Category Archives: Handicapped

Falling Through The Cracks

Mental illness is a truly unfortunate condition. I have personal experience dealing with both loved ones and associates with this condition in one form or another. I have compassion for the mentally ill because I know this is a disease, just like cancer or diabetes.  Even though a stricken person can act very bizarre, removed from reality or even mean or hateful, it’s because of the disease. Most people who have never dealt with anything like this and don’t understand it, are likely to get very angry and in some cases react in ways that can do great harm to the sick person.

St. Vincent’s hospital is a very large Catholic hospital with multiple clinics and other places where a customer can be picked up. After some miscommunication with the dispatchers about exactly where my customer was located, I found her sitting outside the emergency room in a wheelchair. She looked very frail and sickly. She was so thin that it seemed there was a skeleton in the wheelchair with jet black skin stretched over the bones. I immediately thought of scenes from the third world I had seen in TV commercials for charities or in the pages of National Geographic. In spite of her frailty she had a big gap toothed smile with white teeth that contrasted against her dark skin.

With some difficulty, a nurse helped her up out of the chair and into the car. Left behind in the chair was a clear plastic bag with some rags, waded up napkins, candy wrappers and a little plastic cup of some kind of fruit. My customer asked “can you get my bag? It’s very important to me.” I took the bag from the chair and placed it securely in the floorboard behind the driver’s seat. The nurse handed me a voucher, the hospital was paying for the trip over to psychiatric services at UAB. The voucher had the words “no stops” written across the top. The hospital doesn’t like to pay for any detours.

Before we out of the parking lot my customer asked “If I axed you to help me would you?” I looked at her and asked, are you asking me for money? “I need sumpin’ to eat, I’m starving.” My immediate reaction was to think that almost all panhandlers will tell you that they need to money for something to eat. I guess they think that most folks are more sympathetic to hunger than they are for the need of drugs or booze. I asked her what she wanted to eat. “Cap’n D’s” she said immediately. I thought maybe she’s telling me the truth. Thinking about the “no stops” on the voucher, I said just let me take you to where you’re going and I’ll give you five bucks and you can go to Captain D’s later. “OK” she said. By the time we got to the first traffic light she said “please let’s go to Cap’n D’s now, I’m starving”. If someone is truly hungry I certainly don’t mind feeding them. I decided that I would only charge the hospital for the trip to Captain D’s and take her the rest of the way to the clinic pro bono.

She began to complain that St. Vincent’s wouldn’t let her stay there because they said “they ain’t no medical reason to keep me.” She then started to expound on all the medical reasons they could have kept her. “I got these thangs all over me that’s drivin’ me crazy” she put her leg up on the console for me to see a hole, too small for a bullet hole but one that looked like it had been drilled with a drill or some kind of burrowing parasite in her lower leg. “That ain’t all, I got a buncha  big knots on my coochie and in my butt that hurt like a muthafucka.” While stopped at a red light she almost shouted “LOOK, look at these thangs on my privates!” I instinctively turned around only for a second to see the she had pulled up the skirt of the long dress she was wearing to reveal her naked, pantyless vagina in all it’s glory. I quickly turned my eyes away before I could get a glimpse of any knots or boils. “I got em in my butt too, they worser in my butt. These on my coochie hurt but they mostly in my butt.” The only thing I could think was lady, please don’t try to show me your butthole. Thankfully she didn’t.

When we arrived in the drive thru I asked her what she wanted. “A three piece fish and some corn on the cob. Water to drink.” She was telling me the truth about being hungry. She ate her fish and corn like a mad woman. She was completely finished by the time we drove the short distance to psychiatric services. We pulled up in front and I took her bag up to the door and went inside to ask if someone could get her in a wheelchair, she seemed too frail to get out on her own. A woman told me to take her to the ramp in the back of the building and someone would get her. A couple of professional women came out and put her through the third degree about why she was there and who had sent her. She told them that St. Vincent’s had sent her. I showed them the voucher from that hospital. They went back inside for a moment. When they came back out they said “you don’t have an appointment, you’re going to have to go to the emergency room.” One of the women then instructed me to take her to the UAB emergency room which was just a couple of blocks away.

Capn D 010

My customer had obviously fallen through the cracks of the mental health system and indeed the health care system. Knowing that she would have sat in the emergency room waiting room all day, she didn’t even consider staying there. “Just take me down by Alley’s drug store and let me out.” she said. I told her I couldn’t do that because the woman at psychiatric services had instructed me to take her to the emergency room, she seemed to understand. She got out of the car on her own power at the ER. Before I could leave she noticed that her bag was missing. I had left it by the door of psychiatric services. ” I gots to have that, you don’t know how important it is. I gotta have it.” I said just stay here and I’ll go back and get it. The bag, which looked to me like a bag full of car trash, was still sitting by the door where I had left it earlier.

I didn’t see her when I arrived back at the ER. I was thinking that maybe I’d just leave the bag there and ask someone to be on the lookout for the lady to which it belonged. Suddenly, I heard “over here.” She was walking around easily without the aid of a wheelchair or anything else. When I got out with her bag she flashed that big toothy smile and thanked me for bringing it to her. She went on her way and I went on to the next call.

copyright 2015, R.W, Walker

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

Patient Discharge

I’m back. I haven’t written a post in quite a while now but I have a few stories that I think need to be told. This past spring  just after I made my last post, I was offered and accepted a job with a company that I had worked for back in 2010. This job involved a lot of travel and had me driving all over Alabama and Mississippi for a few months. When June rolled around the job was almost completed in those two states. There were two other states out west where the job needed to be done. The company sent me and a couple of other people from this area to do the job. I spent most of the month of June and part of July working in Colorado and New Mexico. I must say it was a grand experience. I was told to only work forty hours per week and I could usually complete that in four days. I then had time for sight seeing and time to experience places I had never been like Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Denver. When I returned home, there were a few weeks of clean up work around Alabama but when that was over I needed some other way to make money. Back to cab driving. The company I was working for says that there may be more work next year, but in the meantime it’s the streets of Birmingham that will keep me occupied.

Colorado-New Mexico 6-14-14 093

It was 9:00 am and my third dispatched trip of the day. The call was to the ramp at the front entrance of the VA hospital to pick up Ted. I usually don’t like coming to this place because if the customer isn’t outside waiting for you when you get there, you’re usually forced off the ramp by vehicles behind you and end up having to circle the hospital several times, sometimes in heavy traffic in order to pick up a customer. This day was no exception, a man in green scrubs came up to the cab when he saw me pull up to assure me that they were “about to bring him out”. I circled twice before they finally wheeled out a very frail, very elderly man with an oxygen tank by his side. There were several hospital staffers and a few that looked like administrators who were wearing blue blazers with matching ties and bright shiny name tags with the VA logo.

Several of them worked hard just to get my customer in the car. I was immediately alarmed because I could foresee several problems on the back end of this trip. First, I wasn’t convinced that this man could tell me where he lived, not only was he physically very frail but his communications skills also didn’t seem quite up to par. I expressed this concern to one of the men in the blue jackets and he immediately pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and read off an address. There was another problem which was a much bigger one in my mind. How the hell was I gonna get him out of the car when I got him home? Judging by how difficult it was for the hospital staff to get him in the car, I knew that getting him out and inside his house would be even more difficult, impossible if there was no one there to help. When I asked the blue jacketed man about this he seemed not to know what to say. He looked at the man in the backseat and ask “is there anyone at your house to help you get out of the car?” My customer weakly nodded in the affirmative. The hospital staff and officials seemed only interested in getting rid of this man. Many people, from bar bouncers to these hospital big wigs consider cabs as human garbage disposals. They see it as an easy way to get rid of an unwanted person. Just call a cab and it will take them away, they don’t care where, just away. There was a well dressed woman overseeing the loading of this man in my car. She looked like she could have been a social worker or some similar professional. I cornered her and told her that I was seriously concerned about having help to get this man out of the car when I arrived at his house. I stressed the fact that I wasn’t a professional trained to deal with the disabled and that I couldn’t physically handle the man because of concerns about liability if it didn’t turn out as planned. She said “Well, he really needs to go to a nursing home. We tried to get him to go to a nursing home but he refused. Since he’s an adult of sound mind, we can’t hold him here, we have to let him go.” I said if there’s no one there to help when I get there I’m gonna have to call the authorities to get him out, because I can’t ride him around all day.  “He says there’s somebody there,  We have to take his word for it.”

The drive to his home was uneventful. He lived just beyond the very industrial, very working class suburb of Tarrant, formerly known as Tarrant City. Just a couple of miles past the big nasty coke refining plant we took a left on a side street and arrived at his modest but very neat and clean house. This area is mostly white working class. The homes are mostly small and old. Many are in disrepair. His driveway was on a slight incline and there were four steps up to his front porch. Considering what I had been told back at the hospital I assumed there was someone in the house that could come out and help. I asked him for a phone number so I could call the person inside the house. He just looked at me. I walked up on the porch and knocked on the door. It was apparent that my fear had been very real, there was no one there but Ted and me.

From the porch I looked across at the house across the street. It was very stereotypical of what someone from another part of the country may think they would see in Alabama. A small house decked out with the dollar store kind of old fashioned Christmas lights. There was a van up on a jack with the front tire missing in the front yard. Behind the van I noticed a very old looking plastic nativity scene with almost all the color faded from Mary, Joseph, the wise men and the baby Jesus. Just when I was running all the options through my head, the door opened and out came a man and a woman. The man, who was small and bearded was wearing an Alabama Crimson Tide pullover shirt. It was one of the shirts with all the years that the Tide has won national championships listed. The woman was short but much heftier than the man, she was wearing a bright pink T shirt over her big belly with the words “Bama Gal” prominently displayed on the front. The two were headed straight for their pick up truck. I had to get their attention before they could get away. I approached the man and ask if he knew of anyone I could call to help get Ted out of the car? The woman in pink immediately volunteered “we’ll help.” I was very grateful.

nativity set

The process was slow and tedious. First he had to be turned around to face the outside, then came the task of getting his legs out and his feet on the ground. They placed his walker in front of him and tried to get him to stand up. After considerable effort, he did stand up, for a little while. As they were going through the process the man in the Crimson Tide shirt asked Ted if he had money to pay the cab man. He handed him a wad of cash that he had had in his hand since we left the hospital. His fare was twenty three dollars. There was twenty eight in the wad I was handed. The woman in pink noticed and said “that’s too much” as she took back a five and put it in Ted’s pocket. I didn’t say anything.

Ted’s standing was short lived. After just a few minutes he could stand no longer and just sat down on the ground. His oxygen tubes came off his face as his tank rolled out into the yard. About that time a big bellied man of about 40 drove up in a pick up truck all decked out in Florida State Seminoles paraphernalia. I feel certain that this man had not attended Florida State University and may have never even been to Tallahassee. In my opinion it was probably the everyone loves them when they’re winning syndrome. He walked up as Ted was wallowing on the ground and said “hey Ted, how you doin’?” Ted just looked up and said “help me” in a very weak and shaky voice. The man never offered a hand to help.

The Bama Gal had the best idea so far. “We gonna have to call the paramedics, “We ain’t gonna be able to get him in the house.” They were there in about five minutes. A lieutenant of the Tarrant fire department was absolutely appalled that the VA had released this man in the condition he was in. I heard him call them on the phone to get all the information about Ted. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer. As the woman at the hospital had told me, they wanted him to go to a nursing home. Actually a hospice nursing home, which she had neglected to tell me. Ted of course had refused. To get around the “of sound mind” problem the lieutenant asked Ted a few questions. One of them was “what year is this?” When Ted answered “01” in his weak and feeble voice the lieutenant said “Ok, we’re going back to the hospital.” In a few minutes I was out of there and on my way to the next call. Ted was in an ambulance on his way back to the place that had so wanted to get rid of him.

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.

Choices And Complications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pig wig

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

copyright 2014 R.W. Walker

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

Working Hard For The Money

Get a job. Work hard and you’ll make it. How many times have you heard that? For some, taking a cab to work is a temporary condition, usually because their car is broken down. Some people take cabs to work because they’ve lost their licenses due to getting a DUI, too many tickets, too many accidents or some other reason. I’ve actually met a few people who have told me that they’ve simply never learned to drive a car.  There are still others that are disabled to the point that they can’t drive but have jobs they can do even with their disability.  For most, the reason that they don’t have cars is because they can’t afford them.

For most folks that take cabs to work it’s not temporary at all, it’s their primary mode of transportation to and from the job. Many take city buses when they can. Buses are much cheaper, but if a person lives a long distance from the bus stop or if they don’t have time to deal with the bus schedule, they often end up taking a cab. Most of the jobs we’re taking these folks to are at fast food restaurants, full service restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores or big box retail stores. Some of the jobs are in hospitals or other health care institutions but are usually lower paying jobs in food service or housekeeping.

burgers

I don’t want to get on a political soapbox, at least not for long but I will tell you that I get pretty damned upset when I hear people disrespecting the working poor. There’s a common belief that anyone can do anything or achieve any goal they set out to achieve in America if they will only work hard enough. Sure, I’ve seen examples of a few people overcoming great odds to become millionaires, but I believe it requires much more than just hard work. Quality education, a family that values education, examples of people around you who have achieved success, others who encourage you instead of working against you, family inheritance, access to capital and a lot of luck are just a few of the things that need to be present to go along with all the hard work.

No one works harder than a single mother working two jobs, day and night to support her kids or some guy trying to support a family by paving the roadways in the hellish summer heat for little more than minimum wage. Yes, sometimes these working people receive public assistance in the form of Food Stamps or housing subsidies. That’s because their jobs don’t pay enough to allow them to make a decent living without these programs. It makes my blood boil to hear people say that these people are “lazy” or that they are “moochers” on society. The same people who are against food stamps are also against raising minimum wage. I don’t understand this, what do they want? Do they want to see America become a third world country? Do they want people to work hard all day and go home to a garbage dump at night? It wouldn’t take much for most of the people saying these disgusting things about the working poor to be in the same situation. The loss of a job or a major illness would likely do it, why can’t they see that? OK, off my soapbox, Here are just a few examples of working folks before I let this topic go.

underpaid        two jobs

Jessie live in the projects in North Birmingham. Her work is at a fast food restaurant in Irondale. the fare from her house to where she works is nearly twenty dollars. She can’t take the bus because she has to be there at 4:30 am to get ready to open for breakfast at 5:00 am. Maybe she takes the bus home, maybe she gets a ride from a family member, I don’t know. Even if she goes to work only in morning by cab, it will cost her one hundred dollars per week. If she’s making minimum wage and working forty hours per week she makes $296 before deductions. So, just going to work in the morning costs her more than one third of her salary. That’s if, and that’s a big IF, she’s only taking a cab one way. She could be spending a much larger percentage of her salary commuting to work. You may ask, why doesn’t she just buy a car? I ask you, how will she get to work while she saves for the down payment?

Jimmy lives in a trailer park in Adamsville and works as a security guard in western Homewood. Going to work costs him more than thirty dollars one way. He often rides a bicycle. If you know much about the metro area you know that it’s a long way from Adamsville to Homewood. Not only is it a long way but it’s very treacherous with no bike lanes and heavy traffic including a lot of eighteen wheeler traffic. Of course he can’t ride his bike in heavy rain, thunderstorms and other inclement weather. Taking cabs is a common part of his commute to his low paying job.

Carolyn has braces on both legs. She’s able to stand and walk short distances but is mostly confined to a wheelchair. I’m not sure what her job entails but she has a job at a local hospital that she can do from a wheelchair. She lives in a nearby apartment complex near the top of Red Mountain. It’s so steep that she can’t go anywhere near the apartments without the aid of a cab. She said that she’s looking for a place that she can afford on more level ground. There’s not a lot of level ground in Birmingham. She goes to and from work and everywhere else she goes in taxis. Her taxi bill is substantial.

images courtesy of: businessinsider.com, peacock-panache.com, greanvildpost.com

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.

Caught In A Trap

The thing that makes this job much more interesting than say, retail, factory work or office work is the fact that you get a chance to observe the lifestyles and culture of every segment of society in a very personal way. Sometimes it’s business people in suits discussing multimillion dollar deals on phone conversations on the way to the airport. It can be surgeons talking about the open heart surgery that they just performed or engineers going over the latest bridge project. I once had two engineers get into an argument about the depth of the Mississippi River at Vicksburg. Sometimes it’s Latin American athletes speaking in Spanish or Portuguese about the latest soccer match. Cabbies are likely to see lavish displays of wealth and desperate, grinding poverty all in the same day, sometimes on back to back trips. Your emotions can vary greatly depending on the luck of the draw, the luck of who the dispatchers send you to pick up. It can be funny, ridiculous, dull, boring, delightful and disgusting. Sometimes it’s just downright sad and pitiful.

I was just getting started at about 8:00 am. My first dispatch of the day came from the 130 zone. I could tell by the zip code that this customer was in the far eastern section of the zone. I often reject trips that far away but on this morning I was headed out to the cab depot, which is near this customers location, so I went ahead and accepted the trip. I cringed a little when I saw that the call came from a low rent, quite gritty, extended stay hotel. I figured that it would just be a trip to the store for a pack of smokes or something similar. That’s the type of trip that typically comes out of this place.

The information page of the dispatch told me that this women needed to be picked up in front of her room which was on the back side of the hotel. I also noticed the code WC indicating that this customer was in a wheelchair. She was sitting outside, ready to go when I arrived. I could see that she had one partial leg that was the result of a below the knee amputation on the left side. The other leg seemed to be non existent. She had a very high above knee amputation on the right side. There was a toddler, probably about a year old, in her lap.

She asked if I would roll her down the wheelchair ramp and up to the car, she also requested that I let her ride in the front, she said it was “just easier” that way. She had another favor to ask before she wiggled her way into the car. She needed for me to hold the toddler while she accomplished this task. I was a bit surprised at how comfortable the little girl seemed in the arms of a strange man that she had never met. She didn’t resist at all, she just happily sucked on her bottle until her mother was securely in the car.

“You gonna make some money today” were the first words out of her mouth when I got behind the wheel. “I’ve got several errands to run, then we gonna go to Vestavia so I can get my power chair.” I told her that I couldn’t fit a power chair into the cab. “Don’t worry about that” she said, “they gonna bring me home.” All of the errands consisted of visits to payday loan/ title pawn businesses that are ubiquitous in lower income parts of town.

green-loans-payday-loans

“I’ve got to pay these folks, but I know I’ll have to borrow more before the end of the month. That’s the way it is every month, it just goes round and round.” Each visit required getting the wheelchair out of the trunk and positioning it for her and then holding the little girl. The process was reversed every time she came out of a business and back to the car. After the third visit she decided that she had to pay her rent. “I’d better go on and pay it now, cause I’m gonna run out of money then they’ll want to kick me out.” I asked if I could go in and pay it for her to avoid going through the process again at the hotel office. She enthusiastically agreed and handed me her debit card and told me her PIN. She volunteered it, I didn’t have to ask. There was a line at the office which was behind a bullet proof shield at the grimy hotel. She had told me to pay two weeks worth but the clerk said “You can’t do that here. A weeks worth, max.”

The next trip was to another payday loan place all the way across town on Green Springs Highway. After this she was supposed to be picking up her power chair, which I learned on the way that she would be renting, not owning. A call to the business supplying the chair yielded bad news, they wouldn’t be able to bring her back to the hotel after all. The power chair would have to be postponed indefinitely until she could figure out a way to get home.

By the time we got back to the hotel the fare was substantial. I had mixed emotions, on the one hand I truly had sympathy for this woman and her family living in a crappy hotel and caught in a hellish loan shark nightmare. On the other hand, I needed to get paid and this was enough to pay my lease for the day. I ran the card and purposely omitted adding a tip. I figured she had suffered enough for one day.

image: green loans-payday loans

All text 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.

A Flash In The Pan part 1

Many, perhaps most, cab trips are very short. Often a customer will be with you no longer than five minutes. If the customer is engaging, if they’re likable, weird or interesting in other ways it can seem quite surreal when they exit the car and the experience abruptly ends. This post will highlight some of these short but otherwise unrelated trips.

It was after sundown on a Thursday night and I hadn’t planned on working late because we had a guest coming to our house. I decided to accept one last call in the 120 zone; the zone where I live. It was an apartment complex up on the side of the mountain in Southside, one of the complexes with fantastic views of the city but with deadly drop offs nearby. A short haired woman appeared at the door and held up one finger, which is code in this business for “I’ll be out in a minute.”

short hair 3

“How do I look?” she asked as she hopped in the backseat about 5 minutes later. I turned on the bright light and looked around. She was putting a wig on her close cropped head and was trying to make sure it was combed and on straight. After telling her that she looked great, she started telling me the story of her cancer and the chemo that she was going through. Her hair was short because it had just started to grow back. She was on her way to Children’s Hospital to visit her niece and wanted her niece to see her looking good and healthy. About halfway to the hospital, which was only about a mile away, she changed the subject. She asked me if I picked people up at hotels. Of course I do, it’s a big part of the job, I told her. “Well before I got cancer I was an escort, I worked in most of the better hotels around town.” For some reason she felt the need to fill me in with some of the details. “Have you ever been to the Bankhead?” All the time, I said. It’s a very popular hotel. “That’s where I gave my first golden shower.” Wow! That’s interesting, I said as we pulled up at the hospital door. “Wish me luck” she said as she paid the fare and headed into the building.

He was a short chubby white man in his mid forties with shoulder length hair. One leg had been amputated below the knee, his blue jean leg was folded up and pinned on his upper calf. His other leg was in a cast. He was able to put it on the ground to help him get out of his wheelchair and into the car but I could tell he didn’t get much use out of that leg. “I don’t know how I’m gonna get in the car next week. They’re gonna cut my other leg off Wednesday.” It was Monday, he was talking about having his remaining leg cut off in two days. I told him that I was sorry to hear that. “Don’t be, I’ve been trying to get them to go ahead and cut it off for a year.” He went on to tell me that he had been fighting an infection in his foot this length of time. “They’ve tried every anti-biotic known to man. Nothing has done any good and they’ve finally given up, I’m glad.”

It turns out that I was taking him to get a haircut so he would look nice for Wednesday’s date with the saw. He got a phone call during the trip from the office of the doctor that would be doing the amputation. He seemed alarmed when the woman said something that made him think that the surgery would be delayed. When she later assured him that his surgery would go ahead as scheduled, he seemed relieved.

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.

image courtesy of www.byebye-breastcancer-hello-wellness.com

Leading The Blind

I guess I never thought about it before I started driving cabs, but one thing all blind people have in common is that they can’t drive. I’ve picked up several blind customers since I started driving, some with guide dogs and some without. I don’t remember the circumstances of the first time I picked them up, but Earl and Brenda would become my longest lasting regular customers. I’ve never asked them their ages but they appear to be in their late sixties or early seventies. They’re both blind.  blind

Brenda said that she gradually went blind from the eye disease retinitis pigmentosa when she was a child. By the time she was seven years old she was completely blind. Earl had some kind of cancer of the eyeballs when he was a toddler, his eyes were removed and now he wears two glass eyes. Brenda has some light perception. She can tell day from night or when it’s sunny or overcast. Earl, of course, cannot; his blindness is complete. They’ve only lived in Birmingham for a little more than a year. They moved here because their son, Kevin had moved here after marrying a local woman.  Brenda and Earl wanted to be near their son. Kevin is also blind; he inherited his mother’s RP and went blind at an early age, just as Brenda had. They moved from Chicago where Earl had worked for a major university in a program that taught the blind to use computers, among other things. He’s now retired. I don’t think Brenda has worked much outside the home.

This couple has given me a valuable education about both the special needs and the normalness of the visually impaired. Brenda has a German Shepherd guide dog named Chloe. To be quite honest, Chloe isn’t the brightest guide dog that I’ve ever seen. Many times on our outings I find myself quite literally leading the blind. Sometimes I find myself leading the guide dog also.  As I’ve already said, these folks can’t drive. They’re completely dependent on others to take them everywhere they go. Believe me, they go plenty. They live in a relatively new brick house in a cookie cutter subdivision deep in zone 235. There are many doctor and dental appointments, vet trips for Chloe, trips to the bank and trips shopping. Yes, shopping. Brenda loves to shop. There are certain stores that have employees that will stay with her during the trip and find the stuff she’s looking for. Yes they do use such phrases as “looking for”, “see you later” ect. They also travel, which was a bit of a surprise for me. They go back to Chicago every few  epcotmonths to visit friends and relatives but their absolute favorite destination is the Epcot Center at Disney World in Florida. Apparently, the Epcot Center has representations of many nations. They can enjoy the food, music and other sounds, smells and tastes of other cultures without actually traveling abroad. When they take these trips I usually pick them up at the airport. I find them, find their luggage at the baggage claim, guide them back to the car and get them home safely.

It’s more important for blind people to find regular drivers and other service people than it is for sighted people. It’s important for them to build relationships that build trust. They can’t feel the difference between a one, a ten, a twenty or a hundred dollar bill. They have to trust people to tell them the truth. They can’t tell one credit or debit card from another without some difficulty and they always need help at the ATM. These are things that require trust, things that almost no one would feel comfortable letting a complete stranger do. They’ve told me that they save up their mail for about two weeks at a time and then have a “reader” to come to their house to read it to them. Although they’ve never mentioned it, I assume they also have sighted people helping with laundry, matching their clothes and cooking. Brenda does buy foods at the grocery store that require prepreation and cooking. Other than sometimes being covered with dog hair from Chloe, their clothes are neat and clean and never grossly mismatched. This couple is living in a strange place in a region they’re not used to. They have few friends or relatives to help them with daily life. I admire their strength and courage.

Sometimes the fact that I can be of service to people who truly need my service and to be trustworthy to those who need trustworthy people the most can be very satisfying. It makes me feel as if I’m doing something truly valuable to others, whether or not there is great profit to be made. Recently, a friend who is a long time taxi driver called me to ask a favor. He said that he was away on vacation but he had been informed that one of his regular blind customers had been taken advantage of by some scumbag driver who had answered the dispatch to pick this guy up. I’m not an extremely religious person but I’d like to think that there would be a special place in hell for any despicable piece of crap that would steal from a blind person. My friend ask if I could go by and pick Charles up and help him with his shopping and banking routine since it would involve money and shopping. I agreed.

I watched him carefully as he made his way down the steps in front of his house to the sidewalk. He had a collapsible red and white cane with a little ball at the end that he used to find his way down the steps while holding onto the rails that looked like they had been put there just for his benefit. Our first stop was at the bank where I filled out his checking withdrawal slip in order for him to get the cash he needed for his shopping. I was almost hesitant to ask when I got to the line where I had to fill in the account number. He said “I don’t know the account number, just put my social security number on it and they can use that.” I wrote the number on the slip and then made a conscious effort to forget it. Our next stop was a large grocery store in the Five Points West area of Ensley. Unlike Brenda, who usually called ahead to the grocery stores to make sure that they would have someone there to help her pick out her groceries, Charles was depending on me to do this for him. I guess my friend had been doing it for him in the past. Charles hung onto my arm as we negotiated the aisles of the big store. I was able to find everything on his mental list in a relatively short time. When we got to the checkout it was time for him to put his trust of me to the test. He took money out of his pocket one bill at a time and asked “what’s that?” with each one. I said, that’s a fifty Charles, give it to the cashier. After repeating this exercise about three more times, the grocery bill was paid. The next stop was at a dollar store.  I went in while he sat in the car, bought a phone card and then put the minutes on his phone. There were then two fast food drive through trips where it seemed to me that Charles was buying enough food to feed an army. I guess it was stuff that he expected to last for a while, since getting out of the house was a major effort for him. I dropped him off where I had picked him up and carried his groceries in the house. Even though he did pay me for my service, I felt as if I had done my good deed for the day.

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.