Monthly Archives: May 2013

Bullies

When we get a dispatch, a name usually appears on the screen of the dispatch computer. On this particular night the name was “Patton”. Patton had called from Calypso, the club about halfway up the mountain from Five Points South.

As I arrived I could see a group of young men standing in front of the entrance. As soon as I stopped one of them jumped in the back seat, his buddies were on their way. I asked him his name, he said “what difference does it make?” I told him that someone had called for the cab and I wanted to be sure I was picking up the right person. I looked up ahead and saw that the buddies of the guy in the backseat seemed to be having a confrontation with a much smaller guy that had just walked out of the bar. One of the big guys was pushing him around and calling him “you little faggot”. Another one of the group pushed him again, this time he almost fell. The scene was the exact image that most people think of when they think of bullies. There were three very large young men who looked like preppie jocks. They were college aged, in their early twenties. They were pushing and intimidating a much smaller young man who would have been no match for one of them in a fight, much less three.

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I intuitively knew that the victim of these bullies was Patton. It was more than just a gut feeling, I knew it deep down. I got out of the car and with a raised voice yelled IS SOMEONE HERE NAMED PATTON? I”M HERE TO PICK UP PATTON. The little guy raised his hand and said “I’m Patton.” I said come get in the car, this is your cab.

There was one big problem. Before I could get Patton in the car, I had to get the asshole that was already in the backseat, out. Patton’s tormentors started yelling ” hell no, this is our cab, we were here first!”  At this point I was almost certain that a visit from the police was going to be necessary. I looked at the guy in the backseat and said , get your ass out! This is not your cab. Get out now or I’m calling the police! He said “fuck you, cab driver, this is our cab.” I told him and the others to get out and back off or I’m calling the police, RIGHT GODDAMN NOW! They had to see me actually dialing the phone before they backed off. The biggest one told the guy in the backseat “come on, we’ll get another cab. We don’t want to ride with this faggot anyway.”

When he got out I motioned for Patton to get in. As we drove away there was a chorus of “fuck you” and “eat me faggots” as they all gave us the finger and made lewd gestures, grabbing their crotches. Patton said “thank you for standing up for me back there, I appreciate it.” I said no problem, I hate bullies.

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.

image courtesy of http://www.brainpowerlearning.com

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The Flip Side Of The Coin

I was dispatched to a bar that’s most popular with mature folks. This guy was no exception, he was probably in his mid to late forties. It was a case where his friends had had to take his keys and call a cab to keep him from driving. It took a while for him to get in the car after I pulled up. He got in on his own power but not until he lost an argument with his buddies about his keys. He was pissed that his friends wouldn’t let him drive but was not at all angry or hostile towards me. I could tell he was pretty messed up, talking loud and slurring his words.

Soon, he started getting personal, he wanted to know my life’s history. Where was I from? Where did I go to school? Was I married? For how long? Did I have children? What other jobs had I done? I answered his questions but tried to turn it back and ask him the same things. He answered a few of them but seemed much more interested in me. Pretty soon he was sitting on the edge of the back seat with his elbows up on the back of the front seat. His face was up close to mine and he was becoming pretty damned annoying.

He lived in a very manicured suburban neighborhood over the mountain. As I turned onto his street and approached his house, he looked over and said “I love you”. Well, I was still a relatively new cabbie and didn’t quite know what to say. I was thinking, oh shit! What the hell am I supposed to say to THAT? After a few awkward seconds went by I said, thanks, man! His fare was eighteen dollars for which he handed me a twenty and told me to keep the change. Before I could give him my usual thank you, have a good night, he handed me something else. He said “I want you to have it, you saved my life tonight.” I looked in my hand a saw a brand new crispy one hundred dollar bill. I thanked him profusely and gave him my card, he never called me again.

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As you know, if you read this blog regularly, I’ve written several stories about “getting stiffed” or not getting paid for my service and how bad it sucks. As the above story illustrates, there’s a flip side to that coin. Although I’ll admit that it happens far less frequently than getting stiffed, sometimes a customer will feel the need to pay me (or other drivers) very , very well for the service that we provide. As you can imagine, these big tips often involve the customer being under the influence of alcohol. Sometimes it doesn’t, believe it or not there are a few individuals in the world today that are just very generous. I want to tell you one more story about a big tip from a drunk customer, then we’ll move on to something else entirely.

It was a Friday night but business was slow. It was spring break so most of the college aged revelers that are usually hanging out in the Lakeview district were out of town. I’m sure they were hanging out somewhere and doing the same things but probably on the Gulf Coast, not in Birmingham. I had picked up a few fares but the money I usually make on Friday night just wasn’t happening, it was way off. There didn’t seem to be nearly as many cabs out as usual. I guess most of the drivers knew the situation and had decided that it wasn’t worth their time. I decided to make one last sweep through to see if there were a few who had decided to stay behind and party here in town.

As I pulled up in front of two popular clubs that sit side by side in the district, I saw a cop flagging me. He asked “can you take a drunk guy home?” Sure, I said as the cop and a bouncer from one of the clubs led the guy to the car. As I’ve said many times, it’s never a good sign when they have to be led or walked to the car. The cop made sure that he could tell me his address before he walked away from the cab. The address was a few miles south of the city down highway 280. My customer went to sleep almost immediately as we pulled off. I could foresee a big problem getting him out of the car once I got him home and an even bigger problem getting paid.

It was a nice night, a little on the cool side. I lowered all the windows for the ride hoping that the cool breeze would rouse him or at least keep him from falling into a deeper drunken coma. The neighborhood was a cookie cutter subdivision with houses, although very similar, on the large side. At first glance most people would probably consider this an upper middle class neighborhood. I pulled into the driveway and started the task of trying to wake him up. First I turned on the bright overhead light, which in most cabs is quite bright. With the bright light on I shook his shoulder a couple of times saying wake up, man, you’re home. I heard a few groaning sounds come from him as he gradually opened his eyes. It took a few minutes for him to get his head around the fact that he was sitting in the backseat of a cab and that he was in fact, home. After looking around for a few minutes he said “damn, I am home.” I said yes you are, you owe me nineteen seventy five. A minute or so passed by and he still hadn’t exited the cab and was making no motions towards reaching for his wallet to pay me.

I told him again, you’re home. You owe me nineteen seventy five. This time he reached for his wallet which was a relief to me. “What do I owe you?” he asked. Nineteen seventy five I told him again. After a few seconds of fumbling he handed me a one hundred dollar bill. Not quite knowing his intentions, I didn’t immediately reach for my change. I thought I’d give it a few seconds, maybe he would tell me to keep it. I was again surprised when he handed me a twenty and said “that’s for the fare.” I thought fantastic! A hundred dollar tip! I began thanking him as I usually do if someone gives me a big tip. He said “just hold on a minute”. In this instant I was thinking that he was rethinking the tip and I thought oh well, at least I’ll get paid. To my amazement he pulled out ANOTHER hundred dollar bill and handed it to me. I simply looked at him and said you’re a good man, as he stumbled out of the car. This one very drunk man had suddenly transformed a lousy night into a very good night. God bless him.

As I said earlier, most big tips come from the inebriated but there are some exceptions. There’s a couple in town that takes cabs everywhere they go if they know they’re going to be drinking. Drunk or sober, they always tip very well. Not a two hundred dollar tip or anything like that but it’s not uncommon for them to give you twenty dollars for a five or six dollar ride. They’re always friendly and a pleasure to serve.

It’s always good to get good tips when you least expect it. Grocery store trips are usually trips where you don’t expect much, if anything for a tip. I picked up an older couple at the Winn Dixie at Five Points West in Ensley. I loaded the groceries in the trunk and drove them the short distance to their home. The fare was five dollars and that’s all I expected to get. The lady handed me three five dollar bills. I said I think you gave me too much as I tried to hand some of it back. She said “no, that’s what I meant to give you.” I jumped out of the car and hauled their groceries up to the top of the steps leading to the front door. This kind of thing doesn’t happen often but when it does it goes a long way toward restoring one’s faith in humanity.

I’ve known about the concept of paying it forward for years. It’s a spiritual principal that transcends religions. I’m sure I first read about it in one of the New Age books that were popular in the last decade. The idea is actually almost a century old. The idea can trace it’s origins to Lily Hardy Hammond’s 1916 novel “In the Garden of Delight”. The original idea was that a creditor would offer a debtor the option of lending the money to a third person instead of paying it back to the original creditor.

In the year 2000, Catherine Ryan Hyde wrote a novel called “pay it forward” which was later adapted to a movie by the same title . The idea was that for each good deed received, you should do three good deeds for someone else, thus making the world a much better place.

I just happened to be in zone 720 in lower Hoover when I got a call to a tire store in the circle around the Galleria Mall. The lady had had car trouble on the way to work that morning and ended up having to have it towed to this store. It wasn’t very much further to her job so she called a cab to take her the rest of the way. She was friendly and talkative and didn’t seem down at all about her situation. She didn’t speak of religion or spirituality. It was just a light, friendly conversation. When I pulled up in front of her office the meter read seven twenty five. She handed me forty dollars and said “I’m paying it forward, have a great day!”

sources: Wikipedia

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.

Inner City Expressions

One benefit of working in all neighborhoods in the city is that you can see many of the ways in which residents of those neighborhoods express themselves. This post will mainly feature what I like to call Urban Art. Yes, we’re talking about graffiti but also very artful murals that can be seen around the city on abandoned buildings, occupied buildings, retaining walls, bridge pylons and just about anywhere else that can possibly serve as a canvas. Some of this art is very well thought out and high quality. Some of it is simply very crude ramblings about the frustrations of inner city life.

We’ll start with the artful, well thought out, high quality kind. In 2011 residents of the Fountain Heights neighborhood just north of downtown decided they wanted to beautify an old retaining wall that had become an eyesore along 18th street north. Students from the Alabama School of Fine Arts, which is technically located in the neighborhood, were invited to create a mural on the wall that would honor the various ethnic groups that had called the neighborhood home over the decades. A Union Jack, an Italian flag and a Star of David were a few of the symbols painted on the wall to represent the different groups. There was a large map of the African continent painted to represent the African American community which is the largest group that inhabits the neighborhood today. The overall theme of the mural is unity and co-operation of all the people of Birmingham to move forward into a brighter future. This is symbolized by a black hand and a white hand clasped together.

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This mural on the side of a convenience store in the Avondale neighborhood also has a theme of racial and ethnic reconciliation and co-operation. Too bad the business next door decided to hang an advertising banner in the middle of it.

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One of the most artful murals in the city, in my opinion, is a Norse themed mural on the side of a paint and body shop in the Woodlawn neighborhood. Their practice of parking cars that are in line to be repaired in front of it makes it difficult to photograph. Here are a couple of shots:

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One of the places that I often sit and wait for calls during the day is under a shade tree behind The Search Club. About a year and a half ago I noticed that someone had painted some bizarre looking but artful images on the wall of the building across the parking lot.

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One day when I arrived at the waiting spot I noticed that these images were gone but there was a guy there working on something new and much larger. He told me that he painted with a group of urban artists that went by the name “Shizquad.” Like the other images, this huge mural also looked quite bizarre and seemed to be prison themed. The central image in the mural was an Alabama inmate. I asked if I could photograph it and he said “sure but it isn’t finished, I’ll be through with it in a few days”. I went ahead and photographed what he had done and planned to come back and photograph the finished product a little later. I watched him work on his masterpiece for several days. I assumed he had permission to paint on this building since it was such a big project and he was doing it in broad open daylight. My assumption was wrong. When I returned to photograph the finished mural, it was gone. The building had been painted over with solid blue paint; that’s the way it remains today. Here’s the work in progress:

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Not all the expressions are artful and some are downright scary. Here’s a very crude paranoid rant on some old pieces of tin along Richard Arrington Boulevard North. I have dropped off a particular customer in this general area that I believe could have been the author of the rant. We’ll talk more about him in a future post.

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Another of my favorite murals is this African themed painting on the side wall of a business in the Smithfield neighborhood.

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Most graffiti artists like to refer to themselves as “taggers”. Tagging simply means painting one’s “tag” or name in as many places as possible. There are several around Birmingham, one of the more common tags is “Naro”, but by far the most ubiquitous of all is one who refers to himself or herself as “Moist”. “Moist” tags such as this one are so common that you almost don’t notice them after a while.

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There was one moist tag however, that caught my eye immediately because of the difficulty that had to be overcome to place the tag. It was on the front of the old  McWane  cast iron pipe foundry. Production ceased at the foundry a couple of years ago but the facility is still maintained by the company because they say they intend to re-open it if the demand increases. This tagger would have had to have gotten past several locked gates, security guards and climbed to the top of the building to place the tag. Once it was placed it was very prominent and very visible to all traffic headed south and west along Interstate 20/59.

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A few years ago, tags with a very positive message started to appear around town. The tags read “you are beautiful.” Some have been removed but there are a few of them still around. One of the most prominent actually reads “how beautiful you are” but I’m sure it was done by the same people. It’s on the top of an old abandoned, blighted building near downtown. It’s highly visible from the northbound side of the Red Mountain Expressway. I have no idea as to the significance of the Star of David on the same building.

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There is an old rail tunnel on first avenue south that used to be part of the city’s first train station. The walls of the tunnel as well as many buildings nearby have become the canvases of many taggers. The days of this area as a stage for this street art are numbered. Construction has already begun on a walking trail through the area that leads from Railroad Park to Sloss Furnaces . I’m sure a major effort to keep the area free of graffiti will be undertaken when the trail is complete. Here are a few images that can currently be seen:

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murals 026        murals 028

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Sources: Wikipedia, Bhamwiki, Birmingham News, al.com

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.

Liquored Up And Locked Out

“Go straight” said the well dressed drunken yuppie as he plopped down in the backseat. Where are we going? I asked. “Just go straight, I’ll tell you where to turn”. I hate it when customers do this, I want to know where I’m headed. I shouldn’t have even moved the car until he told me. I picked him up at the Blue Bottle Cafe, which is usually a worry free place to pick up customers. It’s mostly frequented by hipsters and hipster wannabes that turn out to see trendy urban indie rock bands and solo musicians. They have a menu with mostly vegetarian choices; it’s not the kind of place that drunk assholes like to hang out.

This guy was an exception. He had an open drink with clinking ice and it was strong enough that I could smell the alcohol. He immediately exhibited an attitude of superiority, as if I was his servant. I didn’t like him at all from the moment he got in the car. After driving a few blocks I said, where are we going, man? I’ve got to know a general area, I don’t like driving and not knowing where I’m going. “Crestwood” he said. ” I’m going to see my buddy in Crestwood” I felt a little better just knowing the neighborhood where we were headed. He got out and walked across the grass in the front yard to the door; he ditched the plastic cup that had held his drink in the middle of the yard. After banging on the door and a window and hollering for his buddy, it became clear, even to him that this was a futile effort. He staggered back to the car, fell in the back seat and said “now you’re gonna take me down 280”. I didn’t like this “you’re gonna” language but I held my temper and started driving. Before we got out of the neighborhood, he said “stop, I’ve gotta pee”. I stopped, he stood in the middle of this neighborhood street and let it fly. I thought well, at least it’s late at night and maybe no one will see him and if he has to pee I’d rather him do it here than in his pants in the car.

In a few minutes we were taking the split to 280 off the Red Mountain Expressway. I said OK, we’re on 280, where do you want to go? “Way down, all the way down”  he said. I was still not happy with his vagueness about his destination. He made a phone call shortly after the split. At least he pretended to make a phone call, I’m still not convinced he was talking to anyone. He was pretending to talk to a girl, slurring sexual comments and questions like “did you like it when I was rubbing up against you? Could you feel my hard dick?” ” I thought you were gonna pull your pants down and let me taste it, I sure would like to taste it.”

It was a cool night, probably in the 40’s. It was too cool for the air conditioning but not cold enough for the heater. I had my drivers window barely cracked just for some fresh air. He interrupted his imaginary porno phone conversation to scream “ROLL THAT GODDAMN WINDOW UP, I’M FREEZING!” That’s when I lost my cool. I couldn’t help it, I said you don’t order me to do shit you stupid asshole, you can either respect me or your drunk ass is gonna be out here on the side of the goddamn road! I pulled over to the shoulder with full intentions of putting his ass out. He said “I won’t get out, you can’t make me get out.” It was after two in the morning and I was tired, I didn’t feel like going through the routine of calling the cops and waiting for them to get there. I said just tell me where you want to go and shut up until I get you there. He said “take me to Patio 280”, I drove off as he continued his fake phone conversation “this cab driver is being rude to me” he said into the phone. He said “my girlfriend doesn’t like you being rude to me.” I said shut up, we’ll be there in a minute.

I was happy to see a moonlighting Birmingham cop in full uniform at the door of the Patio when we pulled up. My customer immediately jumped out of the back seat and slurred to the cop in a whiney tone, “he was rude to me”. The cop said “what did he do, make you put your pants on?” Seeing that the cop had no sympathy for him he started to walk in the bar. I said, I’LL TAKE THIRTY ONE DOLLARS PLEASE. The cop said “pay the man”. He handed me two twenties and said “I want change”. Not getting a tip was the least of my concerns, more than anything I was just glad he was gone.

Before I could leave the scene the cop approached me and asked “can you do me a favor?” Of course I said yes. He asked me if I was familiar with the west side of town, I assured him that I was. He said “I’ve got two guys in that car over there, they’re pretty drunk but mostly they’re sleepy. They were trying to leave in the car, I couldn’t let them do that. Can you take them home?” I said sure and he went to get them out of the car. I’d say they were more than just “pretty drunk”, totally shitfaced would be a more accurate term. I asked for an address and one of them kept saying “647 Southwest.” I asked 647 what street Southwest? He didn’t get the question, he again repeated, this time louder “647 SOUTHWEST.” I turned to the other guy and asked, can you give me an address? He managed to slur out an address that included a number and a street, we were on our way.

It was a long drive to their neighborhood, they both slept most of the way. I heard a few comments by the one who couldn’t remember his street address about how he was moving to Jersey because “they” just weren’t right down here. After that the snoaring started, before long it sounded like I had two chainsaws running in the back seat. The guy who had been talking about Jersey was awake when we arrived at the address that his buddy had given me. Ok we’re here, I said. “This ain’t where I live” he said. I said OK where do you live? “647 Southwest”. I said that won’t do, I’ve got to know the street. 647 what street Southwest? He finally understood what I was asking him and slurred out “647 12th street Southwest.” I said OK, now we’re in business. He recognized his house when we turned onto his street and said “just pull in behind that white car, that’s where I live.”

I looked at the meter and said OK, that’ll be thirty four dollars. That’s when the trouble started. He said “them folks done got me a ride home and I ain’t got no money.” Ain’t got no money? I asked. Do you have a credit card or a debit card? “Naw, I ain’t got NO money, I spent all my money at that bar.” I said what about your buddy, does he have any money? He shook his buddy awake and said “this man want to know if you got any money? He say we owe him thirty foe dollars.” “Naw” he said. “I ain’t got no money”. The first guy looked at me and said “you gon’ have to take him home, this ain’t where he lives.” I said if he ain’t got no money I ain’t taking him nowhere, this is the end of the line. “Well, how he gon’ get home?” That’s his problem, I said. I said y’all just get out, I’ve got other people I can be picking up that will actually pay me. With some difficulty they managed to get out of the car and I saw them staggering and stumbling toward the house in the dark as I was driving away.

I was pissed but mostly I felt stupid for not getting paid up front. These guys didn’t want to take a cab, they wanted to actually get out on the highway and drive in the ridiculously fucked up condition they were in. I did feel like I had at least done a service to the world by keeping these drunk assholes off the road, at least this time. Who knows, someone’s life could have very well been saved and to me that would be well worth thirty four dollars. It would be worth a helluva lot more than that. I still felt stupid, there was a cop right there, he could have and would have made them pay me up front if I had only asked. Oh well, live and learn.

I decided to make a pass through Southside to see if I could get just one more trip. I picked up a young guy in the Five Points area who was going downtown to the Sheraton. As he was getting drink keysout he said “hey look, someone left their keys.” He paid his fare, handed me the keys and walked into the hotel. There was a key ring with two keys to a GM car and what looked like several house keys. You know, I hear that locksmiths are expensive. It would probably cost a lot more than thirty four dollars to replace all those keys. Gee, I wonder whatever happened to those keys?

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.