they made a worker’s paradise and filled a parking lot with big yellow taxis

Hybrid Union Cab

Hybrid Union Cab (Photo credit: afagen)

About five months ago I started a new job at Union Cab of Madison.  As a graduate student, I sought a job with flexible hours that I could enjoy and take some pride in. So when I found out that Union Cab was hiring, I jumped at the chance to drive one of their big yellow taxis.

Union Cab was started in 1979 after Yellow Cab and Checker Cab shut down in Madison rather than sign new union contracts. Five former Checker drivers started the co-op and after nearly 35 years, it continues to grow and thrive.

Prior to interviewing at the cooperative, Union was already my preferred taxi service. After trying other taxicab services that were cheaper, I chose Union Cab because of its reliability. As someone who has run his own non-profit before, I have been a strong believer in paying for quality, and fares that are a tad higher than that of competitors are fully worth it to me if the company can get me to an appointment on time.

All of the sedans on the taxi fleet are Toyota Prius hybrid cars.  Cab No. 11 pictured above is one that I happen to drive the most frequently.  After eight or nine hours on the road–typically over 100 miles, the most gas that I’ve ever pumped into the tank to top it off is about four gallons, with two or two and a half being more of the average.

A lot of businesses will talk about being worker owned, but Union Cab seems to walk the talk.  From what I’ve seen so far, Union Cab seems to have the flattest and least hierarchical organizational structure I’ve ever seen for an organization of that size.  That doesn’t seem to inhibit the organization from holding its employees to high standards. Extensive training even includes “democracy class” that teaches members how democracy can work within the context of a workplace. Each employee is a co-op member who owns a share of the company and is able to vote for the co-op’s board members and/or serve on committees  I also sat in recently on an all-members’ meeting and was quite impressed with the overall quality of discussion.

When I first moved to Madison, I heard that the city had a reputation for having cab drivers with PhD’s. While no driver at Union Cab has ever insisted on having me address them as “Doctor of Philosophy,” I find the cooperative’s workplace culture to be quite unique.  Imagine the cast of “Taxi,” but then make the characters sensitive to issues about the environment, gay rights, gender issues, with one or two even having a smattering of knowledge about Marx, and you sort of get what the culture of the organization is like.  It’s an “only in Madison” institution and one of the things that, in my view, makes Madison unique.

Okay, maybe there’s no such thing as a “worker’s paradise” but I am thoroughly enjoying the job, I’d seriously consider continuing to drive shifts for the cooperative even after I graduate. Right now, cooperatives provide my housing, much of my food, most of my income and all of my banking.  At a time when more and more employers and financial institutions seem to show little regard for the well-being of their employees and customers, cooperatives are one grass-roots solution that has the potential to reverse that trend.


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message found underneath the couch, wrapped in cellophane

Baha'i bookmarkI received my Bachelor’s in Political Science many moons ago, and for most of the period since then, I have struggled with my feelings about politics and political activism. This inner struggle has only intensified since I became a Bahá’í. To document the evolution of my feelings about politics and my political beliefs would take several blog posts itself, so I won’t do that here.

Without going into detail, suffice it to say that 1) I have been disgusted with American politics for a very long time, and with each passing year, it has felt like a toxic cesspool I would not want to touch with a ten-foot pole even when wearing a hazmat suit 2) I feel that there are fundamental and urgent changes that need to be made in society–changes that start within all of us–that will not be achieved in the arena of politics as usual, but 3) as government and corporate policy begin to touch more and more parts of our lives and as the times grow more uncertain, it becomes more and more difficult to separate one’s daily life from the news of the day, and 4) I feel increasingly uncomfortable being silent in the face of oppression–particularly oppression occurring in or originating in this country.

This swirl of feelings began to accelerate even more six weeks ago when I started a class in my graduate program about macro scale social work–social work that touches upon, examines, or seeks changes in social policy. This particular class is the last of a long day of classes on Saturdays. A friend always drives me home afterwards since it is convenient for her and provides us the opportunity to chat.  Such discussions recently have revolved around what was just discussed in class, and our related feelings and frustrations about social policy, power, and the seeming impossibility of change in the corrupt winner-take-all system that has become American politics.  It was after such a discussion the weekend before last–a little more than four hours before the sunset that would mark the beginning of the first day of Ridvan–that I got out of my friend’s car as she dropped me off at home.

I was greeted at the door by a four-year old girl who has lived in our co-op house ever since she was six weeks old.  Since I’ve known her pretty much her entire life and because we’re both Cancers, a remarkable bond exists between us.

So it wasn’t unusual for her to be greeting me at the door.  However, what she was holding in her hand was quite unusual and unexpected.

Baha'i bookmark No one in her family is a Bahá’í, but here she was greeting me and holding a Bahá’í bookmark wrapped in cellophane.  She told me she found this bookmark underneath the couch.  She showed it to her mom and her mom told her to give it to me.

What immediately struck me about this bookmark were the words written on it:

O SON OF SPIRIT!  The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee.  By its aid though shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not the knowledge of thy neighbour. Ponder this in thy heart how it behoveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to the and the sign of My loving kindness. set it then before thine eyes.Bahá’u’lláh

This quote is one that is quite familiar to me, as it is the second verse in The Hidden Words, a book of short verses–seventy-one in Arabic and eighty-two in Persian– written by Bahá’u’lláh in an effort to distill spiritual truths into brief form.

It immediately dawned on me that the bookmark this little girl was giving to me had to be more than a coincidence. A few words from this quote stood out to me right away:

The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee.

“Turn not away therefrom,” “…neglect it not that I may confide in thee.”  A certain sense of urgency seemed to be conveyed in these words.  “The best beloved of all things in My sight…”  Very powerful words coming from the second verse in Hidden Words, right after the first verse which, in itself is also incredibly moving.  What I was hearing was that I was being called, as a Bahá’í, to make justice a much higher priority than I’d previously realized was necessary.

The next words to hit me between the eyes were the following:

By its aid though shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not the knowledge of thy neighbour.

My eyes. My knowledge. And not relying on what others tell me is just. I have a hard time think of a more radical quote from a religious text than this one. This is in line with another radical notion of the Bahá’í Faith–the importance of the independent investigation of truth.  This belief is one of the core reasons that I consider myself a Bahá’í.

What felt immediately clear to me is that I needed to start thinking outside the box when it comes to the subject of justice.  That the lines of debate going on in my own mind regarding the subject of justice have been too narrow.  Indeed, this felt like an invitation to think more freely about the subject of justice.  I always hesitate to interpret signs like these right away because I have had signs or dreams whose meaning became apparent to me only years later, but that shouldn’t stop me from exploring the meaning of this sign.  Indeed, it feels urgent that I do so.

I really don’t know where that bookmark came from, or how it ended up underneath the couch in our living room. I probably picked it up from somewhere–perhaps a Bahá’í conference. But how it ended up under the couch is a mystery. Things I collect end up in my messenger bag, and I usually only pack or unpack my messenger bag in my bedroom, one story up from the living room and at the opposite end of the house. The bookmark could have slipped out of my bag at one point. Or maybe it mysteriously and miraculously materialized underneath the couch?  I’m more inclined to believe the former than the latter, but what I found most significant was the timing of this–immediately after an intense discussion with a friend about justice, which in turn was after an intense discussion about political power in class.  And this message was given to me by a four-year old child…

Ponder this in thy heart how it behoveth thee to be.

Wow. Message received. Wrapped in cellophane to protect it from dust and grime, it’s as if it were waiting for the right time to be presented. From the tiny hand of a four-year old comes words that have the power of a sonic boom. Ponder? Ponder? Yes, I’m certainly going to do that.

Expect to see more about this in upcoming blog posts.  Consider this post to be the first in an occasional series…


breathing lessons in spring

I haz April Foolz lolcats. Intended for use on...

I haz April Foolz lolcats. Intended for use on an April Fool’s page. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes, when I hit a wall, I realize that it’s because I’ve been moving so fast that I’ve lost my center.

I realize that I had one of those experiences–on April Fool’s Day, no less.  I won’t say what it was–truly, it would be a waste of oxygen and give unneeded attention to people who frankly don’t deserve it.  But as that unexpected something happened, I quickly realized that I needed to go back to basics to get things in order, that I’d been an out-of-control kite needing a good yank to keep myself from becoming one with a tree in a less than nature-loving way.

By “basics” I mean the basic things that I need to do to keep me grounded enough to do other things.  Like, for example, you can’t do your job very well if you’re not breathing.  Okay, with the exception of some asthma, that’s not a real issue for me.  But for me, how I eat, how I manage my time, keeping my space orderly, meditation, reflection and prayer are essential things that, if not done right, can mess things up for me.

So, I decided that I needed to focus a couple of days just on those breathing lessons.  I made an effort to clean my bedroom (my main habitation in this co-op house and which also serves as an “office” for me as well), and sort through the huge pile of papers perched on top of my file sorter like a game of pick up sticks.  I dedicated myself to being more sincere in my prayers and in reading the Bahá’í Writings twice a day.  I resolved to check “Astrid,” the personal organizer installed on my phone a few times a day to make sure I was doing what I needed to do, and to update it more often.  I re-resolved to avoid eating out–both to control my budget and to eat in a more healthy way.

Some things just need to get done before other things, or the other things won’t go well.  Renewed emphasis on these can make the rest of life move smoothly, and I can respond to life in a more calm, collected way.

The warm spring days have given to rain and 36°F, which, frankly feels colder than 15°F and dry because of the way that the cold rain soaks to the bone.  Ironically, this is supposed to turn to snow overnight, with 1-3 inches predicted.  Ah well, it may be spring cleaning but it’s also Wisconsin, and I wouldn’t live here if it really fazed me.  As demonstrated in the video below, there’s no need to let a little bit of chilly weather get in the way of getting things in order…



the ides of august


I’m sitting on a bench in Tenney Park in Madison as I look out over Lake Mendota and hammer this post out on my Android phone.  My phone said 54 degrees Fahrenheit as I walked out the door for my morning walk.  Perfect weather for me as I walk outside without a jacket, living up to my self-described heritage of being “part polar bear.”

The cooler weather–highs only in the 70s for the next few days–seems to herald a whole host of changes coming through with the northerly winds.  Two housemates in my co-op house have moved out, two more have moved in, one has switched rooms and the house is a little chaotic with boxes and other personal effects scattered about.

And I’ve stopped working at the job I’ve held for the last eight years.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m doing so because part-time grad school and a full-time job were proving very difficult to balance.  This fall, such a balance would have proven impossible with seven credits being required of me–nearly full-time–and a field work position requiring twelve hours per week of my time.

The cooler season will be bringing other changes and new efforts as well, starting with these morning walks.  I have to start getting myself in shape.  Yoga classes and using my bicycle as a primary source of transportation will also be other efforts towards this end.  But the most important change will be eating better instead of eating on the run.  I pay $110 per month towards a food share in our house that yields a lot of natural, mostly organic food, and I want to see if I can make that my primary source of daily nutrition.  Also, I think another major factor in my health issues has been the 9 to 5 desk job, and this will be an opportunity to move away from it and make corrections.

This change will also allow me to focus more on my spiritual practice in the Bahá’í Faith.  For most of the last year, I simply have not had enough time to attend monthly feasts and weekly devotions, and even my own efforts at reading and prayer have faltered.  That began to change once class ended, and next week, I am going to the Green Lake Bahá’í Conference held in Green Lake, WI and will be there for all three days of the conference.

This effort is also part of a bigger effort at living more simply.  Being a low-income graduate student will require some scaling back of expenses.  I think this might be a good time for me to cultivate good habits that will yield dividends when my income increases again, or will prepare me for changes in a society whose standard of living will sharply decrease–a distinct possibility I see at some point in the future.

Self-reliance overall is something I want to cultivate.  My long-term goal is to develop a private counseling practice–either on my own or in partnership with other people.  While my career trajectory will undoubtedly involve work with non-profits (starting with the organization I’m working with this fall), a dozen years in fundraising has made more cynical about the non-profit sector as a whole, even though there are many good organizations out there doing worthwhile work.

As part of that, I’m considering getting supplemental income by starting my own side business, possibly through DJing.  I need to take a good look at the market and see if this is something I truly want to do.  I’ve also activated my membership with the Dane County Timebank which I see as another outlet for me to share my skills with the community, as well as an effort to support the local economy.

As I write this, a group of ducks has gathered near me–some less than three feet away from me.  They seem quite unafraid of humans.  They’re looking for food doing and their own thing, but I’m reminded of another time they gathered near me as I sat near Lake Mendota contemplating major changes.

So the northerly winds of the ides of August are bringing a lot of changes my way. I intend to keep the readers of this blog informed more often as I go through these major changes.

the madness ends

???????????????????????????????????????A week ago evening I turned in a 15-page term paper and took my final exam.  Then I went home, took a deep breath and vegged for most of the weekend.

My first year of grad school is over, and with it the insanity of working full-time while going to grad school part-time.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.  I originally thought it best to minimize expenses by continuing to work full-time while going to school.

But what I found very difficult was coming home from work at the end of the day and feeling tired, yet still mustering enough of my remaining energy on reading textbooks and writing papers.  While I have been getting mostly A’s, I can think of two specific instances where an A dropped to a B for no other reason than the fact I was exhausted, burned out, and unable to muster the energy to do the work needed for school.

It was very difficult to do anything with my free time for most this week.  I had this great need to just do nothing.  In fact, I started this blog post a week ago and couldn’t finish it until today, just because I was overwhelmed.

My last day at my current job will be on 14 August.  I submitted my resignation because continuing my current job while taking seven graduate credits (eight is considered full-time and I have no choice but to take seven next semester), and on top of that, twelve hours of unpaid field work per week–well that was just too much.  I’m exploring some possibilities for side work after I leave my current job–including possibly starting a side business…


I posted before about how busyness seems to make it more difficult to live a simple life.

This busyness involving trying to combine part-time grad school is leading me to burn-out.  I don’t see how I could do two or three more years of this.  Plus, next semester, I will be taking seven credits (eight is considered full-time) and will be starting a fall field placement that will take up twelve hours per week.

So I did the only rational thing I could do.

I quit…


…my job.

Actually, I gave notice.  My last day will be on 14 August. I’m going to have to take out more in student loans than I’d originally planned.  I still plan on working, likely part-time.  I qualify for the health-insurance plan at the university, so that gives me some flexibility. I’m fighting burnout, and I don’t want to be burned out when I *begin* my new career.

Besides, I also see this as an opportunity to do some things I’ve wanted to do but simply didn’t feel like I had the time.

Ever since I started thinking about going back to school, my long-term career goal  has been to start my own private business practice as a therapist–either by myself or in partnership with other therapists.  As such, I’m considering practicing for this possibility by starting my own DJing business.  I want to get a better sense of the market, but given that I already have most of the equipment I need, I don’t see it as a huge risk.

I also have other interests I want to pursue.  I need to get more serious about my spiritual practice as a Baha’i.  I’ve been running around so much over the last year, I feel that I’ve lost my center.  One thing the free time will accomplish for me:  I’ll be able to go to the Green Lake Baha’i Conference for the entire weekend for the first time. I’m looking forward to the jolt of spiritual energy I hope to get from it.

I also want to get serious about a good diet and exercise program.  I’ve gained a decent amount of weight during my first year in grad school.  I still have a goal of making my bike my main source of transport, and that will be easier once I no longer have to commute six miles to a workplace with no shower.

I’ve been interested in getting involved with the Dane County Timebank.  This organization has created what is essentially a barter system for services, where the currency is one hour of your time.  I’ve always liked the idea of this, and I think it would be worthwhile to get involved and see what services I could offer and what services I could receive.

Finally, I want to see to what extent I can further simplify my life.  I want to see how possible it is to feed myself with not much more than the $110 we put into our house food share.  I need to eat more veggies.  I won’t miss the cafeteria and vending machine food at work, even though they made a pretty penny from me.

I’ve worked mostly at desks for over 20 years and it’s taken a toll on my health. I’m not getting any younger. I’m told that my field placement will be less desk-oriented.

This will be a little scary.  Already, there’s a part of me saying “Are you crazy?   Do you realize what you’re doing???”  But crazy would be continuing what I have been doing.

So I’m looking forward to this.  The countdown is at 45 days…

a break from blogging–i’ve already slowed down, so I’ve just decided to stop…for now…

8 ‘Ilm 168 B.E.
Soundtrack in my head: Game Theory, “Regenisraen”

There are many things I wish to tell you, but I cannot bear to post them right now. 

Yes, this blog has been suffering for a while.  I’m now halfway through my first semester as a graduate student at the UW, and yet a blog post I wrote about orientation into grad school has yet to be uploaded onto this website.  

This is what a busy grad school schedule looks like.  It doesn’t matter whether I’m a full-time student with a part-time job or a part-time student with a full-time job.  Life has just gotten insanely busy and it’s not surprising that this blog would be a casualty of this new lifestyle.  

But there are other things going on, too.  I’ve been struggling with purpose and voice for some time in this blog.  Things I’ve wanted to materialize in this blog just haven’t materialized.  I think it’s now time to make a bit of a retreat and reflect on my six years of blogging, and thinking about where I want to go from here.

I still very much want to write, and I am continuing to do so.  Whether it is on this blog, or a new one, I eventually will start posting blog entries again and hopefully in a more focused way than before. My guess is that this hiatus will last a few months.  I’ll eventually get used to the hectic graduate school life and be able to manage my time better. (I hope!)  I’m already thinking of ideas of how to approach my writing once I do start posting again.

Meanwhile, feel free to explore my past posts on this website.  I certainly will be.  I’m still quite proud of this body of work I’ve created over the years.  I’ve changed a lot in the six years that I have been blogging, and, if anything, that change is accelerating. 

as the elements rearrange themselves…

18 Asma’ 168 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head:  The Church, “A Different Man”

There is always a stretch of a few days sometime in September when the wind more than just blows and where the clouds do more than just pass over.  It’s a time when a mixture of gray and white clouds seem to sweep the sky, leaving in its wake a blue sky with a deeper blue hue.  The wind tends to blow a bit colder, making the air cooler, crisper, and cleaner. 

from Dreamstime free downloadsIt feels like the air is more than just cooling–it is churning, rearranging the elements and preparing the way for autumn.  It is a bit unusual for this to happen on Labor Day weekend–often it’s a week or two later.  Nevertheless, it’s mesmerizing, calming and peaceful, and the three days off work have allowed me to feel present enough to thoroughly enjoy it. 

It seems to be timing itself with a number of other changes going on in my life at the same time.  I had orientation and my first class in graduate school within the last week.  We have new people living in the house and it seems cleaner in general than it has in a long time.  The attic room we’d been working on for the better part of two years is now usable, and serving as a wonderful little retreat space. 

Lots of other little things are conspiring and arranging themselves in a way as if to say “Wake up, wake up! Do you know what it means to be alive right now?”

my head rises, temporarily, from the books within which it has been buried (time to be hazy, time to be lazy, sort of)

7 Kamal 168 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head:  Adult Net, “August”

I’ve just finished my ten-week statistics course.  Well, sort of–I still have one last paper due next week.  I took my final exam last Thursday night, and now I’m giving myself permission to slow down and relax.

Many people complain bitterly about the statistics class they are required to take, and I’m not going to say I disagree.   The father of a housemate of mine has a degree in math,  and he once told me that to truly understand statistics, one has to have a solid understanding of both trigonometry and calculus.  The latter I have never taken, and the former I remember very little of.  I know that the “sin,” “cos,” and “tan” buttons on a scientific calculator stand for sine, cosine and tangent, that all have something to do with triangles, and that the calcualtor creates funny numbers when I push those buttons, but other than that, I don’t remember anything about trig.  I need to be able to understand why something works the way it does, almost in a visual way, and that just wasn’t possible in an introductory statistics class for social workers.  My vision got blurry when I saw formulas like M-Za/2 *o/sqrt n <= u <= M + Za/2*o/sqrt n, and I’d think to myself, “yeah, I’m really learning this stuff, aren’t I?” 

I have the month off as far as class is concerned, and then, come September, I will start my graduate program.  In some ways, this statistics class was a nice introduction back to the academic world. It was difficult to go straight from work to class every Tuesday night, and it was a challenge at times to make time for the readings,  homework and studying that was necessary.  I also wrote about how challenging it was to navigate my way through the labyrynthine university system.

It was nice to wake up this morning and watch the rain fall as I looked out the window.   I wrote in my personal journal and am now writing this blog post.  There is still a lot I need to do personally this month, but I’m also giving myself permission to be lazy and hazy…

school daze, part too

11 Rahmat 168 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head:  Public Image Ltd., “Public Image”

An astute observe (stalker?) of this website might have noticed that a second post from 7 June just now appeared out of nowhere, perhaps making them wonder if I somehow slipped this in just now and then pretended that I wrote it for 7 June.  

Well, yes, sort of.  I really did begin writing it on 7 June, the same day I made that other post, but I posted it yesterday.  So there.  Live with it.  You should be lucky that I don’t pick random calendar dates like the local newspaper in the novel “Dhalgren.”  (If I did that, this blog’s readership would probably drop from three to two.)

I’ve actually now completed my Statistics class mid-term, and I think I did pretty well–maybe even quite well. As I was studying, my old studying tricks came back to me, and there were only one or two questions on the exam (out of roughly 35) where I found myself thinking, “Ooh, I should have tried harder to memorize that part of the notes.”

It is rather interesting going to school in 2011 after not having done so since 1989.  Email wasn’t used when I was an undergraduate–at least not those of us in the Liberal Arts and Sciences ghetto.  Microsoft Word had been invented by that point, but when I was an undergraduate, it was still WordPerfect’s bastard stepchild. Microsoft Power Point had not been invented at all. WordStar was considered to be a legitimate word-processing program.

Now I have my own campus email address. (Unfortunately I couldn’t pick the name–they auto-assigned it to avoid duplication and to avoid email addresses like .)  I can actually email my homework and download my syllabus. My instructor actually uses Power Point and we get Power Point printouts of the lectures, making it necessary only to add notes to the notes already there.

Before class started, I remember wondering what I should bring to class with me. A spiral notebook? A three ring binder? A Trapper Keeper? I agonized over whether I should bring my laptop to class and whether I could simultaneously take notes and check Facebook at the same time like any good Gen-Y’er. Turns out there was no need in this case–with all the handouts the three-ring binder ended up being what I needed.

But in a scenario that is very 2011, I was doing my homework in a coffee shop one afternoon when I realized that the built-in calculator on my Android phone didn’t have a square-root function. So I went onto Android Market, found a scientific calculator app, downloaded it to my phone and continued working on the statistic problem I’d started a few minutes before.

It’s tricky balancing school, work and life, and is definitely something I’m still getting used to…