Monthly Archives: February 2013

Birming-Images

For those of you who aren’t very familiar with our city, I thought that you may enjoy a bit of a photographic tour. These images are the landmarks that make us who we are; they’re the things that make us unique.

The Vulcan Statue is generally considered to be the symbol of Birmingham. It was sculpted, begining in 1903 by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti. He was Birmingham’s entry for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Vulcan was the god of the fire and the forge in Roman mythology. Since 1936 Vulcan has stood watch over the city from his perch atop Red Mountain. Symbolizing the city’s founding on the iron and steel industry, he is made from iron ore mined from the very mountain on which he stands. At 56 feet, he is the tallest cast iron statue on Earth and is the 7th tallest free standing statue in the United States.

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But Vulcan isn’t the only cool statue in Birmingham. “Miss Electra” has adorned the top of the Birming-images 005Alabama Power building since 1926. Unlike Vulcan who is partially clothed, Miss Electra is totally nude and has lighting bolts for hair and bolts in her hands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man greets visitors to the Medical Forum in downtown Birmingham.

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Once known as the “Football Capital of the South” Birmingham’s Legion Field has been home to some legendary games involving the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers. For many years it was the largest stadium in the state and the Tide and the Tigers usually chose to play their biggest, most important home games here. Up until the last few years of the 20th century, the Tide and Tigers always played each other here. That’s why the label “Iron Bowl” became associated with the huge rivalry. When the two teams began updating the stadiums on their own campuses, Legion Field became less important. Now those two stadiums, especially Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, dwarf the “Gray Lady” , a name often used to refer to Legion Field. The stadium is still in use but not for the big glory games of the state’s largest two universities. It’s now the home field of the UAB Blazers and is the home of the “Magic City Classic” another big rivalry game between Alabama’s two largest historically black universities, Alabama State and Alabama A&M. The BBVA Compass Bowl is also played here every January.          Birming-images 023                                                                                 Birming-images 019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year, 2013 is the fiftieth anniversary of a dark chapter in the history of Birmingham. A dark chapter in terms of the shameful way that city officials and many white citizens reacted to the struggles for civil rights by African Americans. On the other hand it could be viewed as a bright chapter in the city’s history because it was the catalyst of change. It was the begining of the dismantling of the segregation and discrimination that unfortunately; this city and state had become infamous for in the eyes of the world. The area along 16th street north between 4th and 6th avenue north is sacred ground. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute now stands across 16th street from Kelly Ingram Park, an area where Bull Connor once used water cannons and vicious police dogs to subdue civil rights demonstrators. It stands across 6th avenue north from 16th Street Baptist Church, the scene of a Ku Klux Klan bombing that took the lives of 4 little girls in 1963. Birming-images 048

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As I’ve mentioned before, healthcare is the economic crown jewel of modern Birmingham. Banking is a close second. Regions Bank and BBVA Compass Bank are both headquarted here. Wells Fargo has a large presence. Birming-images 008

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One of the most interesting buildings in Birmingham IMO is Southside’s Quinlan Castle. Built in 1927 to resemble a medieval English castle, the building has served mainly as residential apartments throughout it’s history. It’s now owned by the Southern Research Institute and is not being used for apartments. According to the Bhamwiki article on the castle, in 1940 Quinlan Castle was rumored to have been the Birmingham headquarters of the Communist Party. It was in fact the home of party secretary Robert Hall. Hall’s apartment was raided by the Birmingham police but they didn’t find much of interest. Just a letter from someone at the Tennessee Valley Authority suggesting communist activities in that agency. Birming-images 043

 

 

 

 

 

 

Familiar to many visitors to the city is sculptor Frank Flemming’s “Storyteller” fountain at 5 points south. It sits in front of Highlands United Methodist Church and is at the center of the 5 points entertainment district. Birming-images 032

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy Lovoy, a 5 Points South icon gladly poses in front of the fountain.

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The newest building on Birmingham’s skyline is the gleaming new Benjamin Russell wing of Children’s Hospital. marcsteel 008

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Steel’s Fairfield Works is still operating just west of downtown. uss 007

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ensley Works of USS ceased operations in the early 1970’s CIMG6868

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the location of the famous Tuxedo Junction “The place where the people go to dance the night away”. The song was co-written by Birmingham composer Erskine Hawkins. It was originally written as an instrumental. The nightclub that was the subject of the song was located in this building on 20th street Ensley. The building briefly served as a punk rock venue in the 1980’s. 3312010 002

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sloss Furnaces operated from the late 19th century until 1971 near downtown Birmingham.  The old mill has been preserved and is now a National Historic Landmark. It serves as a museum as well as a music venue, a venue for weddings, beer festivals and even a haunted house in the weeks leading up to Halloween. It’s said that the ghosts of many men who died on the job here over the decades still haunt the old mill.

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Built in 1929 this building was the home of the Thomas Jefferson Hotel. At that time it was one of the finest hotels in the south. In the 1970’s it became known as the Cabana Hotel and finally Leer Tower before it was closed in 1983. The object on the right side of the roof of the building is a zeppelin mooring mast, the last of it’s kind in the world. In 2012 a non-profit corporation was formed to raise money to buy the property and restore it back to it’s former glory. Jeff hotel 002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A mural with a message painted on the wall of an abandoned grocery store in west Birmingham.

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Sources: Wikipedia and Bhamwiki.

All photographs and text copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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Under The Influence

When I first started driving I quickly learned that if you’re driving after a certain time, say 11:00 pm, it’s quite likely that many of your customers will be under the influence of alcohol. They may just have a slight buzz or they may be totally shitfaced. The first time I experienced this it was a call to a night club/music venue up on the side of the hill in Southside. The couple had obviously been to some kind of formal affair with an after-party at the club. They were both young, in their 20’s, the girl was much drunker than her tuxedo-clad date, but believe me, he was plenty drunk. He was able to give me directions to their destination which was a house in Mountain Brook. She had passed out by the time we arrived. He was in a stupor but he realized that he had to get out and get her out, too. It took both of us to wake her up. She had curled up in a little ball and had settled in. When her boyfriend finally picked her up and stood her up outside she seemed to come around. He had already paid the fare, so my job was done. By the time I got turned around and headed out, I saw that she had taken a tumble in the driveway. I guess those pretty high heels are not the best thing to balance ones-self on after consuming mass quantities of alcohol.

Stories about drunk people in the cab business could almost go on forever. There are too many to tell all of them here. Some are funny, some sad, most just silly and ridiculous. Some involve going through the fast food drive through at 2:00am and listening to customers gettting into stupid arguments with fast food employees. After a fast food visit it’s common to find french fries and tater tots all over the car once you get them home. Singing, badly, all the way home is another common occurrence. I’ve had couples that fought all the way home because their partner may have flirted with someone else at the bar. I’ve had many who will break their own arms patting themselves on the back for taking a cab instead of driving.

Most are friendly, some are assholes, and many others are quite well behaved. Some are very annoying, I had one guy that didn’t seem to be able to say anything except “Roll Tide” and “I am Alabama” he must have said “roll tide” a thousand times. Every time he said it, I would say it back. He seemed to like that. This guy had the reputaion for being a big tipper. In his drunken stupor on this night he didn’t tip me a penny, but his fare was substantial. Being the designated driver for drunk people is a major part of this job. There are many stories to be told. Instead of posting each story individually, I’m going to post a collection of short stories under the heading “Under The Influence”. I hope you enjoy them.

IN THE GUTTER

The call was to the address of an empty building on First Avenue North in downtown Birmingham. There are several clubs within a few blocks but nothing at this particular address. I drove by but didn’t see anything. I hit the noshow button thinking that the dispatchers had fucked up again. I decided to drive by the place just one more time to be sure. This time I saw a young man flagging me down beside a pick-up truck parked in a parallel parking space. He said “I think it’s got a broken tie rod.” I looked at the truck’s front tire and by the way it was cocked inward I could tell he was correct. He asked me how much it would cost to go to Cullman. Cullman is about 50 miles north of Birmingham. It’s infamous for being a sundown town during the Jim Crow era. There were signs at the town limits warning blacks and other non whites to be out of town by sundown. These young people were Hispanic. Cullman no longer has the signs but it’s still a very white, very conservative town. I told him that it would be at least $100, maybe a little more. He said “let me talk to this girl’. He also said “I’ve got a girl in the truck that’s real messed up” I said no problem.

A large young woman with black, curly hair emerged from the truck and staggered toward the cab. I thought, well, she doesn’t look too messed up, I’ve seen much worse. As it turned out, the big girl wasn’t who he was talking about. The young man opened up the club cab door on the truck and pulls out a heavily tattooed girl who is passed out. As he started to carry her toward the cab I could see that she was naked except for a little lacy bra and some very tightly fitting pink panties. She’s about average size but just as big, if not bigger than the guy who’s carrying her. After a few steps he trips over his own feet and they both go down. No injuries, but now she’s lying in the gutter on the side of the street, right next to the sewer drain. It was like a scene from a movie or maybe a cop show. There she was with her almost naked tattooed body all the guttersprawled out in the filthy gutter. I think the only thing that could have made this scene look any grittier would have been if she had had a needle and syringe hanging out of her arm. It reminded me of some Hank Bukowski stories I’ve read.

The other two managed to get her to her feet. By this time she was semi-conscious but was still pretty out of it. She got in the back seat with their guidance and promptly went back to sleep. The big girl had her purse and shoes. Before we took off on a 50 mile trip I wanted some assurance that I was going to get paid. I asked them how they intended to pay me? The big girl had a Walmart debit card. I had had trouble running a Walmart card that very day so I was a little apprehensive. “There’s $150 on it, is that enough?” I said it would be if it would run. I told them about the trouble I had had with Walmart cards and asked if they had any cash for a deposit in case it wouldn’t run. They came up with $43 between the big girl and the guy. They didn’t go through the drunk girl’s purse but said that they would if they had to. They were all quiet as a mouse all the way to Cullman. I held my breath as I swiped the card. About 3 or 4 seconds went by, APPROVED! With a $103 fare paid in full, I gave them back their deposit and headed south.

THE HOMEBOY

It was the night before Christmas Eve. The call was to the Stadium Bar and Grill, a bar in a shopping center off Valley Avenue. They had had their annual Christmas party and this guy had apparently had too much and was hammered. This was the first time that I had picked anyone up from a bar that was using the Safe Ride program. It was an agreement between the city and the cab company designed to curb drunk driving around the holidays. The bartender would put the customer’s keys in an envelop and give them to me. I would give the envelope to the customer when I got him home, turn in a voucher and get paid by the company.

When I got there they were walking him out. It’s always a bad sign when someone has to be walked out. To my surprise, it was a guy I had known from my hometown of Tuscaloosa. Jack was from somewhere up north but had lived in Tuscaloosa for at least ten years before moving to Birmingham. He had been a bartender at one of my favorite bars back in my younger days. I had associated with him many times within the Tuscaloosa bar and party scene back in the 80’s and 90’s.

He couldn’t walk on a flat surface. If he had been let go of, he would have fallen. He didn’t remember me at first, by the time we got to his house his memory was a little clearer. His house wasn’t far from where I live, I guess it was technically the same neighborhood. The way his house was positioned would make it very difficult for a person who couldn’t walk on a flat surface to get in the front door. There were concrete steps leading down to the front door through an amphitheater shaped lawn. There was no driveway and no ther way to get to the door without walking downhill.

After assessing the situation for a few minutes, I decided that was no way he could go down those concrete steps without killing himself. So I decided to get him to go down the softer grass hill instead. I was holding onto his arm when we started down. In hindsight, I should have sat him on his butt and slid him down. As we started down the grass hill I lost control. When I let go of him I saw him tumble. I couldn’t stop until I smashed into the hedges in front of the house. I turned around to help Jack up. Thank God he wasn’t injured. He wasn’t screaming in agony and that was a good thing. He couldn’t find his glasses, we both searched for a while but to no avail. I did get him up and in the house safely. A few days later I talked to a guy who knew him from the Stadium. he said he was glad I got him in the house but he sure was sore the next day.

SPILLING HER GUTS

It was a busy Friday night. Things were clicking pretty much non-stop, there was no time to sit around. The weather was great and a lot of people were out on the town. I was making money, things were going just how I like it. The call was to one of the trendy bars on 2nd Avenue North. I got there quickly and didn’t see anyone at first. A guy stepped out from behind a building waving his hand in the air. When I stopped I could see a girl lying on the ground. Like the tattooed girl that had landed in the gutter, she didn’t have on any pants. She was wearing a thong but was otherwise bare from the waist down. She was wearing clothes on her upper body.

Two burley young men picked her up and put her in the back seat. Another young woman who was her friend and seemed to be relatively sober rode along. They were not going far. Thier destination was an old downtown building that had been turned into lofts, it was just a few blocks away. About halfway there, the drunk girl woke up enough to empty the contents of her stomach all over the back seat. I knew she couldn’t help it but it pissed me off at first because now I was going to have to stop everything, stop making money, and go clean this mess up. I expressed a little anger and told them that most drivers charge a $50 fee to clean up a mess like this. The friend said “don’t worry about it, I’ll pay it.” She did so without hesitation.

The sober girl physically pulled her drunk friend out of the back seat and stood her up while holding onto her midsection. The friend was almost frantic trying to get the girl to walk. She would kick at her bare feet and naked legs and shout “WALK”. I had to leave them there because I had to get this mess cleaned up while it was still fresh. I rolled down all the windows and headed toward the all night car wash. I called a fellow driver that I had recently talked to about this very possibility. She told me to use baking soda. “It will draw the smell out” she said. The first thing I did was use the vacuum. This worked pretty well to get rid of the solid chunks and a good deal of the semi-liquid puke. I then did the baking soda treatment. I let it set for 15 minutes or so and then vacuumed that up and did it again. To my amazement, there was no smell that I could detect after the second treatment. This stuff had smelled pretty vile when it was fresh so this was a major accomplishment. I drove it down to Lakeview where the other drivers were lined up to let them smell it. They gave me the all clear.

A similar thing happened a few months later. This time the vomiting occured before the guy got in the car. A group of University of Alabama freshmen were having a formal at a venue in Homewood. When I arrived, the very well dressed young people were walking the guy out. He had vomit all over his pretty, frilly tuxedo shirt. Three of his friends were coming along for the ride so we had a full car and we were going to Tuscaloosa. One of the girls had cleaned him up as well as possible. It was unknown if he would be throwing up again. One of the girls said that he had thrown up so much already that she couldn’t imagine that he would have any left in him. About ten miles into the drive, the drunk guy’s friends started fretting that he may have alcohol poisoning. The girl sitting in front started googling “alcohol poisoning symptoms” on her iPhone. Pretty soon the three of them had diagnosed him with the condition. This trip ended at the emergency room of DCH, the main hospital in Tuscaloosa.

PAST HIS BEDTIME

There’s a popular Mexican restaurant on highway 280. It’s one where the cantina is just as busy, if not more so, than the restaurant. Once again, I had encountered a situation where the customer had to be walked out. When the security guard and the other restaurant employee put the guy in the car, they asked him if he could tell the driver where he lived. He mumbled something that I couldn’t understand. One of the guys that put him in the car said “I think he said Morningside Drive in Mountain Brook.” He slurred “240, Morningside Drive, Mountain Brook.” This time I heard the same thing the others heard, so off we go to Morningside Drive. On the way, my customer said that he had to throw up. After the experience with the girl taught me just how messy this can be, I quickly pulled over. We were across the street from the Birmingham Botantical Gardens. There are apartments there with parking spaces and grassy areas next to the road. It had been raining, the grass was wet.

He got out of the car and threw up a little on the pavement. He then crawled over to the wet grass and got comfortable. He was in a position as if he were in a bed with the covers pulled up tight. I said, man, you’ve gotta get up and get back in the car. “Why?” he asked. “Why can’t you just let me go to bed? All I want is to go to bed.” It’s because you’re lying in wet grass on the side of the road, I said. He seemed to slowly gain awareness of where he was. I walked over and gave him my hand and helped him up. when we got to Morningside Drive, the GPS couldn’t find 240. It didn’t seem to exist. Morningside Drive isn’t a long street. I asked him if any of the houses looked familiar. He kept saying “yeah, we’re close by, my house is just around the corner. Every time we rounded the corner, his house was around the next corner. The third time I asked him I didn’t get an answer. He was passed out cold in the back seat. I yelled at him, shook him, turned the bright light on, it seemed that nothing was going to wake this guy up.

At the bottom of the hill was a post office at the intersection of Morningside Drive and Montclair Road. i pulled into the parking lot and called the Mountain Brook Police. I told them that the guy said he lived at 240 Morningside Drive. They said that address didn’t exist. All Morningside Drive addresses were above 1000. The police shook him and shined their big flashlights in his eyes until he woke up. He was a little more coherent with the police. It turns out that he didn’t live on Morningside Drive in Mountain Brook. He lived on Morning Sun Drive in Meadowbrook.

I put this address into the GPS and drove him straight home. He lived about a $5 ride away from the cantina where I had picked him up. After all this running around his fare was $46. As he stumbled out of the car I noticed that his phone and his debit card were lying on the back seat. That was a great stroke of luck because it would have probably been a major problem for him to get it out and pay me if his debit card hadn’t been lying there in plain sight. He had staggered over to a car in the parking lot of the apartment complex where he lived and was bent over on the hood face down. I laid his phone, his card and his receipt on the hood and asked him if he need help getting in. He kept saying “I’m OK”. I left him there on the hood of that car.

JETHRO

People ask me all the time if I’m ever scared of a customer, or what has been the scariest trip I’ve taken. This one ranks pretty high. The call was to the now defunct 1120 Club at 5 Points South. I saw the huge guy standing with a couple of bouncers. I’m a big guy, about 6’3″ and 300 lbs. This guy seemed much bigger. He was a white boy, early 20’s with biceps and shoulders like a weight lifter or a body builder. He was taller than I, he looked to be much heavier in his upper body which looked to be all muscle.

The bouncer said ” he doesn’t have any money, but he can’t stay here.” Apparently this big “Jethro” fucker had been causing trouble in the club. The bouncer handed me a twenty and said “just take him away. I don’t care where, just somewhere other than here.” I asked if he knew where he lived? “He said something about living down 280 but I don’t know exacly where.” Jethro was almost incoherent but he was able to get his point across that he wanted to sit in the front. Looking at the size of this guy I could see why and agreed. The trip was OK for a few blocks but started to go south fast. He mumbled out an address that I had put into my GPS. I was going to use the GPS because I had judged him too fucked up to give me directions.

Not long into the trip he started making noises of anger. It started with a very angry sounding low grumble. Soon he was screaming obscenities while pounding his massive fist against his open palm! What was he so angry about? Who knows? He never specified that. I had heard stories about “roid rage”, the uncontrollable anger experienced by body-builders and others taking steroids. I figured that this must be what was happening. After one particularly intense anger jag, he looked over at me and said “you seem oddly calm”. I didn’t respond, I just kept driving down 280 trying not to show fear or anxiety. As we neared the turn off to his neighborhood and the GPS started speaking the electronic instructions, he went off. “TURN THAT GODDAMN THING OFF”, he screamed. Apparently the voice of the GPS was something that his extremely agitated mind just couldn’t stand.

Thankfully his street was the next left after the turnoff from 280. He had been speaking gibberish along with the angry outbursts throughout the entire trip. When the street we were on ended in a cul de sac, I kept asking him where? Which house is yours? He was still speaking gibberish. When I got all the waay back out to the intersection and the gibberish had grown louder, I started to scream, MAN, JUST TELL ME WHERE YOU LIVE! When I turned around and headed back, I finally recognized the gibberish as very crude Spanish. He was playing mind games with me to see if I could understand him. He finally got out of the car in front of what I assume was his house. I turned around in the cul de sac and saw him standing on the side of the street looking like the incredible hulk and staring angrily at me. I got the hell out of there quickly. My work was done. Needless to say, I was very happy to get rid of him.

 THE LUCK OF THE IRISH

Drinking holidays are big days in the cab business. New Year’s Eve, Halloween, Cinco de Mayo and especially Saint Patrick’s Day are always crazy busy and a good time to make money. Saint Patrick’s Day is a little different from the others. Many bars will open early in the morning and many revelers will be shitfaced before sundown. On this Saint Paddy’s I pulled up in front of the Irish Pub to drop off some revelers who were still relatively sober. Before I could get moving again two big guys wearing all the green gaudy crap that is usually given to the bars by the beer companies at this time of year, began coming toward the cab. Between them was a guy that was down for the count. It wasn’t even 5:00 pm and this guy was already knee walking. Hell, not even that! He couldn’t walk at all.

The two big guys put him in the back seat and gave me an address. There was no one riding with him. I’ve learned a valuable lesson from this trip and several others similar to it. If a person is so fucked up that they don’t know their own name or where they live, you’re probably going to have a helluva time getting paid. When this situation happens, you should always get someone halfway sober to ride along or get paid up front.

It was a warm day but not really hot. I had all four windows rolled down. After a couple of blocks this guy was hanging out of the back window. I had to stop at a traffic light in front of one of one of the most popular bars at 5 Points South. I could see the hordes of drunk revelers wearing their stupid looking green plastic top hats and derbies, huge green glasses that covered about a third of their faces and of course stings and strings and strings of cheap green plastic beads. Even though Birmingham has an open container law, these Irish for a day revelers were slugging beverages from red solo cups. Some of them were acquainted with my passenger. When they recognized the guy hanging out of the cab as one of their buddies, or at least one of their acquaintances, the hoops and hollers were deafening. Finger pointing and and hysterical laughter gave way to smart phone after smart phone coming out to take digital photos of their inebriated friend. Mercifully, the light changed. I’m sure the pictures were all over facebook and twitter before we stopped at the next one. St. Patricks

My British accented GPS led us right to the front door of the address I had been given back at the Irish Pub. Once my customer gained enough consciousness to realize he was home, I told him the fare would be $11. After going through his wallet and all his pockets, he produced one crumpled up one dollar bill to offer for my service. I’ll consider this trip a community service.

 GOD’S OWN DRUNKS

And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the spirit. Ephesians 5:18

It was late in the afternoon, but the sun was still fairly high above the horizon. I was dispatched to Queens Inn, a run down low rent motel on the edge of downtown. My customers were standing outside when I got there. They were a couple of pretty crusty looking white dudes that were pretty rough around the edges. I could tell from their accents that they weren’t from around here. Both were probably in their 40’s, maybe early 50’s. They had reddish complexions and gin blossom noses. They had the unmistakable glow and smell of cheap booze intoxication. They had been doing some serious day drinking. I didn’t have these guys long. They wanted to go to the nearest dollar store which was just a few blocks away. As soon as they got in they started talking about the bible. Specifically, the book of Ephesians. By the time we made it to the dollar store, I thought they were going to come to blows about the meaning of a certain verse in that book of the bible. Ephesians 5:18 says “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the spirit.”

SMELLS LIKE … CHAMPIONSHIP!

WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS VERY CRUDE, EXPLICIT QUOTATIONS THAT ARE SEXUAL IN NATURE. THOSE WHO ARE OFFENDED BY THAT SHOULDN’T READ THIS STORY.

The Irish Pub had opened at 6:00 am on this St. Patrick’s Day with what it calls “Eggs and Kegs”. The drinking starts early and lasts late on this day every year. The pub usually makes a practice of hiring off duty police officers to do security work at the door. The rent-a-cop working this day was wearing what looked like an ordinary police uniform but a closer look at the insignia on his sleeve indicated that he was on the Birmingham Narcotics Squad. He was a no no-sense kind of guy; very straight, very rigid, not smiling, all business. He raised his hand as I was passing the pub indicating that someone there needed a ride. He said “this guy has been here since six this morning, he’s wasted; can you give him a ride?” I said sure as long as he’s coherent enough to tell me where he lives. He went in to get him.

I saw a big guy with dark curly hair and a blonde woman exit the pub. I could tell, even from the distance from the car to the front of the pub, that the cop wasn’t lying about the guy being wasted. The girl didn’t look to be in much better shape. Apparently this guy had been drinking some kind of stupidity tonic. He decided to slap the moonlighting narc on the ass on his way out! The narc went ballastic! He didn’t hit the guy but I thought he was going to at any minute. He, the narc, threatened the guy harshly, using every curse word that has ever been conceived; he seemed very unprofessional. The drunk guy was still stuck on stupid. He challenged the cop again! The cop screamed “GET IN THE GODDAMN CAB NOW, OR YOU’RE GOING TO JAIL!!” The girl had just enough common sense left to manage to get her boyfriend in the cab before he was lying face down on the pavement wearing handcuffs. As we were driving away, the stupid drunk guy turned around and gave the cop the finger with both hands while screaming “FUCK YOU COP!” I stepped on the gas trying to get out of there before we got shot! The girl started whining, “Frankie, you’ve got to learn to respect cops, they can put you in jail.” Frankie screamed “FUCK THAT GODDAMN COP!” The girl, whose name was Shelly, said “Frankie, I wish you wouldn’t say G.D., you’re cussing Jesus”. Frankie said again “fuck that goddamn cop.” “Please don’t say that word Frankie,” Shelly pleaded. Frankie said “I’m gonna eat your pussy when we get home, Shelly.” “You had better eat my pussy considering all the shit I’ve put up with from you today. You’d better eat it all night long.” Are you gonna suck my goddamn cock?” “Oh yes, Frankie, I’ll suck your cock all night long, just please stop saying G.D., I can’t stand it, you’re cussing Jesus!” “You don’t seem to mind when I say fucking, or any of the other cuss words.” “It’s OK to say fucking, Frankie. Just please don’t say G.D.”

We were driving down highway 280 on this picture perfect day, Frankie and Shelly were still talking about all the sex they were gonna have when they got home. That’s when they suddenly started feeling the pangs of hunger. When drunk people get hungry it usually means that you’ll soon be going through the drive through at McDonald’s, Taco Bell or some similar place. Frankie and Shelly were a cut above going to a fast food joint, they wanted to go to the deli at Whole Foods. Frankie was still drunker than a barrell full of monkeys, still being guided by a complete lack of respect for authority and lacking any common sense whatsoever. Shelly didn’t seem to care much as long as he didn’t say “goddamn.” When I pulled into the parking space I just looked at them and said , don’t get in trouble in there, as they exited the car. I sat there waiting and wondering if they would ever return. I could imagine all kinds of awful scenarios with them talking loudly about eating pussy and sucking cock within earshot of all the soccer moms and families with babies in strollers. I could imagine them being detained by management and security until the cops arrived to take them to jail.

To my surprise, they returned to the car within ten minutes. They had ‘to go” boxes  full of something that smelled fishy. ‘Do you smell that?” Frankie asked me. “That’s what Shelly’s pussy smells like.” “Well you must like the way it smells, you keep saying you’re gonna eat it” Shelly snapped. “Well don’t you want me to eat it?” “Yes Frankie, I told you, I want you to eat my pussy all night long and I’ll suck your cock all night long.” Frankie asked me ” What do you think Shelly’s pussy smells like?”  I said , man … what the hell kind of question is that?? About that time Shelly screamed “roll the windows down, Frankie FARTED!” Frankie did indeed fart. The fish smell was suddenly replaced by the god awful stench of a beer fart. I rolled down all four windows and started driving up 280 trying to air it out. After a few minutes of silence Shelly asked Frankie, “you don’t really think my pussy smells like fish do you?” Frankie pondered the question for what seemed like a minute. Finally he slurred, “Shelly … your pussy smells like … CHAMPIONSHIP!!” Shelly liked this answer.”Oh Frankie … you’re the best” she purred.

We entered a very well to do neighborhood with streets lined with multi-story brick mini mansions with manicured lawns. This was Frankie’s neighborhood; it was probably his parents house. Frankie said turn left and it’s the fourth goddamn fucking house on the right. Shelly screamed “QUIT CUSSING JESUS! STOP SAYING G.D.!, I HATE THAT FUCKING WORD! Frankie got out on my side and came to the window and asked, “how much goddamn money do I owe you?” I told him, twenty six dollars. Frankie pulled some waded up balls of cash out of his pocket as Shelly sat in the back seat fuming. It was eleven dollars. He said “I’ll go in the goddamn house and get some more goddamn money.” Shelly decided to pay the rest of the tab with her credit card. ” I hate it when he says that word, I can’t stand to hear anyone cuss Jesus.” Frankie returned with a big jar full of change. When he learned that Shelly had finished paying the fare, he poured out about a third of the jar on the front seat and said “here’s your tip.” I said, thank you Frankie, y’all go have fun.

*note: portions of “spilling her guts” and “past his bedtime” were previously published in an article written by Ed Reynolds in the Black and White city paper in 2011.

All other material, 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.

Zone Map

Several readers have asked for a zone map so that they can get a better idea of where these stories are taking place. This crude, hand drawn zone map is the only one that I know of in existence:

Zone Map

To help understand this a little better here are the locations of the zones:

100-Downtown Birmingham north of the railroad tracks, south of I-20/59

110- East Birmingham, Woodlawn, Kingston

120-Southside

130-Crestwood, Clairmont, Eastwood area

140-East Homewood, Soho Square, Hollywood, Brookwood Mall and Hospital

150-Mountain Brook, Summit, Cahaba Heights

160-Vestavia

200-West End, Legion Field, College Hills

210-Titusville, West End, Powderly

215-Ensley, Wylam

220-Midfield, Fairfield, Wenonnah

230-Hoover north of I-459

235-West Homewood, Greensprings, Lakeshore, Oxmoor

240-Bessemer, Brighton, Lipscomb, part of Hueytown

250-Pleasant Grove, Concord, part of Hueytown

300- East Lake, Irondale north of I-20

310-Irondale south of I-20, Crestline Park

320-Trussville

330-East side of 280 south of I-459, Liberty Park, part of Leeds

340-part of Leeds, east side of 280 south of AL 119

400-North Birmingham west of I-65, east of US 78, Acipco, Fountain Heights, Hooper City

410-West side of US 78 north of I-20/59, Pratt City

420-Forestdale, Coalburg

430-Adamsville, Union Grove, Docena

440-Warrior, Mount Olive

500-East side of North Birmingham north of I-20/59 (includes Sheraton, BJCC, Westin), Collegeville, Norwood

520-Airport

530-Inglenook, Tarrant, Fultondale

540- Gardendale

550-Roebuck, Centerpoint, Pinson, Clay

700- West side of 280 south of I-459, Inverness, Acton

710-Indian Springs

720-Hoover south of I-459

730-Shelby East, Chelsea, Harpersville

740-Shelby West, Pelham, Alabaster, Helena

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

The First And The Third

The eagle flies on the first and the third of each month. Money is flowing in places where it’s usually very scarce. EBT cards are reloaded, social security, SSI, disability and other goverment checks come out around this time. It doesn’t last long. It’s usually gone in two or three days. For a little while, just a few days, the cab business gets a big boost because many of the people dependent on this money are carless.

Many of our first of the month customers are elderly. Before I started cabbing I never realized there were so many people without checking accounts. I guess someone who has lived for seventy or eighty years without an account doesn’t see any need to start one at this point. After I had been driving for several months I found myself picking up many of the same people over and over around this time. A first of the month customer is typically a longer lasting fare than at most other times. It didn’t take me long to learn where all the utility companies and many of the finance companies were located. Going from place to place, the power company, the gas company, the water works, ect., it’s not uncommon to have a customer as long as two hours before all this in person bill paying is said and done. In addition to bill paying trips there are also many grocery store trips. Buying for an entire month when the EBT card is reloaded is a common practice.

Fast food trips are also common. For many, these trips are the one time each month that they get to eat somewhere other than home, or at least from somewhere other than home. Most choose to go through the drive through and take the food back home. I’m a fat guy so I don’t have much room to talk but the obesity epidemic among the poor is something that you just can’t not notice. There was once a family that weighed the car down so much that the body sat down on the tires and prevented the car from moving. One of the bigger folks had to get out so the others could go. It’s pretty easy to see the cause of the problem. Cheap food equals greasy, fatty, starchy, sugary, unhealthy food in most cases. Most of these folks never give a thought to nutritional value, fat, calories or cholesterol. The only issue is how much it costs. I get a strong impression that some of my first of the month customers never leave home except for their monthly cab trips.

Most of the first of the month business comes from poor zones. If you hang out over the mountian you’re not going to see much of a spike. Hang out in the zones west, north and east of downtown and you’ll see a big spike. For three months straight I was dispatched the same trip in zone 210. If you looked up the word “ghetto” in the dictionary, there would be a picture of this apartment building. Burglar bars adorn most windows not broken and covered with plywood. There’s crude grafitti on some of the plywood windows, most are just blank. ghetto 008

My customers are two women, one elderly and one middle aged. I assume they’re mother and daughter. The younger woman is quite obese, very dark skinned and wears very thick, coke bottle like glasses. I would judge her to be in her mid 40’s and she is obviously mentally handicapped. Both have walkers that must be folded and put in the trunk. The elderly woman is bent with osteoporosis and the younger woman has braces on both legs. The walkers are necessary for them to get around.

There’s something a little different about the younger woman’s walker. There’s a basket on it with a pillow inside. Upon the pillow lies a creamy brown colored plastic baby doll dressed in baby clothes and wrapped in a blanket. My customer lifts the baby and holds it gently to her breast before the walker goes in the trunk. She never lets go of the baby, where ever she goes, it goes. Just judging from our brief, once a month cab trips, I’d say that this plastic baby is the thing that gives her life the most meaning. I’ve never been bold enough to ask it’s name, although I’m sure it has one. The trip is always to the same two places. The mother has an account with a finance company in downtown Birmingham, this is always the first stop. The mother, probably in her mid 70’s, always has problems exiting the cab. I retrieve her walker from the trunk and give her a hand to get out. The mother of the plastic baby never gets out here. I wait in silence in the drivers seat as this proud mother sitting behind me nestles her baby. The next stop is always the same, a grocery store on the west side of town where they’ll buy groceries for a month. In an hour or so another driver will take them home.

On the first of the month some people who almost never have any money will have a little. It was almost midnight and I had just dropped off a customer in East Lake, in the 300 zone. A call came through to a gas station that was nearby on the main drag of First Avenue North. She was bundled up like an Eskimo but it wasn’t cold and hadn’t recently been cold. I’ve found that inapproprite seasonal dress is almost always a sign of mental instability. She had a big black plastic trash bag full of something and was pushing it around on a little folding cart. “Be careful, it’s very sensitive” she told me as I started to put the bag and the cart in the trunk.

I secured her “sensitive” materials in the trunk and got in the drivers seat. That’s when I smelled it. The odor of clothes soaked in week old piss filled the car. It was all I could do not to gag. Where are you going, I asked. “Piggy Wiggy” she said. Which one? “North Birmingham”. I knew this would be about a $15 trip and at first I wondered if she had $15. Then I remembered it was the first of the month and thought yeah…she probably does. I had the windows down and the air conditioning turned up. I was trying not to puke from the stench. Stopped at a traffic light she began to have a conversation. At first I thought she was trying to talk to me but quickly realized it wasn’t me she was talking to. Maybe it was the voices in her head, maybe it was imaginary friends, I don’t know.

“Things is strange now” I heard her say. “Yeah, things is strange and I know why. It’s because of all them atomic bombs, that’s why”. She continued on with her apocalyptic themed diatribe a while longer. She mentioned “fire in the sky” and as I expected, she soon started talking about God and Jesus. I had been silent since she started talking. Suddenly she shouted “IS YOU LISTENING TO ME?” Not knowing if yes or no was the right answer, I flipped the coin and said yes ma’am! She seemed to like that answer. She asked “I’m right, ain’t I?” I said yes ma’am you’re right. We rode the rest of the way to Piggly Wiggly in silence. When we arrived the store was dark and closed up tighter than a drum, just as I had expected it to be at this time of night. She told me to stop right out in the middle of the parking lot. She pulled a twenty out of her pee soaked pocket and handed it to me. I gave her back a five and she took it. I didn’t expect a tip.

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.

note: the building pictured is not the home of the two women in this story. It is very similar and nearby.

Whatchu Gonna Do?

It was mid-summer and work was slack on my other part-time job. I was driving in the middle of the week trying to make a buck or two. On Wednesday morning at about 9:00 am cabs were stacked up 10 deep in the 120 zone and nothing was happening in the other zones. On mornings like this one I like to find a good place to perch, read the paper or a book or whatever I happen to have to pass the time. I was hoping that a regular would call or that something, anything, would pop up on the screen that I could bid on. I was worried about making my lease and how many trips it would take to do that. I hadn’t had any yet so I had a long way to go.

After about an hour had passed and I had long finished the Birmingham News and had read a chapter in Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, there it was. There was one open trip on the board in zone 210. This is southwest Birmingham west of I-65. Some drivers don’t like it, I don’t mind it at all during daylight hours. A large part of the zone is a neighborhood known as Titusville. No, it’s not pronounced Tight-us-ville, it’s TIT-us-ville. It’s not a terrible zone to work, it’s one of the flatter zones and it’s pretty easy to get around, no terrible traffic.

It didn’t take long after I made the bid until I heard the long beep. The call was to an apartment complex buried deep in the zone. It was beyond Titusville on a side street off Jefferson Avenue. When I arrived my customer was already standing outside. She was thin and dark skinned, wearing clothes for comfort, not style. She appeared to be toothless and her head was covered with a bandana. At first I would have judged her to be in her 70’s but once she got in and I got a better look I could tell she was younger.

She didn’t even have time to tell me where she wanted to go before a brown van pulled up beside us. In the flash of an eye, 8 cops jumped out in full riot gear! Dressed all in black, they were sporting helmets with shields on the front and bullet proof vests. They had the word POLICE on their backs and they were packing some serious firepower! Several of them had what appeared to be 12 guage shotguns. They began to take their positions, some on the ground and some on the second and third floor balconies of the apartments. All guns were pointed at one apartment on the second floor. Three of the cops were surrounding the door of that apartment. Two of them were pointing handguns at the door, the other one was busy bashing the door in with a large blunt instrument that looked like it was made just for that purpose. After about 5 or 6 hard blows the door flew open. All three of the helmeted, vested officers stormed in. cops

I was sitting there in the car mesmerized. It was as if I was watching an episode of C.O.P.S on TV. For a moment I had almost forgotten that I had a customer in the back seat. She was clearly not as fascinated as I, or maybe she just wanted to get the hell out of there. She said “let’s go” in a fairly urgent tone. She wanted to be dropped off at a post office just a few blocks away. The fare was $4. I never found out how the scene played out.

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.