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Taxi King – 720 South Orchard Street – Seattle, WA

South of Seattle is the City of SeaTac whose name is derived from its dominant feature, the SeaTac International Airport, a name which is a bastardized jamming together of Seattle and Tacoma. Poor Tacoma, it is perpetually placed second to Seattle and treated as something a bit less than second-class around the region, even in the naming of the airport.

The first contestant for the second most defining feature is Highway 99, also known as Pacific Highway South or, in an effort to polish up its cheap brass plating of a reputation that was permanently tarnished in the 1980’s, International Boulevard.

In that earlier time Highway 99 was more or less a 2-lane strip of asphalt with a well-deserved reputation as a center of pornography, prostitution, decaying no-tels, and bars reeking of cigarettes and stale beer, serenaded by the sounds of pinball machines and a cue ball smacking a new rack of balls.

It was here that Gary Ridgway, who at one time went door to door preaching the gospel, would pick up prostitutes, choke them to death, and later would dump them along the Green River down in the Kent Valley. A few years later, the Police dubbed this phantom as the Green River Killer and some 15 years later were able to finally unmask him.

In 2001 he was arrested and after a lengthy interrogation and prosecution was convicted of 49 murders and sent to Walla Walla State Penitentiary to sit in a maximum security cell and eventually die. I can’t imagine that his miserable soul has any hope of salvation and more likely than not will find the locks on the pearly gates changed and the hinges welded shut.

Today, Pacific Highway South is more or less six lanes wide and is a mix of its seedy past and a bland corporate character along the road. No matter how bright, clean, and colorful all the newness appears it is still a place where detailed memories of it fade within hours of leaving it behind. What hasn’t changed is this is an area that specializes in anonymity, car thefts, robbery, occasional shootings, prostitution, poverty, and a general case of poor decisions.

However, between these two endpoints are ports of call for the rivers of immigration that have carried newcomers to America in the 21st century: the apartment houses they now call home.

These immigrants have the effect of making the area around International Boulevard less transitory, and more significant, in each one of them is a seed that will flower over the coming decades forever changing America: Punjabis and Somalis, Sikhs and Libyans, Pakistanis and Iraqis, Iranians and Ethiopians, Chinese and Senegalese, Liberians and Koreans, Mexicans and those that sprung spontaneously from the American garden.

They work as Cooks and Cleaners, Painters and Assemblers, Gardeners and Store Clerks, Laborers and Dry Cleaners, Owners of small businesses, as Gears in the vast fast food machinery, Long Haul and Local drivers, Limousine Owner/Drivers and most colorfully, the first contestant for the third most defining feature of the area, the Taxi Cabs and those that drive them.

These apartments around the airport are prized by the cab drivers because of the easy access to the airport fare market. A not uncommon sight is to see mini vans and Toyota Priuses (surprisingly the plural of Prius is controversial – I am picking the one I like) that are yellow, orange, green, red and green, yellow and blue, and even white at home and on the road around the area. The Yellow Cab Company even has a special area at the airport where identical Prius cabs queue up in serpentine yellow rivers to wait for a fare from the airport.

The gas stations in the area often have two or three cabs refueling for another long day of transporting travelers to and from the airport. I fancy these places as a modern day equivalent of the “newspaper” rocks found in the American southwest. At these places, the first nation peoples, and later the Spanish Conquistadors, and even later on, American Cavalrymen, would gather to rest, swap news, and on occasion carve some graffiti that depicted an event into the stone.

One of the confusing anomalies of place names is when a physical feature, such as a river or a road changes names from that to this at some point along its route. For the majority of its route from the Cascade Mountains to Elliot Bay the Green River is simply that, the Green River.

However, just as it reaches the south Seattle industrial area it reverts back to its ancient name of Duwamish and more recently the Duwamish Waterway. This later addition is somewhat controversial as there is a small park along the Duwamish that has some graffiti or a plaque that assert that the Duwamish is not a waterway.

And it is here in the heart of Seattle’s industrial area, near this stretch of the river that runs from the Cascades to Puget Sound, can be found the place where the self-proclaimed Taxi King reigns supreme over a graveyard of limousines and taxis.

Copyright 2013 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

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