Category Archives: Police

The Craziest Thing

One of the most frequently asked questions by customers has always been “what is the craziest thing that has ever happened?” For a long time I always told the story from the blog post Not A Good To Die. That situation was crazy, scary and usually very entertaining to the customers. That story was recently eclipsed as my craziest cab story.

It had been a slow morning and I was beginning to worry about even making my lease. I had been out for four hours and I had picked up one person for a six dollar trip. I was sitting in a parking place on Highland Avenue and had just finished my lunch. Tom and Jerry’s Chevron offers a sweet hot dog deal. You have to make them yourself but two dogs with all the trimmings and a bag of chips for a buck ninety nine, can’t beat it. A call finally came through in the 120 zone. It was an account trip, a trip paid for with a voucher by the account of a business or institution. It was to St. Vincent’s, the big Catholic hospital in Birmingham. I like account trips because they’re often long trips and you don’t have to worry about getting paid whether your rider has any money or not. A few months earlier I had gotten an account trip out of this same hospital that went to Moulton, a small town in the northwest corner of Alabama. That trip had paid me one hundred and seventy dollars.

I could tell something was different when I pulled up in front of the hospital. You usually have to wait several minutes for nurses to wheel your customer out and help them get in the car. This time I was greeted by a security guard. “Are you here for Miss Emma?” Yes, I told him. He handed me the voucher which had NO STOPS written across the top in big letters. “Don’t stop anywhere and don’t take her anywhere but home” he said. Emma was a white woman of about sixty. She was small but had a fiery look about her, she seemed to be speeding ninety to nothing. Her home was in McCalla. This made my eyes light up because I knew this would be about a fifty dollar trip, just what I needed after such a slow start to the day.

“I ain’t lettin’ them zombies do that to me.” What? I asked. “Them folks at that hospital, they all zombies. They want to do all kinds of terrible thangs to me. You don’t blame me for gettin’ outta there do you?” What were you in there for, I asked. “They said I had a heart attack but I don’t thank I did” Now I knew that I had a real doozie on my hands. My plan, as it always is when I get someone like this is just agree with what they say and get them where they’re going ASAP and then get the hell away. Yeah, you right, I said. That’s my standard answer when someone asks me a question this crazy. The last thing you want to do is start an argument. “Them zombies was walking around with them holler eyes, all wantin’ to stick needles in me and wantin’ my blood. They was scaring me. You don’t blame me for gettin’ outta there do you?” No, I don’t blame you a bit. Sometimes you just gotta go.

I had set my GPS to the address provided and was headed out I-20/59 toward McCalla. “I want you to take me by my brother’s house, he lives in Hueytown. I want to tell him what them folks was trying to do to me.” I told her that I could only take her to the address on the voucher because the hospital was paying for her trip. I said if you were paying for it I could take you anywhere but when they’re paying I have to follow their instructions. “OK” she said weakly and was then quiet for a couple of minutes. We soon passed the Valley Road exit in Fairfield. “That’s where you get off”, she said. No it’s not I told her. I’m following my GPS. I asked her if she lived at the address provided. “Yeah, but that’s where you get off.” I said I’m taking you home, we’ll be there shortly and you don’t have to pay for it so it really doesn’t matter which way I go, does it? When we approached the Allison-Bonnet exit to Hueytown, where she had already said she wanted to go, she became even more agitated. “That’s where we going, get off here, that’s where I live”. I said I can’t, the hospital guard told me specifically not to take you anywhere but to address on the voucher. “That’s where it is! YOU GOIN’ THE WRONG WAY!” she screamed.

She was strangely silent as I passed the exit. She was silent for a few minutes and I was able to drive for a couple of miles. I was in the right lane doing about seventy down the interstate when I heard a strange sound from the backseat. I turned around to see that she had the door open and was preparing to take a flying leap. I immediately hit the brakes and steered to the shoulder. Before I could bring it to a complete stop she was out. I could see her in the rear view running in her long colorful dress at first down the shoulder and then out into the highway, out into traffic!

woman stops traffic

I was screaming at the 911 dispatcher. SEND SOMEONE NOW! SHE’S IN THE MIDDLE OF THE INTERSTATE AND THERE’S HEAVY TRAFFIC! PLEASE SEND SOMEONE NOW! I was hearing the chorus of all different tones of horns as I saw her in the mirror holding up both arms out in the middle of I-20/59. I heard the air brakes and long horn blowing from an eighteen wheeler that was making his best effort not to splatter her all over the road. Just as I was sure I was about to see body parts flying and witness her death on the highway, I saw a fire truck pull off the road near where she was standing.

The short, stocky, middle aged firefighter heroically ran out, grabbed her and pulled to the side of the road. When he pulled off the road, a fire department Tahoe driven by a woman who worked with the fire department pulled off behind him. To avoid rear ending the fire truck she drove the Tahoe into the soft mud of the ditch beyond the shoulder. It added a bit to the excitement of the moment to see her futilely trying to get the SUV, with it’s red lights blazing, out of the ditch. As I’m quickly walking toward the scene I can see my customer lying on the side of the road completely limp. I thought well, she’s dead. Maybe she really did have a bad heart and she’s had a heart attack and died.

The driver of the Tahoe finally abandoned it and joined me to see what was happening with my customer. She sat up just before we reached the scene. I told the fire fighter what had happened and he said “yeah, she said you were trying to kill her. Don’t worry about it, she’s mental. I had a call out to her house yesterday. They took her to the psych unit at Brookwood, I don’t know how she ended up at St. Vincent’s.” By this time several police cars and ambulances had showed up. I asked the policeman if he needed any kind of statement. “No, you’re good to go” he said. I drove down to the next exit, and headed back to the Ham, with a brand new craziest story to tell.

copyright 2016, R.W. Walker

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

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Collateral Damage

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

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

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

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

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

meth mouth

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

image courtesy of kuatolives2084.blogspot.com

copyright 2014 R.W. Walker

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

Not A Good Day To Die

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

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

crack pipe

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

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

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

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

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

bingo

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

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

copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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

Dinner On The Grounds

One of the most popular bars in the Lakeview district is a relatively new one known as the Top Cat. It’s most popular with the young, preppie, over-the -mountain crowd. It was just after 2 am on a Sunday morning, the time when all the bars that aren’t private clubs have to close. I saw him stumbling around the Top Cat, then he threw up his hand to flag me down. I almost didn’t stop because of his ridiculously drunken condition. I have plenty of experience dealing with super drunk people and I know what a pain they can be. I thought, what the hell? Maybe it’ll go quick, I’ll let this trip be my last one tonight.

I asked where he wanted to go as he fell into the backseat. “I’m starving” he slurred and he was very specific about what he wanted. “I want a gyro combo, take me to that place in Southside that sells gyros”. Luckily, this place was one of the few in the area that stays open this late at night. It and the two others that stay open are always packed with people seeking to feed the drunk munchies. When we drove up at the place I could see that there was a line and I knew that he would never be able to wait in line, order and pay for his food, he was just too messed up. I said, I’ll tell you what. Give me the money and I’ll go in and get your food, you stay here in the car. He agreed and pulled a crumpled up ten out of his pocket.

gyro combo

It took about twenty minutes to get through the line, order and get the food. When I got back to the cab my customer was out cold. I tried shaking him, yelling at him, turning on the bright overhead light and shining my flashlight in his face. I turned the radio up to full blast and shook him some more. He was alive, he would grunt every now and then but he was not gaining consciousness no matter what I tried. I didn’t know where to take him, he hadn’t given me a final destination. There was only one thing left to do, call the cops.

This place was surrounded by the UAB campus, the cops were there in less than five minutes. They tried all the usual methods, the same things I had tried, shaking him, yelling at him and shining a light in his eyes. They weren’t having any better luck than I had had. One of the cops said ” I guess I could use a little mace but you probably wouldn’t be able to drive the cab the rest of the night if I spray it in there”. The other cop, a big burley guy, said “that’s not necessary, I know what will work”. He then made a fist with his massive hand and started rubbing his knuckles over my customer’s sternum. He rubbed vigorously over and over and said “this is supposed to work. He’s the first one I’ve ever seen that this didn’t work on.” The guy again made a few grunts, but no consciousness, even after the sternal rub. The other cop asked “if we look in his wallet can you take him to the address on his license?” I said sure but I don’t know how I’ll get him out of the car or how I’ll get paid. He said “this is how you’ll get paid” as he handed me the guy’s debit card. “If you can’t get him out of the car, you may have to call Mountain Brook, that’s where he lives.” When he handed me the license I could see that my passenger was twenty four years old, did indeed live in Mountain Brook and had a very aristocratic sounding triple name with the suffix III at the end.

The food was smelling delicious on the way to the Tiny Kingdom. I thought to myself, he’ll never know the difference if I have a few of his fries, will he? My GPS guided me to a grand Mountain Brook estate. The kind that I would imagine would be common in Beverly Hills. Apparently this guy’s family was movers and shakers.

mansion

I pulled into the long driveway and prepared for the daunting task of getting him out of the car. I turned on the overhead light and got out and opened the back door. I was saying, you’re home, time to get out. Of course this didn’t work so I started trying to drag him out, feet first. To my amazement, he woke up enough to crawl out on his own power and ask “am I home?” I said yes you are. He managed to stand up and take a few staggering steps into the highly manicured front lawn of this gigantic mansion. He seemed to make a circle, kind of like a dog looking for a good place to lie down. He did lie down and he was out cold again, but at least he was home and no longer my responsibility. I ran his debit card and added a generous tip. I placed his card, his license and his receipt on his chest. I placed what was left of his gyro combo by his side. I’m sure his prestigious neighbors got an eye full if they were out and about around sunrise.

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.

images courtesy of www.yelp.com,  commons.wikimedia.org

The Elephant In The Backseat

This year, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of some of the ugliest, most violent and reprehensible events in the struggle for civil rights by African Americans. Unfortunately, this city and this state were at the epicenter of all this ugliness. Birmingham had become known as “Bombingham” because of the numerous bombings of the homes of civil rights leaders and others associated with the movement by the Ku Klux Klan. When the actions of the Birmingham police and fire departments under the direction of Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor came into the national and indeed worldwide spotlight, the image of this city became etched into the minds of most decent people as being a very racist, violent and backward place. We are still plagued by these memories. Those grainy black and white TV images of African American demonstrators being assaulted by firemen with water cannons and police with vicious dogs are still conjured up in the minds of many when they hear the words Birmingham, Alabama.

The City of Birmingham, in conjunction with the University of Alabama at Birmingham has launched a program called 50 years forward. The program is a series of events to commemorate some of the most pivotal events that occurred in the year 1963. The idea is to bring people back to this city to remember the hard fought struggles of the past but to also experience modern Birmingham and to see how much it’s changed. Has it really changed that much? Yes and no. Some things have turned around 180 degrees. The city elected it’s first African American Mayor in 1979 and has had all African American mayors ever since. The majority of the city council and most city officials are African American as is the Chief of Police. What brought about this kind of dramatic change? The short answer; white flight. Whites began fleeing the city for the suburbs shortly after the end of segregation and the exodus continued until recently. The city’s population declined from more than 340,000 in 1960 to just over 212,000 today. The racial makeup of the city today is 73.4% African American and 22.3% Caucasian with the remainder being made up of other races or ethnicities. When doing day to day business in Birmingham it seems that the population of whites is much higher than 22.3%. That’s because most whites live in the other 36 municipalities of Jefferson County (pop. 658,466) and in Shelby County (pop. 195,085) to the south. Most of them still work, do business, dine and play in Birmingham.

One can see a marked difference in race relations since the days of the civil rights struggles. There is no longer any kind of legal segregation. Many seem to have actually transcended race.  Interracial couples and families are quite common in many neighborhoods. Take a stroll through Five Points South, Railroad Park or many other areas and you are likely to see people of different races in loving relationships with each other. In my opinion, this is a very good development. It isn’t unusual to see black and white friends and co-workers having lunch and dinner together and there are several bars and clubs that cater to a racially mixed crowd. The Princeton Review rated UAB as the 3rd most diverse university in America in 2010.  Even what has traditionally been the most segregated time of the week; church time on Sunday morning, has begun to change. There are several churches around town that actively seek diverse congregations.

Yes, things have changed for the better in many areas and with many people.  Unfortunately, there are even more areas and more people that haven’t seen much change at all. Even after a half century there still seems to be two distinct cultures inhabiting the same city and the same metropolitan area. As I said earlier, there is no more legal segregation. There is however, plenty of voluntary segregation, de facto segregation by choice and the circumstances in which one lives. While some clubs and churches have embraced diversity, many others haven’t. There are certain festivals and events that draw overwhelmingly white crowds and there are others that draw almost entirely African American festival goers. The City of Birmingham public schools are very close to being all black. The majority of neighborhoods in the city limits are nearly all black. The Southside, Crestwood, Roebuck and a few other neighborhoods are diverse but most of the suburban neighborhoods, especially the more affluent south of the mountain suburbs, are almost lily white. There are some exceptions, notably in Hoover and parts of Homewood but most southern suburbs are still overwhelmingly white.

So change has come, but only for some it seems. Why is that? I think the answer to that is  probably it’s the people who WANT to change that have changed. Those that see change as a positive thing and not something frightening. Those who are open minded with more love than fear in their hearts are the people who have changed. For those who haven’t changed, living circumstances, poverty and less than quality educations may be a reason. Some probably don’t change because of peer pressure to stick with one’s own race. Still others may still believe in the old ideas of racial superiority that were the foundation of the Jim Crow segregation laws. I like to think that there aren’t many people still around today who believe this way. I like to think that the remaining white supremacists are on the fringes of society, not in the mainstream. I hope I’m right but sometimes I have my doubts.  Cab driving offers one the opportunity to see the change, and the non-change up close and personal. I for one, pick up people in all zones, in black neighborhoods, white neighborhoods and in neighborhoods and other areas where race is not such a big issue. Sometimes, my African American customers in segregated neighborhoods seem shocked and surprised that a white man has come to pick them up in cab. The shock is often visible on their faces but they rarely ever mention it. Some just settle in and say nothing until they reach their destination while others make friendly small talk while avoiding the issue like the proverbial elephant in the room.

The subject doesn’t come up frequently on cab trips, but I can remember a few notable occasions when it has. It’s usually whites that bring it up. That may be because whites feel more comfortable bringing it up with a white driver. It could be that black customers bring it up more often with black drivers, I don’t know. I can remember only one African American who brought it up in a big way with me. He made a speech about “white devils” and seemed to be having delusions that the Ku Klux Klan was just as active in Birmingham today as they were in the 1960’s. He kept saying “we ain’t gonna stand for it no more” in an angry tone. He asked me repeatedly, “why do y’all want to kill us?” I told him that I certainly didn’t want to kill him or anyone else, nor did I have any friends who wanted to kill anyone. After I made my best effort to respond to his question in a non-threatening, peaceful manner, he asked again “so why do all y’all want to kill us?” I didn’t answer, I was just hoping that his destination was coming up soon and that we didn’t get stopped by anymore traffic lights. I wanted him out of the car yesterday. I dropped him off in an area of east Birmingham known as Kingston. His fare was seventeen dollars, he handed me a twenty and said “keep it.” I was astonished that he actually tipped. Just a few blocks from where I dropped him off, I noticed some very crude writing on several old pieces of tin along Richard Arrington Boulevard. With curiosity getting the best of me, I turned around to see what it said. It was a paranoid rant that sounded much like the rhetoric that my customer had been spewing. It said something along the lines of “There is a plan to kill us. There’s a plan to kill our families, unite or die!”

motel 091

One thing I couldn’t help but notice on the rant was the crude image of a backward crescent moon. The backward crescent is the symbol of the Nation of Islam , which operates at least one mosque in Birmingham. Their members can often be seen handing out literature at intersections on the west side of town. Their clean cut grooming along with their conservative looking suits worn with small bow ties make them highly visible and unmistakably members of NOI. I don’t know if the author of this rant was a member of the group or just sympathized with their ideology, but he used their logo, this much we know.

This customer was a bit scary and I was glad to be rid of him. I do know however, that his behavior and beliefs were not representative of all African Americans. I think that he was misguided but I do not hate him. I think that most modern racism is fueled by people who may see an example of someone of the other race who they believe to be racist against them. They usually attribute this person’s beliefs and actions to all members of that race. They then use this perceived racism to justify their own racism. I call it the I hate you because I think you hate me syndrome, it goes round and round and spins like a cyclone. It may slow down from time to time but never seems to stop. If we are ever to eliminate racism in America we must find a way to stop this vortex.

As I said earlier, the subject of race isn’t brought up frequently on cab trips. When it is, at least in my cab, it’s brought up most often by working class whites. Some of these people seem to think that they’re in some kind of competition with the African race. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that when they start their racist diatribes I often react passively with silence. I never agree with them, because I assure you, I do not. But I also don’t confront them, I just want to get them where they want to go and get them out of my car ASAP. I am very much offended by their language and racist ideas. I’m offended because there have been, and still are many African Americans, bi-racial people and whites in interracial relationships that are very dear to me in my life. I don’t like hearing them disparaged by some racist idiot. I could imagine that I would be offended a great deal more if I were African American or if I had an interracial family. I’m offended because of the fact that they’ve stereotyped me. They think because I’m a white male from the south that I must feel the same way they do. They’re wrong.

I remember the first time it happened I was picking up an older white couple in North Birmingham. It was in a neighborhood that is now about 99% African American. I hadn’t been driving long and was driving an old cab with a dent in the door. The customer got in and immediately asked “what happened to your door? Did some n****r hit you?” I asked where they were going and was silent for the rest of the trip. When we arrived at their destination he said, “sorry for using the N word, it’s the way I was raised” as he exited the car. Yeah, whatever, I thought. A few months later I picked up a couple from a hotel in Homewood. I will usually make an attempt at conversation with customers, if they don’t respond well I will simply drive them to their destination in silence. This guy responded when I ask where they were from. He said “I’m originally from here but now we live in Destin. (Destin is a beach town in the Florida panhandle) I moved down there to get away from the n****rs, they done rurnt everthang up here.” I didn’t respond. Now that I knew what this guy was all about I just wanted to get him and his wife, or his girlfriend or whoever she was to their destination and get their stupid asses out of my cab.

There was silence for a minute, then he asked “where are you from?” I told him that I was originally from Tuscaloosa but had moved to Birmingham a few years ago. “Do you like it here?” he asked. Yeah, I like it, I told him. “Well what DON’T you like about it?”. Of course I recognized this as an attempt to feel me out. He wanted to see if I would go off on a racist rant that he could agree with; I disappointed him. I said I didn’t like the fact that there’s no big water. You have to drive for a good distance to even reach a big lake or river. I said I’ll bet it’s nice living down on the gulf coast. He didn’t like this answer, he remained silent until we reached the pizza restaurant where they would have dinner. The woman never said a word.

I mentioned earlier that it’s usually working class folks who go down the path of open racism. I remember one occasion when it wasn’t. It was obviously a well to do family. They were an all American looking family, a handsome father and an attractive mother with their little three year old daughter with curly blondish gold hair and bright blue eyes. I was picking them up at Children’s Hospital. Apparently, the little girl had some kind of medical condition that couldn’t be treated in the southeast Alabama town near the Florida border, where they lived. Instead of making the 4 hour drive in a car, they had chartered a private airplane to fly them to Birmingham. I was taking them to a private hangar in the backside of the airport for the return flight. There would be one stop before we got on the interstate to head to the airport. The little girl wanted a happy meal from McDonald’s.

What happened next made me think about an idea that I’ve heard repeated many times that says that children are not inherently racist, that it must be taught. This little girl caused me to question this belief. If it was taught, I guess her parents started early. As we were leaving the drive through, little blondie broke into the bag to check out the happy meal toy she had received. She immediately started crying. Pretty soon the crying devolved into a full blown tantrum. The issue was a little medium brown doll she had gotten in the happy meal. It was a cute little doll. It had long, waist length black hair and was dressed as a tennis player with a checkered skirt and visor. It was holding a tiny tennis ball in it’s hand. This little girl wasn’t having it, she wanted a white doll and wasn’t having anything else.

brown doll

I started running all kinds of options through my head as to what I would do in a situation like this if this were my child. Maybe calm her down with something else and then later have a heart to heart talk with her about race and equality. I think I would tell her that it was OK to have a brown doll and that this was a beautiful little doll. I feel certain that I wouldn’t have done what her mother did; appease her racism. Her mother said “don’t worry honey, it’ll be OK. We’ll go to a McDonald’s that has white dolls when we get home.”

So have we really changed? Has Birmingham, has Alabama, has America really changed since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s? Yes, we’ve made some very significant and positive changes for the better. Have we changed enough? Is racism dead? Are we living in post-racial times? The answer to those questions is a resounding NO! We still have a long way to go.

copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

happy meal doll image courtesy of www.happytoydepot.com

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

Bullies

When we get a dispatch, a name usually appears on the screen of the dispatch computer. On this particular night the name was “Patton”. Patton had called from Calypso, the club about halfway up the mountain from Five Points South.

As I arrived I could see a group of young men standing in front of the entrance. As soon as I stopped one of them jumped in the back seat, his buddies were on their way. I asked him his name, he said “what difference does it make?” I told him that someone had called for the cab and I wanted to be sure I was picking up the right person. I looked up ahead and saw that the buddies of the guy in the backseat seemed to be having a confrontation with a much smaller guy that had just walked out of the bar. One of the big guys was pushing him around and calling him “you little faggot”. Another one of the group pushed him again, this time he almost fell. The scene was the exact image that most people think of when they think of bullies. There were three very large young men who looked like preppie jocks. They were college aged, in their early twenties. They were pushing and intimidating a much smaller young man who would have been no match for one of them in a fight, much less three.

bully

I intuitively knew that the victim of these bullies was Patton. It was more than just a gut feeling, I knew it deep down. I got out of the car and with a raised voice yelled IS SOMEONE HERE NAMED PATTON? I”M HERE TO PICK UP PATTON. The little guy raised his hand and said “I’m Patton.” I said come get in the car, this is your cab.

There was one big problem. Before I could get Patton in the car, I had to get the asshole that was already in the backseat, out. Patton’s tormentors started yelling ” hell no, this is our cab, we were here first!”  At this point I was almost certain that a visit from the police was going to be necessary. I looked at the guy in the backseat and said , get your ass out! This is not your cab. Get out now or I’m calling the police! He said “fuck you, cab driver, this is our cab.” I told him and the others to get out and back off or I’m calling the police, RIGHT GODDAMN NOW! They had to see me actually dialing the phone before they backed off. The biggest one told the guy in the backseat “come on, we’ll get another cab. We don’t want to ride with this faggot anyway.”

When he got out I motioned for Patton to get in. As we drove away there was a chorus of “fuck you” and “eat me faggots” as they all gave us the finger and made lewd gestures, grabbing their crotches. Patton said “thank you for standing up for me back there, I appreciate it.” I said no problem, I hate bullies.

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 http://www.brainpowerlearning.com