Category Archives: Sick

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Falling Through The Cracks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capn D 010

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

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

copyright 2015, R.W, Walker

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

Patient Discharge

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

Colorado-New Mexico 6-14-14 093

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

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

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

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

nativity set

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

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

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

copyright 2014 R.W. Walker

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

A Flash In The Pan part 1

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

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

short hair 3

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

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

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

copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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

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

Under The Influence

When I first started driving I quickly learned that if you’re driving after a certain time, say 11:00 pm, it’s quite likely that many of your customers will be under the influence of alcohol. They may just have a slight buzz or they may be totally shitfaced. The first time I experienced this it was a call to a night club/music venue up on the side of the hill in Southside. The couple had obviously been to some kind of formal affair with an after-party at the club. They were both young, in their 20’s, the girl was much drunker than her tuxedo-clad date, but believe me, he was plenty drunk. He was able to give me directions to their destination which was a house in Mountain Brook. She had passed out by the time we arrived. He was in a stupor but he realized that he had to get out and get her out, too. It took both of us to wake her up. She had curled up in a little ball and had settled in. When her boyfriend finally picked her up and stood her up outside she seemed to come around. He had already paid the fare, so my job was done. By the time I got turned around and headed out, I saw that she had taken a tumble in the driveway. I guess those pretty high heels are not the best thing to balance ones-self on after consuming mass quantities of alcohol.

Stories about drunk people in the cab business could almost go on forever. There are too many to tell all of them here. Some are funny, some sad, most just silly and ridiculous. Some involve going through the fast food drive through at 2:00am and listening to customers gettting into stupid arguments with fast food employees. After a fast food visit it’s common to find french fries and tater tots all over the car once you get them home. Singing, badly, all the way home is another common occurrence. I’ve had couples that fought all the way home because their partner may have flirted with someone else at the bar. I’ve had many who will break their own arms patting themselves on the back for taking a cab instead of driving.

Most are friendly, some are assholes, and many others are quite well behaved. Some are very annoying, I had one guy that didn’t seem to be able to say anything except “Roll Tide” and “I am Alabama” he must have said “roll tide” a thousand times. Every time he said it, I would say it back. He seemed to like that. This guy had the reputaion for being a big tipper. In his drunken stupor on this night he didn’t tip me a penny, but his fare was substantial. Being the designated driver for drunk people is a major part of this job. There are many stories to be told. Instead of posting each story individually, I’m going to post a collection of short stories under the heading “Under The Influence”. I hope you enjoy them.

IN THE GUTTER

The call was to the address of an empty building on First Avenue North in downtown Birmingham. There are several clubs within a few blocks but nothing at this particular address. I drove by but didn’t see anything. I hit the noshow button thinking that the dispatchers had fucked up again. I decided to drive by the place just one more time to be sure. This time I saw a young man flagging me down beside a pick-up truck parked in a parallel parking space. He said “I think it’s got a broken tie rod.” I looked at the truck’s front tire and by the way it was cocked inward I could tell he was correct. He asked me how much it would cost to go to Cullman. Cullman is about 50 miles north of Birmingham. It’s infamous for being a sundown town during the Jim Crow era. There were signs at the town limits warning blacks and other non whites to be out of town by sundown. These young people were Hispanic. Cullman no longer has the signs but it’s still a very white, very conservative town. I told him that it would be at least $100, maybe a little more. He said “let me talk to this girl’. He also said “I’ve got a girl in the truck that’s real messed up” I said no problem.

A large young woman with black, curly hair emerged from the truck and staggered toward the cab. I thought, well, she doesn’t look too messed up, I’ve seen much worse. As it turned out, the big girl wasn’t who he was talking about. The young man opened up the club cab door on the truck and pulls out a heavily tattooed girl who is passed out. As he started to carry her toward the cab I could see that she was naked except for a little lacy bra and some very tightly fitting pink panties. She’s about average size but just as big, if not bigger than the guy who’s carrying her. After a few steps he trips over his own feet and they both go down. No injuries, but now she’s lying in the gutter on the side of the street, right next to the sewer drain. It was like a scene from a movie or maybe a cop show. There she was with her almost naked tattooed body all the guttersprawled out in the filthy gutter. I think the only thing that could have made this scene look any grittier would have been if she had had a needle and syringe hanging out of her arm. It reminded me of some Hank Bukowski stories I’ve read.

The other two managed to get her to her feet. By this time she was semi-conscious but was still pretty out of it. She got in the back seat with their guidance and promptly went back to sleep. The big girl had her purse and shoes. Before we took off on a 50 mile trip I wanted some assurance that I was going to get paid. I asked them how they intended to pay me? The big girl had a Walmart debit card. I had had trouble running a Walmart card that very day so I was a little apprehensive. “There’s $150 on it, is that enough?” I said it would be if it would run. I told them about the trouble I had had with Walmart cards and asked if they had any cash for a deposit in case it wouldn’t run. They came up with $43 between the big girl and the guy. They didn’t go through the drunk girl’s purse but said that they would if they had to. They were all quiet as a mouse all the way to Cullman. I held my breath as I swiped the card. About 3 or 4 seconds went by, APPROVED! With a $103 fare paid in full, I gave them back their deposit and headed south.

THE HOMEBOY

It was the night before Christmas Eve. The call was to the Stadium Bar and Grill, a bar in a shopping center off Valley Avenue. They had had their annual Christmas party and this guy had apparently had too much and was hammered. This was the first time that I had picked anyone up from a bar that was using the Safe Ride program. It was an agreement between the city and the cab company designed to curb drunk driving around the holidays. The bartender would put the customer’s keys in an envelop and give them to me. I would give the envelope to the customer when I got him home, turn in a voucher and get paid by the company.

When I got there they were walking him out. It’s always a bad sign when someone has to be walked out. To my surprise, it was a guy I had known from my hometown of Tuscaloosa. Jack was from somewhere up north but had lived in Tuscaloosa for at least ten years before moving to Birmingham. He had been a bartender at one of my favorite bars back in my younger days. I had associated with him many times within the Tuscaloosa bar and party scene back in the 80’s and 90’s.

He couldn’t walk on a flat surface. If he had been let go of, he would have fallen. He didn’t remember me at first, by the time we got to his house his memory was a little clearer. His house wasn’t far from where I live, I guess it was technically the same neighborhood. The way his house was positioned would make it very difficult for a person who couldn’t walk on a flat surface to get in the front door. There were concrete steps leading down to the front door through an amphitheater shaped lawn. There was no driveway and no ther way to get to the door without walking downhill.

After assessing the situation for a few minutes, I decided that was no way he could go down those concrete steps without killing himself. So I decided to get him to go down the softer grass hill instead. I was holding onto his arm when we started down. In hindsight, I should have sat him on his butt and slid him down. As we started down the grass hill I lost control. When I let go of him I saw him tumble. I couldn’t stop until I smashed into the hedges in front of the house. I turned around to help Jack up. Thank God he wasn’t injured. He wasn’t screaming in agony and that was a good thing. He couldn’t find his glasses, we both searched for a while but to no avail. I did get him up and in the house safely. A few days later I talked to a guy who knew him from the Stadium. he said he was glad I got him in the house but he sure was sore the next day.

SPILLING HER GUTS

It was a busy Friday night. Things were clicking pretty much non-stop, there was no time to sit around. The weather was great and a lot of people were out on the town. I was making money, things were going just how I like it. The call was to one of the trendy bars on 2nd Avenue North. I got there quickly and didn’t see anyone at first. A guy stepped out from behind a building waving his hand in the air. When I stopped I could see a girl lying on the ground. Like the tattooed girl that had landed in the gutter, she didn’t have on any pants. She was wearing a thong but was otherwise bare from the waist down. She was wearing clothes on her upper body.

Two burley young men picked her up and put her in the back seat. Another young woman who was her friend and seemed to be relatively sober rode along. They were not going far. Thier destination was an old downtown building that had been turned into lofts, it was just a few blocks away. About halfway there, the drunk girl woke up enough to empty the contents of her stomach all over the back seat. I knew she couldn’t help it but it pissed me off at first because now I was going to have to stop everything, stop making money, and go clean this mess up. I expressed a little anger and told them that most drivers charge a $50 fee to clean up a mess like this. The friend said “don’t worry about it, I’ll pay it.” She did so without hesitation.

The sober girl physically pulled her drunk friend out of the back seat and stood her up while holding onto her midsection. The friend was almost frantic trying to get the girl to walk. She would kick at her bare feet and naked legs and shout “WALK”. I had to leave them there because I had to get this mess cleaned up while it was still fresh. I rolled down all the windows and headed toward the all night car wash. I called a fellow driver that I had recently talked to about this very possibility. She told me to use baking soda. “It will draw the smell out” she said. The first thing I did was use the vacuum. This worked pretty well to get rid of the solid chunks and a good deal of the semi-liquid puke. I then did the baking soda treatment. I let it set for 15 minutes or so and then vacuumed that up and did it again. To my amazement, there was no smell that I could detect after the second treatment. This stuff had smelled pretty vile when it was fresh so this was a major accomplishment. I drove it down to Lakeview where the other drivers were lined up to let them smell it. They gave me the all clear.

A similar thing happened a few months later. This time the vomiting occured before the guy got in the car. A group of University of Alabama freshmen were having a formal at a venue in Homewood. When I arrived, the very well dressed young people were walking the guy out. He had vomit all over his pretty, frilly tuxedo shirt. Three of his friends were coming along for the ride so we had a full car and we were going to Tuscaloosa. One of the girls had cleaned him up as well as possible. It was unknown if he would be throwing up again. One of the girls said that he had thrown up so much already that she couldn’t imagine that he would have any left in him. About ten miles into the drive, the drunk guy’s friends started fretting that he may have alcohol poisoning. The girl sitting in front started googling “alcohol poisoning symptoms” on her iPhone. Pretty soon the three of them had diagnosed him with the condition. This trip ended at the emergency room of DCH, the main hospital in Tuscaloosa.

PAST HIS BEDTIME

There’s a popular Mexican restaurant on highway 280. It’s one where the cantina is just as busy, if not more so, than the restaurant. Once again, I had encountered a situation where the customer had to be walked out. When the security guard and the other restaurant employee put the guy in the car, they asked him if he could tell the driver where he lived. He mumbled something that I couldn’t understand. One of the guys that put him in the car said “I think he said Morningside Drive in Mountain Brook.” He slurred “240, Morningside Drive, Mountain Brook.” This time I heard the same thing the others heard, so off we go to Morningside Drive. On the way, my customer said that he had to throw up. After the experience with the girl taught me just how messy this can be, I quickly pulled over. We were across the street from the Birmingham Botantical Gardens. There are apartments there with parking spaces and grassy areas next to the road. It had been raining, the grass was wet.

He got out of the car and threw up a little on the pavement. He then crawled over to the wet grass and got comfortable. He was in a position as if he were in a bed with the covers pulled up tight. I said, man, you’ve gotta get up and get back in the car. “Why?” he asked. “Why can’t you just let me go to bed? All I want is to go to bed.” It’s because you’re lying in wet grass on the side of the road, I said. He seemed to slowly gain awareness of where he was. I walked over and gave him my hand and helped him up. when we got to Morningside Drive, the GPS couldn’t find 240. It didn’t seem to exist. Morningside Drive isn’t a long street. I asked him if any of the houses looked familiar. He kept saying “yeah, we’re close by, my house is just around the corner. Every time we rounded the corner, his house was around the next corner. The third time I asked him I didn’t get an answer. He was passed out cold in the back seat. I yelled at him, shook him, turned the bright light on, it seemed that nothing was going to wake this guy up.

At the bottom of the hill was a post office at the intersection of Morningside Drive and Montclair Road. i pulled into the parking lot and called the Mountain Brook Police. I told them that the guy said he lived at 240 Morningside Drive. They said that address didn’t exist. All Morningside Drive addresses were above 1000. The police shook him and shined their big flashlights in his eyes until he woke up. He was a little more coherent with the police. It turns out that he didn’t live on Morningside Drive in Mountain Brook. He lived on Morning Sun Drive in Meadowbrook.

I put this address into the GPS and drove him straight home. He lived about a $5 ride away from the cantina where I had picked him up. After all this running around his fare was $46. As he stumbled out of the car I noticed that his phone and his debit card were lying on the back seat. That was a great stroke of luck because it would have probably been a major problem for him to get it out and pay me if his debit card hadn’t been lying there in plain sight. He had staggered over to a car in the parking lot of the apartment complex where he lived and was bent over on the hood face down. I laid his phone, his card and his receipt on the hood and asked him if he need help getting in. He kept saying “I’m OK”. I left him there on the hood of that car.

JETHRO

People ask me all the time if I’m ever scared of a customer, or what has been the scariest trip I’ve taken. This one ranks pretty high. The call was to the now defunct 1120 Club at 5 Points South. I saw the huge guy standing with a couple of bouncers. I’m a big guy, about 6’3″ and 300 lbs. This guy seemed much bigger. He was a white boy, early 20’s with biceps and shoulders like a weight lifter or a body builder. He was taller than I, he looked to be much heavier in his upper body which looked to be all muscle.

The bouncer said ” he doesn’t have any money, but he can’t stay here.” Apparently this big “Jethro” fucker had been causing trouble in the club. The bouncer handed me a twenty and said “just take him away. I don’t care where, just somewhere other than here.” I asked if he knew where he lived? “He said something about living down 280 but I don’t know exacly where.” Jethro was almost incoherent but he was able to get his point across that he wanted to sit in the front. Looking at the size of this guy I could see why and agreed. The trip was OK for a few blocks but started to go south fast. He mumbled out an address that I had put into my GPS. I was going to use the GPS because I had judged him too fucked up to give me directions.

Not long into the trip he started making noises of anger. It started with a very angry sounding low grumble. Soon he was screaming obscenities while pounding his massive fist against his open palm! What was he so angry about? Who knows? He never specified that. I had heard stories about “roid rage”, the uncontrollable anger experienced by body-builders and others taking steroids. I figured that this must be what was happening. After one particularly intense anger jag, he looked over at me and said “you seem oddly calm”. I didn’t respond, I just kept driving down 280 trying not to show fear or anxiety. As we neared the turn off to his neighborhood and the GPS started speaking the electronic instructions, he went off. “TURN THAT GODDAMN THING OFF”, he screamed. Apparently the voice of the GPS was something that his extremely agitated mind just couldn’t stand.

Thankfully his street was the next left after the turnoff from 280. He had been speaking gibberish along with the angry outbursts throughout the entire trip. When the street we were on ended in a cul de sac, I kept asking him where? Which house is yours? He was still speaking gibberish. When I got all the waay back out to the intersection and the gibberish had grown louder, I started to scream, MAN, JUST TELL ME WHERE YOU LIVE! When I turned around and headed back, I finally recognized the gibberish as very crude Spanish. He was playing mind games with me to see if I could understand him. He finally got out of the car in front of what I assume was his house. I turned around in the cul de sac and saw him standing on the side of the street looking like the incredible hulk and staring angrily at me. I got the hell out of there quickly. My work was done. Needless to say, I was very happy to get rid of him.

 THE LUCK OF THE IRISH

Drinking holidays are big days in the cab business. New Year’s Eve, Halloween, Cinco de Mayo and especially Saint Patrick’s Day are always crazy busy and a good time to make money. Saint Patrick’s Day is a little different from the others. Many bars will open early in the morning and many revelers will be shitfaced before sundown. On this Saint Paddy’s I pulled up in front of the Irish Pub to drop off some revelers who were still relatively sober. Before I could get moving again two big guys wearing all the green gaudy crap that is usually given to the bars by the beer companies at this time of year, began coming toward the cab. Between them was a guy that was down for the count. It wasn’t even 5:00 pm and this guy was already knee walking. Hell, not even that! He couldn’t walk at all.

The two big guys put him in the back seat and gave me an address. There was no one riding with him. I’ve learned a valuable lesson from this trip and several others similar to it. If a person is so fucked up that they don’t know their own name or where they live, you’re probably going to have a helluva time getting paid. When this situation happens, you should always get someone halfway sober to ride along or get paid up front.

It was a warm day but not really hot. I had all four windows rolled down. After a couple of blocks this guy was hanging out of the back window. I had to stop at a traffic light in front of one of one of the most popular bars at 5 Points South. I could see the hordes of drunk revelers wearing their stupid looking green plastic top hats and derbies, huge green glasses that covered about a third of their faces and of course stings and strings and strings of cheap green plastic beads. Even though Birmingham has an open container law, these Irish for a day revelers were slugging beverages from red solo cups. Some of them were acquainted with my passenger. When they recognized the guy hanging out of the cab as one of their buddies, or at least one of their acquaintances, the hoops and hollers were deafening. Finger pointing and and hysterical laughter gave way to smart phone after smart phone coming out to take digital photos of their inebriated friend. Mercifully, the light changed. I’m sure the pictures were all over facebook and twitter before we stopped at the next one. St. Patricks

My British accented GPS led us right to the front door of the address I had been given back at the Irish Pub. Once my customer gained enough consciousness to realize he was home, I told him the fare would be $11. After going through his wallet and all his pockets, he produced one crumpled up one dollar bill to offer for my service. I’ll consider this trip a community service.

 GOD’S OWN DRUNKS

And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the spirit. Ephesians 5:18

It was late in the afternoon, but the sun was still fairly high above the horizon. I was dispatched to Queens Inn, a run down low rent motel on the edge of downtown. My customers were standing outside when I got there. They were a couple of pretty crusty looking white dudes that were pretty rough around the edges. I could tell from their accents that they weren’t from around here. Both were probably in their 40’s, maybe early 50’s. They had reddish complexions and gin blossom noses. They had the unmistakable glow and smell of cheap booze intoxication. They had been doing some serious day drinking. I didn’t have these guys long. They wanted to go to the nearest dollar store which was just a few blocks away. As soon as they got in they started talking about the bible. Specifically, the book of Ephesians. By the time we made it to the dollar store, I thought they were going to come to blows about the meaning of a certain verse in that book of the bible. Ephesians 5:18 says “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the spirit.”

SMELLS LIKE … CHAMPIONSHIP!

WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS VERY CRUDE, EXPLICIT QUOTATIONS THAT ARE SEXUAL IN NATURE. THOSE WHO ARE OFFENDED BY THAT SHOULDN’T READ THIS STORY.

The Irish Pub had opened at 6:00 am on this St. Patrick’s Day with what it calls “Eggs and Kegs”. The drinking starts early and lasts late on this day every year. The pub usually makes a practice of hiring off duty police officers to do security work at the door. The rent-a-cop working this day was wearing what looked like an ordinary police uniform but a closer look at the insignia on his sleeve indicated that he was on the Birmingham Narcotics Squad. He was a no no-sense kind of guy; very straight, very rigid, not smiling, all business. He raised his hand as I was passing the pub indicating that someone there needed a ride. He said “this guy has been here since six this morning, he’s wasted; can you give him a ride?” I said sure as long as he’s coherent enough to tell me where he lives. He went in to get him.

I saw a big guy with dark curly hair and a blonde woman exit the pub. I could tell, even from the distance from the car to the front of the pub, that the cop wasn’t lying about the guy being wasted. The girl didn’t look to be in much better shape. Apparently this guy had been drinking some kind of stupidity tonic. He decided to slap the moonlighting narc on the ass on his way out! The narc went ballastic! He didn’t hit the guy but I thought he was going to at any minute. He, the narc, threatened the guy harshly, using every curse word that has ever been conceived; he seemed very unprofessional. The drunk guy was still stuck on stupid. He challenged the cop again! The cop screamed “GET IN THE GODDAMN CAB NOW, OR YOU’RE GOING TO JAIL!!” The girl had just enough common sense left to manage to get her boyfriend in the cab before he was lying face down on the pavement wearing handcuffs. As we were driving away, the stupid drunk guy turned around and gave the cop the finger with both hands while screaming “FUCK YOU COP!” I stepped on the gas trying to get out of there before we got shot! The girl started whining, “Frankie, you’ve got to learn to respect cops, they can put you in jail.” Frankie screamed “FUCK THAT GODDAMN COP!” The girl, whose name was Shelly, said “Frankie, I wish you wouldn’t say G.D., you’re cussing Jesus”. Frankie said again “fuck that goddamn cop.” “Please don’t say that word Frankie,” Shelly pleaded. Frankie said “I’m gonna eat your pussy when we get home, Shelly.” “You had better eat my pussy considering all the shit I’ve put up with from you today. You’d better eat it all night long.” Are you gonna suck my goddamn cock?” “Oh yes, Frankie, I’ll suck your cock all night long, just please stop saying G.D., I can’t stand it, you’re cussing Jesus!” “You don’t seem to mind when I say fucking, or any of the other cuss words.” “It’s OK to say fucking, Frankie. Just please don’t say G.D.”

We were driving down highway 280 on this picture perfect day, Frankie and Shelly were still talking about all the sex they were gonna have when they got home. That’s when they suddenly started feeling the pangs of hunger. When drunk people get hungry it usually means that you’ll soon be going through the drive through at McDonald’s, Taco Bell or some similar place. Frankie and Shelly were a cut above going to a fast food joint, they wanted to go to the deli at Whole Foods. Frankie was still drunker than a barrell full of monkeys, still being guided by a complete lack of respect for authority and lacking any common sense whatsoever. Shelly didn’t seem to care much as long as he didn’t say “goddamn.” When I pulled into the parking space I just looked at them and said , don’t get in trouble in there, as they exited the car. I sat there waiting and wondering if they would ever return. I could imagine all kinds of awful scenarios with them talking loudly about eating pussy and sucking cock within earshot of all the soccer moms and families with babies in strollers. I could imagine them being detained by management and security until the cops arrived to take them to jail.

To my surprise, they returned to the car within ten minutes. They had ‘to go” boxes  full of something that smelled fishy. ‘Do you smell that?” Frankie asked me. “That’s what Shelly’s pussy smells like.” “Well you must like the way it smells, you keep saying you’re gonna eat it” Shelly snapped. “Well don’t you want me to eat it?” “Yes Frankie, I told you, I want you to eat my pussy all night long and I’ll suck your cock all night long.” Frankie asked me ” What do you think Shelly’s pussy smells like?”  I said , man … what the hell kind of question is that?? About that time Shelly screamed “roll the windows down, Frankie FARTED!” Frankie did indeed fart. The fish smell was suddenly replaced by the god awful stench of a beer fart. I rolled down all four windows and started driving up 280 trying to air it out. After a few minutes of silence Shelly asked Frankie, “you don’t really think my pussy smells like fish do you?” Frankie pondered the question for what seemed like a minute. Finally he slurred, “Shelly … your pussy smells like … CHAMPIONSHIP!!” Shelly liked this answer.”Oh Frankie … you’re the best” she purred.

We entered a very well to do neighborhood with streets lined with multi-story brick mini mansions with manicured lawns. This was Frankie’s neighborhood; it was probably his parents house. Frankie said turn left and it’s the fourth goddamn fucking house on the right. Shelly screamed “QUIT CUSSING JESUS! STOP SAYING G.D.!, I HATE THAT FUCKING WORD! Frankie got out on my side and came to the window and asked, “how much goddamn money do I owe you?” I told him, twenty six dollars. Frankie pulled some waded up balls of cash out of his pocket as Shelly sat in the back seat fuming. It was eleven dollars. He said “I’ll go in the goddamn house and get some more goddamn money.” Shelly decided to pay the rest of the tab with her credit card. ” I hate it when he says that word, I can’t stand to hear anyone cuss Jesus.” Frankie returned with a big jar full of change. When he learned that Shelly had finished paying the fare, he poured out about a third of the jar on the front seat and said “here’s your tip.” I said, thank you Frankie, y’all go have fun.

*note: portions of “spilling her guts” and “past his bedtime” were previously published in an article written by Ed Reynolds in the Black and White city paper in 2011.

All other material, 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.

Pain and Anguish

The centerpiece of modern Birmingham’s economy is healthcare. Just off the top of my head I can think of 11 hospitals including multiple campuses of UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham) and St Vincent’s around the metro area. In addition, there are a plethora of clinics of all types all over the area. As with carless people who still need to go to work, there are also many carless people who need to go home from the hospital or doctor’s office.

One of the first hospital trips I remember came shortly after I first started driving in the winter of 2010-11. Unlike many winters in the last few decades, this winter was actually a cold one. We had snow in Birmingham three times that year and had freezing temperatures for several consecutive days. When I picked him up at the ER of one of the largest hospitals there was still a little snow on the ground from a snow shower a few days earlier. I saw the nurses wheel out a very frail man who I would judge to be in his late 70’s. He was wearing a cap with some company’s logo on it, a plaid shirt and blue jeans. His legs were bent and the nurse had a hard time getting him out of the wheelchair and into the cab. When he was finally in I greeted him with my usual hello! how are you doing tonight? “There ain’t nothing they can do for me. They’re sending me home to die” was his response.Well, I didn’t quite know how to respond to that. I didn’t think telling him that I hoped he died peacefully and painlessly would be appropriate. I remained quiet, it was a bit awkward.

He gave me an address in one of the suburban towns north of the city. It was actually outside of the town on a sparsely traveled road in a single wide trailer. He had used my phone to call his son to tell him that we were on the way and that he, the son, would have to pay the fare. When we pulled up in the drive I could see the snow and ice covered ramp coming from the door of the trailer. The son came out looking pissed. He was a total ass. I assume he was pissed because his father had come home. The fare was $19, he handed me a twenty and I gave him a one. He didn’t offer a tip. He also didn’t offer a hello, a how are you or a thank you for bringing my father home.

When he finally got his father into the wheelchair it was time for him to be pushed up the icy, snow covered ramp. I pushed as the son pulled from the front. It wasn’t easy. When we finally got the old guy to the door, I turned and carefully headed back down the ramp to the cab. There was still no thank you or even an acknowledgement that I had helped. The son acted as if it was my job. It’s not. All I have to do is drive the customer from point A to point B. The fare doesn’t include any help beyond that. I was glad to help even though there was nothing in it for me, I didn’t see how it would have been possible for  the angry son to have done it on his own. The only regret I had as I left was that this pitiful old man would have to spend his last few days with a fucking asshole.

The trip started from a dispatch to a church affiliated hospital in west Birmingham. This hospital is in zone 210, what many would consider to be “the hood”. Good, lucrative trips can and sometimes do come from this hospital. When picking up at a hospital, any hospital, one big mystery will be the condition of your customer. Sometimes they walk out on their own power, get in alone, are completely coherent and the trip is no trouble at all. Other times the customer will need assistance from either the hospital staff or a family member but still no big deal. This time it was different. I was having serious doubts during the trip that I would be able to get this guy home before he died. His sister was with him, I think I would have refused the trip had she not been.

He was a young African American man probably in his 20’s. He could not stand or walk or even shift his sitting position in the back seat. Other than on TV commercials for C.A.R.E and other similar charities and maybe in National Geographic, I have never seen a human being so emaciated. I never asked about his diagnosis but it had to have been the final stages of AIDS or some kind of cancer. His bones and joints looked as if there was no muscle or fat at all, just skin and bones. His head was tilted back with his eyes rolled back in his head. We had to make a stop at a pharmacy near the hospital for his sister to pick up a prescription. During this time I was alone with him for about 10-15 minutes. I was looking for signs of life. After a few minutes of total quiet I heard a gurgling sound and I could see his bony chest rise and fall, albeit at a much slower rate than a healthy person.

We arrived at an old apartment complex in Ensley a few minutes after his sister returned. A teenage girl came out of the apartment to help the sister get him inside. The two of them were having a very hard time. I thought about just picking him up and carrying him inside. I thought about what could happen if I dropped him or broke one of his brittle, fragile bones and held back. In just a minute a man who was a friend and neighbor showed up and did exactly what I was thinking of, picked him up and carried him inside. I was glad.

A few months later I was back at the same hospital. This time it was an account trip, meaning that the hospital is paying for the trip. You simply fill out a voucher and get paid by the cab company. When  Alabama court 005we are dispatched an account trip, we are able to see the destination on the computer screen, that’s how I knew this would be a lucrative trip. I waited and waited and waited some more. The customer wasn’t coming out. Before pressing the noshow button I decided to call dispatch to see if they could get in touch with anyone at the hospital to see if the customer was indeed there. The company will pay us $5 for a noshow on an account trip but judging by the distance showing on my GPS this would be a $45 or $50 trip if the customer was there, so I was willing to wait a little longer if necessary. The dispatchers put me through to some hospital staff person who assured me that my customer would soon be out.

They eventually wheeled out a guy who looked like he had just been taken straight out of his hospital bed and sent out the door. He was bent over forward in the wheelchair with a string of saliva drooling from his toothless mouth. He was holding a pale pink kidney shaped drool or vomit receptacle. He was accompanied by a woman probably 10 or 15 years his junior. She had the look of a country woman but with a hard edge. When they got in she barely gave me a hello. It was clear that she wasn’t interested in exchanging niceties with me. Before we got out of the parking lot, the man with the drool pan started screaming in agony. “OH GOD, OH GOD, OH GOD”, he shouted! The screaming didn’t stop. All the way through west Birmingham and all the way out of town he continued to shout “OH GOD, OH GOD” while hyperventilating and clutching his side and chest. For a minute I was thinking that we may need to turn around and take him back to the hospital. I was wondering why they sent him home? No insurance, maybe? The screaming didn’t stop until we finally reached our destination northwest of the city near the Walker County line.

The only words that I heard come out of his mouth other than “OH GOD” were “I’m so thirsty”. After he repeated this several times, the woman asked me to stop at the next gas station to get him a Sprite. Sprite was his favorite soda. After a couple of minutes sitting at the gas station listening to this man scream, I saw her exit the store empty handed. She lacked 40 cents having enough money to buy a Sprite. I thought to myself, it’s a damn good thing the hospital is paying for this trip. I told her to get back in the car and I went in the store and bought the man a 20oz Sprite.

From the view of society that we cab drivers get, stereotypes are sometimes, even often, shattered. This wasn’t one of those times. It took four turns off the main road to get onto the two ruts that the woman called a road. I could almost hear banjos playing as we pulled up in front of a run down trailer with assorted rusty auto parts strewn about in the yard. It was a scene that would confirm the mental image that many have of poor whites in the rural south. A young man, probably in his late 20’s, wearing a camouflage hat and a shirt with cut off sleeves that exposed his tattoos, one of which was a confederate flag, came out and assisted the woman in getting the man in agony out of the car. I couldn’t turn around in front of the place. I drove probably a quarter mile before finding a safe place to turn around. When I came back by the trailer the young man and the woman were gone. The sick man was sitting on the ground leaning against the mailbox, clutching his Sprite.

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.

Lucky To Be Alive

She was an early morning going to work customer. I picked her up in the 235 zone and took her to her server job at a chain restaurant near Lakeshore Parkway. She asked for my card and said that she would call later and give me some business. She told me that her husband was disabled. She called that very afternoon and said that her family needed to go to Walmart. I called when I got there and she told me to walk around to the back of her apartment.

Crossing the threshhold into someone’s home is a no-no. I didn’t want to do it, wasn’t gonna do it. She told me that she needed my help getting her husband out. I stood at the open door and could see him sitting there in an old manual wheelchair. He was paralyzed from the neck down. He seemed to be able to move his arms just a little but they were bent and twisted and nearly useless. His legs were totally paralyzed, he couldn’t move them at all. She introduced us and explained that he had had a wreck on Lakeshore Parkway just a few months earlier that had put him in this condition. In addition to the paralysis, he had numerous scars where surgery had been preformed to repair internal organs. Then she made the mistake of saying “He’s lucky to be alive”.

He went into a tirade. “I’m sick and tired of damned people, including you saying that I’m lucky to be alive. I am NOT lucky to be alive. I WISH I WAS DEAD!” After a moment of silence he started in again “I wish I had been killed in that wreck. People who say I’m lucky to be alive have never sat in this chair. They don’t know what it’s like to not be able to move, to be dependent on someone else for EVERYTHING! The only thing I hate worse than hearing I’m lucky to be alive is when they say God was looking out for me. What a crock of shit!” He then looked up at the ceiling with a scowl on his face and in his most sarcastic voice snarled “THANK YOU, GOD!”

Once his rant was over it was time to undertake the daunting task of getting him to the car and in the car. There were four people living here and they were all going to Walmart. There was the disabled husband, his wife, her mother and a two year old toddler. There was a wheelchair ramp set up on the opposite end of the building from their apartment. There was no sidewalk or any kind of flat concrete surface in between. He had to be wheeled through the yard, it was rough and uneven. Some places were covered with grass while other places were bare dirt. It also wasn’t flat, there was a hill and several holes to avoid.

When we finally made it to the car we had to put a plastic board between him and the front seat, using what little body movement he could muster and with a good deal of help from his wife, he slid across the board into the front seat. We went through the same process to get him out when we got there and again on the return trip. I could smell feces. I couldn’t tell if it was from the husband or the toddler but the smell was unmistakable.

Over the course of the next few weeks I made about four more similar trips with this family. Each time the smell was present. When we finally made a trip without the toddler there was no doubt left as to where it was coming from. On the last trip that we made, we arrived back at the apartments well after sundown, it was pitch black. The wife and mother jumped out and ran into the apartment, offering no help towards getting the husband in. They had taken my help for granted. Thank God I had a flashlight. The trip from the car was treacherous and dangerous but we made it safely. After asking the amount of the fare, the wife paid it with a two dollar tip. With a look of agitated embarassment on his face, the husband called me back and gave me $10. They never called me again. I don’t know the reason but I’m glad. I didn’t dislike them, but it was much more work than I was getting paid for.

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.