Monthly Archives: March 2013

Early Morning Craving

As I’ve alrady told you in the story “Diaper Money” I have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy when it comes to shady dealings by my customers as long as it doesn’t involve violence or thievery. I don’t consider what my adult customers are doing to be my business as long as they’re not causing me any trouble and as long as I get paid. As I’ve said before, I’m not going to ask you what you’re up to and for God’s sake, please don’t tell me. If you don’t tell me I can always say I don’t know what’s going on even if it seems obvious. I can remember picking up a middle aged white man in a very rural part of zone 550. It was in the direction of Pinson but not actually in Pinson. He was very much a working class kind of guy wearing steel toed work boots and sporting a new crewcut. He said “I need to go into town for just a few minutes, this will be a round trip.”

He had his own route in mind which was fine with me. I always ask customers if they have a prefered route and if they do, I always abide by their wishes. Many customers believe the stereotype that all cab drivers are out to cheat them by trying to up the fare by driving a route that’s longer than necessary. Letting them be in charge of the route takes this issue off the table. We rode along some roads that I don’t think I’ve ever driven on. We eventually came out on I-65 near Fultondale, north of the city. We had made some small talk along the way but nothing concerning exactly where he was going or what he was doing. His destination was in a public housing project, one of the older ones that look like red brick barracks. This project was next to a large city high school, west of downtown in a neighborhood that’s almost entirely African American. He had me park a building away from the building where he was going. True to his word, he was in and out in less than five minutes. We followed the same route we had taken to the project back to his country home. The fare was $95, he handed me a hundred dollar bill and said “keep it”.

The name on the screen of the dispatch computer was a traditionally female name. When I saw the person come out of the house I thought this must be the wrong customer or maybe someone else called for him; that happens sometimes. I would have sworn this tall, broad shouldered person with close cropped hair was a man until she got in the car and I heard her voice. It was a deep voice for a woman but still a feminine voice. She wanted to go to one of the gentlemen's clubgentlemen’s clubs on the west side of town, she said she worked there. I certainly didn’t think she was a stripper so I figured she must have been a bartender, a bouncer or maybe even a manager. When we arrived I turned the meter off and told her the amount of the fare as I thought this was her final destination. She said “I’ll be back, wait on me. I won’t be long.”

When she returned a few minutes later I couldn’t see that she had anything that she didn’t have when she went in. But man, could I SMELL that she had something that she didn’t have when I picked her up. The skunky odor that filled the car was so pungent that it made my eyes water! It almost made me think that Cheech or Chong had just gotten in my cab. She said “let’s stop by the store. I’m gonna get some beeuh then you can take me to my gull house.” Was she aware of the smell? Maybe not, she went into the convenience store smelling like that. She came out with a twelve pack of Bud light, I guess she and her “gull” had a party.

This brings me to the only person who, as of yet, has violated my don’t ask, don’t tell policy. I had had some success earlier in the week by getting up early, by five or five-thirty am and catching the going to work crowd. It was about six in the morning when the call came through in the 235 zone. It was an old, low rent apartment complex almost to the summit of Red Mountain off of Greensprings Highway. This was late winter, it was still black dark, there was no hint of the morning sun.

She was standing outside when I arrived. A thin, middle-aged white woman wearing a V neck sweater, knee high leather boots and short hair dyed dark red, almost purple. I could tell she was no spring chicken but still not bad looking. I could tell something was awry by her hyperactive behavior. She got in and out of the cab four times before she finally settled in and was ready to go. It was obvious that she wasn’t one of the morning workers that I had been aiming for that morning. She said she wanted to go to the extended stay inn where my wife and I had lived when we first moved to town. I saw dollar signs because this place was clear on the other side of town from where we were. Shortly after we got started I was a little concerned when she said “after we go to the inn I need to go to Rugby.” Rugby avenue is a pretty seedy area in East Lake. I figured that this was probably a don’t ask, don’t tell situation.

About halfway to the inn she waved a big red flag indicating that this trip was probably not going to end well. She asked me “you’re cool ain’t you?” I said yeah, I guess I’m pretty cool, why? She said “you know we’re going to get my smoke. We don’t have to go to the inn if you’ll lend me twenty dollars to get it.” In hindsight, I should have stopped the car right where we were and put her ass out. We actually have a code that we can send to the dispatchers that means “refusing drug run.” I would have been better off this morning if I had used that code. I said, I’m not lending you any money. How the hell were you planning on paying me? She said “don’t worry honey, I’ve got PLENTY of money, just take me to the inn and I’ll get it.”  When we got there she frantically ran to one apartment and then to the next banging on doors. Someone finally let her in the second one she tried. After a few minutes she came back to the car and we headed to Rugby. After about five minutes of ringing the doorbell and knocking on the door she became frustrated and came back to the car. “I guess he must be dead asleep” she said. She now wanted to go to a house in Roebuck. By this time the sun was coming up and I felt a little safer as I could see my surroundings. I still had an inner knowing in the pit of my stomach that this wasn’t going to end well. I waited and waited and waited. After about 30 minutes I said to myself, if she doesn’t come out in five minutes I’m calling the cops. The meter was sitting at fifty two dollars, I had been fucking around with her all morning and hadn’t yet made a penny. I knew the chances were slim to none that I would see any of this money.

After forty minutes had gone by and she was still nowhere in sight I decided to call. I called the non-emergency number. I didn’t think this warranted a 911 call. I gave up after twenty rings. I decided to just drive to the nearest police station which I knew to be just behind the Roebuck Walmart. The policeman on duty was less than enthusiastic about writing up my report. I didn’t expect anything to come of it. I wasn’t wrong.

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.

Mama Calling

It was about 11:00 pm. The call was to the ER at the main hospital. I could see a young couple standing out by the street, not even in the pick up area of the ER. The young man, who looked to be about 20, was flagging vigorously. He jumped in and said “just go!” Before I could ask him where to, the young lady started waving her arms and screaming loudly, “STOP! don’t take him nowhere!” She identified herself as his wife when I lowered the window. “This man is mentally ill! don’t take him nowhere!” The guy was in the backseat yelling “just go!” Alabama court 008

I was in a quandary. I didn’t know what to do, I had never faced this situation. The handbook didn’t talk about it and I had never heard  any other drivers discussing what they had done in similar situations. The wife persisted. She kept saying “he is mentally ill, don’t take him nowhere!” She then started telling me that he didn’t have any money, thinking that would convince me to put him out of the car. “He ain’t got no money. I’m telling you he AIN’T got no money!” Then with a shrill, high pitched voice and embarrassingly stereotypical side to side head motion, she emphasized, “HE. AIN’T. GOT. NO. MONEY!!” The young man reached in his pocket and pulled out $30 and said “I got money.” By this time the wife had the young man’s mother on the phone. She put the little, outdated flip cellphone on speaker mode  and said “listen to his mama!” I could hear the older woman’s voice saying, “don’t let him get in no cab! Please LAWD, don’t let him get in no cab!”

I finally told the wife that if she didn’t want him going anywhere that she needed to get him out of the car. “HELL NAW” she snapped. YOU gonna have to put him out!” When she said this I had the best idea that I had had throughout the situation. I said I’ll just drive up to the door of the ER and ask the security guard, who is a  policeman, what to do. The wife didn’t like this idea but I drove on up there. The cop came out raising hell because I had driven in the wrong way. He was pointing his finger and shouting in an authoritarian way, “YOU CAIN’T COME IN THIS WAY, YOU GONNA HAVE TO BACK OUT!” I finally convinced him that I understood the error of my ways and that I would go out the correct way. The wife had shown up at the car by the time I started telling him of my dilemma.

When he saw who was involved he said “they ain’t coming back in here.” He spoke directly to the wife and said ” if either one of y’all come back through that door you’re going to jail for trespassing.” Apparently the couple had made a huge scene inside the ER and ended up getting kicked out. With this news I put the car in reverse and backed out the way I had gone in. The wife was hollering, screaming, cussing and shaking her fists in the air. When I started going forward I could see her raising all kinds of hell in my rearview mirror. I asked my passenger where he wanted to go. He immediately said, “Salvation Army”. I dropped him off at the main door and he paid the fare. How much did I get for all this you ask? $5.75.

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.

Hurricane Bless

To my knowledge, there has only been one time when someone has called the cab company and tried to get me in trouble. This person wasn’t even a customer. I’m somewhat of an amateur photographer, I like to take pictures of scenes that in my mind at least, tell a story. Pretty things, ugly things, gritty things, shiny things, I have pictures of it all. Sometimes I take my good camera with me in the cab and sometimes I just use my phone. I have a digital album that I call Inner City Expressions. It contains images of mainly graffiti and murals that I’ve seen around town. Some of it is very artful, some is very crude. On this day I noticed a scene that I thought would fit well into that album.

I received a call to one of the large bank buildings near the railroad tracks that divide north from south in downtown Birmingham. After requesting a call out and waiting about ten minutes it became clear that this call was a no show. In order to stay in zone 120 I needed to turn around. I knew that the cross street next to the building was a dead end. The street ran under two bridges that crossed the railroad. The turning around place was just beyond the second bridge. I caught something out of the corner of my eye. Once I turned around and drove back under the bridge I stopped to get a better look.

Someone was living under this bridge. There was a tent set up with all kinds of miscellaneous items scattered around. Their furniture was a few old rickity office chairs and at least one lawn chair, the cheap kind with an aluminum frame and polyester strips. There were at least two grocery carts parked near the tent. There was a large red and white cooler sitting in front of one of them. There was religious themed graffiti on the concrete structure of the bridge. The words “Hurricane Bless” were painted vertically on one of the pylons. There were references to bible verses from the books of Revelations, Exodus and Isaiah as well as a line that said “Jesus loves Randy” painted on other parts of the structure. I didn’t see any people around, I took my camera out and snapped a couple of pictures. underbridge

Just as I snapped the second one I heard a deep male voice yell “Hey, what chu’ doin?” I drove away thinking that would be the end of it; it wasn’t. By the time I stopped at the first traffic light I got a call from the dispatchers telling me that an irate woman has just called complaining that I had been taking pictures of her house. I guess when you’re driving around in a brightly colored car with an identifying number and a huge phone number painted on the side it makes you vulnerable to these kinds of calls. I told the dispatcher that it could have very well been the woman’s home but that it wasn’t a house. It was a homeless encampment under a bridge. That still wasn’t the end of it. A little while later I got a call requesting that I call the general manager at the cab company. This woman had also called her and told her that I was taking pictures of HER! Not the encampment, not her house, but HER!  As I said earlier, I never saw a person at the encampment. Once I explained the situation to the manager, she didn’t seem too concerned about it.

I know for sure that it’s not illegal to take pictures of anything or anybody as long as you don’t take the pictures from the property of the person or business that doesn’t want to be photographed. Think about Google Earth.I remembered this from a previous job that required me to take photographs of businesses. On the rare occasion that someone refused to have their business photographed, we still had to take pictures of the exterior. Our instructions were to go across the street, off the property and take the pictures. One thing that almost certainly IS illegal is to live under a bridge on city property without a permit.

I truly do have compassion for the homeless. I’m not one of those assholes that would snarl “get a job” as I walk past them. I meant the people living under this bridge absolutely no harm. At first it pissed me off that they would try to get me in trouble. If they wanted to play that game I could almost certainly make more trouble for them than they could for me. Once I calmed down I realized that these people felt that their privacy was being violated just as I would if someone were taking pictures inside my windows. Just out of curiosity, several months after the incident I decided to drive by to see if they were still there, they weren’t. All their stuff was gone and the level place under the bridge was cleaned out. The graffiti remained, but with a few changes. There were some words that I hadn’t noticed the first time, something about God and tornadoes. I immediately noticed that the word “Bless” next to the word “Hurricane” had been painted over. I guess they thought their blessings had run out. Hurricane Bless 001

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.

Hurricane Bless 003

A Country Boy And A City Girl

He was standing just around the corner from Patio 280 with an innocent looking smile on his face when I pulled up at 2:45 am. He was wearing a John Deere hat and had a snuff bulge in his lower lip. He said he wanted to go to one of the hotels in Southside because he had to get up in just a few hours and go fishing on the Tennessee River. He told me that he was from Columbiana in south Shelby County and asked my advice for a good hotel. I named off all the Southside hotels but he said “them places is too high, do you know a cheaper place?”

The only cheap hotel I know of in Southside is really a motel. The back of the motel is just across a narrow alley from the crematorium of a huge funeral home. Besides the creepiness of sleeping next to where bodies are being burned, this is a generally skuzzy place. Most of the folks I’ve picked up or dropped off here have been ex-cons, skid row drunks, hookers or junkies. He asked “how about that one on First Avenue North, Motel H?” Motel H is a whore motel, and a rough one at that. I said  motel 097maybe that one by the crematorium isn’t such a bad idea. He rejected that. He said “my daddy works at the steel mill right behind it. It ain’t that bad is it? If anybody messes with me I can just walk over to where my daddy is.”

At this point I was pretty much convinced that the whole “going fishing” thing was just a cover up story. After all, he didn’t have any fishing equipment. Was someone supposed to pick him up from this fleabag whore house to go fishing? I figured he had designs on a store-bought motel girlfriend and because of his country raising he thought he had to hide it, even from a cab driver. I gave it one more try. I said, you really don’t want to go to that motel do you? There are plenty of hotels and motels that are perfectly safe. He wouldn’t hear of it, he insisted on Motel H.

When we drove up in the parking lot, some incident had just happened. Two cop cars were already there with their bright blue lights flashing. There were hookery-looking girls and thuggy-looking guys standing around watching. I was flabergasted by what he asked me when he saw this. “Do you reckon’ it’s safe?” I didn’t say anything for a minute because I was thinking, damn dude, what have I been telling you since I picked you up? Was he really looking for a hooker or was he just that damned naive? At this point I was ready to get rid of him and move on. I said, well maybe whatever was gonna happen has already happened. So maybe it’s safe now. He exited the car and walked slowly into the office.

She was just off the train from New Orleans, standing in front of the Amtrak station with her tiger print luggage. She wasn’t bad looking at first glance. With a closer view I could see that she had a big infected-looking sore on her upper arm and teeth that needed maintenance. I loaded her bags and she told me her final destination would be a hotel but she wanted to stop by a couple of places on the way to look for work. She had the name and address of one place. The now defunct Mike’s Crossroads on Third Avenue West. This was a Gentleman’s Club, or as is more commonly said in Alabama, a titty bar. Mike’s catered to African American men. She was white but made it clear that she was only interested in working in places catering to black men. On the way to Mike’s we would be passing the Bunny Cage. Upon my suggestion, we stopped there first. Unfortunately, no one was there yet as it was still early in the afternoon. She was told to come back later at Mike’s. Apparently the manager that did the hiring wouldn’t be in until later in the evening.

She was becoming concerned that it may be more difficult than she thought to execute her plans. Her grand scheme was to take the train into town, quickly get a job stripping in a seedy strip club where she would make the business contacts for her main business that she would run from the hotel. I told her that there was another place just down the street called the Castle. They told her that a stripper must have a license to strip in Birmingham. They said “you can’t dance here without a license but one of the others will probably let you do it.” From there we went on to the hotel which was one of the lower level chains in gritty zone 410. She was concerned that it wasn’t busy enough. “Do you think guys will want to come see me out here?” I could only say that I did not know. I never learned whether or not her plans came to fruition.

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.