Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Hailing

London is filled with Americans. Nearly everywhere I turn I hear them as they shuttle between Harrods and Fortnum’s. I think they booked when the pound was down but frankly it’s nice to hear chatter that doesn’t involve a litany of complaints about the royal family when we are all clearly counting on King Charles to be the green-king he is poised to be. They do, however, ask about the future of Harry and Andrew—as if we know more than they can read in their papers. But the main thing I am noticing… they are taking up all the ride-hailing cars (Uber and Lyft). My wait time has increased exponentially, which has me grumbling on occasion.

‘Take my car!’ Daddy’s voice boomed from his study when he heard me complaining to my app, ‘You seem to think it’s a Zipcar anyway’, he muttered in half voice.

It’s not that often that I take his car! But of course he’s frustrated with me as I have a car, (and a house and a charging station) all set up in California but I just don’t feel like being there at the moment. Too scary, too depressing. So I called back, ‘Uber is an electric fleet, Daddy!’ Which elicited no response. Hmm.

Waiting for me back home in L.A.

I went outside to wait for my ride which wasn’t an electric one by the way. I looked up to see Daddy waving from his front-facing window. The car also wasn’t cool per my app settings either. Or quiet. In fact he had the windows open and some music playing. And he was on the phone. Then some small chat about where to take me (he wasn’t quite sure) and so he pulled over while three electric black cabs zoomed past.

I sorted the driver out, asked him to pull up the windows and sank back into my seat to research further. Seems one third of all London taxis are now electric, to only 13 percent of Uber’s fleet. More than double. Ugh! As I kept scrolling it became clear that asking to close the windows didn’t also clue the driver in to turning on the AC. Much in the same way that taking a job as a driver didn’t clue him in to the use of deodorant, so I quickly asked him to re-open the windows with me taking responsibility and apologising—so very British of me.

My destination was one of those labyrinthine sections of London which requires knowing where it is in order to reach it by car. I got dropped off where it clearly wasn’t.  With ankle straps cutting in on both of my legs and a permanent scuff on my new Mach & Mach heels I wasn’t in the best of moods for anyone’s art showing.

‘Looks like you need a drink’ the gallery girl said, and led me over to a group already sipping on champagne. ‘You missed the artist’ I was told by a gentleman who looked as though he had raided Gianni Agnelli’s closet.

‘Oh…well my driver…’ I said.

‘Driver? Sack him’, the gentleman said.

‘Well, he’s not exactly my… I mean, I took an Uber’, I said. 

‘Uber? WHY?’ he shot back.

‘Why?? Because I was hoping to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and…’ 

‘My dear… they are the mob! They pushed in, breaking every rule and once they got a market share—well THEN they said the people need us, and we have to stay’.

Waves of the future?

I hadn’t been prepared to defend Uber as 'not the mob'.  Environmental arguments I could make… this was something else. I made my way to the other end of the gallery and when I saw people slipping out for dinner I did the same.

I walked a couple of blocks to where I thought an Uber could find me but two drivers cancelled so I gave up and walked to Cecconi’s. It was mobbed. Not unlike their restaurant in West Hollywood but of course there, they knew me. I put on my best California accent but it was lost on the Italian hostess. Finally I just explained that I didn’t have a reservation, that I was a regular in West Hollywood, where we don’t walk except when hiking and certainly not in braided silver sandals, and would she please let me order a plate of pasta at the bar. She did, and I rewarded her with a Hollywood-style tip.

I was tired when finally I returned home and I didn’t have time to read so many conflicting facts so I asked Daddy to help me make the case for carbon pricing. ‘The conflict is that you are trying to make an argument for the wrong side’, he said.

'My SIDE is the environment, as you very well know, and therefore I have to be in favour of carbon pricing’. 

‘I see’, he said, ‘And there may be a time you can do that but at the moment… decarbonisation is a costly goal. And one nobody wants to pay for’.

‘I thought of that’, I said, ‘so instead of high visibility projects, we subsidise private sector, grant concessions, offer tax rebates… it’s a win-win'.

‘Uh, no Jennifer, it’s a lose-lose. You offer spreading the pain so that everyone pays. You can impose whatever you wish but the public still pays a price—whether in higher taxes, lower amenities, or a degraded environment, which is what you have now—congestion fees, higher fares, lesser service, and roads clogged up with ride-hails’.

‘It sounds bad—but then we just need more regulation.’

‘You HAD regulation—you had regulated black cabs, but then Uber bucked regulations, and now you have a choice of something that is not more affordable, or safer, or greener. And once they put the black cabs out of business do you imagine they will work cheaper out of the goodness of their hearts?’

‘So what now?’ I asked.

‘Well China has a plan. They are regulating their ride-hail services by taking over their apps… they erase out-of-favor companies from their maps, they lock dissidents from their cars, they control all routes… And voila! It’s a green choice!’

'Daddy!’

‘No matter… your plan is to tax people for not using mass transit, correct? So you’ll end up subsidising something that no one uses. Kind of like the bike lanes we have now.’

All this, plus Covid-free!

I was defeated. I knew the bike lanes were leading to more congestion and more pollution. And ride-hailing was proving to be worse for the environment than driving one’s own car. I opened my laptop to see if the cabbies union had an argument. Nada. Why was this?  Seems their union argued against them… claiming ‘drivers matter’ (as in all drivers matter) which meant a larger pool of members, more power in numbers, and as for the mob comment… they really had muscled in. I was nowhere.

I emerged from my pensive funk when I heard my father putting ice in the drinks trolley. ‘G&T?’ he asked.

‘Yes, please, and question… what to do? I’ve got nothing’.

‘Actually you’ve got another Greenpeace—'

‘—whom I abandoned because they were doing more harm than good'.

‘Precisely’. 

The penny dropped. 'So the black cab is my cause?’

‘Well', he said, raising a glass, 'there’s always organised crime’.

Rishi Sunak: the Worm Turns

Writing a few days ago on Britain's new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, this author expressed some hope that his decision to reimpose a nationwide ban on fracking (a ban which Sunak had opposed when standing for leader, it should be noted), "was merely Sunak recognizing the reality on the ground, which is that fracking isn't particularly popular among elected MPs," and suggested this objectively bad decision would be offset by other, saner resource sector tweaks. Sunak himself argued that the platform the party was elected on in 2019 promised a fracking ban, and he felt bound to respect that. Fair enough.

But now Sunak has deflated those hopes. After saying on several occasions that he had no intention of attending this year's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt (known as COP27), Sunak has once again changed course, and while spouted hackneyed warmist jibberish to boot:

Sure, Rishi, all of human prosperity depends upon the rich-and-powerful flying their private jets to Egypt to sit around in air conditioned rooms talking about how important you all are.

Sunak's elevation has been widely touted as a return to "grown-up" governance. But, as the British journalist Ben Sixsmith points out in a piece about Sunak, to call a major politician "a grown-up" is to damn him with faint praise. "Grown-up" in politics, Sixsmith argues, is a codeword for someone who makes journalists feel all warm and fuzzy inside. They invariably wear nice suits, have sensible haircuts, and speak fluidly and confidently when a microphone is in their face. What they say is of little importance.

This writer is less certain on that last point. To me, the title "grown-up" is bestowed by the media upon those who have promised not to offend elite sensibilities on any important topic. It isn't a partisan designation -- there are plenty of ostensibly right-of-center figures who have been so complimented, with George Bush the elder, John McCain, and Mitt Romney being standouts in this category. Of course, it is worth mentioning that ultimately losing elections is what allowed those three to maintain their "grown-up" status.

This is something Rishi should probably take note of as he begins his Green-ward turn. Meanwhile, his change-of-heart is winning praise from all of the wrong people in British life. For instance:

Funny how the Strange New Respect a move like this inspires can't even sustain itself for the life of an entire tweet.