Category Archives: Getting Stiffed

Fool Me Once

fool me once, shame on you. fool me twice, shame on me.  

ancient proverb

I got no gut feeling of anything being awry when I picked up a motherly looking woman who appeared to be in her sixties. She wanted to go to Walmart, not just any Walmart but a very specific one. She wanted to go to the Walmart in Roebuck, which is a $25 cab ride from where I picked her up in Southside. When we arrived she said “I want you to wait on me. I’ll just be a few minutes. Please don’t leave me.”

walmart

I found a parking place and began to wait. I surfed the net and perused facebook, twitter and instagram on my phone. It seemed like she had been gone a while. I looked at the time and 20 minutes had passed. I thought that the store may be busy and maybe she was in line. The meter kept climbing. The waiting continued until 30 minutes had passed. I had an appointment to pick up a regular customer back in Southside. I was beginning to think I’d never get back in time. After 40 minutes passed I decided to call dispatch to see if they could get in touch with her. She never answered her phone. After I had waited for 45 minutes it was clear that I had been duped. By this time the meter was so high that she probably wouldn’t be able to pay it if she wanted to. I believe she had devised a plan so that she could get by without paying cab fare both to and from the destination. I figured she was watching for me to leave, at which time she would call another cab and pay only $25 to get back instead of the $75-80 that she would have owed me. I finally left and called it a loss. It looked like her plan had worked.

A few days later I told the story to some fellow drivers. One guy told me of a game that some riders play where they will go to Walmart or some other big box store and go in one door and come out the other, where someone will be waiting to pick them up. I figured this is what she had done.

Fast forward two weeks.

It was a slow morning when I accepted the call in the 120 zone. The name on the screen was “Gwendolyn”. It was a pick up at the same place, a low income retirement home, where I had picked up the woman who had pulled off this stunt two weeks earlier. No doubt this was the same woman. I ran several scenarios through my mind as to how I would deal with this issue while on the short trip to pick her up. As I approached the retirement home I saw her walking toward it as if she were just getting there herself. She jumped in the back seat and said “I need to go to Walmart, the one in Roebuck and I want chu to wait on me”. I turned around and let know quickly that I remembered what had happened last time. “Oh I’m sorry” she said. “There was a long line at the money center and I just couldn’t get out. I know the money is already there this time, it won’t take me long.”

I decided to go ahead and take the chance. Once again the meter was sitting at $25 when we pulled into the parking lot. I told her that I had an appointment at 11:30 and I needed to leave by 11:15 in order to get back in time. That would give her 20 minutes in the store. “Don’t worry honey, you gonna get cho money. As long as they ain’t no long line it won’t take but a minute”. I asked her to pay me for the first part of the trip first, before I waited. “I ain’t got no money now. That’s what I got to do. I gotta go to the money center to get my money.”

I walked into the store with her, under the guise of going to the restroom. There was no line at all at the money center. She walked right up to the window. I went to the restroom and noticed she was still standing at the window when I walked back by. The optimistic and forgiving part of my mind said maybe she was telling me the truth, maybe she’ll be out in a few minutes and I can make a good round trip fare. Maybe everything will be fine. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The 20 minute deadline came and went. Another five minutes passed and still no Gwendolyn. At this point I decided to walk back into the store to see if I could see her. She was long gone from the money center and nowhere in sight.

Once again she had stolen an hour of my time, the gas to get her there and whatever business I would have picked up if I hadn’t had to deal with her. I called dispatch and told my sad story. Apparently another driver had also reported her. The dispatcher said “OK, she’s on the bad list. She can’t get any more cabs.” Of course that wouldn’t stop her from just getting someone else to call for her. I felt like a complete and total idiot.

copyright 2015 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.

 

Collateral Damage

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

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

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

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

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

meth mouth

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

image courtesy of kuatolives2084.blogspot.com

copyright 2014 R.W. Walker

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

Since The Last Time

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

Not high enough

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

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

crack house

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

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

The Royal Couple

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

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

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

Uncle Cotton’s Perdidium

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

darlings

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

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

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

copyright 2014, R.W. Walker

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

Not A Good Day To Die

It was late afternoon, just after 6:00 pm. The sun was starting to sink in the sky and the light was reflecting off the buildings in a way that made the colors more vivid than usual. I was sitting in one of my usual perch spots at the old closed down BP station on Highland Avenue when the call came through. Nothing seemed unusual, I was supposed to pick up Mark at a tattoo parlor in a run down part of Southside a few blocks away from 5 points south and near the projects. He came out immediately when I pulled up. He said he needed to go to Fultondale, which is a suburb just a couple of miles north of the city.

He seemed a little anxious, his voice was pressured and his speech didn’t flow smoothly. I tried to ask him about his tattoos but he didn’t seem interested in discussing them. He said “here’s an advance” as he handed me a sweaty twenty that looked like it had been folded over and over.  Just as I headed up the 3rd avenue ramp to I-65, a cloud of putrid chemical laden smoke which smelled like a science project gone bad, encircled my head. When I looked in the rearview I could see him toking hard on a glass crack pipe while holding a blue jet flame lighter to the bowl.

crack pipe

WHAT THE FUCK?, I screamed! Man, you can’t do that in here!  I rolled down all the windows and merged into the north bound traffic on the interstate. I said man, what the fuck are you thinking? “Are you the po-leece?” he asked. No, I’m not the police but these cabs are equipped with cameras. I pointed at the camera below the rearview which I immediately noticed wasn’t working. I said don’t do anything like that again! I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the camera, things started to go south fast. “I’m in trouble, they’re gonna kill me ain’t they?” I said, what? Nobody’s gonna kill you. “I’m gonna die tonight, they’re gonna kill me, I know it. I’m gonna die tonight ain’t I?”

I’m getting seriously freaked out by this point. It seems obvious that this guy is having genuine paranoid delusions that “they” are planning to kill him. I’m a square when it comes to most modern drugs. I smoked my share of weed in my younger days and tried powder a few times but I’ve never smoked crack, meth, heroin or any of the newer designer drugs. I like to think that’s a good thing but I honestly can’t tell the difference between the smell of these drugs when they’re being smoked. I know what he was smoking wasn’t marijuana but I can’t say exactly what it was. One of the other drivers to whom I told this story suggested that it could have been bath salts , a relatively new drug known to cause the paranoid hallucinations that this guy was experiencing.

“Hey mister, can you do me a favor?” What, I asked. “Please don’t let that guy in the front seat kill me.” There’s nobody in the car except me and you, I told him. “I CAN SEE HIM! He’s gonna kill me, he’s gonna torture me to death, please don’t do this, I ain’t never hurt nobody!” I made a point to check my temper and remain calm. I decided to try to put on my therapist hat and try to assure him that nothing bad was going to happen. I said we’re gonna be OK, I’m gonna get you home safely and nobody’s going to hurt you or kill you. “I’m gonna die tonight, I just know it.” No you’re not, you’re young, you’re not going to die for many many years, I told him.

I had to ask him which exit to take as we approached the first Fultondale exit. “Take the first one” he said. We drove up highway 31 for about a mile until he told me to stop at a Shell station. We sat there in silence for what seemed like a full minute before I ask him, well are you gonna get out? He said “my mama’s supposed to meet me here”. After another couple of minutes I said, don’t you think you should call her to see if she’s on her way? He took out his phone and seemed to hit twenty keys. I was convinced that he was so messed up that he couldn’t even operate a cell phone.

He said “how much would it cost to take me to where she is?” Well, that depends on where she is, I told him “She’s at Bingo Lucky’s up on Arkedelphia Road.” The meter was sitting at twenty five dollars. I said you’ve already paid me twenty and right now you owe me five bucks. It’ll probably cost at least another twenty to get over there, “OK” he said. I was pretty skeptical about a place called Bingo Lucky’s. A few years ago the state had cracked down on all the so called “bingo parlors” which were in reality just mini casinos, and closed them all down. I hadn’t heard of any of them reopening.

bingo

Before we left the parking lot of the Shell, he said ” Mister, could I ask you a favor?” Yes, I said, what is it? “Could you let me ride in the front? I think I would feel better.” I thought about it for a few seconds and decided that I didn’t want to be the bad guy, I didn’t want him turning his fear and anger towards me instead of his imaginary demons. When he got up front I got a much better look at him. He was wearing a plaid taxi hat and had a neatly trimmed beard. He had a few tattoos on his forearms but they were not covered with tattoos. I noticed one small butterfly shaped tat that had a raised red area around it, I assumed this was his new one. He bore a close resemblence to one of my younger cousins but not nearly as healthy looking. I could see the fear and traces of insanity in his piercing ice blue eyes.

He did indeed seem better on the interstate portion of our trip. I thought that perhaps the effects of the drug had worn off and that he would now act a little more normal and we could complete the trip without incident. I was wrong. Arkadelphia Road is heavily used by eighteen wheelers because it’s a connector road between I-20/59 and I-22, as soon as we took the exit we got into a traffic jam between the big trucks spewing their noxious diesel fumes. This is when it became apparent that all was not well with my customer. Now, instead of one guy in the front seat wanting to kill him, there were three in the backseat determined not to allow him to live through the night. “Please don’t do this, I’ve got two kids.” Once again I try my best to calm him by letting him know that he’s safe and no harm will come to him. “Don’t let them kill me!” he screamed! I was agitated enough to slightly raise my voice and say that there’s nobody else in the car. “YOU’RE LYING!” he shouted! “I CAN SEE THEM! THEY’RE RIGHT THERE!” “I know they’re gonna kill me, I’m gonna die tonight, they’re gonna torture me to death!” “Why are you letting them do this?” he asked as he narrowed his eyes at me. By this time I’m super freaked out and I told him so. I said this Bingo Lucky’s better be coming up soon because you are freaking me the fuck out! The big trucks slowly chugged up the road in front of us as he became agitated, couldn’t be still and seemed to be trying to get something out of his pockets. Again I asked, where is this Bingo Lucky’s? He said “just pull over there”, pointing to a big truck stop. I gladly pulled into the parking lot and he jumped out almost before I could come to a complete stop. I hauled ass! I turned right on Arkadelphia because I didn’t want to wait on traffic to turn left. The meter was sitting at forty two fifty but that was twenty two fifty that I was glad to sacrifice to get rid of this crazy motherfucker! I didn’t even want to turn around and pass the place again. I took a left into Pratt City and drove through Pratt and Ensley which are areas where some fear to tread. To me, Pratt and Ensley felt like the safest place in the world with this lunatic out of my car.

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.

Let’s Make A Dill

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

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

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

Make a dill

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

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

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

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

copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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

The Flip Side Of The Coin

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

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

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

benjamin

As you know, if you read this blog regularly, I’ve written several stories about “getting stiffed” or not getting paid for my service and how bad it sucks. As the above story illustrates, there’s a flip side to that coin. Although I’ll admit that it happens far less frequently than getting stiffed, sometimes a customer will feel the need to pay me (or other drivers) very , very well for the service that we provide. As you can imagine, these big tips often involve the customer being under the influence of alcohol. Sometimes it doesn’t, believe it or not there are a few individuals in the world today that are just very generous. I want to tell you one more story about a big tip from a drunk customer, then we’ll move on to something else entirely.

It was a Friday night but business was slow. It was spring break so most of the college aged revelers that are usually hanging out in the Lakeview district were out of town. I’m sure they were hanging out somewhere and doing the same things but probably on the Gulf Coast, not in Birmingham. I had picked up a few fares but the money I usually make on Friday night just wasn’t happening, it was way off. There didn’t seem to be nearly as many cabs out as usual. I guess most of the drivers knew the situation and had decided that it wasn’t worth their time. I decided to make one last sweep through to see if there were a few who had decided to stay behind and party here in town.

As I pulled up in front of two popular clubs that sit side by side in the district, I saw a cop flagging me. He asked “can you take a drunk guy home?” Sure, I said as the cop and a bouncer from one of the clubs led the guy to the car. As I’ve said many times, it’s never a good sign when they have to be led or walked to the car. The cop made sure that he could tell me his address before he walked away from the cab. The address was a few miles south of the city down highway 280. My customer went to sleep almost immediately as we pulled off. I could foresee a big problem getting him out of the car once I got him home and an even bigger problem getting paid.

It was a nice night, a little on the cool side. I lowered all the windows for the ride hoping that the cool breeze would rouse him or at least keep him from falling into a deeper drunken coma. The neighborhood was a cookie cutter subdivision with houses, although very similar, on the large side. At first glance most people would probably consider this an upper middle class neighborhood. I pulled into the driveway and started the task of trying to wake him up. First I turned on the bright overhead light, which in most cabs is quite bright. With the bright light on I shook his shoulder a couple of times saying wake up, man, you’re home. I heard a few groaning sounds come from him as he gradually opened his eyes. It took a few minutes for him to get his head around the fact that he was sitting in the backseat of a cab and that he was in fact, home. After looking around for a few minutes he said “damn, I am home.” I said yes you are, you owe me nineteen seventy five. A minute or so passed by and he still hadn’t exited the cab and was making no motions towards reaching for his wallet to pay me.

I told him again, you’re home. You owe me nineteen seventy five. This time he reached for his wallet which was a relief to me. “What do I owe you?” he asked. Nineteen seventy five I told him again. After a few seconds of fumbling he handed me a one hundred dollar bill. Not quite knowing his intentions, I didn’t immediately reach for my change. I thought I’d give it a few seconds, maybe he would tell me to keep it. I was again surprised when he handed me a twenty and said “that’s for the fare.” I thought fantastic! A hundred dollar tip! I began thanking him as I usually do if someone gives me a big tip. He said “just hold on a minute”. In this instant I was thinking that he was rethinking the tip and I thought oh well, at least I’ll get paid. To my amazement he pulled out ANOTHER hundred dollar bill and handed it to me. I simply looked at him and said you’re a good man, as he stumbled out of the car. This one very drunk man had suddenly transformed a lousy night into a very good night. God bless him.

As I said earlier, most big tips come from the inebriated but there are some exceptions. There’s a couple in town that takes cabs everywhere they go if they know they’re going to be drinking. Drunk or sober, they always tip very well. Not a two hundred dollar tip or anything like that but it’s not uncommon for them to give you twenty dollars for a five or six dollar ride. They’re always friendly and a pleasure to serve.

It’s always good to get good tips when you least expect it. Grocery store trips are usually trips where you don’t expect much, if anything for a tip. I picked up an older couple at the Winn Dixie at Five Points West in Ensley. I loaded the groceries in the trunk and drove them the short distance to their home. The fare was five dollars and that’s all I expected to get. The lady handed me three five dollar bills. I said I think you gave me too much as I tried to hand some of it back. She said “no, that’s what I meant to give you.” I jumped out of the car and hauled their groceries up to the top of the steps leading to the front door. This kind of thing doesn’t happen often but when it does it goes a long way toward restoring one’s faith in humanity.

I’ve known about the concept of paying it forward for years. It’s a spiritual principal that transcends religions. I’m sure I first read about it in one of the New Age books that were popular in the last decade. The idea is actually almost a century old. The idea can trace it’s origins to Lily Hardy Hammond’s 1916 novel “In the Garden of Delight”. The original idea was that a creditor would offer a debtor the option of lending the money to a third person instead of paying it back to the original creditor.

In the year 2000, Catherine Ryan Hyde wrote a novel called “pay it forward” which was later adapted to a movie by the same title . The idea was that for each good deed received, you should do three good deeds for someone else, thus making the world a much better place.

I just happened to be in zone 720 in lower Hoover when I got a call to a tire store in the circle around the Galleria Mall. The lady had had car trouble on the way to work that morning and ended up having to have it towed to this store. It wasn’t very much further to her job so she called a cab to take her the rest of the way. She was friendly and talkative and didn’t seem down at all about her situation. She didn’t speak of religion or spirituality. It was just a light, friendly conversation. When I pulled up in front of her office the meter read seven twenty five. She handed me forty dollars and said “I’m paying it forward, have a great day!”

sources: Wikipedia

copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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

Liquored Up And Locked Out

“Go straight” said the well dressed drunken yuppie as he plopped down in the backseat. Where are we going? I asked. “Just go straight, I’ll tell you where to turn”. I hate it when customers do this, I want to know where I’m headed. I shouldn’t have even moved the car until he told me. I picked him up at the Blue Bottle Cafe, which is usually a worry free place to pick up customers. It’s mostly frequented by hipsters and hipster wannabes that turn out to see trendy urban indie rock bands and solo musicians. They have a menu with mostly vegetarian choices; it’s not the kind of place that drunk assholes like to hang out.

This guy was an exception. He had an open drink with clinking ice and it was strong enough that I could smell the alcohol. He immediately exhibited an attitude of superiority, as if I was his servant. I didn’t like him at all from the moment he got in the car. After driving a few blocks I said, where are we going, man? I’ve got to know a general area, I don’t like driving and not knowing where I’m going. “Crestwood” he said. ” I’m going to see my buddy in Crestwood” I felt a little better just knowing the neighborhood where we were headed. He got out and walked across the grass in the front yard to the door; he ditched the plastic cup that had held his drink in the middle of the yard. After banging on the door and a window and hollering for his buddy, it became clear, even to him that this was a futile effort. He staggered back to the car, fell in the back seat and said “now you’re gonna take me down 280”. I didn’t like this “you’re gonna” language but I held my temper and started driving. Before we got out of the neighborhood, he said “stop, I’ve gotta pee”. I stopped, he stood in the middle of this neighborhood street and let it fly. I thought well, at least it’s late at night and maybe no one will see him and if he has to pee I’d rather him do it here than in his pants in the car.

In a few minutes we were taking the split to 280 off the Red Mountain Expressway. I said OK, we’re on 280, where do you want to go? “Way down, all the way down”  he said. I was still not happy with his vagueness about his destination. He made a phone call shortly after the split. At least he pretended to make a phone call, I’m still not convinced he was talking to anyone. He was pretending to talk to a girl, slurring sexual comments and questions like “did you like it when I was rubbing up against you? Could you feel my hard dick?” ” I thought you were gonna pull your pants down and let me taste it, I sure would like to taste it.”

It was a cool night, probably in the 40’s. It was too cool for the air conditioning but not cold enough for the heater. I had my drivers window barely cracked just for some fresh air. He interrupted his imaginary porno phone conversation to scream “ROLL THAT GODDAMN WINDOW UP, I’M FREEZING!” That’s when I lost my cool. I couldn’t help it, I said you don’t order me to do shit you stupid asshole, you can either respect me or your drunk ass is gonna be out here on the side of the goddamn road! I pulled over to the shoulder with full intentions of putting his ass out. He said “I won’t get out, you can’t make me get out.” It was after two in the morning and I was tired, I didn’t feel like going through the routine of calling the cops and waiting for them to get there. I said just tell me where you want to go and shut up until I get you there. He said “take me to Patio 280”, I drove off as he continued his fake phone conversation “this cab driver is being rude to me” he said into the phone. He said “my girlfriend doesn’t like you being rude to me.” I said shut up, we’ll be there in a minute.

I was happy to see a moonlighting Birmingham cop in full uniform at the door of the Patio when we pulled up. My customer immediately jumped out of the back seat and slurred to the cop in a whiney tone, “he was rude to me”. The cop said “what did he do, make you put your pants on?” Seeing that the cop had no sympathy for him he started to walk in the bar. I said, I’LL TAKE THIRTY ONE DOLLARS PLEASE. The cop said “pay the man”. He handed me two twenties and said “I want change”. Not getting a tip was the least of my concerns, more than anything I was just glad he was gone.

Before I could leave the scene the cop approached me and asked “can you do me a favor?” Of course I said yes. He asked me if I was familiar with the west side of town, I assured him that I was. He said “I’ve got two guys in that car over there, they’re pretty drunk but mostly they’re sleepy. They were trying to leave in the car, I couldn’t let them do that. Can you take them home?” I said sure and he went to get them out of the car. I’d say they were more than just “pretty drunk”, totally shitfaced would be a more accurate term. I asked for an address and one of them kept saying “647 Southwest.” I asked 647 what street Southwest? He didn’t get the question, he again repeated, this time louder “647 SOUTHWEST.” I turned to the other guy and asked, can you give me an address? He managed to slur out an address that included a number and a street, we were on our way.

It was a long drive to their neighborhood, they both slept most of the way. I heard a few comments by the one who couldn’t remember his street address about how he was moving to Jersey because “they” just weren’t right down here. After that the snoaring started, before long it sounded like I had two chainsaws running in the back seat. The guy who had been talking about Jersey was awake when we arrived at the address that his buddy had given me. Ok we’re here, I said. “This ain’t where I live” he said. I said OK where do you live? “647 Southwest”. I said that won’t do, I’ve got to know the street. 647 what street Southwest? He finally understood what I was asking him and slurred out “647 12th street Southwest.” I said OK, now we’re in business. He recognized his house when we turned onto his street and said “just pull in behind that white car, that’s where I live.”

I looked at the meter and said OK, that’ll be thirty four dollars. That’s when the trouble started. He said “them folks done got me a ride home and I ain’t got no money.” Ain’t got no money? I asked. Do you have a credit card or a debit card? “Naw, I ain’t got NO money, I spent all my money at that bar.” I said what about your buddy, does he have any money? He shook his buddy awake and said “this man want to know if you got any money? He say we owe him thirty foe dollars.” “Naw” he said. “I ain’t got no money”. The first guy looked at me and said “you gon’ have to take him home, this ain’t where he lives.” I said if he ain’t got no money I ain’t taking him nowhere, this is the end of the line. “Well, how he gon’ get home?” That’s his problem, I said. I said y’all just get out, I’ve got other people I can be picking up that will actually pay me. With some difficulty they managed to get out of the car and I saw them staggering and stumbling toward the house in the dark as I was driving away.

I was pissed but mostly I felt stupid for not getting paid up front. These guys didn’t want to take a cab, they wanted to actually get out on the highway and drive in the ridiculously fucked up condition they were in. I did feel like I had at least done a service to the world by keeping these drunk assholes off the road, at least this time. Who knows, someone’s life could have very well been saved and to me that would be well worth thirty four dollars. It would be worth a helluva lot more than that. I still felt stupid, there was a cop right there, he could have and would have made them pay me up front if I had only asked. Oh well, live and learn.

I decided to make a pass through Southside to see if I could get just one more trip. I picked up a young guy in the Five Points area who was going downtown to the Sheraton. As he was getting drink keysout he said “hey look, someone left their keys.” He paid his fare, handed me the keys and walked into the hotel. There was a key ring with two keys to a GM car and what looked like several house keys. You know, I hear that locksmiths are expensive. It would probably cost a lot more than thirty four dollars to replace all those keys. Gee, I wonder whatever happened to those keys?

copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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

Early Morning Craving

As I’ve alrady told you in the story “Diaper Money” I have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy when it comes to shady dealings by my customers as long as it doesn’t involve violence or thievery. I don’t consider what my adult customers are doing to be my business as long as they’re not causing me any trouble and as long as I get paid. As I’ve said before, I’m not going to ask you what you’re up to and for God’s sake, please don’t tell me. If you don’t tell me I can always say I don’t know what’s going on even if it seems obvious. I can remember picking up a middle aged white man in a very rural part of zone 550. It was in the direction of Pinson but not actually in Pinson. He was very much a working class kind of guy wearing steel toed work boots and sporting a new crewcut. He said “I need to go into town for just a few minutes, this will be a round trip.”

He had his own route in mind which was fine with me. I always ask customers if they have a prefered route and if they do, I always abide by their wishes. Many customers believe the stereotype that all cab drivers are out to cheat them by trying to up the fare by driving a route that’s longer than necessary. Letting them be in charge of the route takes this issue off the table. We rode along some roads that I don’t think I’ve ever driven on. We eventually came out on I-65 near Fultondale, north of the city. We had made some small talk along the way but nothing concerning exactly where he was going or what he was doing. His destination was in a public housing project, one of the older ones that look like red brick barracks. This project was next to a large city high school, west of downtown in a neighborhood that’s almost entirely African American. He had me park a building away from the building where he was going. True to his word, he was in and out in less than five minutes. We followed the same route we had taken to the project back to his country home. The fare was $95, he handed me a hundred dollar bill and said “keep it”.

The name on the screen of the dispatch computer was a traditionally female name. When I saw the person come out of the house I thought this must be the wrong customer or maybe someone else called for him; that happens sometimes. I would have sworn this tall, broad shouldered person with close cropped hair was a man until she got in the car and I heard her voice. It was a deep voice for a woman but still a feminine voice. She wanted to go to one of the gentlemen's clubgentlemen’s clubs on the west side of town, she said she worked there. I certainly didn’t think she was a stripper so I figured she must have been a bartender, a bouncer or maybe even a manager. When we arrived I turned the meter off and told her the amount of the fare as I thought this was her final destination. She said “I’ll be back, wait on me. I won’t be long.”

When she returned a few minutes later I couldn’t see that she had anything that she didn’t have when she went in. But man, could I SMELL that she had something that she didn’t have when I picked her up. The skunky odor that filled the car was so pungent that it made my eyes water! It almost made me think that Cheech or Chong had just gotten in my cab. She said “let’s stop by the store. I’m gonna get some beeuh then you can take me to my gull house.” Was she aware of the smell? Maybe not, she went into the convenience store smelling like that. She came out with a twelve pack of Bud light, I guess she and her “gull” had a party.

This brings me to the only person who, as of yet, has violated my don’t ask, don’t tell policy. I had had some success earlier in the week by getting up early, by five or five-thirty am and catching the going to work crowd. It was about six in the morning when the call came through in the 235 zone. It was an old, low rent apartment complex almost to the summit of Red Mountain off of Greensprings Highway. This was late winter, it was still black dark, there was no hint of the morning sun.

She was standing outside when I arrived. A thin, middle-aged white woman wearing a V neck sweater, knee high leather boots and short hair dyed dark red, almost purple. I could tell she was no spring chicken but still not bad looking. I could tell something was awry by her hyperactive behavior. She got in and out of the cab four times before she finally settled in and was ready to go. It was obvious that she wasn’t one of the morning workers that I had been aiming for that morning. She said she wanted to go to the extended stay inn where my wife and I had lived when we first moved to town. I saw dollar signs because this place was clear on the other side of town from where we were. Shortly after we got started I was a little concerned when she said “after we go to the inn I need to go to Rugby.” Rugby avenue is a pretty seedy area in East Lake. I figured that this was probably a don’t ask, don’t tell situation.

About halfway to the inn she waved a big red flag indicating that this trip was probably not going to end well. She asked me “you’re cool ain’t you?” I said yeah, I guess I’m pretty cool, why? She said “you know we’re going to get my smoke. We don’t have to go to the inn if you’ll lend me twenty dollars to get it.” In hindsight, I should have stopped the car right where we were and put her ass out. We actually have a code that we can send to the dispatchers that means “refusing drug run.” I would have been better off this morning if I had used that code. I said, I’m not lending you any money. How the hell were you planning on paying me? She said “don’t worry honey, I’ve got PLENTY of money, just take me to the inn and I’ll get it.”  When we got there she frantically ran to one apartment and then to the next banging on doors. Someone finally let her in the second one she tried. After a few minutes she came back to the car and we headed to Rugby. After about five minutes of ringing the doorbell and knocking on the door she became frustrated and came back to the car. “I guess he must be dead asleep” she said. She now wanted to go to a house in Roebuck. By this time the sun was coming up and I felt a little safer as I could see my surroundings. I still had an inner knowing in the pit of my stomach that this wasn’t going to end well. I waited and waited and waited. After about 30 minutes I said to myself, if she doesn’t come out in five minutes I’m calling the cops. The meter was sitting at fifty two dollars, I had been fucking around with her all morning and hadn’t yet made a penny. I knew the chances were slim to none that I would see any of this money.

After forty minutes had gone by and she was still nowhere in sight I decided to call. I called the non-emergency number. I didn’t think this warranted a 911 call. I gave up after twenty rings. I decided to just drive to the nearest police station which I knew to be just behind the Roebuck Walmart. The policeman on duty was less than enthusiastic about writing up my report. I didn’t expect anything to come of it. I wasn’t wrong.

copyright 2013, R.W. Walker

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

Under The Influence

When I first started driving I quickly learned that if you’re driving after a certain time, say 11:00 pm, it’s quite likely that many of your customers will be under the influence of alcohol. They may just have a slight buzz or they may be totally shitfaced. The first time I experienced this it was a call to a night club/music venue up on the side of the hill in Southside. The couple had obviously been to some kind of formal affair with an after-party at the club. They were both young, in their 20’s, the girl was much drunker than her tuxedo-clad date, but believe me, he was plenty drunk. He was able to give me directions to their destination which was a house in Mountain Brook. She had passed out by the time we arrived. He was in a stupor but he realized that he had to get out and get her out, too. It took both of us to wake her up. She had curled up in a little ball and had settled in. When her boyfriend finally picked her up and stood her up outside she seemed to come around. He had already paid the fare, so my job was done. By the time I got turned around and headed out, I saw that she had taken a tumble in the driveway. I guess those pretty high heels are not the best thing to balance ones-self on after consuming mass quantities of alcohol.

Stories about drunk people in the cab business could almost go on forever. There are too many to tell all of them here. Some are funny, some sad, most just silly and ridiculous. Some involve going through the fast food drive through at 2:00am and listening to customers gettting into stupid arguments with fast food employees. After a fast food visit it’s common to find french fries and tater tots all over the car once you get them home. Singing, badly, all the way home is another common occurrence. I’ve had couples that fought all the way home because their partner may have flirted with someone else at the bar. I’ve had many who will break their own arms patting themselves on the back for taking a cab instead of driving.

Most are friendly, some are assholes, and many others are quite well behaved. Some are very annoying, I had one guy that didn’t seem to be able to say anything except “Roll Tide” and “I am Alabama” he must have said “roll tide” a thousand times. Every time he said it, I would say it back. He seemed to like that. This guy had the reputaion for being a big tipper. In his drunken stupor on this night he didn’t tip me a penny, but his fare was substantial. Being the designated driver for drunk people is a major part of this job. There are many stories to be told. Instead of posting each story individually, I’m going to post a collection of short stories under the heading “Under The Influence”. I hope you enjoy them.

IN THE GUTTER

The call was to the address of an empty building on First Avenue North in downtown Birmingham. There are several clubs within a few blocks but nothing at this particular address. I drove by but didn’t see anything. I hit the noshow button thinking that the dispatchers had fucked up again. I decided to drive by the place just one more time to be sure. This time I saw a young man flagging me down beside a pick-up truck parked in a parallel parking space. He said “I think it’s got a broken tie rod.” I looked at the truck’s front tire and by the way it was cocked inward I could tell he was correct. He asked me how much it would cost to go to Cullman. Cullman is about 50 miles north of Birmingham. It’s infamous for being a sundown town during the Jim Crow era. There were signs at the town limits warning blacks and other non whites to be out of town by sundown. These young people were Hispanic. Cullman no longer has the signs but it’s still a very white, very conservative town. I told him that it would be at least $100, maybe a little more. He said “let me talk to this girl’. He also said “I’ve got a girl in the truck that’s real messed up” I said no problem.

A large young woman with black, curly hair emerged from the truck and staggered toward the cab. I thought, well, she doesn’t look too messed up, I’ve seen much worse. As it turned out, the big girl wasn’t who he was talking about. The young man opened up the club cab door on the truck and pulls out a heavily tattooed girl who is passed out. As he started to carry her toward the cab I could see that she was naked except for a little lacy bra and some very tightly fitting pink panties. She’s about average size but just as big, if not bigger than the guy who’s carrying her. After a few steps he trips over his own feet and they both go down. No injuries, but now she’s lying in the gutter on the side of the street, right next to the sewer drain. It was like a scene from a movie or maybe a cop show. There she was with her almost naked tattooed body all the guttersprawled out in the filthy gutter. I think the only thing that could have made this scene look any grittier would have been if she had had a needle and syringe hanging out of her arm. It reminded me of some Hank Bukowski stories I’ve read.

The other two managed to get her to her feet. By this time she was semi-conscious but was still pretty out of it. She got in the back seat with their guidance and promptly went back to sleep. The big girl had her purse and shoes. Before we took off on a 50 mile trip I wanted some assurance that I was going to get paid. I asked them how they intended to pay me? The big girl had a Walmart debit card. I had had trouble running a Walmart card that very day so I was a little apprehensive. “There’s $150 on it, is that enough?” I said it would be if it would run. I told them about the trouble I had had with Walmart cards and asked if they had any cash for a deposit in case it wouldn’t run. They came up with $43 between the big girl and the guy. They didn’t go through the drunk girl’s purse but said that they would if they had to. They were all quiet as a mouse all the way to Cullman. I held my breath as I swiped the card. About 3 or 4 seconds went by, APPROVED! With a $103 fare paid in full, I gave them back their deposit and headed south.

THE HOMEBOY

It was the night before Christmas Eve. The call was to the Stadium Bar and Grill, a bar in a shopping center off Valley Avenue. They had had their annual Christmas party and this guy had apparently had too much and was hammered. This was the first time that I had picked anyone up from a bar that was using the Safe Ride program. It was an agreement between the city and the cab company designed to curb drunk driving around the holidays. The bartender would put the customer’s keys in an envelop and give them to me. I would give the envelope to the customer when I got him home, turn in a voucher and get paid by the company.

When I got there they were walking him out. It’s always a bad sign when someone has to be walked out. To my surprise, it was a guy I had known from my hometown of Tuscaloosa. Jack was from somewhere up north but had lived in Tuscaloosa for at least ten years before moving to Birmingham. He had been a bartender at one of my favorite bars back in my younger days. I had associated with him many times within the Tuscaloosa bar and party scene back in the 80’s and 90’s.

He couldn’t walk on a flat surface. If he had been let go of, he would have fallen. He didn’t remember me at first, by the time we got to his house his memory was a little clearer. His house wasn’t far from where I live, I guess it was technically the same neighborhood. The way his house was positioned would make it very difficult for a person who couldn’t walk on a flat surface to get in the front door. There were concrete steps leading down to the front door through an amphitheater shaped lawn. There was no driveway and no ther way to get to the door without walking downhill.

After assessing the situation for a few minutes, I decided that was no way he could go down those concrete steps without killing himself. So I decided to get him to go down the softer grass hill instead. I was holding onto his arm when we started down. In hindsight, I should have sat him on his butt and slid him down. As we started down the grass hill I lost control. When I let go of him I saw him tumble. I couldn’t stop until I smashed into the hedges in front of the house. I turned around to help Jack up. Thank God he wasn’t injured. He wasn’t screaming in agony and that was a good thing. He couldn’t find his glasses, we both searched for a while but to no avail. I did get him up and in the house safely. A few days later I talked to a guy who knew him from the Stadium. he said he was glad I got him in the house but he sure was sore the next day.

SPILLING HER GUTS

It was a busy Friday night. Things were clicking pretty much non-stop, there was no time to sit around. The weather was great and a lot of people were out on the town. I was making money, things were going just how I like it. The call was to one of the trendy bars on 2nd Avenue North. I got there quickly and didn’t see anyone at first. A guy stepped out from behind a building waving his hand in the air. When I stopped I could see a girl lying on the ground. Like the tattooed girl that had landed in the gutter, she didn’t have on any pants. She was wearing a thong but was otherwise bare from the waist down. She was wearing clothes on her upper body.

Two burley young men picked her up and put her in the back seat. Another young woman who was her friend and seemed to be relatively sober rode along. They were not going far. Thier destination was an old downtown building that had been turned into lofts, it was just a few blocks away. About halfway there, the drunk girl woke up enough to empty the contents of her stomach all over the back seat. I knew she couldn’t help it but it pissed me off at first because now I was going to have to stop everything, stop making money, and go clean this mess up. I expressed a little anger and told them that most drivers charge a $50 fee to clean up a mess like this. The friend said “don’t worry about it, I’ll pay it.” She did so without hesitation.

The sober girl physically pulled her drunk friend out of the back seat and stood her up while holding onto her midsection. The friend was almost frantic trying to get the girl to walk. She would kick at her bare feet and naked legs and shout “WALK”. I had to leave them there because I had to get this mess cleaned up while it was still fresh. I rolled down all the windows and headed toward the all night car wash. I called a fellow driver that I had recently talked to about this very possibility. She told me to use baking soda. “It will draw the smell out” she said. The first thing I did was use the vacuum. This worked pretty well to get rid of the solid chunks and a good deal of the semi-liquid puke. I then did the baking soda treatment. I let it set for 15 minutes or so and then vacuumed that up and did it again. To my amazement, there was no smell that I could detect after the second treatment. This stuff had smelled pretty vile when it was fresh so this was a major accomplishment. I drove it down to Lakeview where the other drivers were lined up to let them smell it. They gave me the all clear.

A similar thing happened a few months later. This time the vomiting occured before the guy got in the car. A group of University of Alabama freshmen were having a formal at a venue in Homewood. When I arrived, the very well dressed young people were walking the guy out. He had vomit all over his pretty, frilly tuxedo shirt. Three of his friends were coming along for the ride so we had a full car and we were going to Tuscaloosa. One of the girls had cleaned him up as well as possible. It was unknown if he would be throwing up again. One of the girls said that he had thrown up so much already that she couldn’t imagine that he would have any left in him. About ten miles into the drive, the drunk guy’s friends started fretting that he may have alcohol poisoning. The girl sitting in front started googling “alcohol poisoning symptoms” on her iPhone. Pretty soon the three of them had diagnosed him with the condition. This trip ended at the emergency room of DCH, the main hospital in Tuscaloosa.

PAST HIS BEDTIME

There’s a popular Mexican restaurant on highway 280. It’s one where the cantina is just as busy, if not more so, than the restaurant. Once again, I had encountered a situation where the customer had to be walked out. When the security guard and the other restaurant employee put the guy in the car, they asked him if he could tell the driver where he lived. He mumbled something that I couldn’t understand. One of the guys that put him in the car said “I think he said Morningside Drive in Mountain Brook.” He slurred “240, Morningside Drive, Mountain Brook.” This time I heard the same thing the others heard, so off we go to Morningside Drive. On the way, my customer said that he had to throw up. After the experience with the girl taught me just how messy this can be, I quickly pulled over. We were across the street from the Birmingham Botantical Gardens. There are apartments there with parking spaces and grassy areas next to the road. It had been raining, the grass was wet.

He got out of the car and threw up a little on the pavement. He then crawled over to the wet grass and got comfortable. He was in a position as if he were in a bed with the covers pulled up tight. I said, man, you’ve gotta get up and get back in the car. “Why?” he asked. “Why can’t you just let me go to bed? All I want is to go to bed.” It’s because you’re lying in wet grass on the side of the road, I said. He seemed to slowly gain awareness of where he was. I walked over and gave him my hand and helped him up. when we got to Morningside Drive, the GPS couldn’t find 240. It didn’t seem to exist. Morningside Drive isn’t a long street. I asked him if any of the houses looked familiar. He kept saying “yeah, we’re close by, my house is just around the corner. Every time we rounded the corner, his house was around the next corner. The third time I asked him I didn’t get an answer. He was passed out cold in the back seat. I yelled at him, shook him, turned the bright light on, it seemed that nothing was going to wake this guy up.

At the bottom of the hill was a post office at the intersection of Morningside Drive and Montclair Road. i pulled into the parking lot and called the Mountain Brook Police. I told them that the guy said he lived at 240 Morningside Drive. They said that address didn’t exist. All Morningside Drive addresses were above 1000. The police shook him and shined their big flashlights in his eyes until he woke up. He was a little more coherent with the police. It turns out that he didn’t live on Morningside Drive in Mountain Brook. He lived on Morning Sun Drive in Meadowbrook.

I put this address into the GPS and drove him straight home. He lived about a $5 ride away from the cantina where I had picked him up. After all this running around his fare was $46. As he stumbled out of the car I noticed that his phone and his debit card were lying on the back seat. That was a great stroke of luck because it would have probably been a major problem for him to get it out and pay me if his debit card hadn’t been lying there in plain sight. He had staggered over to a car in the parking lot of the apartment complex where he lived and was bent over on the hood face down. I laid his phone, his card and his receipt on the hood and asked him if he need help getting in. He kept saying “I’m OK”. I left him there on the hood of that car.

JETHRO

People ask me all the time if I’m ever scared of a customer, or what has been the scariest trip I’ve taken. This one ranks pretty high. The call was to the now defunct 1120 Club at 5 Points South. I saw the huge guy standing with a couple of bouncers. I’m a big guy, about 6’3″ and 300 lbs. This guy seemed much bigger. He was a white boy, early 20’s with biceps and shoulders like a weight lifter or a body builder. He was taller than I, he looked to be much heavier in his upper body which looked to be all muscle.

The bouncer said ” he doesn’t have any money, but he can’t stay here.” Apparently this big “Jethro” fucker had been causing trouble in the club. The bouncer handed me a twenty and said “just take him away. I don’t care where, just somewhere other than here.” I asked if he knew where he lived? “He said something about living down 280 but I don’t know exacly where.” Jethro was almost incoherent but he was able to get his point across that he wanted to sit in the front. Looking at the size of this guy I could see why and agreed. The trip was OK for a few blocks but started to go south fast. He mumbled out an address that I had put into my GPS. I was going to use the GPS because I had judged him too fucked up to give me directions.

Not long into the trip he started making noises of anger. It started with a very angry sounding low grumble. Soon he was screaming obscenities while pounding his massive fist against his open palm! What was he so angry about? Who knows? He never specified that. I had heard stories about “roid rage”, the uncontrollable anger experienced by body-builders and others taking steroids. I figured that this must be what was happening. After one particularly intense anger jag, he looked over at me and said “you seem oddly calm”. I didn’t respond, I just kept driving down 280 trying not to show fear or anxiety. As we neared the turn off to his neighborhood and the GPS started speaking the electronic instructions, he went off. “TURN THAT GODDAMN THING OFF”, he screamed. Apparently the voice of the GPS was something that his extremely agitated mind just couldn’t stand.

Thankfully his street was the next left after the turnoff from 280. He had been speaking gibberish along with the angry outbursts throughout the entire trip. When the street we were on ended in a cul de sac, I kept asking him where? Which house is yours? He was still speaking gibberish. When I got all the waay back out to the intersection and the gibberish had grown louder, I started to scream, MAN, JUST TELL ME WHERE YOU LIVE! When I turned around and headed back, I finally recognized the gibberish as very crude Spanish. He was playing mind games with me to see if I could understand him. He finally got out of the car in front of what I assume was his house. I turned around in the cul de sac and saw him standing on the side of the street looking like the incredible hulk and staring angrily at me. I got the hell out of there quickly. My work was done. Needless to say, I was very happy to get rid of him.

 THE LUCK OF THE IRISH

Drinking holidays are big days in the cab business. New Year’s Eve, Halloween, Cinco de Mayo and especially Saint Patrick’s Day are always crazy busy and a good time to make money. Saint Patrick’s Day is a little different from the others. Many bars will open early in the morning and many revelers will be shitfaced before sundown. On this Saint Paddy’s I pulled up in front of the Irish Pub to drop off some revelers who were still relatively sober. Before I could get moving again two big guys wearing all the green gaudy crap that is usually given to the bars by the beer companies at this time of year, began coming toward the cab. Between them was a guy that was down for the count. It wasn’t even 5:00 pm and this guy was already knee walking. Hell, not even that! He couldn’t walk at all.

The two big guys put him in the back seat and gave me an address. There was no one riding with him. I’ve learned a valuable lesson from this trip and several others similar to it. If a person is so fucked up that they don’t know their own name or where they live, you’re probably going to have a helluva time getting paid. When this situation happens, you should always get someone halfway sober to ride along or get paid up front.

It was a warm day but not really hot. I had all four windows rolled down. After a couple of blocks this guy was hanging out of the back window. I had to stop at a traffic light in front of one of one of the most popular bars at 5 Points South. I could see the hordes of drunk revelers wearing their stupid looking green plastic top hats and derbies, huge green glasses that covered about a third of their faces and of course stings and strings and strings of cheap green plastic beads. Even though Birmingham has an open container law, these Irish for a day revelers were slugging beverages from red solo cups. Some of them were acquainted with my passenger. When they recognized the guy hanging out of the cab as one of their buddies, or at least one of their acquaintances, the hoops and hollers were deafening. Finger pointing and and hysterical laughter gave way to smart phone after smart phone coming out to take digital photos of their inebriated friend. Mercifully, the light changed. I’m sure the pictures were all over facebook and twitter before we stopped at the next one. St. Patricks

My British accented GPS led us right to the front door of the address I had been given back at the Irish Pub. Once my customer gained enough consciousness to realize he was home, I told him the fare would be $11. After going through his wallet and all his pockets, he produced one crumpled up one dollar bill to offer for my service. I’ll consider this trip a community service.

 GOD’S OWN DRUNKS

And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the spirit. Ephesians 5:18

It was late in the afternoon, but the sun was still fairly high above the horizon. I was dispatched to Queens Inn, a run down low rent motel on the edge of downtown. My customers were standing outside when I got there. They were a couple of pretty crusty looking white dudes that were pretty rough around the edges. I could tell from their accents that they weren’t from around here. Both were probably in their 40’s, maybe early 50’s. They had reddish complexions and gin blossom noses. They had the unmistakable glow and smell of cheap booze intoxication. They had been doing some serious day drinking. I didn’t have these guys long. They wanted to go to the nearest dollar store which was just a few blocks away. As soon as they got in they started talking about the bible. Specifically, the book of Ephesians. By the time we made it to the dollar store, I thought they were going to come to blows about the meaning of a certain verse in that book of the bible. Ephesians 5:18 says “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the spirit.”

SMELLS LIKE … CHAMPIONSHIP!

WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS VERY CRUDE, EXPLICIT QUOTATIONS THAT ARE SEXUAL IN NATURE. THOSE WHO ARE OFFENDED BY THAT SHOULDN’T READ THIS STORY.

The Irish Pub had opened at 6:00 am on this St. Patrick’s Day with what it calls “Eggs and Kegs”. The drinking starts early and lasts late on this day every year. The pub usually makes a practice of hiring off duty police officers to do security work at the door. The rent-a-cop working this day was wearing what looked like an ordinary police uniform but a closer look at the insignia on his sleeve indicated that he was on the Birmingham Narcotics Squad. He was a no no-sense kind of guy; very straight, very rigid, not smiling, all business. He raised his hand as I was passing the pub indicating that someone there needed a ride. He said “this guy has been here since six this morning, he’s wasted; can you give him a ride?” I said sure as long as he’s coherent enough to tell me where he lives. He went in to get him.

I saw a big guy with dark curly hair and a blonde woman exit the pub. I could tell, even from the distance from the car to the front of the pub, that the cop wasn’t lying about the guy being wasted. The girl didn’t look to be in much better shape. Apparently this guy had been drinking some kind of stupidity tonic. He decided to slap the moonlighting narc on the ass on his way out! The narc went ballastic! He didn’t hit the guy but I thought he was going to at any minute. He, the narc, threatened the guy harshly, using every curse word that has ever been conceived; he seemed very unprofessional. The drunk guy was still stuck on stupid. He challenged the cop again! The cop screamed “GET IN THE GODDAMN CAB NOW, OR YOU’RE GOING TO JAIL!!” The girl had just enough common sense left to manage to get her boyfriend in the cab before he was lying face down on the pavement wearing handcuffs. As we were driving away, the stupid drunk guy turned around and gave the cop the finger with both hands while screaming “FUCK YOU COP!” I stepped on the gas trying to get out of there before we got shot! The girl started whining, “Frankie, you’ve got to learn to respect cops, they can put you in jail.” Frankie screamed “FUCK THAT GODDAMN COP!” The girl, whose name was Shelly, said “Frankie, I wish you wouldn’t say G.D., you’re cussing Jesus”. Frankie said again “fuck that goddamn cop.” “Please don’t say that word Frankie,” Shelly pleaded. Frankie said “I’m gonna eat your pussy when we get home, Shelly.” “You had better eat my pussy considering all the shit I’ve put up with from you today. You’d better eat it all night long.” Are you gonna suck my goddamn cock?” “Oh yes, Frankie, I’ll suck your cock all night long, just please stop saying G.D., I can’t stand it, you’re cussing Jesus!” “You don’t seem to mind when I say fucking, or any of the other cuss words.” “It’s OK to say fucking, Frankie. Just please don’t say G.D.”

We were driving down highway 280 on this picture perfect day, Frankie and Shelly were still talking about all the sex they were gonna have when they got home. That’s when they suddenly started feeling the pangs of hunger. When drunk people get hungry it usually means that you’ll soon be going through the drive through at McDonald’s, Taco Bell or some similar place. Frankie and Shelly were a cut above going to a fast food joint, they wanted to go to the deli at Whole Foods. Frankie was still drunker than a barrell full of monkeys, still being guided by a complete lack of respect for authority and lacking any common sense whatsoever. Shelly didn’t seem to care much as long as he didn’t say “goddamn.” When I pulled into the parking space I just looked at them and said , don’t get in trouble in there, as they exited the car. I sat there waiting and wondering if they would ever return. I could imagine all kinds of awful scenarios with them talking loudly about eating pussy and sucking cock within earshot of all the soccer moms and families with babies in strollers. I could imagine them being detained by management and security until the cops arrived to take them to jail.

To my surprise, they returned to the car within ten minutes. They had ‘to go” boxes  full of something that smelled fishy. ‘Do you smell that?” Frankie asked me. “That’s what Shelly’s pussy smells like.” “Well you must like the way it smells, you keep saying you’re gonna eat it” Shelly snapped. “Well don’t you want me to eat it?” “Yes Frankie, I told you, I want you to eat my pussy all night long and I’ll suck your cock all night long.” Frankie asked me ” What do you think Shelly’s pussy smells like?”  I said , man … what the hell kind of question is that?? About that time Shelly screamed “roll the windows down, Frankie FARTED!” Frankie did indeed fart. The fish smell was suddenly replaced by the god awful stench of a beer fart. I rolled down all four windows and started driving up 280 trying to air it out. After a few minutes of silence Shelly asked Frankie, “you don’t really think my pussy smells like fish do you?” Frankie pondered the question for what seemed like a minute. Finally he slurred, “Shelly … your pussy smells like … CHAMPIONSHIP!!” Shelly liked this answer.”Oh Frankie … you’re the best” she purred.

We entered a very well to do neighborhood with streets lined with multi-story brick mini mansions with manicured lawns. This was Frankie’s neighborhood; it was probably his parents house. Frankie said turn left and it’s the fourth goddamn fucking house on the right. Shelly screamed “QUIT CUSSING JESUS! STOP SAYING G.D.!, I HATE THAT FUCKING WORD! Frankie got out on my side and came to the window and asked, “how much goddamn money do I owe you?” I told him, twenty six dollars. Frankie pulled some waded up balls of cash out of his pocket as Shelly sat in the back seat fuming. It was eleven dollars. He said “I’ll go in the goddamn house and get some more goddamn money.” Shelly decided to pay the rest of the tab with her credit card. ” I hate it when he says that word, I can’t stand to hear anyone cuss Jesus.” Frankie returned with a big jar full of change. When he learned that Shelly had finished paying the fare, he poured out about a third of the jar on the front seat and said “here’s your tip.” I said, thank you Frankie, y’all go have fun.

*note: portions of “spilling her guts” and “past his bedtime” were previously published in an article written by Ed Reynolds in the Black and White city paper in 2011.

All other material, copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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

Stuck In The Middle

There’s a building near 5 points south that ‘s a retirement home for the poor. Almost all the residents are elderly and most have some kind of disability, physical, mental or both. Trips out of here are typically very short. Many times the destination is to a small urban supermarket just at the top of the hill. The fares are usually less than $5 and the trips usually involve the handling of wheelchairs, walkers ect…Needless to say, this place is not high on the list of places that most drivers want to pick up.

This customer didn’t need any kind of mobility aids. He seemed fairly fit. I judged him to be in his mid to late 60’s. A big red flag appeared before my eyes when I saw that he was wearing a full sweat suit on this eighty plus degree day. This is almost always a sign of mental illness. His thick gray sweat shirt had the orange and blue logo of Auburn University on the front. I noticed he was also wearing an orange cap with the same logo. The putrid, pungent smell of body odor hit me like a ton of bricks when he got in.

His speech was clear and distinct. There was no accent. It was much like a newscasters voice. Everything he said was grammatically correct and he had clear, crisp diction. He said “take me to the middle of Mountain Brook”. Since Mountain Brook is made up of three villages and a bunch of residential neighborhoods, I had to clarify. I asked where in the middle? He said he wanted to go to “a pizza parlor in the middle of Mountain Brook”. I guessed he was talking about the one in Mountain Brook village.mountain brook village

Before we made it to “the middle of Mountain Brook” he wanted to stop at an ATM at his bank. He started giving me directions like a drill sergeant barking out orders. “You will turn right at the next intersection and then you will merge into the left lane. You will then turn left”. I made the right turn but couldn’t immediately get in the left lane due to oncoming traffic. “I SAID merge into the left lane” he snapped. Now I was officially pissed and I almost lost my cool. Do you want to have a wreck? I asked him in a sharp tone. I can’t just get in a lane because you want to, cars are coming!

At the ATM he tried two different cards. I could see the screen from my vantage point. Both were declined because of insufficient funds. I asked him if he still wanted to go to Mountain Brook. “Yes” he said. “I have enough, take me to the middle of Mountain Brook.” On the way over the mountain he started to evaluate my service. “Timeliness? I’ll give you a passing grade on that. Accuracy?  A bit off but still passing. Friendliness? On that you get a C” he said. What he didn’t know was that I was about to get a big fat F when I got him to the pizza parlor.

Traffic was thick in the village and there was no parking in front of the pizza parlor. I had to go past it a bit and turn left against oncoming traffic in order to turn around. When i got to the front of the place I stopped in the street, blocking traffic and put on my flashers. I told him the fare would be $11.75. To my amazement he handed me one of the debit cards I had just seen declined at the bank. I thought you said you had enough? I asked him harshly as I gave him a stern stare. “There is enough on that card” he said. I couldn’t sit there long, there was no parking and traffic was building up behind me.

I ran the card and of course it was declined. “For what reason?” he asked very sharply and angrily. I said it’s because you don’t have any fucking money in the goddamn bank! That is the reason! I said you’d better have some cash on you or I’m gonna call the cops. “CALL THE COPS” he snapped “CALL THE COPS NOW!!” He had called my bluff. I told him to get his ass out and never call for a cab again. I then called dispatch and told them about the games this guy was playing.

I was thinking later about what his motive could have possibly been. Why did he want to go to the middle of Mountain Brook? Why was he so eager to call the cops when his card was declined? Was he trying to go to jail in this posh suburb because he thought it would be better than his current situation? Was it just some twisted fantasy in his twisted mind? Who knows?

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.