness and eviction notices, and so, something has to be done here. This is not accidental, working people have a right to be protected.”
Taxi drivers are owed giant apologies by so many groups, it’s hard to keep track any more.
I have read so many ridiculous, misguided, inaccurate and plain pathetic media articles about Uber in the past 4 years, I am at risk of becoming inured to the lunacy. I’ve lobbied politicians and pleaded with cops. I’ve debated family members and friends. I’ve pestered media members until they ran away from me.
Their minds are impenetrable; people want so desperately to believe you can get something for nothing, you can’t overcome their magical thinking.
We should never give up thinking skeptically, though, and challenging the lunacy; because what happened to taxi drivers could happen to anyone in any industry. The corruption and massive breach of business and political ethics that have infected the vehicle for hire industry can – and will – affect EVERY industry in future. Uber’s business model and philosophy is a cancer that must be removed from commerce.
Cabbies, unfortunately, have been the canaries in the coal mine. I’m so sorry.
First, on behalf of women, I apologize to taxi drivers.
It appears that Uber’s terrible, horrible, very bad year was triggered by a blog post published in February by Susan Fowler, a female engineer at Uber. Her treatment was so egregious that her recounting of it set in motion a chain of events that forced CEO Travis Kalanick to resign.
What, you may ask, could possibly have happened to motivate Uber to send Arianna Huffington off on a fact-finding mission and hire former US Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate its toxic culture?
Well, this woman’s boss sent her an online message saying he would like to sleep with her. Instead of replying “Fuck you,” or even just “No,” or perhaps taking documentary evidence in the form of a printed chat message to a lawyer, she went to Human Resources, which did not help her. She was sad. She did not quit, though.
The next event, in a display of sexual discrimination so breathtakingly cruel I cry just thinking about it, Uber bought leather jackets for a team of male engineers, but they did not buy any for the women.
I contrast these dire circumstances with those of cab drivers whose stories I have heard over the past four years: one driver I met had his own apartment in spring of 2014. By summer, he was sleeping on a friend’s couch. By fall, he was homeless.
I wish the legal, licensed taxi drivers who’ve had their lives decimated by Uber got even the tiniest percentage of the media attention female engineers get when propositioned or deprived of leather jackets – but nobody cares. Not even Susan Fowler, who is clearly completely comfortable with the thought of wrecking the lives of thousands of law-abiding cab drivers and their families, but doesn’t have the guts to say “no” to a lecherous boss. I am sorry for the pain she was content to cause taxi drivers, and I am sorry we are even the same sex.
Second, cab drivers are owed an apology by technology writers at every outlet that covers Uber.
These writers are supposed to be smart and prescient and have their finger on the pulse of all the trends which are going to affect us in the years ahead. In fact, they are so out of touch with business reality that they shouldn’t even be allowed to predict whether VHS VCRs will overtake Betamax, or whether online music shopping might be more popular than vinyl records.
Here’s a quote from a ReCode article on self-driving cars written by Johana Bhuiyan:
“Uber’s future depends greatly on solving self-driving. It’s what will keep the ride-hail company relevant as more automakers produce their own autonomous vehicles. But taking drivers out of the equation would also increase the company’s profits: Self-driving cars give Uber 100 percent of the fare, the company would no longer have to subsidize driver pay and the cars can run nearly 24 hours a day.”
Let’s just skip over the fact that Uber has NEVER turned a profit, and is on track to lose more than $3 billion in 2017.
Uber doesn’t own, or maintain, or insure, ANY cars.
The cars are owned by the drivers, who absorb every dollar of the cost of maintaining them no matter how much or how little revenue they generate.
Imagine what Uber’s bottom line would look like if, in addition to buying leather jackets for female engineers, they also had to purchase, insure and maintain their own cars. And then pay drivers. Uber’s business model is based upon persuading car owners to share their cars with Uber, while those drivers assume 100% of the risk of the business. While this appears to be far too futuristic a concept for a tech writer to grasp, P.T. Barnum was able to sum it up succinctly over 100 years ago: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
Third, the mainstream media.
There aren’t enough column inches in Taxi News for me to recount the ways in which the mainstream media missed the boat on Uber.
I’ll just focus my comment on one recurring inaccuracy which is repeated in almost every article I read about Uber around the globe (England, Australia, Canada, the US, India and various Asian and African nations): how fairly or unfairly Uber “pays” its drivers.
“Uber doesn’t pay drivers!” I groan every time. “Drivers pay Uber! The driver does all the work, invests all the time, pays all the vehicle maintenance, and gives Uber 25 per cent of the money he earns. Without drivers, Uber has nothing. The drivers are Uber’s only source of revenue. Uber doesn’t pay drivers; drivers pay Uber!”
If they don’t understand that, they don’t understand anything about Uber. Why would we trust anything else they report? I am sorry we can no longer trust the mainstream media on much of anything.
Where to start? The betrayal of the taxi industry by politicians around the globe has been complete, quick and starkly hypocritical.
From John Tory in Toronto to David Cameron in England to Daniel Andrews in Australia, politicians who are either air-headed or corrupt just rolled over backward for Uber, re-writing or eliminating safety standards that have been decades and millions of dollars in the making and shredding the social contract with drivers that supported consumer protection.
Nobody puts it better than Hamilton taxi driver and writer Hans Wienhold:
“All of the most expensive elements of a secure taxi industry were never about safety at all. Now we see clearly that none of these things ever had anything to do with safety: they were just power grabs and cash grabs. No one will ever buy the politicians’ BS again.”
People like cheap, there’s no arguing that.
When Uber first arrived, there was much ado about cartoon cars on cell phone screens and free ice cream and free puppy cuddles and hot women drivers.
Really, though, what it all comes down to is that Uber is cheaper than taxis, and people like cheap.
For the first two years after Uber arrived we read lots of stories about free water and candies in the car and happy grandmothers driving for extra cash.
When the first stories of sexual assault started showing up, a little dark cloud appeared on the horizon.
When an uninsured Uber driver killed a 6 year old girl in San Francisco, concerns were raised.
When London, England announced they were averaging almost one sexual assault per week and Londoners began referring to Uber as “rape roulette,” things began looking serious.
And then, when a woman in Texas was made a paraplegic in an accident in an uninsured Uber, people sat up and took notice.
Back in the day, when I was reading dozens of articles per day about Uber around the globe as part of my job, I felt some sympathy for these people.
Now, I confess, sympathy has evaporated. Now, when I come across complaints about Uber in my Twitter feed (“My Uber driver refused my service dog! My Uber driver left me at roadside! My Uber driver showed up at my apartment and told me he has feelings for me!”) I tend to reply sarcastically, “But you saved some money, so it’s all good, right?”
I particularly love the fact that there is a campaign underway by some women right now to get security cameras in Uber vehicles….now, consumers want to combine “cheap” with “safe.” They want it all; but as Austin Powers would say, “Some things just aren’t in the cards, baby.”
So on behalf of women, tech writers, media members and politicians, I apologize to all honest, law-abiding taxi drivers. You deserved better from everyone, and we let you down.
I have had to stop listening to the news this week as it is focused exclusively on the fact that Donald Trump Jr. received a meeting request from a Russian lawyer during the election, and he gave her a meeting.
Round-the-clock, saturation coverage of this meeting keeps triggering me and giving me flashbacks to the endless interminable meetings I have had with Falun Gong members on every campaign on which I’ve ever worked; there is no end to the requests, no end to the meetings, the letters, and the ambushes at events.
During one federal campaign, four Falun Gong members showed up at the campaign office on Election Day and refused to leave until they got a yet another meeting with the Campaign Manager (me).
“Buddy, we have a Get Out the Vote program to run today,” I finally exclaimed in exasperation. “GET OUT and do not come back!!!!”
“You don’t understand…” he continued speaking, completely oblivious to reality.
When I can finally shake off the Falun Gong memories, I cycle into the Tamil memories, and the rotating cast of characters from various groups that spent two months asking for meetings so they could warn me darkly to keep my candidate away from Tamils who belonged to other groups who were, I was told, dangerous liars, prone to violence, and certain to doom my candidate. Every Tamil group said this about every other Tamil group. I learned that I could predict the harshness of the threats I would hear by the cryptic urgency of the meeting requests: “Rita, I must speak with you personally about a very important matter…”
Poor Don Jr. Now he’s learned that election campaigns are to determined lobbyists as honey is to bees. Apparently, this Russian woman actually had no dirt on Hillary Clinton but instead wanted to lobby him on the Magnitysky Act. The fact that she lied to get a meeting is just so 100% politically perfect, Campaign Managers across the land must be shaking their heads in silent sympathy. Poor schmuck. Now look at the mess he’s in…there but for the grace of God go all of us.
So I’m taking a break from news for a while; yesterday I switched to 80s music on my Sonos and danced around to “Footloose” for a while. It was good therapy.