Monthly Archives: January 2014

Collateral Damage

She was standing in the small area where they allow smoking outside the emergency room. Wrapped in a blanket with spots like a leopard, she was dragging hard on a cigarette in spite of her red nose and unwashed dyed blonde hair that seemed to indicate that she was sick and had been there a while. Not knowing that she was the customer that I was dispatched to pick up, I drove on up to the front door of the ER. She hurried a bit as she walked fast toward the cab, she hopped in the backseat and said “Roebuck.” I said hello there, I would ask you how you’re doing but since you’ve been in the hospital I’d guess that you haven’t been doing too well. “That’s right” she said, “I’ve been doing pretty shitty.”

She made a couple of phone calls while on the highway to Roebuck. After the second one she asked “can you just drop me off at the Suzuki place in Roebuck?” Sure, I said. I think it’s just at the bottom of the 4th avenue exit. “Yeah, you right” she said, “it’s just right there. As we pulled up in the parking lot she started fumbling through her purse, and said “somebody’s done stole my debit card. I saw a bitch I didn’t know come in that hospital room. She stole my debit card.” I thought, oh shit, here we go, this damn girl is gonna try to get out of paying me. Who the hell goes in a hospital room and goes through somebody’s purse and steals a debit card?

The meter was sitting at $23.50. She handed me a very beat up looking iphone, the face was cracked so badly that you could hardly see the screen, but it seemed to be working. “Here, take my phone for collateral, I’ll go in there a see if I can get you some money.” Once she had been in the dealership for about 7 or 8 minutes, the phone rang, I answered it. The voice on the other end said “who are you and why have you got my phone?” I told him how I came about having the phone. He said “I’m still at the hospital, brang my phone back rat now!”  I said I’ve gotta get paid. She gave me the phone for collateral until she could come up with the money to pay me. “She gave you my phone, she stole it from me. Brang it back rat now!! You got a stolen phone!” I said when I get paid I’ll bring it back, as I hung up ending the conversation.

I decided it was time to go in the dealership and look for my leopard clad customer. As a I opened the door I saw the leopard blanket running away, into another part of the dealership. There were a couple of pretty rough looking customers standing in front of me looking at the details of a car they were interested in on a computer monitor. A man and a woman, I judged them to be at least a decade younger than myself but very rough looking for their age. Both had the same kind of stringy, unwashed hair as my customer and I could tell that they both had some serious dental issues. I figured it was probably meth mouth. Their snaggely teeth looked pretty horrible, some missing and some rotten. The woman had something brown on her lower lip, it looked like either chocolate or tobacco snuff, I wasn’t quite sure which, I just tried not to stare. “Who you lookin’ for?” the woman asked. Tamara, I said. I’m a cab driver, she owes me money, she said she was coming in here to get it. The brown lipped woman tried to play it off like she didn’t know Tamara, she just went back to staring at the screen. The man asked, “how much does she owe you?” By now, with wait time, the meter had gotten up to Twenty Seven dollars which was the amount I told him. “You got it?” the woman asked. “Naw, I ain’t got it” the man replied.

Just as I was about to turn and walk away, Tamera appeared. I said your boyfriend called, he wants his phone. “I just talked to him, take him his phone and he’ll pay you” she promised. “He’s got the money, take his phone back, he said he would pay you” she said as she told me his name. Since this was the only chance I seemed to have of getting paid I set out back to the ER to try to at least get something out of this situation. I had only been on the road a few minutes when the phone rang again. “You better get back to that hospital and take my son his phone or I’m gonna have you arrested for stealing it” said the voice of the boyfriend’s mother. This pissed me off enough that I couldn’t just let it go without saying something back to this crazy woman. I said I was on my way back to the hospital to take your son his phone, but if you’re gonna have that kind of attitude I just might not, I said. He’s gonna have to pay me when I get there, his girlfriend said he was gonna pay for her trip. “He ain’t gonna pay you, he ain’t got no money! You got fifteen minutes to get that phone back or I’m callin’ the po-leece! You got a stolen phone in yore possession!”

meth mouth

I hung up on her and called dispatch. I told the dispatcher the situation and asked her to call the Birmingham police and have them meet me at the ER. I got there before the cops. There were plenty of UAB cops already there, they do security at the hospital. I told them the situation and all they could say was “that’s crazy.” I said, yeah I know it’s crazy but that’s what’s going on. They couldn’t decide if they had jurisdiction to deal with the matter, the trip had originated at UAB but ended in Roebuck which is the city of Birmingham. The Birmingham police finally showed up and did the typical thing they do, try to blame the victim. “Why didn’t you call the police while you were at the dealership? Why didn’t you get paid up front? I think I’d make ’em pay me up front” the cop said. He took the phone to the boyfriend who was in a hospital room. Of course he didn’t come back with any payment. He told me that he did get all the information on the girl, her name and where she lives, he told me that I have up to year to swear out a warrant on her for theft of service. I think I just may.

image courtesy of kuatolives2084.blogspot.com

copyright 2014 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.

The Long Way Home

Hello, how are you guys tonight? “We’re doing well, how about you?” I’m great, I said. Where do you guys need to go? They gave me an address in a neighborhood just over the mountain in Homewood. I headed toward the Red Mountain Expressway, the easiest way to take them home. “So what brings you to America?” the woman asked. I was flabbergasted by the question. I thought damn, didn’t she just hear me greet them? I know I said at least a couple of sentences in my slightly southern but unmistakably American English. I could tell that the couple may have had a few drinks but they were a long way from what I would consider hammered. Yet, this woman obviously thought I was a foreigner. After a few seconds went by, I said well, I guess it was the delivery doctor. I was born about fifty miles southwest of here in Tuscaloosa.

She was embarrassed. I think this taught both she and I a valuable lesson. The power of stereotypes. The idea that all cab drivers are recent immigrants was so firmly ingrained in her psyche that even clear and compelling evidence to the contrary, which was right in her face, didn’t purge it from her mind.

That’s one stereotype many people have of us drivers but it’s not the only one. Another one which is more common and more hurtful, at least to me, is the idea that all cab drivers are out to cheat the customer. Customers usually think drivers cheat by driving a longer route than is necessary in order to run up the meter. I’m not saying  this hasn’t happened to some customers and I know that there’s some scumbag drivers that would do it, I’ve met them. What I am saying is that it’s not most drivers. It’s certainly not me, in fact I’ll usually go out of my way to keep from overcharging someone. I definitely do have a strategy to maximize my income but it doesn’t involve cheating anyone. My strategy is to purposely target  neighborhoods that are a good distance, but not too far from the entertainment districts. This will make each trip a lucrative one without taking too much time. I don’t want to go so far that I have to spend a lot of time riding empty. I want to go back and get another one shortly after I drop off the last one. I want to keep it going, non-stop. That’s how you make money, not by cheating people.

cab meter

Knowing that this stereotype is strongly in the minds of many cab customers, I usually try to head off any accusations by letting the customer choose the route. This will usually take the issue off the table. There are often several good ways to get where you’re going. The customer will sometimes choose the longest route simply because they don’t know the short way. I’ve learned however, that if I choose the route and it’s a route that they’re unfamiliar with, they will almost always believe that I’ve cheated them, even if it’s the shortest route possible. Therefore my policy is to let the customer be the boss when it comes to which way we go, which most customers appreciate. There are however, a very few that are so stubborn in believing this stereotype that they will find a way to accuse you of cheating them no matter what. I once had a woman that didn’t like the total even after she had chosen the route. She accused me of tampering with the meter.

We have a minimum charge to go out and pick a up a customer. In Birmingham (the city sets the cab rates) it’s three dollars. Once we get rolling, the rate is two dollars per mile. So if you go one mile you will be charged five dollars, but if you go two miles you will only be charged seven dollars. There is another way customers are charged. It’s for time when the cab is sitting still. The rate is twenty four dollars per hour. So, if you have a driver to stop and wait on you at a store, someone’s house, a fast food drive through or somewhere else, you will pay three dollars for seven and a half minutes, six dollars for fifteen minutes, twelve dollars for thirty minutes and so on. Many customers don’t like paying wait time but it’s absolutely necessary to keep customers from taking advantage of us. Some customers would have us waiting for hours and pay us very little if not for wait time. It’s designed to hurry them along. All the rates are posted on the window of the cab but some customers will pretend that they didn’t know about wait time and start a confrontation with the driver. It’s always a good idea to warn them about it whenever they make a stop. I will usually turn the wait time off in a situation beyond the customer’s control, such as having to wait on a train or a funeral procession. If it’s a regular customer and I like them, I will usually give them a few minutes of free time if they’re in a store.

M dayham 011

I’ve had many customers complain to me about other drivers cheating them. Sometimes it sounds like they were legitimately cheated and other times it sounds like it’s in their minds. One guy told me that a driver stopped at a store and kept moving the car around in the parking lot to run up the meter. I reminded him that a driver would have to drive a mile to run the meter up two dollars. If you’re familiar with Birmingham, that’s the distance from the fountain at five points south to the middle of the Lakeview district. The customer still insisted that the driver had cheated him. I simply said, I’m sorry that happened to you. I was convinced that the customer spent more time than he thought he had in that store.

So if you order a cab and you’re concerned about being cheated, and I do know that sometimes it’s a legitimate concern, try telling the driver the route that you would like to take. If he or she refuses, you may want to complain to the company or request that the dispatchers not send that particular cab the next time you call.  Always be aware of wait time if you decide to stop. I’m always truly disturbed when I hear of a customer being cheated because it makes me as well as all the other honest drivers look bad. Please know that while there may be a few bad apples, most of us want to make your cab experience as pleasant as possible.

copyright 2014 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.

Since The Last Time

I’ve taken a break from writing over the holidays but there have been a few notable cab adventures since the last time I posted back in November. Here are a few of them:

Not high enough

As soon as I accepted the call I immediately knew that something was wrong with the dispatch. It was an address that I knew didn’t exist. I called dispatch and told them that we needed to talk to the person who called, this address couldn’t be right. The voice on the other end was of a man in a drunken stupor. He couldn’t tell me the address so I asked him if there was a familiar landmark nearby. He said “I’m out by da golf cous.” I headed over to the golf course that I thought he was talking about that was only about a half mile away.

Sure enough, there he was standing out in the street looking like a zombie that had just stumbled out of a bar where he had been over served. He fell into the back seat but had a hard time getting his legs in the car. He wasn’t a young man, I would guess him to be in his mid 60’s, he obviously had issues with stiffness or arthritis which added to the mobility issues that he was already experiencing due to his serious intoxication. He said “I don’t know the address, I’ll just show you how to get there.” He began giving me street by street directions until we ended up at a house in a seedy part of Woodlawn, near the whore motels.

crack house

He had as much trouble getting out of the car as he had had getting into it. I could see shadows of people coming toward the car, one young man offered to help him get out but he refused. When he did finally get out he took a tumble in the street. I got the impression that the folks at this house were some pretty shady characters, maybe drug dealers. Whatever they were, they at least had the decency to pick this pathetic man up off the ground. “What chu doin’ here” I heard one of them ask as he helped hoist him to his feet. He apparently pulled a little cash out of his pocket and offered it to them, possibly in exchange for a little something to get him higher than he was already. “Three dollas? Dat all you got? We ain’t no thugs, we tryin’ to make a livin’ ” I heard one of them say, possibly aimed more at my ears than his. They opened the back door and sat his ass back down in the cab and said “take him on, cab driver. We don’t want him round here.”

Ok, where to now? I asked him. He wouldn’t give me a location, he just started back up with the directions. In just a few minutes I realized we had gone in a circle and was back at this house. I wouldn’t stop, I kept going for a couple of blocks in spite of his protests. I finally pulled over, turned around and looked at him and said I’m not going back to that house. Those guys have already made it clear that they don’t want you there. We may get shot if we go back there. He still insisted on going back. I said I’ll either take you somewhere else or you can get out here. He chose the latter. I said you owe me fourteen bucks, I want my money. “I ain’t got no damn fo-teen dollas,” he said. I can’t say that that’s not exactly what I expected him to say. I said well I could call the cops, but it’s your lucky night, I need to get back to where I can pick up some people who will actually pay me. I sped away leaving him looking like a drunken zombie stumbling in the middle of the street.

The Royal Couple

The call was to a barbecue joint in an upscale neighborhood that doubles as a bar in the late night hours. The name on the screen was “Prince”. It didn’t take him long to stagger out. He was a heavyweight guy with reddish short hair that had obviously had his share of adult beverages. He was drinking what appeared to be some kind of liquor on the rocks which he killed in one big gulp before getting in the car. He fell in the car and said “one more coming.” His partner was the straight man of the two. He was tall and lean with dark hair and thick horn rimmed glasses. I could tell he had had a few but he still had it under control and seemed to be the guy in charge. He started giving me directions to their home in the tiny kingdom of Mountain Brook but Prince wasn’t through partying.

“I wanna go to five points” Prince said several times. The straight man said “we’re going home, you’ve had enough.” “I don’t wanna go home, I’ll pay for it,” he slurred. Stopped in front of their house, the straight man ran his debit card as Prince continued his nagging insistence on going to five points. “I’m not getting out, you can go home but I’m going to five points. Put it drive driver, take me to five points, I’ll pay you.”  “No, you’re going home,” insisted the other guy. “HELL NO I”M NOT, PUT IT IN DRIVE!!” I said I don’t care either way, I’ll take you to five points or you can stay here but you’ve got to decide because I need to go.

The straight man relented, I put in in drive and headed to five points. Somewhere along the way the decision was made to truncate the trip and instead of going to five points, just go to the popular bar in Crestline Village which was much closer. “You’d better not show your ass in there,” the straight man said to Prince. Prince didn’t like this at all. A commotion ensued in the back seat and I heard a few slaps and punches, all made by Prince with the straight man screaming “MY GLASSES, MY GLASSES!!” Before many more punches were thrown I pulled up at the front door of O.C.’s. The straight man shouted “pay the man and tip him well” Prince managed to hand me his credit card which I ran and added a twenty five percent tip. They actually had the nerve to ask for my card so they could call me to come back and take them home. Knowing that they would be kicked out in less than five minutes, I handed them my card, turned my phone off and headed to Lakeview.

Uncle Cotton’s Perdidium

They looked like two fish out of water standing in front of the big sliding doors of the Sheraton Hotel. One man probably in his 50’s and another about thirty something looked a little like members of the Darling family from the Andy Griffith show. “Get us outta here, this damn place wants nelly two hundurd dollars a night. Take us to the cheapest motel in town.” I ran the options through my mind and decided that Motel H in Woodlawn was probably the cheapest motel in town. There’s a big sign on the side of the building advertising $29.99 a night.

darlings

The younger man introduced himself as DeWayne and said “This is my uncle Cotton. We ain’t from around here, we from way up in North Carolina.” Uncle Cotton spoke up and said “we do hardwood floors, a church in Hoover hard us and paid for us to come down on the Greyhound but they didn’t give us but a hundurd dollar perdidium to stay in a motel on. That damn place is too damn high, we want to go to the cheapest place in town but we ain’t got but eight dollars to spend on a cab. Can you git us there for that?” I figured it would probably be about ten on the meter but I said yeah, I’ll do a flat rate of eight dollars for you.

Uncle Cotton had been hitting the sauce pretty hard on the Greyhound. He said “I’m drunk, I just wanna go somewhere and go to bed.” He decided to mess with me a little on the way to the motel. “I ain’t never seen this part of Burminham, where you takin’ us?” To the cheapest motel in town, I told him. “I thank you takin’ us somewhere funny, I don’t like it.” DeWayne spoke up and said ” it ain’t his fault, Uncle Cotton. He’s jest doin’ his job.” Uncle Cotton laughed a little and said “aw hell DeWayne, I’m jest fuckin’ with him.”

A rather downscale lady of the evening greeted the duo at the door of Motel H. She looked at Uncle Cotton and said “hey honey, what chu doin’ tonite?” I wonder if she got that perdidium?

copyright 2014, 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.