Category Archives: Stereotypes

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.

The Long Way Home

Hello, how are you guys tonight? “We’re doing well, how about you?” I’m great, I said. Where do you guys need to go? They gave me an address in a neighborhood just over the mountain in Homewood. I headed toward the Red Mountain Expressway, the easiest way to take them home. “So what brings you to America?” the woman asked. I was flabbergasted by the question. I thought damn, didn’t she just hear me greet them? I know I said at least a couple of sentences in my slightly southern but unmistakably American English. I could tell that the couple may have had a few drinks but they were a long way from what I would consider hammered. Yet, this woman obviously thought I was a foreigner. After a few seconds went by, I said well, I guess it was the delivery doctor. I was born about fifty miles southwest of here in Tuscaloosa.

She was embarrassed. I think this taught both she and I a valuable lesson. The power of stereotypes. The idea that all cab drivers are recent immigrants was so firmly ingrained in her psyche that even clear and compelling evidence to the contrary, which was right in her face, didn’t purge it from her mind.

That’s one stereotype many people have of us drivers but it’s not the only one. Another one which is more common and more hurtful, at least to me, is the idea that all cab drivers are out to cheat the customer. Customers usually think drivers cheat by driving a longer route than is necessary in order to run up the meter. I’m not saying  this hasn’t happened to some customers and I know that there’s some scumbag drivers that would do it, I’ve met them. What I am saying is that it’s not most drivers. It’s certainly not me, in fact I’ll usually go out of my way to keep from overcharging someone. I definitely do have a strategy to maximize my income but it doesn’t involve cheating anyone. My strategy is to purposely target  neighborhoods that are a good distance, but not too far from the entertainment districts. This will make each trip a lucrative one without taking too much time. I don’t want to go so far that I have to spend a lot of time riding empty. I want to go back and get another one shortly after I drop off the last one. I want to keep it going, non-stop. That’s how you make money, not by cheating people.

cab meter

Knowing that this stereotype is strongly in the minds of many cab customers, I usually try to head off any accusations by letting the customer choose the route. This will usually take the issue off the table. There are often several good ways to get where you’re going. The customer will sometimes choose the longest route simply because they don’t know the short way. I’ve learned however, that if I choose the route and it’s a route that they’re unfamiliar with, they will almost always believe that I’ve cheated them, even if it’s the shortest route possible. Therefore my policy is to let the customer be the boss when it comes to which way we go, which most customers appreciate. There are however, a very few that are so stubborn in believing this stereotype that they will find a way to accuse you of cheating them no matter what. I once had a woman that didn’t like the total even after she had chosen the route. She accused me of tampering with the meter.

We have a minimum charge to go out and pick a up a customer. In Birmingham (the city sets the cab rates) it’s three dollars. Once we get rolling, the rate is two dollars per mile. So if you go one mile you will be charged five dollars, but if you go two miles you will only be charged seven dollars. There is another way customers are charged. It’s for time when the cab is sitting still. The rate is twenty four dollars per hour. So, if you have a driver to stop and wait on you at a store, someone’s house, a fast food drive through or somewhere else, you will pay three dollars for seven and a half minutes, six dollars for fifteen minutes, twelve dollars for thirty minutes and so on. Many customers don’t like paying wait time but it’s absolutely necessary to keep customers from taking advantage of us. Some customers would have us waiting for hours and pay us very little if not for wait time. It’s designed to hurry them along. All the rates are posted on the window of the cab but some customers will pretend that they didn’t know about wait time and start a confrontation with the driver. It’s always a good idea to warn them about it whenever they make a stop. I will usually turn the wait time off in a situation beyond the customer’s control, such as having to wait on a train or a funeral procession. If it’s a regular customer and I like them, I will usually give them a few minutes of free time if they’re in a store.

M dayham 011

I’ve had many customers complain to me about other drivers cheating them. Sometimes it sounds like they were legitimately cheated and other times it sounds like it’s in their minds. One guy told me that a driver stopped at a store and kept moving the car around in the parking lot to run up the meter. I reminded him that a driver would have to drive a mile to run the meter up two dollars. If you’re familiar with Birmingham, that’s the distance from the fountain at five points south to the middle of the Lakeview district. The customer still insisted that the driver had cheated him. I simply said, I’m sorry that happened to you. I was convinced that the customer spent more time than he thought he had in that store.

So if you order a cab and you’re concerned about being cheated, and I do know that sometimes it’s a legitimate concern, try telling the driver the route that you would like to take. If he or she refuses, you may want to complain to the company or request that the dispatchers not send that particular cab the next time you call.  Always be aware of wait time if you decide to stop. I’m always truly disturbed when I hear of a customer being cheated because it makes me as well as all the other honest drivers look bad. Please know that while there may be a few bad apples, most of us want to make your cab experience as pleasant as possible.

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.