Category Archives: Poor

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.

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.

Patient Discharge

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

Colorado-New Mexico 6-14-14 093

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

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

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

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

nativity set

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

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

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

copyright 2014 R.W. Walker

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

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.

Working Hard For The Money

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

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

burgers

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

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

underpaid        two jobs

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

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

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

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

copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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

Caught In A Trap

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

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

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

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

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

green-loans-payday-loans

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

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

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

image: green loans-payday loans

All text copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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

The First And The Third

The eagle flies on the first and the third of each month. Money is flowing in places where it’s usually very scarce. EBT cards are reloaded, social security, SSI, disability and other goverment checks come out around this time. It doesn’t last long. It’s usually gone in two or three days. For a little while, just a few days, the cab business gets a big boost because many of the people dependent on this money are carless.

Many of our first of the month customers are elderly. Before I started cabbing I never realized there were so many people without checking accounts. I guess someone who has lived for seventy or eighty years without an account doesn’t see any need to start one at this point. After I had been driving for several months I found myself picking up many of the same people over and over around this time. A first of the month customer is typically a longer lasting fare than at most other times. It didn’t take me long to learn where all the utility companies and many of the finance companies were located. Going from place to place, the power company, the gas company, the water works, ect., it’s not uncommon to have a customer as long as two hours before all this in person bill paying is said and done. In addition to bill paying trips there are also many grocery store trips. Buying for an entire month when the EBT card is reloaded is a common practice.

Fast food trips are also common. For many, these trips are the one time each month that they get to eat somewhere other than home, or at least from somewhere other than home. Most choose to go through the drive through and take the food back home. I’m a fat guy so I don’t have much room to talk but the obesity epidemic among the poor is something that you just can’t not notice. There was once a family that weighed the car down so much that the body sat down on the tires and prevented the car from moving. One of the bigger folks had to get out so the others could go. It’s pretty easy to see the cause of the problem. Cheap food equals greasy, fatty, starchy, sugary, unhealthy food in most cases. Most of these folks never give a thought to nutritional value, fat, calories or cholesterol. The only issue is how much it costs. I get a strong impression that some of my first of the month customers never leave home except for their monthly cab trips.

Most of the first of the month business comes from poor zones. If you hang out over the mountian you’re not going to see much of a spike. Hang out in the zones west, north and east of downtown and you’ll see a big spike. For three months straight I was dispatched the same trip in zone 210. If you looked up the word “ghetto” in the dictionary, there would be a picture of this apartment building. Burglar bars adorn most windows not broken and covered with plywood. There’s crude grafitti on some of the plywood windows, most are just blank. ghetto 008

My customers are two women, one elderly and one middle aged. I assume they’re mother and daughter. The younger woman is quite obese, very dark skinned and wears very thick, coke bottle like glasses. I would judge her to be in her mid 40’s and she is obviously mentally handicapped. Both have walkers that must be folded and put in the trunk. The elderly woman is bent with osteoporosis and the younger woman has braces on both legs. The walkers are necessary for them to get around.

There’s something a little different about the younger woman’s walker. There’s a basket on it with a pillow inside. Upon the pillow lies a creamy brown colored plastic baby doll dressed in baby clothes and wrapped in a blanket. My customer lifts the baby and holds it gently to her breast before the walker goes in the trunk. She never lets go of the baby, where ever she goes, it goes. Just judging from our brief, once a month cab trips, I’d say that this plastic baby is the thing that gives her life the most meaning. I’ve never been bold enough to ask it’s name, although I’m sure it has one. The trip is always to the same two places. The mother has an account with a finance company in downtown Birmingham, this is always the first stop. The mother, probably in her mid 70’s, always has problems exiting the cab. I retrieve her walker from the trunk and give her a hand to get out. The mother of the plastic baby never gets out here. I wait in silence in the drivers seat as this proud mother sitting behind me nestles her baby. The next stop is always the same, a grocery store on the west side of town where they’ll buy groceries for a month. In an hour or so another driver will take them home.

On the first of the month some people who almost never have any money will have a little. It was almost midnight and I had just dropped off a customer in East Lake, in the 300 zone. A call came through to a gas station that was nearby on the main drag of First Avenue North. She was bundled up like an Eskimo but it wasn’t cold and hadn’t recently been cold. I’ve found that inapproprite seasonal dress is almost always a sign of mental instability. She had a big black plastic trash bag full of something and was pushing it around on a little folding cart. “Be careful, it’s very sensitive” she told me as I started to put the bag and the cart in the trunk.

I secured her “sensitive” materials in the trunk and got in the drivers seat. That’s when I smelled it. The odor of clothes soaked in week old piss filled the car. It was all I could do not to gag. Where are you going, I asked. “Piggy Wiggy” she said. Which one? “North Birmingham”. I knew this would be about a $15 trip and at first I wondered if she had $15. Then I remembered it was the first of the month and thought yeah…she probably does. I had the windows down and the air conditioning turned up. I was trying not to puke from the stench. Stopped at a traffic light she began to have a conversation. At first I thought she was trying to talk to me but quickly realized it wasn’t me she was talking to. Maybe it was the voices in her head, maybe it was imaginary friends, I don’t know.

“Things is strange now” I heard her say. “Yeah, things is strange and I know why. It’s because of all them atomic bombs, that’s why”. She continued on with her apocalyptic themed diatribe a while longer. She mentioned “fire in the sky” and as I expected, she soon started talking about God and Jesus. I had been silent since she started talking. Suddenly she shouted “IS YOU LISTENING TO ME?” Not knowing if yes or no was the right answer, I flipped the coin and said yes ma’am! She seemed to like that answer. She asked “I’m right, ain’t I?” I said yes ma’am you’re right. We rode the rest of the way to Piggly Wiggly in silence. When we arrived the store was dark and closed up tighter than a drum, just as I had expected it to be at this time of night. She told me to stop right out in the middle of the parking lot. She pulled a twenty out of her pee soaked pocket and handed it to me. I gave her back a five and she took it. I didn’t expect a tip.

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.

note: the building pictured is not the home of the two women in this story. It is very similar and nearby.