Category Archives: Alcohol

The Unwanted

“Call em’ a cab.” That’s a popular way to get rid of a person causing a problem. Whenever someone is being belligerent, drunk and disorderly, obnoxious or just in the way, a favorite solution to many is to call us and a car will appear and rid them of their problem. The person calling usually never thinks of the problems that person will cause the driver or anyone else after they leave. They just know that the problem will no longer be theirs. The following stories are about two very different people who were unwanted where they were and the cab solution was employed.

Edna Jean

It was early in the evening, just after dusk when I c-booked a trip in the 130 zone. It’s a pretty big zone that stretches from the Lakeview and Highland Park areas in Southside almost to Irondale in the eastern part of the metro. This trip was at the IHOP on Crestwood Blvd which is on the eastern end of the zone. I called the dispatch and asked that they call the customer to make sure they would stay there until I could get there, it sucks to drive a long way for nothing and many customers are very impatient. An employee of the restaurant answered and assured me that “she’ll be here”. I assumed that Edna Jean was an employee that I would be taking home.

She wasn’t an employee. I think I may have jumped a little in my skin when I saw her come out. A white woman in her fifties who looked totally bizarre. Her silver hair was standing out in every direction and looked like it hadn’t seen a comb in weeks. She was wearing a man’s jacket which was about four times too big. Under that I could only see her bare legs and a pair of ragged flip flops on her gnarly, dirty feet. I just assumed she was wearing pants under that jacket, I didn’t ask. Her piercing but almost frighteningly empty eyes looked straight in to mine and said “My name’s Edna Jean. What’s yours?” Rod is my name, where do you need to go? “I live in Walker County. Do you know where Sumiton is? How much will it cost? I got fifty dollars.” I said I’m afraid it may cost a little more than that. A trip to Sumiton would probably run about seventy or eighty dollars. “I ain’t got but fifty but I’ll give you that.” I said I’m afraid it’ll cost more than that to get to Sumiton. “Well can you take me to Leeds?” That I can do. It’ll be about twenty dollars from here.

As we pulled out into Crestwood Blvd headed to Leeds she said again “My name’s Edna Jean, what’s yours?” My name’s Rod. It’s nice to meet you Edna Jean. “I live in Walker County, in Sumiton. You know where that is?” Yes, I know where it is but I thought you wanted to go to Leeds. “I really caint go to Leeds. I been staying out there with my brother. He lives in the housing project. He ain’t sposed to have nobody but his wife and kids in there. They been tryin’ to get me locked up, that’s why I left.” How did you get to the IHOP, I asked. “I walked, I had to leave there cause theys tryin’ to get me locked up.” Do you mean you walked all the way here from Leeds? “Yeah I did. I’m tarred.” Well do you know anyone around here? Where were you going? “My name’s Edna Jean, I live in Walker County, Sumiton. Do you know where that is?” Yes I know where it is, are you telling me you were planning to walk to Sumiton? “Yeah, but that’s too far ain’t it?” Yes, it’s way too far to walk, probably fifty or sixty miles. “That’s what the girl in the restaurant said. She said I’ll call you a cab.”

“Please take me to Sumiton. It’s in Walker County. I got fifty dollars, please take me. I caint go back to my brothers place, they want to lock me up and I caint stand to be locked up. Please take me. I live in Walker County.” OK, I said. Give me the fifty dollars. She handed me four little balls of money. I straightened them out and could see it was two twenties and two fives. I stuffed them deep into my pocket and drove up the ramp to I-20, headed west. I decided to run the meter just to see how much it would actually cost to get her there. By now it was black dark and cloudy with just a few drops of rain on the windshield. Traffic was light in my mind but Edna Jean was freaking out. “All this traffic scares me to death, I couldn’t never drive on this road. Specially them eighteen wheelers. Them thangs scare me to death.” The sound of an ambulance siren was sounding pretty shrill coming up behind us. I barely pay them much attention because I hear and see them so much, I often joke that the sound of emergency vehicles is Birmingham’s theme song. Not so with Edna Jean. “What’s that?” she gasped. Just an ambulance I said, we see them all the time. “Them thangs scare me too, I’m glad I ain’t got to drive.”

As we exited on Arkadelphia and headed toward Sumiton she couldn’t hide her excitement. “Where we at?  We already in Sumiton?” No we’re still in Birmingham, we’ve got a long way to go. “My name’s Edna Jean. I live in Walker County.” I said yes, Edna Jean. We’ve already established that. “All my folks is dead except for my brother and he don’t want me, he wants to have me locked up.” I’m sorry to hear that I said. “My husband just died about five years ago. He’s buried upair in Taylor’s cemetery in Sumiton, you know where that is?” I can’t say that I do. I said I’ll bet you miss your husband, did y’all have a good life together? “Naw, not really. He was a alky-holic. He got mean when he was drunk. He died of cirrhosis of the liver. Naw, I don’t miss him much.” That’s too bad, I said. And all your other relatives are dead? “Mama and all her sisters and brothers died a long time ago. Daddy’s been dead since I was little. Oh, I forgot about my daughter, she ain’t dead. I don’t have nothing to do with her and she don’t like me. She’s a dope addict.”

After we passed through the last street lights of Forestdale, Adamsville and Graysville the road became significantly darker. “It ain’t far now is it?” We’re a lot closer than we were but we’ve still got a few miles, I told her. “I’m glad it was you that picked me up” Why is that? I asked. “I don’t trust colored men”. As much as I disagreed with this sentiment I decided that having a discussion about race with this woman wasn’t a good idea, so I just stayed silent and let it go. Soon we were passing Wesley’s Boobie Trap, an old strip club in the middle of nowhere near the Walker County line. “We close now,” she said. “Sumiton ain’t far from that old titty bar.” I said yeah, we’ll be there soon. As soon as we get into Sumiton you can show me where you live. “I don’t live nowhere, I ain’t got no home no more.” Alarms started going off in my mind. Ut oh, I thought. Where the hell am I gonna take her? So I asked, where am I gonna take you? “I’m gonna try to go up to my friend’s trailer. If she ain’t there or won’t let me in I’ll guess you can just take me to downtown Sumiton.” I was apprehensive. I’ve been in these situations before, where someone will hold you a long time going place to place for little to no money. In this case it would be no money.

Boobie Trap

In just a couple of miles after passing the Boobie Trap we started seeing the first few lights of Sumiton, mostly fast food. A McDonald’s and a couple of other chain burger joints. “We gonna go rat over this hill and turn by the Hardee’s.” This turn lead us down a winding country road that turned from pavement to gravel after about a half mile. “See that trailer up on the hill? I’m ona go upair and see if she’ll let me in.” I watched as she walked up the small hill in her ragged clothes to a ragged home. After some loud knocking the door cracked open and Edna walked in. I didn’t give her a chance to walk out again. I hit the road in a hurry. The meter was sitting at sixty eight dollars. Yes, I felt compassion for her but I’d already taken an eighteen dollar hit. That’s all I could afford for one night.

Jane

Picking up at upscale restaurants is usually easy. It’s almost always fairly affluent people who are visiting Birmingham and staying in the good hotels. Most of the time it’s a short trip to the Westin, The Sheraton, Embassy Suites or one of the other mainstream hotels near downtown. Once in a while it’s a twenty five to thirty dollar trip out to the hotel at Ross Bridge. The customers are almost always well behaved and never overly drunk.

This night was an exception. When I pulled up in front of the upscale seafood restaurant at five points south, a valet motioned for me to roll down my window. He ask, “are you here for Jane?” I said yes and he told me they were bringing her out. I thought it a little odd that she had to be brought out. Jane was an attractive young woman probably in her thirties. She had shoulder length blonde hair and was wearing a stylish looking blue dress. She was the kind of customer one would expect to see at this kind of restaurant. Jane was being escorted to the cab by the restaurant manager and another employee. She was holding on tight to both their arms. When they let her go to get in the cab she took a tumble when she stepped off the curb. They picked her up off the ground and physically put her in the back seat.

This was a strange situation. She seemed to be alone and was apparently well lubricated when she arrived. When I asked where she wanted to go she just gave me a blank stare, like “who are you and where am I?” The manager said “the best we can tell, she lives in Anniston and is in town for some kind of business meeting.” Can you tell me where you want to go? I ask her. “I don’t know, to my hotel I guess. My car’s here I can just drive.” “Ma’am we cannot allow you to drive” the manager said. “Why not?” she insisted. “Because you’re too intoxicated to drive, ma’am. If I let you drive our restaurant would be liable if you get into a wreck. You can leave in the cab or if you have a friend I can call them to pick you up. If you can’t do either of those things, I’m afraid I’ll have to call the police.”

I said ma’am I’ll be glad to take you to your hotel if you’ll just tell me where it is. “I don’t know. Fairfield Inn I think.” Which Fairfield Inn? I asked. “I don’t know I’m not from here.” I started googling Fairfield Inn near Birmingham on my phone. I found that the one I had remembered on highway 280 was closed. There were three others in the metro area. Bessemer, Fultondale and Pelham. I said we have three to chose from but they’re far apart. If we go to the wrong one we’re going to be a hell of a long way to the right one.

By this time she’s clutching my arm as she had the with the manager and the restaurant employee. “I don’t know just take me there.” she almost screamed. Ma’am I can’t take you anywhere until you can tell me where we’re going. She looked at the manager and yelled “I’M UNHAPPY WITH HIM.” as she pointed in my direction. I said I’m unhappy with you too. You’re taking up my time, and you can’t go anywhere with me if you can’t tell me where to go. You can’t ride around with me all night. The manager tried to convince her to let him see her phone. He thought maybe he could see where she had called a hotel and he could call to see which one. She flatly refused. “You’re not touching my phone” she told him.

It seemed abundantly clear that Jane wouldn’t be much help providing a destination. The manager and I started considering other options. He said “I really don’t want to call the police on her. Maybe you could take her to one the hotels in this area where she can get a room for the night. She can come back here and get her car tomorrow, when she’s sober. Good idea I said. I looked at her and said we have three hotels less than a mile from here. We have the Hotel Highland, the Doubletree and the Marriot Residence. Would you like to go to one of those? “Marriot Residence, take me there.” I did a u turn and headed down the hill. She was still clutching my arm and by this time laying her head on my shoulder in an almost flirty manner. After two red lights we were there.

“Where are we? Why did you bring me here? What is this place? This is the Marriot Residence Hotel. You told me to bring you here. “Why?” Don’t you remember? The restaurant manager said you had to go somewhere or he would have to call the police. Are you going to get out? I asked. “No, I don’t know why I’m here. What kind of car is this?” It’s a cab. About a 2007 Ford Crown Victoria. “This is my car,” she said. I said ma’am if you don’t get out here at this hotel I will have to call the police. “I’m not getting out of my own car! How did you get my car?” I put the keys in my pocket and got out of the car. “What are you doing?”she asked. I went to the desk and told the clerk what was going on. I was very happy this clerk was working because she was very helpful. When we both walked back out of the hotel Jane was in the drivers seat with her hands on the wheel. “Let us help you ma’am, just come into the hotel and we’ll get you a room for the night.” “Why are you trying to make me get out of my car?” Jane insisted. “Ma’am, you’re sitting in the driver’s seat of a cab. This is not your car.”

The clerk was very kind and gentle with Jane and apparently that worked. She took the clerk by the hand and stumbled into the hotel lobby. As with Edna Jean, I didn’t give her time to change her mind. I also didn’t ask her for any money as I knew that would be futile.

copyright R.W. Walker 2015

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

Red Heels On A Red Hill

My first trip in cab #1056 was a rocky one. As I punched the gas to take my customer over the mountain I could tell I was having transmission issues. It didn’t seem that the third gear was engaging. I was having serious doubts that I could make it to the top of the hill. Once I crossed the hill, after what seemed like considerable straining by the transmission, I was able to coast down the other side to my customer’s job in Soho Square. I immediately called dispatch and asked if they wanted me to call a wrecker of try driving it back to the shop. We decided that I would drive it back but I’d go out Montevallo Road so I wouldn’t have to cross the mountain again.

Have you ever taken a thing to be repaired but when you get it to the repairman it works just fine and makes you look like a fool? That’s what happened to me. The mechanic got in the driver’s seat and I in the back seat. He drove it around the eastern part of town on interstates and back streets, up hills and on level ground. The car seemed fine, it looked like I had brought it back for nothing. I had egg on my face. The car worked fine the rest of the day and through the night. It was the next night before the trouble reared it’s ugly head once again.

The call was to pick up Albert at an apartment complex up on the side of Red Mountain. These apartments are probably the steepest apartments in Birmingham. It puts a strain on the best of transmissions to make it to the top. Albert lived on a row of buildings just below the top. The car made it to his apartment just fine, no problems. I’ve picked up Albert before. He’s an openly gay African American man probably in his 40’s. He’s usually very quiet and polite, no problem at all. I was taking him to a fundraiser for an AIDS outreach program at a venue out between downtown and Avondale. About halfway there Albert asked “there ain’t nothing wrong with being gay, is it?” I said no, in my opinion everyone should have the right to be who they are, I have no problem with someone being gay. This seemed to ease his mind a bit and he began to open up about the party he was about to attend. He said ” I got my red dress in this bag. I got some heels too, bright red.” I asked, how about a wig? You got a wig? “Yes honey, I got a good wig. Some of these folks be walking around in dresses and heels but with bald heads. I think if you gonna do it, do it right. Yeah, I got me a wig.” When we arrived at the venue I could see others walking around in heels and dresses. Some were obviously male but others were ambiguous enough that it was hard to tell.  Some red and white, some red and black but a common color of all the outfits was red. Yes, I did see one fellow with male pattern baldness wearing a fancy red dress. Albert asked for my phone number. He said “I’ll be different when I come out. I want you to pick me up.”

red heels

It was a busy night. There was a big, free music festival at Railroad park that had drawn many thousands. There was also Secret Stages, another festival featuring indie rock acts at various venues in the downtown loft district. All this made for non-stop cab driving. That’s the way I like it, that’s the way it needs to be to make money in this business. You constantly either have a customer in your car or you’re going to pick up a customer. That’s cab driving at it’s best.

The call came at a lucky time. The voice on the other end said “I’m calling for a friend, his name is Albert. You dropped him off here a few hours ago. He’s had a few and he’s ready to go home.” I was just about to drop off some customers at the Furnace and Albert’s party wasn’t far away. I told him I’d be there in just a few minutes.

Albert had transformed since I dropped him off, he had become Alberta. She was wearing that tight red dress and a big Jeri curl wig as she walked out the door and down the steps. She was barefoot and holding the red heels in her hand. She was pretty toasty after having what she described as “about 6 of them pink gin drinks.” She was much more talkative and maybe just a bit flirtatious on the ride home. The first thing she told me was that she wanted me to watch her walk in her heels when we got back to the apartment. I said, OK. Put them on when you get out and I’ll watch you walk inside. “Ok, honey.”

About halfway home she started up a conversation about saggin’, the practice of young men wearing their pants hanging down so that their underwear is visible.  “You know how saggin’ got started?” she asked. I said I heard it started in prison. It was a way of letting the dominant inmates know who the submissive ones were and that they were available. “That’s right”, she said. “And that’s what all these young dudes that do it now be wantin’, they just want some dick, that’s all. I don’t care what they say, they just want some dick.” I just said maybe so and let it go at that. We arrived at the apartments a few minutes later.

As we started up the steep hill, the transmission problem I had experienced the day before was suddenly back, with a vengeance. Even when I put the pedal to the metal the car just refused to climb any higher. I looked back at Alberta and said we’ve got a problem. “Honey, they need to give you a better car than this. This must be a raggedy ass car.” I said yeah, that’s true but right now we have to solve the matter at hand. How are we gonna get you up that hill? “Let it roll back down and get you a runnin’ start.” I tried it, it didn’t work. She said “let it roll back down and let’s go around the Cullom Street side, it ain’t quite as steep.” The car groaned and strained it’s guts out and finally made it up the less steep hill on the Cullom Street side. We came to a relatively level street between two apartment buildings. Alberta’s apartment was on the same level but on the other side of the steep road we had originally tried to ascend. She would have to walk up a steep hill on the back side of her apartment to get inside. “Now, take you a good runnin’ start and go across that hill and I’ll go in the back way. This time it worked, I managed to get to the steep red dirt hill behind Alberta’s apartment.

“I still want you to watch me walk in these heels” she said. She stumbled and she staggered. At one point I was concerned that she might break her ankle. She eventually gained her balance and made it to the end of the parking lot facing the steep hill on the side of Red Mountain. She managed to take about three steps up the hill before falling. She tried to get back up with the shoes on but failed. I could see the frustration and finally the “oh fuck it” look on her face as she gave in and took them off and stood to her feet. I watched until she disappeared around the end of the building. I turned around, put it in drive and coasted down the hill.

Copyright R.W. Walker 2015

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

Choices And Complications

A few months ago I made two consecutive trips that made me ask mental questions about how life choices affect life situations. The first trip was obvious, this person was about to make some very intentional choices that were likely to affect him in a very negative way. The next trip was a woman who seemed to have made a choice not to give up no matter how much things beyond her control were beating her down.

The first call came from a mission which is a Christian oriented rehab center for men struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction. When I drove into the parking lot I saw three men, two looked very straight laced. They were wearing white shirts with conservative looking ties, both wore glasses. They were talking to a man between them who looked a little like a football linebacker or a professional wrestler. He was a short white man, very stocky and had no visible neck. His bald head looked like a small ball that had been placed on his short muscular body. The two professional looking men were looking down at him and seemingly giving him instructions or advice. He looked back up at them nodding his head in agreement.

As I popped the trunk the short man quickly loaded his bags and hopped in the backseat. I’ll have to admit that I was a bit shocked by what he said. “I’m not gonna beat around the bush, I want drugs.” I turned around quickly and said I’m sorry but I can’t help you, I don’t do drugs! “Come on man! You’re a taxi driver for Christ’s sakes! Even if you don’t do them you’ve got to know where they are.” I said man, I’m not your father or your social worker or your rehab counselor. I don’t care what you do with your life but I’m telling you I don’t personally know any drug dealers and if I did I wouldn’t take the chance of taking them someone who I’ve never met.

“Surely you must know a part of town where it would be easy for me to find something, don’t you?” As I said, it’s not my job to keep you clean, my job is simply to take you where you want to go. I do know of several fleabag motels where; although I’ve never seen it with my own eyes, I’ve heard rumors of a lot of drug activity and prostitution. “Take me to the worst one” he demanded. OK, I said, we’re on our way. It wasn’t very far from the rehab center to the sleezy motels. He had time to tell me that he wasn’t from here, which I could easily tell from his accent. “I’m from upstate New York” he said proudly as most folks from New York do. “I’ve been stuck in this little hellhole down in the country. I’ve been in Faunsdale, Alabama. Do you know where that is?” I assured him that I did know where the little black belt farming town was located. He never explained how he ended up in Faunsdale, instead he went on to tell me how he had intentionally agreed to come to the mission where I picked him up. “I went ahead and agreed to come talk to these counselors, I just wanted to get to Birmingham to get some drugs. It was the only way I could get out of that hellhole. Now it’s over and I’m ready to have some fun.”

As we approached the motels I showed him the options. I said I was thinking of this one on the right as the most likely one to get what you’re looking for. It was the one with the sign advertising that it’s American owned. I said I’ve actually seen prostitutes here and have heard of constant drug activity. “What about the others?” he asked. Well, across the street is the Milky Way. His eyes lit up as I said it’s name. Apparently he had done some research. “Yeah, I’ve read about that one, it’s one of the one’s I was gonna look for.” Next, I showed him the Recline Inn. It’s the largest of the three but all three are in walking distance of the other. He said “take me to the nearest liquor store and let me stock up before I decide”. I continued on up 1st avenue to the little burglar bar adorned convenience store with the liquor store attached. “Is this a bad part of town?” he asked. It’s not a good one, I told him. There are worse parts. “Is it all black?” Mostly, there are some whites and some Hispanics. “How will the hookers treat me since I’m white?” I’ve never used a hooker but some of the hookers are white themselves and I can’t imagine that the others  would discriminate, as long as you have money. “How bad are the cops?” Well, sometimes they do stings and round up all the hookers and johns, I told him. That seemed to be a risk he was willing to take. He emerged from the ghetto store with a twelve pack of Bud Light and a bottle of vodka. His decision was to  go to the first motel I had shown him. He reasoned that if he didn’t like it, he could walk to one of the others. He had a few more questions before booking the room. “What’s the drug lingo like here?” I said I don’t really know since I don’t do drugs. “Well, how will I ask them?” That’s totally up to you I told him, but it probably won’t be long before you get solicited by a hooker and I can imagine that it’ll just go from there.

He emerged from the grimey no tell, mo-tel office almost giddy. He pointed to the room they rented him and I drove on over so he could get his bags out. He was smiling gleefully now that he was here at this lower than a snake’s belly place where he could indulge his vices. He handed me a huge wad of cash, way more than his fare and said “thank you so much! I really appreciate it!” I simply said good luck buddy.

The second I left this crappy motel my dispatch computer was offering me another call. This one was also in the 110 zone so I knew it wasn’t very far away. It was a house in a run down neighborhood that I wasn’t sure was a house at all at first. It was brick but the windows didn’t look standard, this place looked more like a small warehouse or some other type of structure not for human habitation. I almost called dispatch to make sure they hadn’t given me the wrong address. Then I noticed the faint numbers above the door, this was the correct address. I pressed the callout button and in a minute or so got a message from the dispatchers that the customer was coming out. I still wasn’t completely convinced that anyone would actually come out of this place. About three minutes later I noticed the door gradually crack open. I could see the figure of a very frail African American woman who I would judge to be in her 50’s standing in the doorway supporting herself with an old fashioned walker, the kind without wheels that has to be folded to put in the trunk.

She was wearing a skirt which exposed her legs and feet clad with white sports socks and black leather flats which looked very worn. Her feet seemed to be almost useless except to stand up straight. She moved forward by gaining a firm stand and then lunging the walker out in front of her body, She would then pull her body toward the walker with her feet dangling like a ragdoll’s feet. I turned the car around in the appropriate direction and opened the back door for her. It was excruciating to see this woman drag herself to the car. She had apparently done this many times before. She turned around backwards to sit in the backseat and then pull her legs in. Pulling her legs in was no easy task. She basically had to lie down and force her body to the other side of the car in order to get her feet all the way in. I helped her by putting one of her flats back on that had fallen off in the process.

pig wig

She said “I just need to go to the Piggly Wiggly to get a few things, it’s not very far.” As we traveled the short distance to the pig I thought about the choices she was making to just survive in a cruel world. Was she totally alone? Could she have gotten the supplies any other way? I didn’t know but I did admire her determination to not allow her disability to completely control her life. At the door of the pig the process of getting her out of the car was a little easier than getting her in. She asked the fare and I said don’t worry about it, the guy before you was very generous. He paid for both yours and his fare. Her eyes lit up in disbelief and said “God bless him.” I noticed a scooter with a basket on the front in the store, and asked her if she’d like me to get it for her. “No, honey. It just makes things more complicated.” All I could think was My God, how could it possibly be any more complicated than it is already?

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.

Dinner On The Grounds

One of the most popular bars in the Lakeview district is a relatively new one known as the Top Cat. It’s most popular with the young, preppie, over-the -mountain crowd. It was just after 2 am on a Sunday morning, the time when all the bars that aren’t private clubs have to close. I saw him stumbling around the Top Cat, then he threw up his hand to flag me down. I almost didn’t stop because of his ridiculously drunken condition. I have plenty of experience dealing with super drunk people and I know what a pain they can be. I thought, what the hell? Maybe it’ll go quick, I’ll let this trip be my last one tonight.

I asked where he wanted to go as he fell into the backseat. “I’m starving” he slurred and he was very specific about what he wanted. “I want a gyro combo, take me to that place in Southside that sells gyros”. Luckily, this place was one of the few in the area that stays open this late at night. It and the two others that stay open are always packed with people seeking to feed the drunk munchies. When we drove up at the place I could see that there was a line and I knew that he would never be able to wait in line, order and pay for his food, he was just too messed up. I said, I’ll tell you what. Give me the money and I’ll go in and get your food, you stay here in the car. He agreed and pulled a crumpled up ten out of his pocket.

gyro combo

It took about twenty minutes to get through the line, order and get the food. When I got back to the cab my customer was out cold. I tried shaking him, yelling at him, turning on the bright overhead light and shining my flashlight in his face. I turned the radio up to full blast and shook him some more. He was alive, he would grunt every now and then but he was not gaining consciousness no matter what I tried. I didn’t know where to take him, he hadn’t given me a final destination. There was only one thing left to do, call the cops.

This place was surrounded by the UAB campus, the cops were there in less than five minutes. They tried all the usual methods, the same things I had tried, shaking him, yelling at him and shining a light in his eyes. They weren’t having any better luck than I had had. One of the cops said ” I guess I could use a little mace but you probably wouldn’t be able to drive the cab the rest of the night if I spray it in there”. The other cop, a big burley guy, said “that’s not necessary, I know what will work”. He then made a fist with his massive hand and started rubbing his knuckles over my customer’s sternum. He rubbed vigorously over and over and said “this is supposed to work. He’s the first one I’ve ever seen that this didn’t work on.” The guy again made a few grunts, but no consciousness, even after the sternal rub. The other cop asked “if we look in his wallet can you take him to the address on his license?” I said sure but I don’t know how I’ll get him out of the car or how I’ll get paid. He said “this is how you’ll get paid” as he handed me the guy’s debit card. “If you can’t get him out of the car, you may have to call Mountain Brook, that’s where he lives.” When he handed me the license I could see that my passenger was twenty four years old, did indeed live in Mountain Brook and had a very aristocratic sounding triple name with the suffix III at the end.

The food was smelling delicious on the way to the Tiny Kingdom. I thought to myself, he’ll never know the difference if I have a few of his fries, will he? My GPS guided me to a grand Mountain Brook estate. The kind that I would imagine would be common in Beverly Hills. Apparently this guy’s family was movers and shakers.

mansion

I pulled into the long driveway and prepared for the daunting task of getting him out of the car. I turned on the overhead light and got out and opened the back door. I was saying, you’re home, time to get out. Of course this didn’t work so I started trying to drag him out, feet first. To my amazement, he woke up enough to crawl out on his own power and ask “am I home?” I said yes you are. He managed to stand up and take a few staggering steps into the highly manicured front lawn of this gigantic mansion. He seemed to make a circle, kind of like a dog looking for a good place to lie down. He did lie down and he was out cold again, but at least he was home and no longer my responsibility. I ran his debit card and added a generous tip. I placed his card, his license and his receipt on his chest. I placed what was left of his gyro combo by his side. I’m sure his prestigious neighbors got an eye full if they were out and about around sunrise.

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.

images courtesy of www.yelp.com,  commons.wikimedia.org

Let’s Make A Dill

It was about ten o’clock  on a Thursday morning. I was beginning to wish that I hadn’t leased the cab this day. I had started out at eight and I hadn’t gotten even one call in two hours, I felt almost certain that this day would be a lost cause. It looked like the company had just hired a bunch of new drivers. There were more cabs out than usual and so many were stacked up in the good zones that it would be impossible to get a trip in one of the usual spots. I studied the T-screen on the computer. This is the screen that shows how many cabs there are in each zone. There were cabs in all the zones except for one. I headed for zone 200, west of downtown where I would be first in line.

Much of zone 200 is what many people would consider ghetto. There are a couple of projects, as well as some pretty run down rental housing. This zone is the home of Legion Field, the stadium that used to be the pride of the state, where the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers played some of their biggest, most important home games. For years this stadium was known as “The Football Capital of the South”. It no longer carries that title. It’s still used as the home field of the UAB Blazers. It’s also the home of the “Magic City Classic” a big rivalry game between the state’s largest two historically black universities, Alabama State and Alabama A&M. The stadium also hosts the BBVA Compass Bowl every January. The stadium is still active but her glory days are long behind her, she looks a little sad in comparison to the now larger and more modern stadiums on the campuses of Alabama and Auburn.

A large part of the zone is somewhat of a industrial wasteland with many empty warehouses along with several scrap yards, junk yards and metal related businesses still operating. Needless to say, it isn’t one of the most beautiful areas of the city. I found a place to park and wait for a call across the street from a long closed business that used to be a car dealership, body shop and mechanical shop. I was amazed but not terribly surprised when I noticed some obvious misspellings on the sign painted on the wall of the building. I laughed out loud when I saw that they had spelled Used Car Dealer “Used Car Diller” and Mechanical Shop “Mecanical Shop”.

Make a dill

I wondered how long the place had been closed. I wondered who had painted the lettering and who had approved it. I wondered if anyone had ever pointed it out to them. How could they have stayed in business any length of time without bothering to correct it? It was one of those things that was so ridiculous that it was funny.

I took my eyes off the scene for a few minutes while fiddling with my phone camera and trying to post this thing to facebook. When I looked up, she had appeared out of nowhere. Out in the middle of the street in front of this God forsaken place was a young woman wearing what could best be described as upscale evening attire. It was a pretty dress, multi-colored and obviously not cheap. The quality of the garment was apparent. The person wearing the dress wasn’t quite as upscale. She was young, thin and very dark skinned. Not a beauty queen but not ugly either. She didn’t have the shoes to match the dress, she was wearing flip flops.

The thing that was most noticeable about her was that she was smashed, shit-faced, totally messed up on either drugs, alcohol or both. I have no idea where she came from, but she sure seemed out of place out here at 10 am.  She was waving a dollar in the air trying to get my attention. She slurred, “I need a ride, I got money”, I said, hop in. She told me she wanted to go to the Smithfield library, which was just a few bocks away. She immediately confessed to me “I ain’t gonna tell you no lie, I ain’t got but a dollar”. I told her not to worry about it, there was nothing else going on, I’d finish the ride. A few seconds later I noticed that she had slid forward in the seat, then her hand reached for my crotch. I gently removed her hand and told her that I wasn’t interested, I was just doing her a favor.

She didn’t quite know how to react to that, she started slurring some jibberish about God and Jesus and how “we all the same, black and white”. I nodded in agreement as we passed the library, she wanted to go to a house just a little further up the street.  As I pulled up at the house she was making a drunken speech that made absolutely no sense. It ended with “you and me, baby, black and white, we da peoples of tha Earf!” I said have a nice day, I didn’t even ask for her dollar.

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.

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.

benjamin

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.

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.

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.

Rick James

It was early in the evening, but it was winter and very dark. I had picked up a woman from her job at one of the hospitals and taken her to her home in North Birmingham, the 500 zone. As soon as I dropped her off, my computer booked me into that zone. I immediately heard the long beep, a trip was being offered. This is one of the zones where I don’t usually pick up customers after dark because of the high crime rate. I thought to myself well, it’s dark but it’s still really early, I decided to break my self imposed prohibition. I accepted the call.

I recognized the address as being in the Collegeville neighborhood. Collegeville is an industrial wasteland surrounded on all sides by railroad tracks. There was a big news story a couple of years ago when some people died in a house fire because the fire engines and ambulances were stopped by the train and there was no alternative route. There have also been recent issues with contaminated soil. When the new elementary school was completed, all kinds of cancer causing chemicals were found in the soil on which it was built. Even though the area had been home to many iron and steel related industries spewing all kinds of crap for a century, no one thought to do a soil test before building the school.

There’s a big public housing project in Collegeville but this address was a few blocks outside of it. A few of the old smokestack industries are still in operation. The largest is a plant that turns raw coal CIMG6788into coke, a product used in steel making. Patti LaBelle was crooning “If only you knew” on the radio when I saw the big orange flare from the plant dancing in the black sky. It was an old house fairly high off the ground, the kind of house that dogs often sleep underneath. There were several people on the front porch. The person who lived there was a small dark skinned African American man I would judge to be about 70. He wasn’t the customer. He had called for one of his relatives who had been visiting and apparently, drinking all day. 

The man of the house told me that he had been a cab driver back in the day. He talked, as I have heard many talk, about Mr. Strickland who had owned the company before the current owner bought it. My customer came out of the house with the glow of drunkenness on his face. He said he needed to go to Hueytown and wanted to know how much it would cost. I did the math and told him probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $30-35. He said ” I ain’t got nothing but twenty.” I said that’s not enough. The older man chimed in on his behalf. “He’s a good man. Let him ride up front with you and he’ll give you $25.” I agreed and he paid me up front.

“They call me Rick James“, he said as he stuck out his hand. I shook it and told him my name. Of course I recognized Rick James as the name of the late R&B/Funk icon from the 70’s and 80’s. He was thin, fairly dark skinned and probably in his 40’s or early 50’s. He was stinking of booze. We got along fine but he became really annoying really fast. He seemed to be obsessed with race and went into this routine about black folks do this and white folks do that. “Y’all white folk be eatin’ pussy don’t chall?” I’ve learned over the years to never argue with drunks. My responses consisted of head nods, um hmms and yeah, you right. “Black folk don’t eat no pussy” he said. “And y’all be kissin’ y’all dawgs.” Yeah, you right, I said. 

After a few minutes of his diatribe he wanted to use my phone. He needed to call his sister whose house I was taking him to. I knew it wasn’t a good sign when I heard loud, angry sounding talking coming through the phone from the passenger side. There was no doubt of trouble when I heard the words “hell naw” come from the phone. Plan B, he calls his other sister. There’s no answer here so he decides that’s where he’s going. First he has to stop at a gas station to pee. It was one of those old fashioned stations with the bathrooms on the outside around back. The door was locked and Rick didn’t bother to go ask the attendant for the key. He just whips it out right there and pees on the ground. I see him staggering all around peeing on the walls of the station, on a dumpster and everywhere else.

We’re not far from Hueytown at this point. We found his sister’s house, the one that didn’t answer the phone, pretty easily. The meter is sitting at $32. I’ve screwed myself out of $7 by making this deal with him. When he gets out and stands up, I can see that the entire front of his pants is wet from the crazy peeing that he did back at the station. I looked over at the seat, of course, it’s wet too. Unlike the similar situation that happend in “Pissy Drunk”, Rick was sitting on the front seat which was covered with cloth. This would make cleaning much more difficult. He wanted my card in case his sister wouldn’t let him in. There was a car in the driveway and a light on in the house. As much as I didn’t want him calling me, I wanted to get the hell out of there before his sister even realized he was there. I gave him my card and simply turned my phone off. I was out of there in a heartbeat.

I stopped at the first gas station I came to and bought a roll of paper towels, a can of Lysol and one of those huge 4X long T-shirts favored by the heavyweight dudes in the hood. I soaked the pee up as much as possible with the paper towels, sprayed it down good with Lysol and folded the big shirt and placed it over the wet spot. I was praying that I wouldn’t get a full car load and no one else would ride in the front seat that night. It did happen eventually. “Why is this shirt covering the seat?” the young, bar bound college boy asked. Oh, someone spilled their drink.

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.