PM Pick

The Tipping Point

Riding cabs is the mode of the realm for travelers in any city not their own. Rental cars and trains and trams work, with more money or a bit of initiative, still, cabs are probably the cheapest means of purchasing mobility and possibly even scoring quick information about the local bests in eats, attractions, edification, and sundry merry-making.

Or not . . . depending on whose back seat you end up occupying.

Of course, it isn’t always a back seat. Since, in certain venues, custom dictates taking the shotgun seat. However, without a guidebook in hand (and then why pay for the cabbie for those choice informational tidbits?), it is not always clear which seat to take. It seems to me that once in Dresden when I took up the seat in the back of a cab, the driver did a double-take. Like: “who do you think I am, pal? Your chauffeur?”

Some people adopt the weirdest points of view.


Then there was Egypt, where the shuttle crew – baggage handlers mixed in with guide and off-duty driver – positioned themselves at every possible vantage point around me – rear, side, front – and proceeded to talk over, through and around me. As if I was beside the point.

It could just have been me. But, maybe I was.



This local custom thing is both an end but also a confounding aspect of peripatacity. 'Cause how are we ever really going to know? In Japan, for instance, a vacant taxi is signified by a red light in the window. (The drivers tend to be all male, so we can resist the obvious lady of the night jest here). By contrast, the color that Japanese taxis employ to signal “occupied” is green – the hue that would more often connote “vacant” in the West –. So, go figure. That’s life lived inside/out in the raw ReDot. But so, too, is it a warning that one really can rarely know what is up, what is the norm, when stepping into an alien space.

Unless of course one happens to be Japanese.

In the ReDot another local practice takes the form of doors that automatically swing open for the customers and are generally only released upon arrival by (and following payment to) the driver.




It is at this point (or rather, it is this point)– the payment part – that I began this entry with the intention of emphasizing. For it is the part that no matter where a peripatetic goes, s/he invariably has to ask of a friend, an associate, or at the front desk what the local rules are.

“Am I required to tip?”

”Is tipping permitted?”

“Are we expected to offer a gratuity?”


In Japan, in a word, “no”. And this has traditionally been so. Such that, in the old days, even if a Westerner did what was the norm – nay, the expectation – in his realm – the obligatory, imperial “keep it!” – the discomfited ReDot cabbie would insist on returning the remainder (before opening the door). But now? Not necessarily so. Although there still seems to be the need for extenuating circumstances to justify the reward. Such as: a date with a departing train. Thus, I have been in situations where I have “inadvertently” alerted a driver to what we might term a problem of probability. As in . . .

Me (craning my neck over the front seat, staring at the clock on the dash): “4:12? It’s 4:12, is it?”

Cabbie: “Yup. 4:12 it is.

Me (edgy, a tone of concern creeping into my speech): “Wonder if I’ll make it?”

Cabbie: “Train?”

Me (with an air of resignation): “Yeah. Maybe impossible, though.”

Cabbie (reassuring): “What time did you say?”

Me: “Oh. Um . . . 4:25.”

Cabbie (determined): “Well. Let’s find out!”


I have to admit that there has been a time or two where I actually wasn’t in need of catching the train pulling out of the station in precisely 13 mintues. Well, that didn’t totally render me a bad guy. Not since the Japanese cabbies seem to secretly live for these moments, transforming their cars into the vehicular equivalent of Ronaldino juking through a gaggle of defenders, gunning a light or two, and depositing me at the station ten minutes faster than would have been the norm. Of course, paying them for living out their frustrated fantasies is like offering them a double Christmas bonus. Which I guess makes me a cheapskate for thinking about it that way and a upstanding dude for ponying up.




What I wonder about is when we will reach the tipping point about this tipping thing. The point at which a tip is no longer perceived as a special reward, but instead an entitlement. The point at which we can trace a decline in service in the absence of secret contracts that promise incentives; or, beyond, a slippage in performance in the face of a social convention that mandates the “offer” of a gratuity. In short the introduction of a perturbation in the local ecology of cabbie-customer relations not unlike those we can identify elsewhere in the larger world around us. Like the monkeys or deer I encountered on Miyajima last summer. There, with humans tossing scraps of salads and rice cake and donuts at the beasts, a cultivation process had transpired; one which, in the absence of the offering, we have been left with bold and testy critters stripped of their original jungle smarts and nearly all of their undomesticated charm.

In its own way, this sea change is not unlike the cultivation processes that take place in humans exposed to violence in media, or styles of interaction and stimulation in long-term intimate relationships, or patterns of service and the sense of entitlement that arise over the years between parents and children.

The examples (and precedent) for the tipping toward cultivation and away from behaviorally-adulterated human orientations are voluminous. Whichever one highlights, most might agree that this is not precisely the sort of tipping point we would look forward to overtaking our life spaces.

At least not when one views this fast-arriving reality from the back of a taxi cab.




In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image