Category Archives: Hotel

The Unwanted

“Call em’ a cab.” That’s a popular way to get rid of a person causing a problem. Whenever someone is being belligerent, drunk and disorderly, obnoxious or just in the way, a favorite solution to many is to call us and a car will appear and rid them of their problem. The person calling usually never thinks of the problems that person will cause the driver or anyone else after they leave. They just know that the problem will no longer be theirs. The following stories are about two very different people who were unwanted where they were and the cab solution was employed.

Edna Jean

It was early in the evening, just after dusk when I c-booked a trip in the 130 zone. It’s a pretty big zone that stretches from the Lakeview and Highland Park areas in Southside almost to Irondale in the eastern part of the metro. This trip was at the IHOP on Crestwood Blvd which is on the eastern end of the zone. I called the dispatch and asked that they call the customer to make sure they would stay there until I could get there, it sucks to drive a long way for nothing and many customers are very impatient. An employee of the restaurant answered and assured me that “she’ll be here”. I assumed that Edna Jean was an employee that I would be taking home.

She wasn’t an employee. I think I may have jumped a little in my skin when I saw her come out. A white woman in her fifties who looked totally bizarre. Her silver hair was standing out in every direction and looked like it hadn’t seen a comb in weeks. She was wearing a man’s jacket which was about four times too big. Under that I could only see her bare legs and a pair of ragged flip flops on her gnarly, dirty feet. I just assumed she was wearing pants under that jacket, I didn’t ask. Her piercing but almost frighteningly empty eyes looked straight in to mine and said “My name’s Edna Jean. What’s yours?” Rod is my name, where do you need to go? “I live in Walker County. Do you know where Sumiton is? How much will it cost? I got fifty dollars.” I said I’m afraid it may cost a little more than that. A trip to Sumiton would probably run about seventy or eighty dollars. “I ain’t got but fifty but I’ll give you that.” I said I’m afraid it’ll cost more than that to get to Sumiton. “Well can you take me to Leeds?” That I can do. It’ll be about twenty dollars from here.

As we pulled out into Crestwood Blvd headed to Leeds she said again “My name’s Edna Jean, what’s yours?” My name’s Rod. It’s nice to meet you Edna Jean. “I live in Walker County, in Sumiton. You know where that is?” Yes, I know where it is but I thought you wanted to go to Leeds. “I really caint go to Leeds. I been staying out there with my brother. He lives in the housing project. He ain’t sposed to have nobody but his wife and kids in there. They been tryin’ to get me locked up, that’s why I left.” How did you get to the IHOP, I asked. “I walked, I had to leave there cause theys tryin’ to get me locked up.” Do you mean you walked all the way here from Leeds? “Yeah I did. I’m tarred.” Well do you know anyone around here? Where were you going? “My name’s Edna Jean, I live in Walker County, Sumiton. Do you know where that is?” Yes I know where it is, are you telling me you were planning to walk to Sumiton? “Yeah, but that’s too far ain’t it?” Yes, it’s way too far to walk, probably fifty or sixty miles. “That’s what the girl in the restaurant said. She said I’ll call you a cab.”

“Please take me to Sumiton. It’s in Walker County. I got fifty dollars, please take me. I caint go back to my brothers place, they want to lock me up and I caint stand to be locked up. Please take me. I live in Walker County.” OK, I said. Give me the fifty dollars. She handed me four little balls of money. I straightened them out and could see it was two twenties and two fives. I stuffed them deep into my pocket and drove up the ramp to I-20, headed west. I decided to run the meter just to see how much it would actually cost to get her there. By now it was black dark and cloudy with just a few drops of rain on the windshield. Traffic was light in my mind but Edna Jean was freaking out. “All this traffic scares me to death, I couldn’t never drive on this road. Specially them eighteen wheelers. Them thangs scare me to death.” The sound of an ambulance siren was sounding pretty shrill coming up behind us. I barely pay them much attention because I hear and see them so much, I often joke that the sound of emergency vehicles is Birmingham’s theme song. Not so with Edna Jean. “What’s that?” she gasped. Just an ambulance I said, we see them all the time. “Them thangs scare me too, I’m glad I ain’t got to drive.”

As we exited on Arkadelphia and headed toward Sumiton she couldn’t hide her excitement. “Where we at?  We already in Sumiton?” No we’re still in Birmingham, we’ve got a long way to go. “My name’s Edna Jean. I live in Walker County.” I said yes, Edna Jean. We’ve already established that. “All my folks is dead except for my brother and he don’t want me, he wants to have me locked up.” I’m sorry to hear that I said. “My husband just died about five years ago. He’s buried upair in Taylor’s cemetery in Sumiton, you know where that is?” I can’t say that I do. I said I’ll bet you miss your husband, did y’all have a good life together? “Naw, not really. He was a alky-holic. He got mean when he was drunk. He died of cirrhosis of the liver. Naw, I don’t miss him much.” That’s too bad, I said. And all your other relatives are dead? “Mama and all her sisters and brothers died a long time ago. Daddy’s been dead since I was little. Oh, I forgot about my daughter, she ain’t dead. I don’t have nothing to do with her and she don’t like me. She’s a dope addict.”

After we passed through the last street lights of Forestdale, Adamsville and Graysville the road became significantly darker. “It ain’t far now is it?” We’re a lot closer than we were but we’ve still got a few miles, I told her. “I’m glad it was you that picked me up” Why is that? I asked. “I don’t trust colored men”. As much as I disagreed with this sentiment I decided that having a discussion about race with this woman wasn’t a good idea, so I just stayed silent and let it go. Soon we were passing Wesley’s Boobie Trap, an old strip club in the middle of nowhere near the Walker County line. “We close now,” she said. “Sumiton ain’t far from that old titty bar.” I said yeah, we’ll be there soon. As soon as we get into Sumiton you can show me where you live. “I don’t live nowhere, I ain’t got no home no more.” Alarms started going off in my mind. Ut oh, I thought. Where the hell am I gonna take her? So I asked, where am I gonna take you? “I’m gonna try to go up to my friend’s trailer. If she ain’t there or won’t let me in I’ll guess you can just take me to downtown Sumiton.” I was apprehensive. I’ve been in these situations before, where someone will hold you a long time going place to place for little to no money. In this case it would be no money.

Boobie Trap

In just a couple of miles after passing the Boobie Trap we started seeing the first few lights of Sumiton, mostly fast food. A McDonald’s and a couple of other chain burger joints. “We gonna go rat over this hill and turn by the Hardee’s.” This turn lead us down a winding country road that turned from pavement to gravel after about a half mile. “See that trailer up on the hill? I’m ona go upair and see if she’ll let me in.” I watched as she walked up the small hill in her ragged clothes to a ragged home. After some loud knocking the door cracked open and Edna walked in. I didn’t give her a chance to walk out again. I hit the road in a hurry. The meter was sitting at sixty eight dollars. Yes, I felt compassion for her but I’d already taken an eighteen dollar hit. That’s all I could afford for one night.

Jane

Picking up at upscale restaurants is usually easy. It’s almost always fairly affluent people who are visiting Birmingham and staying in the good hotels. Most of the time it’s a short trip to the Westin, The Sheraton, Embassy Suites or one of the other mainstream hotels near downtown. Once in a while it’s a twenty five to thirty dollar trip out to the hotel at Ross Bridge. The customers are almost always well behaved and never overly drunk.

This night was an exception. When I pulled up in front of the upscale seafood restaurant at five points south, a valet motioned for me to roll down my window. He ask, “are you here for Jane?” I said yes and he told me they were bringing her out. I thought it a little odd that she had to be brought out. Jane was an attractive young woman probably in her thirties. She had shoulder length blonde hair and was wearing a stylish looking blue dress. She was the kind of customer one would expect to see at this kind of restaurant. Jane was being escorted to the cab by the restaurant manager and another employee. She was holding on tight to both their arms. When they let her go to get in the cab she took a tumble when she stepped off the curb. They picked her up off the ground and physically put her in the back seat.

This was a strange situation. She seemed to be alone and was apparently well lubricated when she arrived. When I asked where she wanted to go she just gave me a blank stare, like “who are you and where am I?” The manager said “the best we can tell, she lives in Anniston and is in town for some kind of business meeting.” Can you tell me where you want to go? I ask her. “I don’t know, to my hotel I guess. My car’s here I can just drive.” “Ma’am we cannot allow you to drive” the manager said. “Why not?” she insisted. “Because you’re too intoxicated to drive, ma’am. If I let you drive our restaurant would be liable if you get into a wreck. You can leave in the cab or if you have a friend I can call them to pick you up. If you can’t do either of those things, I’m afraid I’ll have to call the police.”

I said ma’am I’ll be glad to take you to your hotel if you’ll just tell me where it is. “I don’t know. Fairfield Inn I think.” Which Fairfield Inn? I asked. “I don’t know I’m not from here.” I started googling Fairfield Inn near Birmingham on my phone. I found that the one I had remembered on highway 280 was closed. There were three others in the metro area. Bessemer, Fultondale and Pelham. I said we have three to chose from but they’re far apart. If we go to the wrong one we’re going to be a hell of a long way to the right one.

By this time she’s clutching my arm as she had the with the manager and the restaurant employee. “I don’t know just take me there.” she almost screamed. Ma’am I can’t take you anywhere until you can tell me where we’re going. She looked at the manager and yelled “I’M UNHAPPY WITH HIM.” as she pointed in my direction. I said I’m unhappy with you too. You’re taking up my time, and you can’t go anywhere with me if you can’t tell me where to go. You can’t ride around with me all night. The manager tried to convince her to let him see her phone. He thought maybe he could see where she had called a hotel and he could call to see which one. She flatly refused. “You’re not touching my phone” she told him.

It seemed abundantly clear that Jane wouldn’t be much help providing a destination. The manager and I started considering other options. He said “I really don’t want to call the police on her. Maybe you could take her to one the hotels in this area where she can get a room for the night. She can come back here and get her car tomorrow, when she’s sober. Good idea I said. I looked at her and said we have three hotels less than a mile from here. We have the Hotel Highland, the Doubletree and the Marriot Residence. Would you like to go to one of those? “Marriot Residence, take me there.” I did a u turn and headed down the hill. She was still clutching my arm and by this time laying her head on my shoulder in an almost flirty manner. After two red lights we were there.

“Where are we? Why did you bring me here? What is this place? This is the Marriot Residence Hotel. You told me to bring you here. “Why?” Don’t you remember? The restaurant manager said you had to go somewhere or he would have to call the police. Are you going to get out? I asked. “No, I don’t know why I’m here. What kind of car is this?” It’s a cab. About a 2007 Ford Crown Victoria. “This is my car,” she said. I said ma’am if you don’t get out here at this hotel I will have to call the police. “I’m not getting out of my own car! How did you get my car?” I put the keys in my pocket and got out of the car. “What are you doing?”she asked. I went to the desk and told the clerk what was going on. I was very happy this clerk was working because she was very helpful. When we both walked back out of the hotel Jane was in the drivers seat with her hands on the wheel. “Let us help you ma’am, just come into the hotel and we’ll get you a room for the night.” “Why are you trying to make me get out of my car?” Jane insisted. “Ma’am, you’re sitting in the driver’s seat of a cab. This is not your car.”

The clerk was very kind and gentle with Jane and apparently that worked. She took the clerk by the hand and stumbled into the hotel lobby. As with Edna Jean, I didn’t give her time to change her mind. I also didn’t ask her for any money as I knew that would be futile.

copyright R.W. Walker 2015

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

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A Matter Of Class

Income inequality is a major issue across America and indeed the world. The issue is profound in this area and as I may have mentioned previously, driving a cab allows one to see it in a very personal way. Some, including some fellow drivers, say that they’re unable to see it or think that’s just the way it is and there’s nothing that can be done about it. I guess they’re right, at least to some degree. I don’t know if a classless society would ever be possible but seeing some with far more than they need to live a luxurious life and others without the life’s basic necessities rubs me the wrong way. I have absolutely nothing against educating one’s self, working hard, having great ideas and making a lot of money. In fact I think that’s very admirable. What’s even more admirable are the people who are the big winners in this crazy money game we all have to play who don’t forget about their fellow humans who haven’t been so lucky. Some high profile billionaires such as Bill and Melinda Gates are very charitable and have done a great deal to help those in need. That’s fantastic. Unfortunately, not every mover and shaker wants to help the less fortunate, some in fact are the causes of the problems.

The following stories are about real life people on the extreme ends of the income gap. These are situations that paint a realistic picture of income inequality and the expectations of privilege by some on the good side of the gap. There are many days when we serve both the richest and the poorest residents of our community, sometimes on back to back trips. I hope these situational accounts will help someone, maybe someone who is in denial, see the issues clearly.

THE WEDDING PARTY

It was a busy night. One of those nights when there was far more demand for cabs than there were cabs. That happens sometimes when there are concerts, festivals or other big events that bring a lot of people to town. I had just dropped off a customer in the 150 zone. That’s Mountain Brook, the richest neighborhood in Alabama and one of the top ten in the southeast. There were 6 calls on the board for the zone and I decided to take one hoping that it wasn’t too old and that the people were still there. It was to Otey’s Tavern, as many of the calls in this zone are. Otey’s is a small bar in the Crestline Village section of Mountain Brook that is very popular with the young “Brookies”, the children and grandchildren of the old money elites who populate this posh suburb.

wedding party

There was to be a wedding of a Mountain Brook girl and a fellow from New York the next day. A large group in the wedding party was celebrating early at Otey’s, there were eight of them in all. We’ve been warned many times not to overload a cab. The capacity is five people, the driver and four passengers. Anything more than that is against the law because there aren’t enough seatbelts for more than five. If a driver should be pulled over, or worse yet have an accident with the car overloaded, his or her ass is grass. It’s not a chance that I’m willing to take. The guy who seemed to be the leader of this group decided that he was going to put all eight of his friends in the car, I flatly refused which started a firestorm of hate aimed in my direction.  They had been waiting for a while. When I told them that I wouldn’t take any of them if they insisted on overloading the car, four of them reluctantly agreed to make the trip while the others waited on another cab.

It was a very unpleasant trip. The girls kept trying to shame me for leaving their friends behind, all of the logic in the world didn’t matter. In their mind I was supposed to forget about the warnings that had been passed down and do as they wanted in order to please them. The guy who had first tried to orchestrate the eight person trip was sitting behind me kicking me in the back with his knees through the back of the seat. Once I screamed “what the fuck are you doing?” at this asshole he subsided for a little while. Now, I regret not stopping the car and putting his ass out on the side of the road.

One of the girls was busy calling the cab company to get their friends picked up. She tried being an authoritarian with the call taker. She said ” You’d better get a cab to pick up our friends, RIGHT NOW”. The call taker hung up on her. Realizing that her options were limited she changed her tone a bit. She started soliciting my help in getting a ride for her friends. She asked about other cab companies. I said there are several others but they’re mostly a joke, but please feel free to try one. I told her the name of two of the companies. She tried calling them both but neither of them would even answer the phone. She ask if I had any friends who could pick them up. Not tonight, I said. We’re crazy busy, everyone already has all they can do. Trying to make the best of the situation, I said maybe I could go back and pick them up when I drop you off. One of the girls in the back seat piped up and said “they wouldn’t ride in the car with you.” Great, I said. There are plenty of others that need rides and I won’t have to back track. The girl in front immediately flipped a switch and tried to become my best friend. “You’re a good cab driver” she said in a childlike voice. “I was on your side all along, you will go back and get them won’t you?” I’ll consider it, I said.

By the time we reached their destination, Lakeview, the other girls had joined in the love fest. “You’re the best driver we’ve ever had” one of them said. The guy who I had screamed at wasn’t feeling the love. He decided to try and put me in my place instead. “You’re a terrible cab driver” he yelled in my face! “YOU WORK IN THE SERVICE INDUSTRY, YOU DO AS YOU’RE TOLD! DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?” I managed to keep my cool even as I was fantasizing about bashing this stupid asshole’s brains out with a hammer. He slammed the door and stormed off. I don’t how long it took their friends to get a ride. I hope it was a long, long time.

A WARM FLOOR TO SLEEP ON

The address on the screen was to a park up behind the Civic Center in the 500 zone. As I approached I could see four scruffy looking white guys standing on the corner of the park waiting for my arrival. As I’ve noticed with all groups, no matter how rich or poor, no matter the race or ethnicity, there’s always one who seems to be the leader. One who makes the decisions for the rest of the group. I guess that’s just the way most humans operate. The leader of this group was a middle aged man wearing a U.S. Navy jacket and a baseball cap. The others were in dirty jeans, cheap tennis shoes, what I’m sure were hand me down coats and knit skull hats.

The destination was to a low rent extended stay hotel up on the mountain on the Homewood side. The leader, the man in the Navy jacket, had apparently received a check or some kind of significant income and he was putting the others up for the night in this hotel. They wanted to stop at a store to buy cigarettes. The youngest of the group said “I caint go in there, they done banned me.”  So he stayed in the car with me while the others got their smokes. Once back on the interstate the group began expressing their gratitude to the man in the Navy jacket. ” I been sleepin’ under that damn 280 bridge. I thought my feet was gonna freeze off last night. I sho am glad I’ll be sleepin’ in a motel tonight. I don’t care if I have to sleep on the floor. That warm floor will feel mighty good compared to where I been sleepin’.”

When we exited the interstate at the Greensprings Avenue exit, one of the other fellas decided to tell us all that this could be a very lucrative intersection. “Me and my son will stand out here with a sign saying I’ll work for food. Just about always somebody will take you to do some yard work, rakin’ leaves or sumpin’. They’ll usually give you sumpin’ to eat and a little money to boot.  You caint stay out there long though. The po-leece will run you off. They say it’s beggin’ even if you are offerin’ to work.”

work for food 2

We arrived at the hotel just a few minutes later. The man in the Navy jacket asked me to wait a few minutes just to make sure he could get all the fellas in. I was a bit nervous about the wait as I had yet to be paid. True to his word, our Navy friend returned in just a couple of minutes and said “we’re all in, how much do I owe you?” The meter was at seventeen dollars. He handed me a twenty and said “keep the change.” I’m glad these guys got off the street for at least one night. God bless the man in the Navy jacket.

These are just two examples, there are countless others. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that every wealthy customer is obnoxious like those in the wedding party. Many are very polite and pleasant company. I’m also not saying that every poor customer is honorable, some are not. The point I’m trying to get across here is that equality of human beings in this society is non existent. As I’ve already said, I don’t think a classless society is possible, but to narrow the huge divide between the classes would be a lofty goal indeed.

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.

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.

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

Two Birds With One Stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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