The volume of business in the cab business varies greatly. There are times during the day or even at night during the middle of the week when business is so slow that we are glad to get any trip. There have been times when a five dollar grocery store trip looked pretty good. Most times, especially on nights and weekends, the business is much steadier and busier than it is during the middle of the week. Most of the full time drivers have regular customers on a regular schedule for trips to work, to doctor’s visits, shopping and other places. These regulars are a godsend when business is slow and money is tight, they can make the difference between making money for the day or ending up in the hole. I don’t have many regulars; it’s because I don’t drive everyday and most regulars need someone more dependable than I to get them where they need to go. I do develop some short term regulars from time to time. Michael was an ambiguosly gay man who was a stage actor and singer. He was in town because of a musical that was running at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center in downtown Birmingham. He was staying at an extended stay inn on highway 280. He would call me fairly early in the evening and have me shuttle him between the three gay bars located within just a few blocks from each other in the Southside/ Lakeview area. He would usually call me to take him back to the inn by midnight.
There are a few times a year when the demand exceeds the supply. It usually happens on drinking holidays like New Years Eve or St. Patricks Day, but it can also happen when certain musicians are performing at concerts in town. When it happens, it gets to the point when you can’t afford to answer the dispatch. The dispatchers will give us the oldest trips first and since many of them can be near an hour old when we get them, the customer will almost certainly be already gone when we get there. Three or four of these “noshows” can ruin your night. You’ll be running all over town, burning gas and not making any money. When the business gets like this, the best thing to do is cruise around hotels, concert venues and bars looking for flaggers. There will also be many people asking for your card and calling you back because they know cabs are in short supply. One of the busiest and rowdiest concert nights that I can remember was a night when Kid Rock came to town.
I had picked up Michael early in the evening and dropped him off at Randy’s on Sixth, the gay bar in the Lakeview area. The early part of the evening started like most concert nights, picking up visitors at suburban hotels and bringing them downtown to the civic center. It makes sense to work the zones in the outer suburbs instead of the downtown and southside zones. Trips from these zones are much longer and much more lucrative. Most of the customers that we pick up on nights like this are very different from our usual over the mountain 20 somethings that are bound for the Lakeview bars. Most of them are from small rural towns around Alabama or the surrounding states and are generally older, less affluent, more family oriented and more socially conservative than our usual customers from the suburbs south of the city. Their southern accents are usually much stronger and their clothing and hairstyles are different. After a couple of hours had passed and I had picked up several of these out of town concert goers, Michael called me and I shuttled him from Randy’s to the The Search, the oldest and most well known gay club in town.
I was vaguely familiar with Kid Rock, I knew that he was one who sort of bridged the gap between Country, Rock and Hip Hop but I didn’t know much about him beyond that.
I certainly didn’t know that he had such a huge following. As the night progressed, it became busier and busier. Once the concert hall was full and the concert had begun there was a bit of a lull, but it didn’t take long for the business to pick up again. Apparently a lot of people had come to town and hadn’t even gone to the concert, plus we had our regular weekend customers. When the concert was over the business reached a fever pitch. It had gotten to the point of turning off the dispatch. There was no need for dispatch, customers were literally fighting over cabs. I had one group already in the car when another group approached and offered to pay them to get out so that they could get in. There were many bird fingers being flipped along with shouts of “fuck you, assholes” when they refused. I was running back and forth from the civic center to hotels all over town and in the burbs as fast as I could. It was non-stop, money was flowing, I was loving it!
At some point in the middle of all this craziness, Michael had called for his trip back to the inn. I had other customers in the car at the time who were yelling and slurring drunk lyrics to Kid Rock songs when I talked to him and promised I would be there. When I dropped this load off, the concert had been over for a while and the crowd around the BJCC had thinned considerably. I thought i would make just one more pass by to see if there were any stragglers. As I rounded the curve between the Sheraton Hotel and the BJCC there was a large girl with long curly red hair standing on the curb with her hand up. I could tell immediately that this trip wasn’t going to be like the others. She wasn’t happy or drunk or in a jovial mood, she was crying her eyes out. I didn’t take me long to find out why. “He left me” she sobbed. It turns out that not only had the guy who she thought was her boyfriend, dumped her for another girl at the concert, he had also left her there high and dry without a ride home. She was sobbing almost uncontrollabaly as she finally was able to tell me her destination which was an apartment complex down highway 280. I quickly drove up the ramp to the Red Mountain expressway and put the pedal to the metal headed toward 280. As I was approaching the University Boulevard exit it dawned on me. OH SHIT! I had forgotten Michael!
I didn’t think about it twice, I took the exit and headed toward The Search. Michael had been a good dependable customer for several weeks and I wasn’t about to leave him stranded. Besides, she was going down 280 and he was going down 280, what the hell could it hurt to take them both? I told the girl what I was doing but she didn’t seem to care. She was boo hooing at the top of her lungs now, how was Michael going to react to that? When I pulled up at the club Michael was standing in the parking lot waiting on me. I didn’t like the look on his face when he saw the girl. I told him how busy the night had been and that she was going down his way and I thought I would take them both. He reluctantly got in the back seat with her but I could tell he didn’t like it. He introduced himself to her but all she could do was cry. It was awkward, they sat far apart, Michael didn’t say a word for most of the trip and the girl just continued to wail and moan and sob. At one point I almost became concerned about her health. She was crying so hard that she was hyperventilating. For a few minutes it seemed that she was having a difficult time just catching her breath. We arrived at Michael’s destination first. I had run the meter but hadn’t really thought about how to divide the fare. He threw a twenty in the front seat and said ” thanks for ruining my night. I was feeling good until I got in this cab. This ride has been like going to a goddamn funeral!” He was pissed, to say the least.
I dropped the girl off at her apartment about a mile down 280 from Michael’s hotel. She was still heaving and bawling when she made it through the front door. I felt bad because I had “ruined” Michael’s night. I called him the next day and apologized profusely. He said it was “weird” but he would forgive me. I told him that the next ride was on the house and I delivered on that promise the very next night. I drove him to the airport for his departure from Birmingham a few days later. We parted on good terms.
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.