fire trucks

The Craziest Thing

One of the most frequently asked questions by customers has always been “what is the craziest thing that has ever happened?” For a long time I always told the story from the blog post Not A Good To Die. That situation was crazy, scary and usually very entertaining to the customers. That story was recently eclipsed as my craziest cab story.

It had been a slow morning and I was beginning to worry about even making my lease. I had been out for four hours and I had picked up one person for a six dollar trip. I was sitting in a parking place on Highland Avenue and had just finished my lunch. Tom and Jerry’s Chevron offers a sweet hot dog deal. You have to make them yourself but two dogs with all the trimmings and a bag of chips for a buck ninety nine, can’t beat it. A call finally came through in the 120 zone. It was an account trip, a trip paid for with a voucher by the account of a business or institution. It was to St. Vincent’s, the big Catholic hospital in Birmingham. I like account trips because they’re often long trips and you don’t have to worry about getting paid whether your rider has any money or not. A few months earlier I had gotten an account trip out of this same hospital that went to Moulton, a small town in the northwest corner of Alabama. That trip had paid me one hundred and seventy dollars.

I could tell something was different when I pulled up in front of the hospital. You usually have to wait several minutes for nurses to wheel your customer out and help them get in the car. This time I was greeted by a security guard. “Are you here for Miss Emma?” Yes, I told him. He handed me the voucher which had NO STOPS written across the top in big letters. “Don’t stop anywhere and don’t take her anywhere but home” he said. Emma was a white woman of about sixty. She was small but had a fiery look about her, she seemed to be speeding ninety to nothing. Her home was in McCalla. This made my eyes light up because I knew this would be about a fifty dollar trip, just what I needed after such a slow start to the day.

“I ain’t lettin’ them zombies do that to me.” What? I asked. “Them folks at that hospital, they all zombies. They want to do all kinds of terrible thangs to me. You don’t blame me for gettin’ outta there do you?” What were you in there for, I asked. “They said I had a heart attack but I don’t thank I did” Now I knew that I had a real doozie on my hands. My plan, as it always is when I get someone like this is just agree with what they say and get them where they’re going ASAP and then get the hell away. Yeah, you right, I said. That’s my standard answer when someone asks me a question this crazy. The last thing you want to do is start an argument. “Them zombies was walking around with them holler eyes, all wantin’ to stick needles in me and wantin’ my blood. They was scaring me. You don’t blame me for gettin’ outta there do you?” No, I don’t blame you a bit. Sometimes you just gotta go.

I had set my GPS to the address provided and was headed out I-20/59 toward McCalla. “I want you to take me by my brother’s house, he lives in Hueytown. I want to tell him what them folks was trying to do to me.” I told her that I could only take her to the address on the voucher because the hospital was paying for her trip. I said if you were paying for it I could take you anywhere but when they’re paying I have to follow their instructions. “OK” she said weakly and was then quiet for a couple of minutes. We soon passed the Valley Road exit in Fairfield. “That’s where you get off”, she said. No it’s not I told her. I’m following my GPS. I asked her if she lived at the address provided. “Yeah, but that’s where you get off.” I said I’m taking you home, we’ll be there shortly and you don’t have to pay for it so it really doesn’t matter which way I go, does it? When we approached the Allison-Bonnet exit to Hueytown, where she had already said she wanted to go, she became even more agitated. “That’s where we going, get off here, that’s where I live”. I said I can’t, the hospital guard told me specifically not to take you anywhere but to address on the voucher. “That’s where it is! YOU GOIN’ THE WRONG WAY!” she screamed.

She was strangely silent as I passed the exit. She was silent for a few minutes and I was able to drive for a couple of miles. I was in the right lane doing about seventy down the interstate when I heard a strange sound from the backseat. I turned around to see that she had the door open and was preparing to take a flying leap. I immediately hit the brakes and steered to the shoulder. Before I could bring it to a complete stop she was out. I could see her in the rear view running in her long colorful dress at first down the shoulder and then out into the highway, out into traffic!

woman stops traffic

I was screaming at the 911 dispatcher. SEND SOMEONE NOW! SHE’S IN THE MIDDLE OF THE INTERSTATE AND THERE’S HEAVY TRAFFIC! PLEASE SEND SOMEONE NOW! I was hearing the chorus of all different tones of horns as I saw her in the mirror holding up both arms out in the middle of I-20/59. I heard the air brakes and long horn blowing from an eighteen wheeler that was making his best effort not to splatter her all over the road. Just as I was sure I was about to see body parts flying and witness her death on the highway, I saw a fire truck pull off the road near where she was standing.

The short, stocky, middle aged firefighter heroically ran out, grabbed her and pulled to the side of the road. When he pulled off the road, a fire department Tahoe driven by a woman who worked with the fire department pulled off behind him. To avoid rear ending the fire truck she drove the Tahoe into the soft mud of the ditch beyond the shoulder. It added a bit to the excitement of the moment to see her futilely trying to get the SUV, with it’s red lights blazing, out of the ditch. As I’m quickly walking toward the scene I can see my customer lying on the side of the road completely limp. I thought well, she’s dead. Maybe she really did have a bad heart and she’s had a heart attack and died.

The driver of the Tahoe finally abandoned it and joined me to see what was happening with my customer. She sat up just before we reached the scene. I told the fire fighter what had happened and he said “yeah, she said you were trying to kill her. Don’t worry about it, she’s mental. I had a call out to her house yesterday. They took her to the psych unit at Brookwood, I don’t know how she ended up at St. Vincent’s.” By this time several police cars and ambulances had showed up. I asked the policeman if he needed any kind of statement. “No, you’re good to go” he said. I drove down to the next exit, and headed back to the Ham, with a brand new craziest story to tell.

copyright 2016, R.W. Walker

*all views and opinions are strictly those of R.W. Walker and do not reflect the views or opinions of any cab company.

 

 

 

 

 

The Unwanted

“Call em’ a cab.” That’s a popular way to get rid of a person causing a problem. Whenever someone is being belligerent, drunk and disorderly, obnoxious or just in the way, a favorite solution to many is to call us and a car will appear and rid them of their problem. The person calling usually never thinks of the problems that person will cause the driver or anyone else after they leave. They just know that the problem will no longer be theirs. The following stories are about two very different people who were unwanted where they were and the cab solution was employed.

Edna Jean

It was early in the evening, just after dusk when I c-booked a trip in the 130 zone. It’s a pretty big zone that stretches from the Lakeview and Highland Park areas in Southside almost to Irondale in the eastern part of the metro. This trip was at the IHOP on Crestwood Blvd which is on the eastern end of the zone. I called the dispatch and asked that they call the customer to make sure they would stay there until I could get there, it sucks to drive a long way for nothing and many customers are very impatient. An employee of the restaurant answered and assured me that “she’ll be here”. I assumed that Edna Jean was an employee that I would be taking home.

She wasn’t an employee. I think I may have jumped a little in my skin when I saw her come out. A white woman in her fifties who looked totally bizarre. Her silver hair was standing out in every direction and looked like it hadn’t seen a comb in weeks. She was wearing a man’s jacket which was about four times too big. Under that I could only see her bare legs and a pair of ragged flip flops on her gnarly, dirty feet. I just assumed she was wearing pants under that jacket, I didn’t ask. Her piercing but almost frighteningly empty eyes looked straight in to mine and said “My name’s Edna Jean. What’s yours?” Rod is my name, where do you need to go? “I live in Walker County. Do you know where Sumiton is? How much will it cost? I got fifty dollars.” I said I’m afraid it may cost a little more than that. A trip to Sumiton would probably run about seventy or eighty dollars. “I ain’t got but fifty but I’ll give you that.” I said I’m afraid it’ll cost more than that to get to Sumiton. “Well can you take me to Leeds?” That I can do. It’ll be about twenty dollars from here.

As we pulled out into Crestwood Blvd headed to Leeds she said again “My name’s Edna Jean, what’s yours?” My name’s Rod. It’s nice to meet you Edna Jean. “I live in Walker County, in Sumiton. You know where that is?” Yes, I know where it is but I thought you wanted to go to Leeds. “I really caint go to Leeds. I been staying out there with my brother. He lives in the housing project. He ain’t sposed to have nobody but his wife and kids in there. They been tryin’ to get me locked up, that’s why I left.” How did you get to the IHOP, I asked. “I walked, I had to leave there cause theys tryin’ to get me locked up.” Do you mean you walked all the way here from Leeds? “Yeah I did. I’m tarred.” Well do you know anyone around here? Where were you going? “My name’s Edna Jean, I live in Walker County, Sumiton. Do you know where that is?” Yes I know where it is, are you telling me you were planning to walk to Sumiton? “Yeah, but that’s too far ain’t it?” Yes, it’s way too far to walk, probably fifty or sixty miles. “That’s what the girl in the restaurant said. She said I’ll call you a cab.”

“Please take me to Sumiton. It’s in Walker County. I got fifty dollars, please take me. I caint go back to my brothers place, they want to lock me up and I caint stand to be locked up. Please take me. I live in Walker County.” OK, I said. Give me the fifty dollars. She handed me four little balls of money. I straightened them out and could see it was two twenties and two fives. I stuffed them deep into my pocket and drove up the ramp to I-20, headed west. I decided to run the meter just to see how much it would actually cost to get her there. By now it was black dark and cloudy with just a few drops of rain on the windshield. Traffic was light in my mind but Edna Jean was freaking out. “All this traffic scares me to death, I couldn’t never drive on this road. Specially them eighteen wheelers. Them thangs scare me to death.” The sound of an ambulance siren was sounding pretty shrill coming up behind us. I barely pay them much attention because I hear and see them so much, I often joke that the sound of emergency vehicles is Birmingham’s theme song. Not so with Edna Jean. “What’s that?” she gasped. Just an ambulance I said, we see them all the time. “Them thangs scare me too, I’m glad I ain’t got to drive.”

As we exited on Arkadelphia and headed toward Sumiton she couldn’t hide her excitement. “Where we at?  We already in Sumiton?” No we’re still in Birmingham, we’ve got a long way to go. “My name’s Edna Jean. I live in Walker County.” I said yes, Edna Jean. We’ve already established that. “All my folks is dead except for my brother and he don’t want me, he wants to have me locked up.” I’m sorry to hear that I said. “My husband just died about five years ago. He’s buried upair in Taylor’s cemetery in Sumiton, you know where that is?” I can’t say that I do. I said I’ll bet you miss your husband, did y’all have a good life together? “Naw, not really. He was a alky-holic. He got mean when he was drunk. He died of cirrhosis of the liver. Naw, I don’t miss him much.” That’s too bad, I said. And all your other relatives are dead? “Mama and all her sisters and brothers died a long time ago. Daddy’s been dead since I was little. Oh, I forgot about my daughter, she ain’t dead. I don’t have nothing to do with her and she don’t like me. She’s a dope addict.”

After we passed through the last street lights of Forestdale, Adamsville and Graysville the road became significantly darker. “It ain’t far now is it?” We’re a lot closer than we were but we’ve still got a few miles, I told her. “I’m glad it was you that picked me up” Why is that? I asked. “I don’t trust colored men”. As much as I disagreed with this sentiment I decided that having a discussion about race with this woman wasn’t a good idea, so I just stayed silent and let it go. Soon we were passing Wesley’s Boobie Trap, an old strip club in the middle of nowhere near the Walker County line. “We close now,” she said. “Sumiton ain’t far from that old titty bar.” I said yeah, we’ll be there soon. As soon as we get into Sumiton you can show me where you live. “I don’t live nowhere, I ain’t got no home no more.” Alarms started going off in my mind. Ut oh, I thought. Where the hell am I gonna take her? So I asked, where am I gonna take you? “I’m gonna try to go up to my friend’s trailer. If she ain’t there or won’t let me in I’ll guess you can just take me to downtown Sumiton.” I was apprehensive. I’ve been in these situations before, where someone will hold you a long time going place to place for little to no money. In this case it would be no money.

Boobie Trap

In just a couple of miles after passing the Boobie Trap we started seeing the first few lights of Sumiton, mostly fast food. A McDonald’s and a couple of other chain burger joints. “We gonna go rat over this hill and turn by the Hardee’s.” This turn lead us down a winding country road that turned from pavement to gravel after about a half mile. “See that trailer up on the hill? I’m ona go upair and see if she’ll let me in.” I watched as she walked up the small hill in her ragged clothes to a ragged home. After some loud knocking the door cracked open and Edna walked in. I didn’t give her a chance to walk out again. I hit the road in a hurry. The meter was sitting at sixty eight dollars. Yes, I felt compassion for her but I’d already taken an eighteen dollar hit. That’s all I could afford for one night.

Jane

Picking up at upscale restaurants is usually easy. It’s almost always fairly affluent people who are visiting Birmingham and staying in the good hotels. Most of the time it’s a short trip to the Westin, The Sheraton, Embassy Suites or one of the other mainstream hotels near downtown. Once in a while it’s a twenty five to thirty dollar trip out to the hotel at Ross Bridge. The customers are almost always well behaved and never overly drunk.

This night was an exception. When I pulled up in front of the upscale seafood restaurant at five points south, a valet motioned for me to roll down my window. He ask, “are you here for Jane?” I said yes and he told me they were bringing her out. I thought it a little odd that she had to be brought out. Jane was an attractive young woman probably in her thirties. She had shoulder length blonde hair and was wearing a stylish looking blue dress. She was the kind of customer one would expect to see at this kind of restaurant. Jane was being escorted to the cab by the restaurant manager and another employee. She was holding on tight to both their arms. When they let her go to get in the cab she took a tumble when she stepped off the curb. They picked her up off the ground and physically put her in the back seat.

This was a strange situation. She seemed to be alone and was apparently well lubricated when she arrived. When I asked where she wanted to go she just gave me a blank stare, like “who are you and where am I?” The manager said “the best we can tell, she lives in Anniston and is in town for some kind of business meeting.” Can you tell me where you want to go? I ask her. “I don’t know, to my hotel I guess. My car’s here I can just drive.” “Ma’am we cannot allow you to drive” the manager said. “Why not?” she insisted. “Because you’re too intoxicated to drive, ma’am. If I let you drive our restaurant would be liable if you get into a wreck. You can leave in the cab or if you have a friend I can call them to pick you up. If you can’t do either of those things, I’m afraid I’ll have to call the police.”

I said ma’am I’ll be glad to take you to your hotel if you’ll just tell me where it is. “I don’t know. Fairfield Inn I think.” Which Fairfield Inn? I asked. “I don’t know I’m not from here.” I started googling Fairfield Inn near Birmingham on my phone. I found that the one I had remembered on highway 280 was closed. There were three others in the metro area. Bessemer, Fultondale and Pelham. I said we have three to chose from but they’re far apart. If we go to the wrong one we’re going to be a hell of a long way to the right one.

By this time she’s clutching my arm as she had the with the manager and the restaurant employee. “I don’t know just take me there.” she almost screamed. Ma’am I can’t take you anywhere until you can tell me where we’re going. She looked at the manager and yelled “I’M UNHAPPY WITH HIM.” as she pointed in my direction. I said I’m unhappy with you too. You’re taking up my time, and you can’t go anywhere with me if you can’t tell me where to go. You can’t ride around with me all night. The manager tried to convince her to let him see her phone. He thought maybe he could see where she had called a hotel and he could call to see which one. She flatly refused. “You’re not touching my phone” she told him.

It seemed abundantly clear that Jane wouldn’t be much help providing a destination. The manager and I started considering other options. He said “I really don’t want to call the police on her. Maybe you could take her to one the hotels in this area where she can get a room for the night. She can come back here and get her car tomorrow, when she’s sober. Good idea I said. I looked at her and said we have three hotels less than a mile from here. We have the Hotel Highland, the Doubletree and the Marriot Residence. Would you like to go to one of those? “Marriot Residence, take me there.” I did a u turn and headed down the hill. She was still clutching my arm and by this time laying her head on my shoulder in an almost flirty manner. After two red lights we were there.

“Where are we? Why did you bring me here? What is this place? This is the Marriot Residence Hotel. You told me to bring you here. “Why?” Don’t you remember? The restaurant manager said you had to go somewhere or he would have to call the police. Are you going to get out? I asked. “No, I don’t know why I’m here. What kind of car is this?” It’s a cab. About a 2007 Ford Crown Victoria. “This is my car,” she said. I said ma’am if you don’t get out here at this hotel I will have to call the police. “I’m not getting out of my own car! How did you get my car?” I put the keys in my pocket and got out of the car. “What are you doing?”she asked. I went to the desk and told the clerk what was going on. I was very happy this clerk was working because she was very helpful. When we both walked back out of the hotel Jane was in the drivers seat with her hands on the wheel. “Let us help you ma’am, just come into the hotel and we’ll get you a room for the night.” “Why are you trying to make me get out of my car?” Jane insisted. “Ma’am, you’re sitting in the driver’s seat of a cab. This is not your car.”

The clerk was very kind and gentle with Jane and apparently that worked. She took the clerk by the hand and stumbled into the hotel lobby. As with Edna Jean, I didn’t give her time to change her mind. I also didn’t ask her for any money as I knew that would be futile.

copyright R.W. Walker 2015

*All views and opinions are strictly those of R.W. Walker. These views do not reflect the views of any cab company.

Fool Me Once

fool me once, shame on you. fool me twice, shame on me.  

ancient proverb

I got no gut feeling of anything being awry when I picked up a motherly looking woman who appeared to be in her sixties. She wanted to go to Walmart, not just any Walmart but a very specific one. She wanted to go to the Walmart in Roebuck, which is a $25 cab ride from where I picked her up in Southside. When we arrived she said “I want you to wait on me. I’ll just be a few minutes. Please don’t leave me.”

walmart

I found a parking place and began to wait. I surfed the net and perused facebook, twitter and instagram on my phone. It seemed like she had been gone a while. I looked at the time and 20 minutes had passed. I thought that the store may be busy and maybe she was in line. The meter kept climbing. The waiting continued until 30 minutes had passed. I had an appointment to pick up a regular customer back in Southside. I was beginning to think I’d never get back in time. After 40 minutes passed I decided to call dispatch to see if they could get in touch with her. She never answered her phone. After I had waited for 45 minutes it was clear that I had been duped. By this time the meter was so high that she probably wouldn’t be able to pay it if she wanted to. I believe she had devised a plan so that she could get by without paying cab fare both to and from the destination. I figured she was watching for me to leave, at which time she would call another cab and pay only $25 to get back instead of the $75-80 that she would have owed me. I finally left and called it a loss. It looked like her plan had worked.

A few days later I told the story to some fellow drivers. One guy told me of a game that some riders play where they will go to Walmart or some other big box store and go in one door and come out the other, where someone will be waiting to pick them up. I figured this is what she had done.

Fast forward two weeks.

It was a slow morning when I accepted the call in the 120 zone. The name on the screen was “Gwendolyn”. It was a pick up at the same place, a low income retirement home, where I had picked up the woman who had pulled off this stunt two weeks earlier. No doubt this was the same woman. I ran several scenarios through my mind as to how I would deal with this issue while on the short trip to pick her up. As I approached the retirement home I saw her walking toward it as if she were just getting there herself. She jumped in the back seat and said “I need to go to Walmart, the one in Roebuck and I want chu to wait on me”. I turned around and let know quickly that I remembered what had happened last time. “Oh I’m sorry” she said. “There was a long line at the money center and I just couldn’t get out. I know the money is already there this time, it won’t take me long.”

I decided to go ahead and take the chance. Once again the meter was sitting at $25 when we pulled into the parking lot. I told her that I had an appointment at 11:30 and I needed to leave by 11:15 in order to get back in time. That would give her 20 minutes in the store. “Don’t worry honey, you gonna get cho money. As long as they ain’t no long line it won’t take but a minute”. I asked her to pay me for the first part of the trip first, before I waited. “I ain’t got no money now. That’s what I got to do. I gotta go to the money center to get my money.”

I walked into the store with her, under the guise of going to the restroom. There was no line at all at the money center. She walked right up to the window. I went to the restroom and noticed she was still standing at the window when I walked back by. The optimistic and forgiving part of my mind said maybe she was telling me the truth, maybe she’ll be out in a few minutes and I can make a good round trip fare. Maybe everything will be fine. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The 20 minute deadline came and went. Another five minutes passed and still no Gwendolyn. At this point I decided to walk back into the store to see if I could see her. She was long gone from the money center and nowhere in sight.

Once again she had stolen an hour of my time, the gas to get her there and whatever business I would have picked up if I hadn’t had to deal with her. I called dispatch and told my sad story. Apparently another driver had also reported her. The dispatcher said “OK, she’s on the bad list. She can’t get any more cabs.” Of course that wouldn’t stop her from just getting someone else to call for her. I felt like a complete and total idiot.

copyright 2015 R.W. Walker

*All views and opinions are strictly those of R.W. Walker. These views do not reflect the views of any cab company.

 

Red Heels On A Red Hill

My first trip in cab #1056 was a rocky one. As I punched the gas to take my customer over the mountain I could tell I was having transmission issues. It didn’t seem that the third gear was engaging. I was having serious doubts that I could make it to the top of the hill. Once I crossed the hill, after what seemed like considerable straining by the transmission, I was able to coast down the other side to my customer’s job in Soho Square. I immediately called dispatch and asked if they wanted me to call a wrecker of try driving it back to the shop. We decided that I would drive it back but I’d go out Montevallo Road so I wouldn’t have to cross the mountain again.

Have you ever taken a thing to be repaired but when you get it to the repairman it works just fine and makes you look like a fool? That’s what happened to me. The mechanic got in the driver’s seat and I in the back seat. He drove it around the eastern part of town on interstates and back streets, up hills and on level ground. The car seemed fine, it looked like I had brought it back for nothing. I had egg on my face. The car worked fine the rest of the day and through the night. It was the next night before the trouble reared it’s ugly head once again.

The call was to pick up Albert at an apartment complex up on the side of Red Mountain. These apartments are probably the steepest apartments in Birmingham. It puts a strain on the best of transmissions to make it to the top. Albert lived on a row of buildings just below the top. The car made it to his apartment just fine, no problems. I’ve picked up Albert before. He’s an openly gay African American man probably in his 40’s. He’s usually very quiet and polite, no problem at all. I was taking him to a fundraiser for an AIDS outreach program at a venue out between downtown and Avondale. About halfway there Albert asked “there ain’t nothing wrong with being gay, is it?” I said no, in my opinion everyone should have the right to be who they are, I have no problem with someone being gay. This seemed to ease his mind a bit and he began to open up about the party he was about to attend. He said ” I got my red dress in this bag. I got some heels too, bright red.” I asked, how about a wig? You got a wig? “Yes honey, I got a good wig. Some of these folks be walking around in dresses and heels but with bald heads. I think if you gonna do it, do it right. Yeah, I got me a wig.” When we arrived at the venue I could see others walking around in heels and dresses. Some were obviously male but others were ambiguous enough that it was hard to tell.  Some red and white, some red and black but a common color of all the outfits was red. Yes, I did see one fellow with male pattern baldness wearing a fancy red dress. Albert asked for my phone number. He said “I’ll be different when I come out. I want you to pick me up.”

red heels

It was a busy night. There was a big, free music festival at Railroad park that had drawn many thousands. There was also Secret Stages, another festival featuring indie rock acts at various venues in the downtown loft district. All this made for non-stop cab driving. That’s the way I like it, that’s the way it needs to be to make money in this business. You constantly either have a customer in your car or you’re going to pick up a customer. That’s cab driving at it’s best.

The call came at a lucky time. The voice on the other end said “I’m calling for a friend, his name is Albert. You dropped him off here a few hours ago. He’s had a few and he’s ready to go home.” I was just about to drop off some customers at the Furnace and Albert’s party wasn’t far away. I told him I’d be there in just a few minutes.

Albert had transformed since I dropped him off, he had become Alberta. She was wearing that tight red dress and a big Jeri curl wig as she walked out the door and down the steps. She was barefoot and holding the red heels in her hand. She was pretty toasty after having what she described as “about 6 of them pink gin drinks.” She was much more talkative and maybe just a bit flirtatious on the ride home. The first thing she told me was that she wanted me to watch her walk in her heels when we got back to the apartment. I said, OK. Put them on when you get out and I’ll watch you walk inside. “Ok, honey.”

About halfway home she started up a conversation about saggin’, the practice of young men wearing their pants hanging down so that their underwear is visible.  “You know how saggin’ got started?” she asked. I said I heard it started in prison. It was a way of letting the dominant inmates know who the submissive ones were and that they were available. “That’s right”, she said. “And that’s what all these young dudes that do it now be wantin’, they just want some dick, that’s all. I don’t care what they say, they just want some dick.” I just said maybe so and let it go at that. We arrived at the apartments a few minutes later.

As we started up the steep hill, the transmission problem I had experienced the day before was suddenly back, with a vengeance. Even when I put the pedal to the metal the car just refused to climb any higher. I looked back at Alberta and said we’ve got a problem. “Honey, they need to give you a better car than this. This must be a raggedy ass car.” I said yeah, that’s true but right now we have to solve the matter at hand. How are we gonna get you up that hill? “Let it roll back down and get you a runnin’ start.” I tried it, it didn’t work. She said “let it roll back down and let’s go around the Cullom Street side, it ain’t quite as steep.” The car groaned and strained it’s guts out and finally made it up the less steep hill on the Cullom Street side. We came to a relatively level street between two apartment buildings. Alberta’s apartment was on the same level but on the other side of the steep road we had originally tried to ascend. She would have to walk up a steep hill on the back side of her apartment to get inside. “Now, take you a good runnin’ start and go across that hill and I’ll go in the back way. This time it worked, I managed to get to the steep red dirt hill behind Alberta’s apartment.

“I still want you to watch me walk in these heels” she said. She stumbled and she staggered. At one point I was concerned that she might break her ankle. She eventually gained her balance and made it to the end of the parking lot facing the steep hill on the side of Red Mountain. She managed to take about three steps up the hill before falling. She tried to get back up with the shoes on but failed. I could see the frustration and finally the “oh fuck it” look on her face as she gave in and took them off and stood to her feet. I watched until she disappeared around the end of the building. I turned around, put it in drive and coasted down the hill.

Copyright R.W. Walker 2015

All views and opinions expressed are strictly those of R.W. Walker. These views and opinions do not reflect the views and opinions of any cab company.

Falling Through The Cracks

Mental illness is a truly unfortunate condition. I have personal experience dealing with both loved ones and associates with this condition in one form or another. I have compassion for the mentally ill because I know this is a disease, just like cancer or diabetes.  Even though a stricken person can act very bizarre, removed from reality or even mean or hateful, it’s because of the disease. Most people who have never dealt with anything like this and don’t understand it, are likely to get very angry and in some cases react in ways that can do great harm to the sick person.

St. Vincent’s hospital is a very large Catholic hospital with multiple clinics and other places where a customer can be picked up. After some miscommunication with the dispatchers about exactly where my customer was located, I found her sitting outside the emergency room in a wheelchair. She looked very frail and sickly. She was so thin that it seemed there was a skeleton in the wheelchair with jet black skin stretched over the bones. I immediately thought of scenes from the third world I had seen in TV commercials for charities or in the pages of National Geographic. In spite of her frailty she had a big gap toothed smile with white teeth that contrasted against her dark skin.

With some difficulty, a nurse helped her up out of the chair and into the car. Left behind in the chair was a clear plastic bag with some rags, waded up napkins, candy wrappers and a little plastic cup of some kind of fruit. My customer asked “can you get my bag? It’s very important to me.” I took the bag from the chair and placed it securely in the floorboard behind the driver’s seat. The nurse handed me a voucher, the hospital was paying for the trip over to psychiatric services at UAB. The voucher had the words “no stops” written across the top. The hospital doesn’t like to pay for any detours.

Before we out of the parking lot my customer asked “If I axed you to help me would you?” I looked at her and asked, are you asking me for money? “I need sumpin’ to eat, I’m starving.” My immediate reaction was to think that almost all panhandlers will tell you that they need to money for something to eat. I guess they think that most folks are more sympathetic to hunger than they are for the need of drugs or booze. I asked her what she wanted to eat. “Cap’n D’s” she said immediately. I thought maybe she’s telling me the truth. Thinking about the “no stops” on the voucher, I said just let me take you to where you’re going and I’ll give you five bucks and you can go to Captain D’s later. “OK” she said. By the time we got to the first traffic light she said “please let’s go to Cap’n D’s now, I’m starving”. If someone is truly hungry I certainly don’t mind feeding them. I decided that I would only charge the hospital for the trip to Captain D’s and take her the rest of the way to the clinic pro bono.

She began to complain that St. Vincent’s wouldn’t let her stay there because they said “they ain’t no medical reason to keep me.” She then started to expound on all the medical reasons they could have kept her. “I got these thangs all over me that’s drivin’ me crazy” she put her leg up on the console for me to see a hole, too small for a bullet hole but one that looked like it had been drilled with a drill or some kind of burrowing parasite in her lower leg. “That ain’t all, I got a buncha  big knots on my coochie and in my butt that hurt like a muthafucka.” While stopped at a red light she almost shouted “LOOK, look at these thangs on my privates!” I instinctively turned around only for a second to see the she had pulled up the skirt of the long dress she was wearing to reveal her naked, pantyless vagina in all it’s glory. I quickly turned my eyes away before I could get a glimpse of any knots or boils. “I got em in my butt too, they worser in my butt. These on my coochie hurt but they mostly in my butt.” The only thing I could think was lady, please don’t try to show me your butthole. Thankfully she didn’t.

When we arrived in the drive thru I asked her what she wanted. “A three piece fish and some corn on the cob. Water to drink.” She was telling me the truth about being hungry. She ate her fish and corn like a mad woman. She was completely finished by the time we drove the short distance to psychiatric services. We pulled up in front and I took her bag up to the door and went inside to ask if someone could get her in a wheelchair, she seemed too frail to get out on her own. A woman told me to take her to the ramp in the back of the building and someone would get her. A couple of professional women came out and put her through the third degree about why she was there and who had sent her. She told them that St. Vincent’s had sent her. I showed them the voucher from that hospital. They went back inside for a moment. When they came back out they said “you don’t have an appointment, you’re going to have to go to the emergency room.” One of the women then instructed me to take her to the UAB emergency room which was just a couple of blocks away.

Capn D 010

My customer had obviously fallen through the cracks of the mental health system and indeed the health care system. Knowing that she would have sat in the emergency room waiting room all day, she didn’t even consider staying there. “Just take me down by Alley’s drug store and let me out.” she said. I told her I couldn’t do that because the woman at psychiatric services had instructed me to take her to the emergency room, she seemed to understand. She got out of the car on her own power at the ER. Before I could leave she noticed that her bag was missing. I had left it by the door of psychiatric services. ” I gots to have that, you don’t know how important it is. I gotta have it.” I said just stay here and I’ll go back and get it. The bag, which looked to me like a bag full of car trash, was still sitting by the door where I had left it earlier.

I didn’t see her when I arrived back at the ER. I was thinking that maybe I’d just leave the bag there and ask someone to be on the lookout for the lady to which it belonged. Suddenly, I heard “over here.” She was walking around easily without the aid of a wheelchair or anything else. When I got out with her bag she flashed that big toothy smile and thanked me for bringing it to her. She went on her way and I went on to the next call.

copyright 2015, R.W, Walker

*All views and opinions are strictly those of R.W. Walker. These views and opinions do not reflect the view or opinions of any cab company.

A Matter Of Class

Income inequality is a major issue across America and indeed the world. The issue is profound in this area and as I may have mentioned previously, driving a cab allows one to see it in a very personal way. Some, including some fellow drivers, say that they’re unable to see it or think that’s just the way it is and there’s nothing that can be done about it. I guess they’re right, at least to some degree. I don’t know if a classless society would ever be possible but seeing some with far more than they need to live a luxurious life and others without the life’s basic necessities rubs me the wrong way. I have absolutely nothing against educating one’s self, working hard, having great ideas and making a lot of money. In fact I think that’s very admirable. What’s even more admirable are the people who are the big winners in this crazy money game we all have to play who don’t forget about their fellow humans who haven’t been so lucky. Some high profile billionaires such as Bill and Melinda Gates are very charitable and have done a great deal to help those in need. That’s fantastic. Unfortunately, not every mover and shaker wants to help the less fortunate, some in fact are the causes of the problems.

The following stories are about real life people on the extreme ends of the income gap. These are situations that paint a realistic picture of income inequality and the expectations of privilege by some on the good side of the gap. There are many days when we serve both the richest and the poorest residents of our community, sometimes on back to back trips. I hope these situational accounts will help someone, maybe someone who is in denial, see the issues clearly.

THE WEDDING PARTY

It was a busy night. One of those nights when there was far more demand for cabs than there were cabs. That happens sometimes when there are concerts, festivals or other big events that bring a lot of people to town. I had just dropped off a customer in the 150 zone. That’s Mountain Brook, the richest neighborhood in Alabama and one of the top ten in the southeast. There were 6 calls on the board for the zone and I decided to take one hoping that it wasn’t too old and that the people were still there. It was to Otey’s Tavern, as many of the calls in this zone are. Otey’s is a small bar in the Crestline Village section of Mountain Brook that is very popular with the young “Brookies”, the children and grandchildren of the old money elites who populate this posh suburb.

wedding party

There was to be a wedding of a Mountain Brook girl and a fellow from New York the next day. A large group in the wedding party was celebrating early at Otey’s, there were eight of them in all. We’ve been warned many times not to overload a cab. The capacity is five people, the driver and four passengers. Anything more than that is against the law because there aren’t enough seatbelts for more than five. If a driver should be pulled over, or worse yet have an accident with the car overloaded, his or her ass is grass. It’s not a chance that I’m willing to take. The guy who seemed to be the leader of this group decided that he was going to put all eight of his friends in the car, I flatly refused which started a firestorm of hate aimed in my direction.  They had been waiting for a while. When I told them that I wouldn’t take any of them if they insisted on overloading the car, four of them reluctantly agreed to make the trip while the others waited on another cab.

It was a very unpleasant trip. The girls kept trying to shame me for leaving their friends behind, all of the logic in the world didn’t matter. In their mind I was supposed to forget about the warnings that had been passed down and do as they wanted in order to please them. The guy who had first tried to orchestrate the eight person trip was sitting behind me kicking me in the back with his knees through the back of the seat. Once I screamed “what the fuck are you doing?” at this asshole he subsided for a little while. Now, I regret not stopping the car and putting his ass out on the side of the road.

One of the girls was busy calling the cab company to get their friends picked up. She tried being an authoritarian with the call taker. She said ” You’d better get a cab to pick up our friends, RIGHT NOW”. The call taker hung up on her. Realizing that her options were limited she changed her tone a bit. She started soliciting my help in getting a ride for her friends. She asked about other cab companies. I said there are several others but they’re mostly a joke, but please feel free to try one. I told her the name of two of the companies. She tried calling them both but neither of them would even answer the phone. She ask if I had any friends who could pick them up. Not tonight, I said. We’re crazy busy, everyone already has all they can do. Trying to make the best of the situation, I said maybe I could go back and pick them up when I drop you off. One of the girls in the back seat piped up and said “they wouldn’t ride in the car with you.” Great, I said. There are plenty of others that need rides and I won’t have to back track. The girl in front immediately flipped a switch and tried to become my best friend. “You’re a good cab driver” she said in a childlike voice. “I was on your side all along, you will go back and get them won’t you?” I’ll consider it, I said.

By the time we reached their destination, Lakeview, the other girls had joined in the love fest. “You’re the best driver we’ve ever had” one of them said. The guy who I had screamed at wasn’t feeling the love. He decided to try and put me in my place instead. “You’re a terrible cab driver” he yelled in my face! “YOU WORK IN THE SERVICE INDUSTRY, YOU DO AS YOU’RE TOLD! DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?” I managed to keep my cool even as I was fantasizing about bashing this stupid asshole’s brains out with a hammer. He slammed the door and stormed off. I don’t how long it took their friends to get a ride. I hope it was a long, long time.

A WARM FLOOR TO SLEEP ON

The address on the screen was to a park up behind the Civic Center in the 500 zone. As I approached I could see four scruffy looking white guys standing on the corner of the park waiting for my arrival. As I’ve noticed with all groups, no matter how rich or poor, no matter the race or ethnicity, there’s always one who seems to be the leader. One who makes the decisions for the rest of the group. I guess that’s just the way most humans operate. The leader of this group was a middle aged man wearing a U.S. Navy jacket and a baseball cap. The others were in dirty jeans, cheap tennis shoes, what I’m sure were hand me down coats and knit skull hats.

The destination was to a low rent extended stay hotel up on the mountain on the Homewood side. The leader, the man in the Navy jacket, had apparently received a check or some kind of significant income and he was putting the others up for the night in this hotel. They wanted to stop at a store to buy cigarettes. The youngest of the group said “I caint go in there, they done banned me.”  So he stayed in the car with me while the others got their smokes. Once back on the interstate the group began expressing their gratitude to the man in the Navy jacket. ” I been sleepin’ under that damn 280 bridge. I thought my feet was gonna freeze off last night. I sho am glad I’ll be sleepin’ in a motel tonight. I don’t care if I have to sleep on the floor. That warm floor will feel mighty good compared to where I been sleepin’.”

When we exited the interstate at the Greensprings Avenue exit, one of the other fellas decided to tell us all that this could be a very lucrative intersection. “Me and my son will stand out here with a sign saying I’ll work for food. Just about always somebody will take you to do some yard work, rakin’ leaves or sumpin’. They’ll usually give you sumpin’ to eat and a little money to boot.  You caint stay out there long though. The po-leece will run you off. They say it’s beggin’ even if you are offerin’ to work.”

work for food 2

We arrived at the hotel just a few minutes later. The man in the Navy jacket asked me to wait a few minutes just to make sure he could get all the fellas in. I was a bit nervous about the wait as I had yet to be paid. True to his word, our Navy friend returned in just a couple of minutes and said “we’re all in, how much do I owe you?” The meter was at seventeen dollars. He handed me a twenty and said “keep the change.” I’m glad these guys got off the street for at least one night. God bless the man in the Navy jacket.

These are just two examples, there are countless others. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that every wealthy customer is obnoxious like those in the wedding party. Many are very polite and pleasant company. I’m also not saying that every poor customer is honorable, some are not. The point I’m trying to get across here is that equality of human beings in this society is non existent. As I’ve already said, I don’t think a classless society is possible, but to narrow the huge divide between the classes would be a lofty goal indeed.

copyright 2015 R.W. Walker

*All views and opinions are strictly those of R.W. Walker. These views do not reflect the views of any cab company.

Patient Discharge

I’m back. I haven’t written a post in quite a while now but I have a few stories that I think need to be told. This past spring  just after I made my last post, I was offered and accepted a job with a company that I had worked for back in 2010. This job involved a lot of travel and had me driving all over Alabama and Mississippi for a few months. When June rolled around the job was almost completed in those two states. There were two other states out west where the job needed to be done. The company sent me and a couple of other people from this area to do the job. I spent most of the month of June and part of July working in Colorado and New Mexico. I must say it was a grand experience. I was told to only work forty hours per week and I could usually complete that in four days. I then had time for sight seeing and time to experience places I had never been like Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Denver. When I returned home, there were a few weeks of clean up work around Alabama but when that was over I needed some other way to make money. Back to cab driving. The company I was working for says that there may be more work next year, but in the meantime it’s the streets of Birmingham that will keep me occupied.

Colorado-New Mexico 6-14-14 093

It was 9:00 am and my third dispatched trip of the day. The call was to the ramp at the front entrance of the VA hospital to pick up Ted. I usually don’t like coming to this place because if the customer isn’t outside waiting for you when you get there, you’re usually forced off the ramp by vehicles behind you and end up having to circle the hospital several times, sometimes in heavy traffic in order to pick up a customer. This day was no exception, a man in green scrubs came up to the cab when he saw me pull up to assure me that they were “about to bring him out”. I circled twice before they finally wheeled out a very frail, very elderly man with an oxygen tank by his side. There were several hospital staffers and a few that looked like administrators who were wearing blue blazers with matching ties and bright shiny name tags with the VA logo.

Several of them worked hard just to get my customer in the car. I was immediately alarmed because I could foresee several problems on the back end of this trip. First, I wasn’t convinced that this man could tell me where he lived, not only was he physically very frail but his communications skills also didn’t seem quite up to par. I expressed this concern to one of the men in the blue jackets and he immediately pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and read off an address. There was another problem which was a much bigger one in my mind. How the hell was I gonna get him out of the car when I got him home? Judging by how difficult it was for the hospital staff to get him in the car, I knew that getting him out and inside his house would be even more difficult, impossible if there was no one there to help. When I asked the blue jacketed man about this he seemed not to know what to say. He looked at the man in the backseat and ask “is there anyone at your house to help you get out of the car?” My customer weakly nodded in the affirmative. The hospital staff and officials seemed only interested in getting rid of this man. Many people, from bar bouncers to these hospital big wigs consider cabs as human garbage disposals. They see it as an easy way to get rid of an unwanted person. Just call a cab and it will take them away, they don’t care where, just away. There was a well dressed woman overseeing the loading of this man in my car. She looked like she could have been a social worker or some similar professional. I cornered her and told her that I was seriously concerned about having help to get this man out of the car when I arrived at his house. I stressed the fact that I wasn’t a professional trained to deal with the disabled and that I couldn’t physically handle the man because of concerns about liability if it didn’t turn out as planned. She said “Well, he really needs to go to a nursing home. We tried to get him to go to a nursing home but he refused. Since he’s an adult of sound mind, we can’t hold him here, we have to let him go.” I said if there’s no one there to help when I get there I’m gonna have to call the authorities to get him out, because I can’t ride him around all day.  “He says there’s somebody there,  We have to take his word for it.”

The drive to his home was uneventful. He lived just beyond the very industrial, very working class suburb of Tarrant, formerly known as Tarrant City. Just a couple of miles past the big nasty coke refining plant we took a left on a side street and arrived at his modest but very neat and clean house. This area is mostly white working class. The homes are mostly small and old. Many are in disrepair. His driveway was on a slight incline and there were four steps up to his front porch. Considering what I had been told back at the hospital I assumed there was someone in the house that could come out and help. I asked him for a phone number so I could call the person inside the house. He just looked at me. I walked up on the porch and knocked on the door. It was apparent that my fear had been very real, there was no one there but Ted and me.

From the porch I looked across at the house across the street. It was very stereotypical of what someone from another part of the country may think they would see in Alabama. A small house decked out with the dollar store kind of old fashioned Christmas lights. There was a van up on a jack with the front tire missing in the front yard. Behind the van I noticed a very old looking plastic nativity scene with almost all the color faded from Mary, Joseph, the wise men and the baby Jesus. Just when I was running all the options through my head, the door opened and out came a man and a woman. The man, who was small and bearded was wearing an Alabama Crimson Tide pullover shirt. It was one of the shirts with all the years that the Tide has won national championships listed. The woman was short but much heftier than the man, she was wearing a bright pink T shirt over her big belly with the words “Bama Gal” prominently displayed on the front. The two were headed straight for their pick up truck. I had to get their attention before they could get away. I approached the man and ask if he knew of anyone I could call to help get Ted out of the car? The woman in pink immediately volunteered “we’ll help.” I was very grateful.

nativity set

The process was slow and tedious. First he had to be turned around to face the outside, then came the task of getting his legs out and his feet on the ground. They placed his walker in front of him and tried to get him to stand up. After considerable effort, he did stand up, for a little while. As they were going through the process the man in the Crimson Tide shirt asked Ted if he had money to pay the cab man. He handed him a wad of cash that he had had in his hand since we left the hospital. His fare was twenty three dollars. There was twenty eight in the wad I was handed. The woman in pink noticed and said “that’s too much” as she took back a five and put it in Ted’s pocket. I didn’t say anything.

Ted’s standing was short lived. After just a few minutes he could stand no longer and just sat down on the ground. His oxygen tubes came off his face as his tank rolled out into the yard. About that time a big bellied man of about 40 drove up in a pick up truck all decked out in Florida State Seminoles paraphernalia. I feel certain that this man had not attended Florida State University and may have never even been to Tallahassee. In my opinion it was probably the everyone loves them when they’re winning syndrome. He walked up as Ted was wallowing on the ground and said “hey Ted, how you doin’?” Ted just looked up and said “help me” in a very weak and shaky voice. The man never offered a hand to help.

The Bama Gal had the best idea so far. “We gonna have to call the paramedics, “We ain’t gonna be able to get him in the house.” They were there in about five minutes. A lieutenant of the Tarrant fire department was absolutely appalled that the VA had released this man in the condition he was in. I heard him call them on the phone to get all the information about Ted. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer. As the woman at the hospital had told me, they wanted him to go to a nursing home. Actually a hospice nursing home, which she had neglected to tell me. Ted of course had refused. To get around the “of sound mind” problem the lieutenant asked Ted a few questions. One of them was “what year is this?” When Ted answered “01” in his weak and feeble voice the lieutenant said “Ok, we’re going back to the hospital.” In a few minutes I was out of there and on my way to the next call. Ted was in an ambulance on his way back to the place that had so wanted to get rid of him.

copyright 2014 R.W. Walker

*All views and opinions are strictly those of R.W. Walker. These views do not reflect the views of any cab company.