Category Archives: Bars

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.

Two Birds With One Stone

The volume of business in the cab business varies greatly. There are times during the day or even at night during the middle of the week when business is so slow that we are glad to get any trip. There have been times when a five dollar grocery store trip looked pretty good. Most times, especially on nights and weekends, the business is much steadier and busier than it is during the middle of the week. Most of the full time drivers have regular customers on a regular schedule for trips to work, to doctor’s visits, shopping and other places. These regulars are a godsend when business is slow and money is tight, they can make the difference between making money for the day or ending up in the hole. I don’t have many regulars; it’s because I don’t drive everyday and most regulars need someone more dependable than I to get them where they need to go. I do develop some short term regulars from time to time. Michael was an ambiguosly gay man who was a stage actor and singer. He was in town because of a musical that was running at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center in downtown Birmingham. He was bjccstaying at an extended stay inn on highway 280. He would call me fairly early in the evening and have me shuttle him between the three gay bars located within just a few blocks from each other in the Southside/ Lakeview area. He would usually call me to take him back to the inn by midnight.

There are a few times a year when the demand exceeds the supply. It usually happens on drinking holidays like New Years Eve or St. Patricks Day, but it can also happen when certain musicians are performing at concerts in town. When it happens, it gets to the point when you can’t afford to answer the dispatch. The dispatchers will give us the oldest trips first and since many of them can be near an hour old when we get them, the customer will almost certainly be already gone when we get there. Three or four of these “noshows” can ruin your night. You’ll be running all over town, burning gas and not making any money. When the business gets like this, the best thing to do is cruise around hotels, concert venues and bars looking for flaggers. There will also be many people asking for your card and calling you back because they know cabs are in short supply. One of the busiest and rowdiest concert nights that I can remember was a night when Kid Rock came to town.

I had picked up Michael early in the evening and dropped him off at Randy’s on Sixth, the gay bar in the Lakeview area. The early part of the evening started like most concert nights, picking up visitors at suburban hotels and bringing them downtown to the civic center. It makes sense to work the zones in the outer suburbs instead of the downtown and southside zones. Trips from these zones are much longer and much more lucrative. Most of the customers that we pick up on nights like this are very different from our usual over the mountain 20 somethings that are bound for the Lakeview bars. Most of them are from small rural towns around Alabama or the surrounding states and are generally older, less affluent, more family oriented and more socially conservative than our usual customers from the suburbs south of the city. Their southern accents are usually much stronger and their clothing and hairstyles are different.  After a couple of hours had passed and I had picked up several of these out of town concert goers, Michael called me and I shuttled him from Randy’s to the The Search, the oldest and most well known gay club in town.

I was vaguely familiar with Kid Rock, I knew that he was one who sort of bridged the gap between Country, Rock and Hip Hop but I didn’t know much about him beyond that.

I certainly didn’t know that he had such a huge following.  As the night progressed, it became busier and busier. Once the concert hall was full and the concert had begun there was a bit of a lull, but it didn’t take long for the business to pick up again. Apparently a lot of people had come to town and hadn’t even gone to the concert, plus we had our regular weekend customers. When the concert was over the business reached a fever pitch. It had gotten to the point of turning off the dispatch. There was no need for dispatch, customers were literally fighting over cabs. I had one group already in the car when another group approached and offered to pay them to get out so that they could get in. There were many bird fingers being flipped along with shouts of “fuck you, assholes” when they refused. I was running back and forth from the civic center to hotels all over town and in the burbs as fast as I could. It was non-stop, money was flowing, I was loving it!

At some point in the middle of all this craziness, Michael had called for his trip back to the inn. I had other customers in the car at the time who were yelling and slurring drunk lyrics to Kid Rock songs when I talked to him and promised I would be there. When I dropped this load off, the concert had been over for a while and the crowd around the BJCC had thinned considerably. I thought i would make just one more pass by to see if there were any stragglers. As I rounded the curve between the Sheraton Hotel and the BJCC there was a large girl with long curly red hair standing on the curb with her hand up. I could tell immediately that this trip wasn’t going to be like the others. She wasn’t happy or drunk or in a jovial mood, she was crying her eyes out. I didn’t take me long to find out why. “He left me” she sobbed. It turns out that not only had the guy who she thought was her boyfriend, dumped her for another girl at the concert, he had also left her there high and dry without a ride home. She was sobbing almost uncontrollabaly as she finally was able to tell me her destination which was an apartment complex down highway 280. I quickly drove up the ramp to the Red Mountain expressway and put the pedal to the metal headed toward 280. As I was approaching the University Boulevard exit it dawned on me. OH SHIT! I had forgotten Michael!

I didn’t think about it twice, I took the exit and headed toward The Search. Michael had been a good dependable customer for several weeks and I wasn’t about to leave him stranded. Besides, she was going down 280 and he was going down 280, what the hell could it hurt to take them both? I told the girl what I was doing but she didn’t seem to care. She was boo hooing at the top of her lungs now, how was Michael going to react to that? When I pulled up at the club Michael was standing in the parking lot waiting on me. I didn’t like the look on his face when he saw the girl. I told him how busy the night had been and that she was going down his way and I thought I would take them both. He reluctantly got in the back seat with her but I could tell he didn’t like it. He introduced himself to her but all she could do was cry. It was awkward, they sat far apart, Michael didn’t say a word for most of the trip and the girl just continued to wail and moan and sob. At one point I almost became concerned about her health. She was crying so hard that she was hyperventilating. For a few minutes it seemed that she was having a difficult time just catching her breath. We arrived at Michael’s destination first. I had run the meter but hadn’t really thought about how to divide the fare. He threw a twenty in the front seat and said ” thanks for ruining my night. I was feeling good until I got in this cab. This ride has been like going to a goddamn funeral!” He was pissed, to say the least.

I dropped the girl off at her apartment about a mile down 280 from Michael’s hotel. She was still heaving and bawling when she made it through the front door. I felt bad because I had “ruined” Michael’s night. I called him the next day and apologized profusely. He said it was “weird” but he would forgive me. I told him that the next ride was on the house and I delivered on that promise the very next night. I drove him to the airport for his departure from Birmingham a few days later. We parted on good terms.

copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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