Category Archives: Car Trouble

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.

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The Flip Side Of The Coin

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

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

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

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.

Mazel Tov

It hadn’t been a good day cabbing. I was having trouble with my car. A mechanic at the shop; who was fired a few days later, had refused to even look at the transmission problems that I described to him on this Saturday. It was UAB’s graduation day and I had seen many scolars walking around campus in their UAB green robes and mortar boards.

I had picked up a few customers but the bulk of the students had already skipped town for the beach. My best customer had been a guy who lived in Chattanooga that had graduated from UAB by taking online courses.I had taken him and his girlfriend to a graduation party on a side street off Overton Road in Mountain Brook. My transmission problem continued to get worse. Every time I started off after stopping for a traffic light the car would feel like it was falling apart the first time the automatic transmission shifted gears. With some difficulty I was able to drive it back to the shop. Everyone was gone home by now. There’s a lock box with a key to a spare cab to use in times such as this.

The spare cab wasn’t a great one but it wasn’t the worst one I had ever driven either. Business was still very slow after I switched cars. After sitting and waiting for probably over an hour without a dispatch, I got a call from the folks I had dropped off at the party for a ride back to their hotel. Thank goodness! I was glad to get anything at this point and this would be about a $20 trip, nothing to sneeze at when business is this slow.

It had been raining off and on all day, it was now long after sundown and the rain was pouring. It was raining harder than it had rained all day. Overton Road must be the curviest road in the entire metro area. Some curves seem like you’re about to drive in a circle, then it will turn the other way and curve around severly. There are few if any street lights along this stretch of the road, on this night it was black dark. While driving around one of the sharp curves, I heard a sound that no one ever wants to hear, especially on a night like this. The sound of a flat tire is unmistakable. At first I was trying to run other possibilities through my mind, but I soon had to accept the reality that I would soon be out on the side of the road on this God-awful night changing a tire.

It took a while to reach a stopping point. There were no side streets for what seemed like a mile. I was creeping at about 5 miles per hour while feeling the pressure of a line of cars bearing down behind me. Finally I came to a side street. The stress I was feeling eased considerably when the cars behind me were able to get around. I sat there for a few minutes relieved that I had stopped but dreading the soaking I was about to recieve. I finally got out, took the minimalist jack out of the trunk and began to get it secured behind the front passenger tire. I wasn’t wrong about getting soaked, after about two minutes I was soaked to the bone in the pouring rain. Just then a pair of headlights pulled up and stopped behind me.

The two men that jumped out of the car were dressed a little like Mormons. They were wearing clean, neatly pressed white shirts, black dress pants and black leather shoes. I didn’t think for one second that they were Mormons. They were both sporting ZZ Top like beards down to their chests, one black, one red. The first one asked “do you need help?” He didn’t wait for me to answer, he squat down and took over the job. The other one joined in and they were both fully involved with the job of changing my tire within a minute. When I looked down, I could see that the crowns of both their heads were covered with blue yarmulkes. The Birmingham metro area has a fairly large Jewish templepopulation for a city in the deep south. There are two large synagogues in Southside on Highland Avenue, a large Jewish Community Center on Montclair Road and two synagogues right here on Overton Road.

It was still raining hard and the job they were doing was filthy. They didn’t seem to mind at all. In the meantime a Mountain Brook policeman had stopped to see what was going on. He stood in his raincoat and held the flashlight as these two bearded young men continued to do the job. I took this opportunity to call my customer to tell them what had happened and to make sure that they hadn’t caught another ride. They were still at the party and still needing a ride. Great! I thought. ‘I’ll be able to finish what I came here to do”.

When the job was over the two young men introduced themselves. One was the son of the rabbi at a nearby Chabad Temple. The other was a rabbi himself, visiting from another city. I later learned that Chabad is a branch of Hasidic Judaism and they are usually considered orthodox Jews. I shook their grimy hands with my grimy hand and offered them a contribution to their temple. They refused and said “this is just what we do”. I drove my customers back to their hotel and then decided to call it a day. It had been rough and rocky but ended with a good feeling about humanity.

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.