It was early in the evening, but it was winter and very dark. I had picked up a woman from her job at one of the hospitals and taken her to her home in North Birmingham, the 500 zone. As soon as I dropped her off, my computer booked me into that zone. I immediately heard the long beep, a trip was being offered. This is one of the zones where I don’t usually pick up customers after dark because of the high crime rate. I thought to myself well, it’s dark but it’s still really early, I decided to break my self imposed prohibition. I accepted the call.
I recognized the address as being in the Collegeville neighborhood. Collegeville is an industrial wasteland surrounded on all sides by railroad tracks. There was a big news story a couple of years ago when some people died in a house fire because the fire engines and ambulances were stopped by the train and there was no alternative route. There have also been recent issues with contaminated soil. When the new elementary school was completed, all kinds of cancer causing chemicals were found in the soil on which it was built. Even though the area had been home to many iron and steel related industries spewing all kinds of crap for a century, no one thought to do a soil test before building the school.
There’s a big public housing project in Collegeville but this address was a few blocks outside of it. A few of the old smokestack industries are still in operation. The largest is a plant that turns raw coal into coke, a product used in steel making. Patti LaBelle was crooning “If only you knew” on the radio when I saw the big orange flare from the plant dancing in the black sky. It was an old house fairly high off the ground, the kind of house that dogs often sleep underneath. There were several people on the front porch. The person who lived there was a small dark skinned African American man I would judge to be about 70. He wasn’t the customer. He had called for one of his relatives who had been visiting and apparently, drinking all day.
The man of the house told me that he had been a cab driver back in the day. He talked, as I have heard many talk, about Mr. Strickland who had owned the company before the current owner bought it. My customer came out of the house with the glow of drunkenness on his face. He said he needed to go to Hueytown and wanted to know how much it would cost. I did the math and told him probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $30-35. He said ” I ain’t got nothing but twenty.” I said that’s not enough. The older man chimed in on his behalf. “He’s a good man. Let him ride up front with you and he’ll give you $25.” I agreed and he paid me up front.
“They call me Rick James“, he said as he stuck out his hand. I shook it and told him my name. Of course I recognized Rick James as the name of the late R&B/Funk icon from the 70’s and 80’s. He was thin, fairly dark skinned and probably in his 40’s or early 50’s. He was stinking of booze. We got along fine but he became really annoying really fast. He seemed to be obsessed with race and went into this routine about black folks do this and white folks do that. “Y’all white folk be eatin’ pussy don’t chall?” I’ve learned over the years to never argue with drunks. My responses consisted of head nods, um hmms and yeah, you right. “Black folk don’t eat no pussy” he said. “And y’all be kissin’ y’all dawgs.” Yeah, you right, I said.
After a few minutes of his diatribe he wanted to use my phone. He needed to call his sister whose house I was taking him to. I knew it wasn’t a good sign when I heard loud, angry sounding talking coming through the phone from the passenger side. There was no doubt of trouble when I heard the words “hell naw” come from the phone. Plan B, he calls his other sister. There’s no answer here so he decides that’s where he’s going. First he has to stop at a gas station to pee. It was one of those old fashioned stations with the bathrooms on the outside around back. The door was locked and Rick didn’t bother to go ask the attendant for the key. He just whips it out right there and pees on the ground. I see him staggering all around peeing on the walls of the station, on a dumpster and everywhere else.
We’re not far from Hueytown at this point. We found his sister’s house, the one that didn’t answer the phone, pretty easily. The meter is sitting at $32. I’ve screwed myself out of $7 by making this deal with him. When he gets out and stands up, I can see that the entire front of his pants is wet from the crazy peeing that he did back at the station. I looked over at the seat, of course, it’s wet too. Unlike the similar situation that happend in “Pissy Drunk”, Rick was sitting on the front seat which was covered with cloth. This would make cleaning much more difficult. He wanted my card in case his sister wouldn’t let him in. There was a car in the driveway and a light on in the house. As much as I didn’t want him calling me, I wanted to get the hell out of there before his sister even realized he was there. I gave him my card and simply turned my phone off. I was out of there in a heartbeat.
I stopped at the first gas station I came to and bought a roll of paper towels, a can of Lysol and one of those huge 4X long T-shirts favored by the heavyweight dudes in the hood. I soaked the pee up as much as possible with the paper towels, sprayed it down good with Lysol and folded the big shirt and placed it over the wet spot. I was praying that I wouldn’t get a full car load and no one else would ride in the front seat that night. It did happen eventually. “Why is this shirt covering the seat?” the young, bar bound college boy asked. Oh, someone spilled their drink.
copyright 2013 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.