Category Archives: Music

Red Heels On A Red Hill

My first trip in cab #1056 was a rocky one. As I punched the gas to take my customer over the mountain I could tell I was having transmission issues. It didn’t seem that the third gear was engaging. I was having serious doubts that I could make it to the top of the hill. Once I crossed the hill, after what seemed like considerable straining by the transmission, I was able to coast down the other side to my customer’s job in Soho Square. I immediately called dispatch and asked if they wanted me to call a wrecker of try driving it back to the shop. We decided that I would drive it back but I’d go out Montevallo Road so I wouldn’t have to cross the mountain again.

Have you ever taken a thing to be repaired but when you get it to the repairman it works just fine and makes you look like a fool? That’s what happened to me. The mechanic got in the driver’s seat and I in the back seat. He drove it around the eastern part of town on interstates and back streets, up hills and on level ground. The car seemed fine, it looked like I had brought it back for nothing. I had egg on my face. The car worked fine the rest of the day and through the night. It was the next night before the trouble reared it’s ugly head once again.

The call was to pick up Albert at an apartment complex up on the side of Red Mountain. These apartments are probably the steepest apartments in Birmingham. It puts a strain on the best of transmissions to make it to the top. Albert lived on a row of buildings just below the top. The car made it to his apartment just fine, no problems. I’ve picked up Albert before. He’s an openly gay African American man probably in his 40’s. He’s usually very quiet and polite, no problem at all. I was taking him to a fundraiser for an AIDS outreach program at a venue out between downtown and Avondale. About halfway there Albert asked “there ain’t nothing wrong with being gay, is it?” I said no, in my opinion everyone should have the right to be who they are, I have no problem with someone being gay. This seemed to ease his mind a bit and he began to open up about the party he was about to attend. He said ” I got my red dress in this bag. I got some heels too, bright red.” I asked, how about a wig? You got a wig? “Yes honey, I got a good wig. Some of these folks be walking around in dresses and heels but with bald heads. I think if you gonna do it, do it right. Yeah, I got me a wig.” When we arrived at the venue I could see others walking around in heels and dresses. Some were obviously male but others were ambiguous enough that it was hard to tell.  Some red and white, some red and black but a common color of all the outfits was red. Yes, I did see one fellow with male pattern baldness wearing a fancy red dress. Albert asked for my phone number. He said “I’ll be different when I come out. I want you to pick me up.”

red heels

It was a busy night. There was a big, free music festival at Railroad park that had drawn many thousands. There was also Secret Stages, another festival featuring indie rock acts at various venues in the downtown loft district. All this made for non-stop cab driving. That’s the way I like it, that’s the way it needs to be to make money in this business. You constantly either have a customer in your car or you’re going to pick up a customer. That’s cab driving at it’s best.

The call came at a lucky time. The voice on the other end said “I’m calling for a friend, his name is Albert. You dropped him off here a few hours ago. He’s had a few and he’s ready to go home.” I was just about to drop off some customers at the Furnace and Albert’s party wasn’t far away. I told him I’d be there in just a few minutes.

Albert had transformed since I dropped him off, he had become Alberta. She was wearing that tight red dress and a big Jeri curl wig as she walked out the door and down the steps. She was barefoot and holding the red heels in her hand. She was pretty toasty after having what she described as “about 6 of them pink gin drinks.” She was much more talkative and maybe just a bit flirtatious on the ride home. The first thing she told me was that she wanted me to watch her walk in her heels when we got back to the apartment. I said, OK. Put them on when you get out and I’ll watch you walk inside. “Ok, honey.”

About halfway home she started up a conversation about saggin’, the practice of young men wearing their pants hanging down so that their underwear is visible.  “You know how saggin’ got started?” she asked. I said I heard it started in prison. It was a way of letting the dominant inmates know who the submissive ones were and that they were available. “That’s right”, she said. “And that’s what all these young dudes that do it now be wantin’, they just want some dick, that’s all. I don’t care what they say, they just want some dick.” I just said maybe so and let it go at that. We arrived at the apartments a few minutes later.

As we started up the steep hill, the transmission problem I had experienced the day before was suddenly back, with a vengeance. Even when I put the pedal to the metal the car just refused to climb any higher. I looked back at Alberta and said we’ve got a problem. “Honey, they need to give you a better car than this. This must be a raggedy ass car.” I said yeah, that’s true but right now we have to solve the matter at hand. How are we gonna get you up that hill? “Let it roll back down and get you a runnin’ start.” I tried it, it didn’t work. She said “let it roll back down and let’s go around the Cullom Street side, it ain’t quite as steep.” The car groaned and strained it’s guts out and finally made it up the less steep hill on the Cullom Street side. We came to a relatively level street between two apartment buildings. Alberta’s apartment was on the same level but on the other side of the steep road we had originally tried to ascend. She would have to walk up a steep hill on the back side of her apartment to get inside. “Now, take you a good runnin’ start and go across that hill and I’ll go in the back way. This time it worked, I managed to get to the steep red dirt hill behind Alberta’s apartment.

“I still want you to watch me walk in these heels” she said. She stumbled and she staggered. At one point I was concerned that she might break her ankle. She eventually gained her balance and made it to the end of the parking lot facing the steep hill on the side of Red Mountain. She managed to take about three steps up the hill before falling. She tried to get back up with the shoes on but failed. I could see the frustration and finally the “oh fuck it” look on her face as she gave in and took them off and stood to her feet. I watched until she disappeared around the end of the building. I turned around, put it in drive and coasted down the hill.

Copyright R.W. Walker 2015

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

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Perks And Shakes

When I first started cab driving I was given a manual which laid out all the rules, both from the company and from the city. It explained how everything works, including dispatching. On the front page of that manual, there were bold letters that said “Welcome to the Business World.” Having been a small business owner for more than a decade, I can tell you that there is much truth to this statement. Income made driving a cab is made in an almost identical way that it’s made by owning a more traditional small business. There are no paychecks and no benefits, you make income by making a profit directly from your customers. Your gross minus your expenses equals your income.

The cab companies are in the leasing business. They make money by the leases each driver pays which covers the car, use of the cab permit, dispatching, insurance and maintenance. They make the same amount whether the business has been so slow that you’ve struggled to make your lease or it’s been so good that you’re rolling in dough. Good business does work to their advantage however; if there’s no profit to be made there’s no reason to do it. They’ll have a hard time keeping their cabs leased out if the business gets slow enough. Drivers also have the option of owning their own cabs and some do. They pay a smaller lease that only covers the use of the permit and dispatching. They are responsible for all other expenses, which of course can be substantial if there’s a major maintenance problem. I prefer to lease, it works better for me.

There are many downsides to doing this for a living. One of the biggest is the long hours that are often necessary to make a profit. Most weeks I only drive three days, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. These are almost always the most productive days. Even though I only work three days I usually work more than forty hours. I use the daytime hours to make my expenses, after a nap in the afternoon, I go out into the night to make my income. Another downside is having to work every weekend. If you want to make money you have to be out there when the business is out there. You have to get it while the getting is good. Income can vary quite a bit depending on how busy it is and how lucky you are. When you accept a trip offered you don’t know if it’s going to be a trip across the metro area for forty or fifty dollars or a trip of just a few blocks for four or five dollars. Luck plays a major role in making money in this business.

So what are the upsides?  Why do I choose to do this instead of working in a more traditional job? Well, there are several upsides. We are totally free to set our own hours. There are no time clocks and no one to give you a hard time for being a few minutes late. Pay your lease on time, don’t wreck or otherwise destroy their cars and don’t do anything incredibly stupid and you’re not likely to have a problem with your company. Anytime you need to take off for a few days you can. No, you won’t get paid, but since you are totally responsible for making your own income, you expect that. You don’t have to call in, you don’t need a doctor’s excuse and you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission or even plan for it in advance, just turn your car in and come back when you’re ready. Even with these perks, I will have to say that my wife and I are very fortunate because she has a professional career. It would be very difficult, if not impossible for us to maintain a comfortable standard of living if we depended only on my cab driving gig. Even if I worked a lot more hours than I already do.

There are also many perks when you are out in the metro doing your job. You’re free to go anywhere that the company is permitted to operate. You may work any zone you wish at any time you wish. You don’t have to ask anyone if you can stop and eat in a restaurant or even go to a movie, a sporting event or a concert. You can do your banking or any other personal errands you need to do. You can also drop by your house to take care or anything that may need your attention. There was recently a big weekend here in Birmingham when the Alabama Shakes , one of the hottest new musical acts on the scene today played a two night concert at Sloss Furnaces.  The Shakes are my favorite new musical act. This bluesy, soulful, rock and roll band started just a few years ago when Brittany Howard and Zac Cockrell started getting  together after school to write songs. They hail from Athens, Alabama, a small town in the Tennessee Valley about ninety miles north of Birmingham. I was happy to read that even after playing at venues all over the world and in iconic American institutions such as the White House, Saturday Night Live, The Grammy Awards and most of the late night talk shows, lead singer Brittany Howard listed Egan’s Bar in Tuscaloosa as her favorite venue. Egan’s was always one of my very favorite hangouts in my hometown. I can still drop in there and find some of the many friends that I made there over the years.

Shakes

On the weekend of June 7th and 8th I had the pleasure of being able to sit outside the concert venue, behind the stage and hear the Shakes just as well as anyone inside the venue at the concert, I just couldn’t see them. I took many concert goers to the show and then took many of them home afterward. I’ll have to say that they were all pleasant company, not one of these people was an obnoxious jerk. All of them were in love with this band and with it’s lead singer. We all agreed that they are the best thing to come out of Alabama in a long, long time. Most of the time when we see people from this state in the world spotlight it’s for something negative, something that re-enforces the ugly, negative stereotypes of the past. The Shakes are the opposite and when you’re used to being ashamed of people from your state, they are very much a breath of fresh air. I’m very proud of them.

sources: Wikipedia, al.com

Alabama Shakes image courtesy of www.nme.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.