Category Archives: Steel Mills

Perks And Shakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

sources: Wikipedia, al.com

Alabama Shakes image courtesy of www.nme.com

copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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

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Inner City Expressions

One benefit of working in all neighborhoods in the city is that you can see many of the ways in which residents of those neighborhoods express themselves. This post will mainly feature what I like to call Urban Art. Yes, we’re talking about graffiti but also very artful murals that can be seen around the city on abandoned buildings, occupied buildings, retaining walls, bridge pylons and just about anywhere else that can possibly serve as a canvas. Some of this art is very well thought out and high quality. Some of it is simply very crude ramblings about the frustrations of inner city life.

We’ll start with the artful, well thought out, high quality kind. In 2011 residents of the Fountain Heights neighborhood just north of downtown decided they wanted to beautify an old retaining wall that had become an eyesore along 18th street north. Students from the Alabama School of Fine Arts, which is technically located in the neighborhood, were invited to create a mural on the wall that would honor the various ethnic groups that had called the neighborhood home over the decades. A Union Jack, an Italian flag and a Star of David were a few of the symbols painted on the wall to represent the different groups. There was a large map of the African continent painted to represent the African American community which is the largest group that inhabits the neighborhood today. The overall theme of the mural is unity and co-operation of all the people of Birmingham to move forward into a brighter future. This is symbolized by a black hand and a white hand clasped together.

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This mural on the side of a convenience store in the Avondale neighborhood also has a theme of racial and ethnic reconciliation and co-operation. Too bad the business next door decided to hang an advertising banner in the middle of it.

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One of the most artful murals in the city, in my opinion, is a Norse themed mural on the side of a paint and body shop in the Woodlawn neighborhood. Their practice of parking cars that are in line to be repaired in front of it makes it difficult to photograph. Here are a couple of shots:

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One of the places that I often sit and wait for calls during the day is under a shade tree behind The Search Club. About a year and a half ago I noticed that someone had painted some bizarre looking but artful images on the wall of the building across the parking lot.

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One day when I arrived at the waiting spot I noticed that these images were gone but there was a guy there working on something new and much larger. He told me that he painted with a group of urban artists that went by the name “Shizquad.” Like the other images, this huge mural also looked quite bizarre and seemed to be prison themed. The central image in the mural was an Alabama inmate. I asked if I could photograph it and he said “sure but it isn’t finished, I’ll be through with it in a few days”. I went ahead and photographed what he had done and planned to come back and photograph the finished product a little later. I watched him work on his masterpiece for several days. I assumed he had permission to paint on this building since it was such a big project and he was doing it in broad open daylight. My assumption was wrong. When I returned to photograph the finished mural, it was gone. The building had been painted over with solid blue paint; that’s the way it remains today. Here’s the work in progress:

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Not all the expressions are artful and some are downright scary. Here’s a very crude paranoid rant on some old pieces of tin along Richard Arrington Boulevard North. I have dropped off a particular customer in this general area that I believe could have been the author of the rant. We’ll talk more about him in a future post.

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Another of my favorite murals is this African themed painting on the side wall of a business in the Smithfield neighborhood.

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Most graffiti artists like to refer to themselves as “taggers”. Tagging simply means painting one’s “tag” or name in as many places as possible. There are several around Birmingham, one of the more common tags is “Naro”, but by far the most ubiquitous of all is one who refers to himself or herself as “Moist”. “Moist” tags such as this one are so common that you almost don’t notice them after a while.

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There was one moist tag however, that caught my eye immediately because of the difficulty that had to be overcome to place the tag. It was on the front of the old  McWane  cast iron pipe foundry. Production ceased at the foundry a couple of years ago but the facility is still maintained by the company because they say they intend to re-open it if the demand increases. This tagger would have had to have gotten past several locked gates, security guards and climbed to the top of the building to place the tag. Once it was placed it was very prominent and very visible to all traffic headed south and west along Interstate 20/59.

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A few years ago, tags with a very positive message started to appear around town. The tags read “you are beautiful.” Some have been removed but there are a few of them still around. One of the most prominent actually reads “how beautiful you are” but I’m sure it was done by the same people. It’s on the top of an old abandoned, blighted building near downtown. It’s highly visible from the northbound side of the Red Mountain Expressway. I have no idea as to the significance of the Star of David on the same building.

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There is an old rail tunnel on first avenue south that used to be part of the city’s first train station. The walls of the tunnel as well as many buildings nearby have become the canvases of many taggers. The days of this area as a stage for this street art are numbered. Construction has already begun on a walking trail through the area that leads from Railroad Park to Sloss Furnaces . I’m sure a major effort to keep the area free of graffiti will be undertaken when the trail is complete. Here are a few images that can currently be seen:

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Sources: Wikipedia, Bhamwiki, Birmingham News, al.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.

Birming-Images

For those of you who aren’t very familiar with our city, I thought that you may enjoy a bit of a photographic tour. These images are the landmarks that make us who we are; they’re the things that make us unique.

The Vulcan Statue is generally considered to be the symbol of Birmingham. It was sculpted, begining in 1903 by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti. He was Birmingham’s entry for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Vulcan was the god of the fire and the forge in Roman mythology. Since 1936 Vulcan has stood watch over the city from his perch atop Red Mountain. Symbolizing the city’s founding on the iron and steel industry, he is made from iron ore mined from the very mountain on which he stands. At 56 feet, he is the tallest cast iron statue on Earth and is the 7th tallest free standing statue in the United States.

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But Vulcan isn’t the only cool statue in Birmingham. “Miss Electra” has adorned the top of the Birming-images 005Alabama Power building since 1926. Unlike Vulcan who is partially clothed, Miss Electra is totally nude and has lighting bolts for hair and bolts in her hands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man greets visitors to the Medical Forum in downtown Birmingham.

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Once known as the “Football Capital of the South” Birmingham’s Legion Field has been home to some legendary games involving the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers. For many years it was the largest stadium in the state and the Tide and the Tigers usually chose to play their biggest, most important home games here. Up until the last few years of the 20th century, the Tide and Tigers always played each other here. That’s why the label “Iron Bowl” became associated with the huge rivalry. When the two teams began updating the stadiums on their own campuses, Legion Field became less important. Now those two stadiums, especially Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, dwarf the “Gray Lady” , a name often used to refer to Legion Field. The stadium is still in use but not for the big glory games of the state’s largest two universities. It’s now the home field of the UAB Blazers and is the home of the “Magic City Classic” another big rivalry game between Alabama’s two largest historically black universities, Alabama State and Alabama A&M. The BBVA Compass Bowl is also played here every January.          Birming-images 023                                                                                 Birming-images 019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year, 2013 is the fiftieth anniversary of a dark chapter in the history of Birmingham. A dark chapter in terms of the shameful way that city officials and many white citizens reacted to the struggles for civil rights by African Americans. On the other hand it could be viewed as a bright chapter in the city’s history because it was the catalyst of change. It was the begining of the dismantling of the segregation and discrimination that unfortunately; this city and state had become infamous for in the eyes of the world. The area along 16th street north between 4th and 6th avenue north is sacred ground. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute now stands across 16th street from Kelly Ingram Park, an area where Bull Connor once used water cannons and vicious police dogs to subdue civil rights demonstrators. It stands across 6th avenue north from 16th Street Baptist Church, the scene of a Ku Klux Klan bombing that took the lives of 4 little girls in 1963. Birming-images 048

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As I’ve mentioned before, healthcare is the economic crown jewel of modern Birmingham. Banking is a close second. Regions Bank and BBVA Compass Bank are both headquarted here. Wells Fargo has a large presence. Birming-images 008

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One of the most interesting buildings in Birmingham IMO is Southside’s Quinlan Castle. Built in 1927 to resemble a medieval English castle, the building has served mainly as residential apartments throughout it’s history. It’s now owned by the Southern Research Institute and is not being used for apartments. According to the Bhamwiki article on the castle, in 1940 Quinlan Castle was rumored to have been the Birmingham headquarters of the Communist Party. It was in fact the home of party secretary Robert Hall. Hall’s apartment was raided by the Birmingham police but they didn’t find much of interest. Just a letter from someone at the Tennessee Valley Authority suggesting communist activities in that agency. Birming-images 043

 

 

 

 

 

 

Familiar to many visitors to the city is sculptor Frank Flemming’s “Storyteller” fountain at 5 points south. It sits in front of Highlands United Methodist Church and is at the center of the 5 points entertainment district. Birming-images 032

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy Lovoy, a 5 Points South icon gladly poses in front of the fountain.

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The newest building on Birmingham’s skyline is the gleaming new Benjamin Russell wing of Children’s Hospital. marcsteel 008

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Steel’s Fairfield Works is still operating just west of downtown. uss 007

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ensley Works of USS ceased operations in the early 1970’s CIMG6868

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the location of the famous Tuxedo Junction “The place where the people go to dance the night away”. The song was co-written by Birmingham composer Erskine Hawkins. It was originally written as an instrumental. The nightclub that was the subject of the song was located in this building on 20th street Ensley. The building briefly served as a punk rock venue in the 1980’s. 3312010 002

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sloss Furnaces operated from the late 19th century until 1971 near downtown Birmingham.  The old mill has been preserved and is now a National Historic Landmark. It serves as a museum as well as a music venue, a venue for weddings, beer festivals and even a haunted house in the weeks leading up to Halloween. It’s said that the ghosts of many men who died on the job here over the decades still haunt the old mill.

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Built in 1929 this building was the home of the Thomas Jefferson Hotel. At that time it was one of the finest hotels in the south. In the 1970’s it became known as the Cabana Hotel and finally Leer Tower before it was closed in 1983. The object on the right side of the roof of the building is a zeppelin mooring mast, the last of it’s kind in the world. In 2012 a non-profit corporation was formed to raise money to buy the property and restore it back to it’s former glory. Jeff hotel 002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A mural with a message painted on the wall of an abandoned grocery store in west Birmingham.

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Sources: Wikipedia and Bhamwiki.

All photographs and text copyright 2013 R.W. Walker