Category Archives: Fun Trips

Down At Beach Breeze

Probably the most prized possession belonging to my wife and myself is our house that we call Beach Breeze in the Fort Morgan community on the Alabama Gulf Coast. We rent the house to vacationers during the peak season of May through August and occasionally during the other months as well. We try to get there as often as we can but we often go for several months without visiting our home away from home. Two weeks of the year that we always try to make it down are the weeks of my wife Kathy’s birthday in April and my birthday in late August. We’ve just arrived back in Birmingham from spending Kathy’s birthday week at Beach Breeze.

The weather was a roller coaster. We had rainy days and sunny days, strong thunderstorms, cold north winds, cloudy days and finally a couple of warm beautiful days. But as we always say, any day at the beach is a good day. All in all it was a great week. Our Scooby Doo looking dog Rosie made the trip with us and it was a joy to see her enjoying herself running and playing on the beach. One of the highlights of the week was meeting a friend in person who we had previously only known on facebook and in the blogosphere.  We met fellow blogger, writer, photographer, environmentalist, diver and underwater cave explorer Simone Lipscomb for a delicious dinner at Jesse’s Restaurant in her hometown of Magnolia Springs, Alabama. Simone is a very kind and interesting person and we hope to visit with her again in the future.

KC DI 305 Sandy nose 024

 

KC BB April 2014 443  KC BB April 2014 271 KC BB April 2014 165 KC BB April 2014 450 Beach Breeze April 2014 117 KC BB April 2014 516

To cross the mouth of Mobile Bay to the Mobile County side of the Alabama coast requires a ride on the Mobile Bay ferry, unless of course you prefer to drive the 150 miles around the bay. The western side of the bay features Dauphin Island, a fragile barrier island with a rich history of it’s own. The eastern end of the island is about a mile wide and wooded with pine forests. The town of Dauphin Island is concentrated on the east end. The west end is a fragile strip of land with water visible on both sides. The road is lined with beach houses, some with the pylons actually in the Gulf of Mexico with waves breaking under the houses. The uninhabited far western end was cut off from the rest of the island by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. There has since been a rock jetty constructed across the “Katrina cut.”

Ocean Springs 030 Ocean Springs 031 boats 004 CIMG6043

Across the big bridge over to the mainland we soon find ourselves headed toward the fishing, shrimping, and ship building villages of Coden and Bayou la Batre . The latter being made famous in the movie Forrest Gump. These towns are not big tourist destinations. There are no white sand beaches and no towering hotels or condos. They are however, very quaint and picturesque.

KC DI 386 CIMG6029 KC DI 354 KC DI 349 APR DI 009 CIMG6019 CIMG5999

We always love to take that day trip no matter how many times we’ve taken it already. After a great day of touring the coast we were happy to join friends for happy hour and karaoke (Kathy sings, I don’t) at Tacky Jacks , our neighborhood seafood restaurant/bar which is almost within sight of Beach Breeze. We met some new friends on this occasion who invited us to a Gulf Coast style crawfish boil on Easter. It was a fine time with fantastic food and good friends old and new. Now it’s back to the office for Kathy and back to the streets for me with a dream of our next trip to Beach Breeze.

Ocean Springs 021

All text and photographs copyright 2014 R.W. Walker

 

 

 

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.

Birming-Images

For those of you who aren’t very familiar with our city, I thought that you may enjoy a bit of a photographic tour. These images are the landmarks that make us who we are; they’re the things that make us unique.

The Vulcan Statue is generally considered to be the symbol of Birmingham. It was sculpted, begining in 1903 by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti. He was Birmingham’s entry for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Vulcan was the god of the fire and the forge in Roman mythology. Since 1936 Vulcan has stood watch over the city from his perch atop Red Mountain. Symbolizing the city’s founding on the iron and steel industry, he is made from iron ore mined from the very mountain on which he stands. At 56 feet, he is the tallest cast iron statue on Earth and is the 7th tallest free standing statue in the United States.

poodleleg 044

But Vulcan isn’t the only cool statue in Birmingham. “Miss Electra” has adorned the top of the Birming-images 005Alabama Power building since 1926. Unlike Vulcan who is partially clothed, Miss Electra is totally nude and has lighting bolts for hair and bolts in her hands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man greets visitors to the Medical Forum in downtown Birmingham.

Birming-images 015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once known as the “Football Capital of the South” Birmingham’s Legion Field has been home to some legendary games involving the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers. For many years it was the largest stadium in the state and the Tide and the Tigers usually chose to play their biggest, most important home games here. Up until the last few years of the 20th century, the Tide and Tigers always played each other here. That’s why the label “Iron Bowl” became associated with the huge rivalry. When the two teams began updating the stadiums on their own campuses, Legion Field became less important. Now those two stadiums, especially Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, dwarf the “Gray Lady” , a name often used to refer to Legion Field. The stadium is still in use but not for the big glory games of the state’s largest two universities. It’s now the home field of the UAB Blazers and is the home of the “Magic City Classic” another big rivalry game between Alabama’s two largest historically black universities, Alabama State and Alabama A&M. The BBVA Compass Bowl is also played here every January.          Birming-images 023                                                                                 Birming-images 019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year, 2013 is the fiftieth anniversary of a dark chapter in the history of Birmingham. A dark chapter in terms of the shameful way that city officials and many white citizens reacted to the struggles for civil rights by African Americans. On the other hand it could be viewed as a bright chapter in the city’s history because it was the catalyst of change. It was the begining of the dismantling of the segregation and discrimination that unfortunately; this city and state had become infamous for in the eyes of the world. The area along 16th street north between 4th and 6th avenue north is sacred ground. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute now stands across 16th street from Kelly Ingram Park, an area where Bull Connor once used water cannons and vicious police dogs to subdue civil rights demonstrators. It stands across 6th avenue north from 16th Street Baptist Church, the scene of a Ku Klux Klan bombing that took the lives of 4 little girls in 1963. Birming-images 048

Birming-images 052

Birming-images 041

Birming-images 031

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I’ve mentioned before, healthcare is the economic crown jewel of modern Birmingham. Banking is a close second. Regions Bank and BBVA Compass Bank are both headquarted here. Wells Fargo has a large presence. Birming-images 008

Birming-images 072

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most interesting buildings in Birmingham IMO is Southside’s Quinlan Castle. Built in 1927 to resemble a medieval English castle, the building has served mainly as residential apartments throughout it’s history. It’s now owned by the Southern Research Institute and is not being used for apartments. According to the Bhamwiki article on the castle, in 1940 Quinlan Castle was rumored to have been the Birmingham headquarters of the Communist Party. It was in fact the home of party secretary Robert Hall. Hall’s apartment was raided by the Birmingham police but they didn’t find much of interest. Just a letter from someone at the Tennessee Valley Authority suggesting communist activities in that agency. Birming-images 043

 

 

 

 

 

 

Familiar to many visitors to the city is sculptor Frank Flemming’s “Storyteller” fountain at 5 points south. It sits in front of Highlands United Methodist Church and is at the center of the 5 points entertainment district. Birming-images 032

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy Lovoy, a 5 Points South icon gladly poses in front of the fountain.

Birming-images 038

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The newest building on Birmingham’s skyline is the gleaming new Benjamin Russell wing of Children’s Hospital. marcsteel 008

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Steel’s Fairfield Works is still operating just west of downtown. uss 007

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ensley Works of USS ceased operations in the early 1970’s CIMG6868

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the location of the famous Tuxedo Junction “The place where the people go to dance the night away”. The song was co-written by Birmingham composer Erskine Hawkins. It was originally written as an instrumental. The nightclub that was the subject of the song was located in this building on 20th street Ensley. The building briefly served as a punk rock venue in the 1980’s. 3312010 002

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sloss Furnaces operated from the late 19th century until 1971 near downtown Birmingham.  The old mill has been preserved and is now a National Historic Landmark. It serves as a museum as well as a music venue, a venue for weddings, beer festivals and even a haunted house in the weeks leading up to Halloween. It’s said that the ghosts of many men who died on the job here over the decades still haunt the old mill.

CIMG7024

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Built in 1929 this building was the home of the Thomas Jefferson Hotel. At that time it was one of the finest hotels in the south. In the 1970’s it became known as the Cabana Hotel and finally Leer Tower before it was closed in 1983. The object on the right side of the roof of the building is a zeppelin mooring mast, the last of it’s kind in the world. In 2012 a non-profit corporation was formed to raise money to buy the property and restore it back to it’s former glory. Jeff hotel 002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A mural with a message painted on the wall of an abandoned grocery store in west Birmingham.

westend2 013westend2 011

Sources: Wikipedia and Bhamwiki.

All photographs and text copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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.

Working Girls

I have the utmost respect for the working class. Partly because I’m a member of it but also because the working class seems to get so little respect from society these days. It pisses me off when I hear people, especially those on the political right, talk about how people on public assistance don’t work or about how they’re moochers on society. This is bullshit!  Poor people most certainly do work. Most of them work a helluva lot harder than the assholes that make these kind of stupid comments. I know first hand, because I take them to their jobs. Many people have to take cabs to work because the crappy jobs that they have don’t pay enough money to buy a car. Most will take the bus if it’s possible since the bus is much cheaper than a cab. Sometimes, because of the hour that the person must report to the job or some other logistics, the bus is impossible and a cab is the only option.

Many of the folks that go to work at odd hours live in public housing or what is more commonly known as “the projects”. Yes, many working people use the nation’s safety net programs because minimum wage remains at $7.25 per hour and many of their employers are just too damned greedy to pay any more than that. I have no problem at all with hard working people getting whatever assistance is necessary to make ends meet. To hear people disparage working folks and talk about them like they’re the scum of the Earth makes my blood boil.

It was 2:25 am on a Saturday morning. I had been out since about 7:00 pm Friday night trying to capitalize on the party and club crowd. I had picked up a couple in the the Lakeview entertainment district and dropped them off at Birmingham Southern College. Birmingham Southern is a private Methodist college located in west Birmingham. The area surrounding the college is what many people may think of as “ghetto” or “hood”. Of course this wasn’t the case when the college was first built, the area declined over many years. During daylight hours I will pick up anywhere. It doesn’t bother me at all to go into the projects or many other areas where most suburbanites would fear to tread. There are however; gangs that operate in these neighborhoods. The crime rate in west Birmingham and other similar areas is much higher than it is in the rest of the metro area. Most of the gangsters and criminals operate late at night; for this reason I generally don’t pick up in zones west of I-65 this time of night.

When I pulled out of the college I noticed that the dispatchers were begging someone to take a trip in zone 210, southwest Birmingham. The message on the screen of the dispatch computer said “zone 210 trying to get to work. Somebody please c-book 210. 210 really needs to get to work”. I was sitting at the red light in front of Princeton Hospital, the border of zone 210. I said what the hell? This is probably just someone going in early at UAB or some fast food restaurant or something. I booked into 210 and immediately got the call. I cringed when I saw that it was in Loveman’s Village. Loveman’s Village is an old barracks style project built in the 1950’s. It’s probably the most run down project in Birmingham and it overlooks what is probably the largest cemetery in the state. The television show First 48  featured this project in an episode several years ago. They documented the gang culture here and focused on the shootings and killings that had taken place here in recent years. You can put the words Loveman’s Village into you tube and watch videos made by gangsters where they rap and brag about crime and shooting. LVP  So as you can imagine, this wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be at 2:30 am.

The project was eerily quiet. I met one car and didn’t see anyone moving around outside. The address was on the backside next to Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. There were a few dim street lights and a quarter moon hanging in the black sky. The moonlight enabled a view of the endless tombstones in the huge cemetery across the blvd. The name on the screen was simply “Joe”, the information page only displayed the word “work” in the drop off destination line. Addresses in this project are notoriously difficult to find because most of the numbers posted on the apartments don’t match the address. When I was sure I was close to the pick up point I pressed the call out button for the dispatchers to call “Joe” to come out to go to work. I waited about 5 minutes and they never called him. I then called the dispatchers and told them that I couldn’t take anyone to work if they didn’t come out of the house. The dispatcher then called and connected me to someone with a woman’s feminine voice. She told me that I wasn’t in front of her apartment and that I would need to turn by the couch that was sitting next to the dumpster.

I found the apartment with all the lights on and figured this had to be it. The woman that exited the apartment was dressed to kill. The first thing I noticed was that she was very well shaped. A little too well shaped. Her coke bottle shaped figure was almost unrealistic. I thought damn, she either worked really hard for that or was just very lucky. As she approached the car and I got a good look at her masculine face I could tell that this was no woman. The face was made up but I immediately saw that no matter how well she may have shaved I could still see the shadow of a beard. She said in a very feminine voice “we’ll be right out, I’m waiting on her”. When she turned to go back in the apartment I caught a glimpse of a bubble butt. I wondered how in the hell do black drag queen they do that?

When the two of them exited a couple of minutes later I could see that the first woman’s companion was dressed just as fancy and was wearing silver platform heels. They told me that we were going to the Penthouse Club which wasn’t far away. I was actually relieved, trannies are better than thugs any night of the week. Apparently they had learned by past experience that if you want a cab to come to Loveman’s Village at 2:30 in the morning you have to tell the dispatchers that you’re “going to work”; clever.

We made a little small talk on the way to the club. The woman in the silver heels asked, “so, do you think we look good? Do you think we’re fine transsexuals?” Knowing that a compliment is always the right answer I said yes I do, y’all look great! She said “great, we love compliments”. I could see a blue light flickering in the distance as we approached the club. As we got closer more and more blue lights became visable. By the time we reached the front we could see about 15 police cars with flashing blue lights and what looked like all the people who had been in the club standing out in the street. I said y’all don’t really want to go in there do you? Miss Silver Heels said “no honey, looks like there’s done been a shooting or something. I ain’t gonna walk by all them polleeces either”. They decided on another club in the downtown area. I dropped them off without incident and even got a tip. Not at all what I expected when I took the call but it made for an interesting night.

My very first call the next day was just before noon. It was to one of the shady motels in the Woodlawn area that’s known for prostitution and drug use. This place is basically a brothel and though I’ve never seen it with my own eyes, rumors abound that they sell crack smoking kits complete with a small pipe,a brillo pad and a butane jet flame lighter in the motel office. The first time in my life that I was solicited by a hooker was about a year ago when I picked up a young woman at this very motel and was taking her to the Walmart pharmacy to fill a precsription. While sitting at a red light she said “you know I’m a working girl, do you date?” I said no, I’m married, I don’t date. She left it alone and we completed our trip.

On this day I was dispatched to pick up “Briana” at this sleazy shithole near the interstate. When I pulled into the parking lot I immediately saw a white woman probably about 35, wearing a cheap sweat shirt motioning for me to drive to her. As I stopped the car she walked over, opened the front door and plopped down in the front seat. Thinking this was Briana I said where do you need to go? She looked over with a smile on her ragged face with missing top teeth and said ” hey honey, do you want to come to my room?” When I said no she seemed shocked and disappointed. “Well, why did you come here?” she asked. I pointed to the name on the screen and said I came to pick up Briana. She said “she’s upstairs, blow your horn” as she jumped out almost slamming the door. Briana was a young African American woman who still had her looks. That drug worn look that afflicts most of the women here had yet to catch up with her. She was polite and didn’t solicit me. It was just a quick trip to the package store for a bottle of vodka.

copyright 2012 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.