Category Archives: Tipping

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.

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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.

Dinner On The Grounds

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

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

gyro combo

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

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

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

mansion

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

copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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

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

The Elephant In The Backseat

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

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

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

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

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

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

motel 091

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

brown doll

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

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

copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

happy meal doll image courtesy of www.happytoydepot.com

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

The Flip Side Of The Coin

I was dispatched to a bar that’s most popular with mature folks. This guy was no exception, he was probably in his mid to late forties. It was a case where his friends had had to take his keys and call a cab to keep him from driving. It took a while for him to get in the car after I pulled up. He got in on his own power but not until he lost an argument with his buddies about his keys. He was pissed that his friends wouldn’t let him drive but was not at all angry or hostile towards me. I could tell he was pretty messed up, talking loud and slurring his words.

Soon, he started getting personal, he wanted to know my life’s history. Where was I from? Where did I go to school? Was I married? For how long? Did I have children? What other jobs had I done? I answered his questions but tried to turn it back and ask him the same things. He answered a few of them but seemed much more interested in me. Pretty soon he was sitting on the edge of the back seat with his elbows up on the back of the front seat. His face was up close to mine and he was becoming pretty damned annoying.

He lived in a very manicured suburban neighborhood over the mountain. As I turned onto his street and approached his house, he looked over and said “I love you”. Well, I was still a relatively new cabbie and didn’t quite know what to say. I was thinking, oh shit! What the hell am I supposed to say to THAT? After a few awkward seconds went by I said, thanks, man! His fare was eighteen dollars for which he handed me a twenty and told me to keep the change. Before I could give him my usual thank you, have a good night, he handed me something else. He said “I want you to have it, you saved my life tonight.” I looked in my hand a saw a brand new crispy one hundred dollar bill. I thanked him profusely and gave him my card, he never called me again.

benjamin

As you know, if you read this blog regularly, I’ve written several stories about “getting stiffed” or not getting paid for my service and how bad it sucks. As the above story illustrates, there’s a flip side to that coin. Although I’ll admit that it happens far less frequently than getting stiffed, sometimes a customer will feel the need to pay me (or other drivers) very , very well for the service that we provide. As you can imagine, these big tips often involve the customer being under the influence of alcohol. Sometimes it doesn’t, believe it or not there are a few individuals in the world today that are just very generous. I want to tell you one more story about a big tip from a drunk customer, then we’ll move on to something else entirely.

It was a Friday night but business was slow. It was spring break so most of the college aged revelers that are usually hanging out in the Lakeview district were out of town. I’m sure they were hanging out somewhere and doing the same things but probably on the Gulf Coast, not in Birmingham. I had picked up a few fares but the money I usually make on Friday night just wasn’t happening, it was way off. There didn’t seem to be nearly as many cabs out as usual. I guess most of the drivers knew the situation and had decided that it wasn’t worth their time. I decided to make one last sweep through to see if there were a few who had decided to stay behind and party here in town.

As I pulled up in front of two popular clubs that sit side by side in the district, I saw a cop flagging me. He asked “can you take a drunk guy home?” Sure, I said as the cop and a bouncer from one of the clubs led the guy to the car. As I’ve said many times, it’s never a good sign when they have to be led or walked to the car. The cop made sure that he could tell me his address before he walked away from the cab. The address was a few miles south of the city down highway 280. My customer went to sleep almost immediately as we pulled off. I could foresee a big problem getting him out of the car once I got him home and an even bigger problem getting paid.

It was a nice night, a little on the cool side. I lowered all the windows for the ride hoping that the cool breeze would rouse him or at least keep him from falling into a deeper drunken coma. The neighborhood was a cookie cutter subdivision with houses, although very similar, on the large side. At first glance most people would probably consider this an upper middle class neighborhood. I pulled into the driveway and started the task of trying to wake him up. First I turned on the bright overhead light, which in most cabs is quite bright. With the bright light on I shook his shoulder a couple of times saying wake up, man, you’re home. I heard a few groaning sounds come from him as he gradually opened his eyes. It took a few minutes for him to get his head around the fact that he was sitting in the backseat of a cab and that he was in fact, home. After looking around for a few minutes he said “damn, I am home.” I said yes you are, you owe me nineteen seventy five. A minute or so passed by and he still hadn’t exited the cab and was making no motions towards reaching for his wallet to pay me.

I told him again, you’re home. You owe me nineteen seventy five. This time he reached for his wallet which was a relief to me. “What do I owe you?” he asked. Nineteen seventy five I told him again. After a few seconds of fumbling he handed me a one hundred dollar bill. Not quite knowing his intentions, I didn’t immediately reach for my change. I thought I’d give it a few seconds, maybe he would tell me to keep it. I was again surprised when he handed me a twenty and said “that’s for the fare.” I thought fantastic! A hundred dollar tip! I began thanking him as I usually do if someone gives me a big tip. He said “just hold on a minute”. In this instant I was thinking that he was rethinking the tip and I thought oh well, at least I’ll get paid. To my amazement he pulled out ANOTHER hundred dollar bill and handed it to me. I simply looked at him and said you’re a good man, as he stumbled out of the car. This one very drunk man had suddenly transformed a lousy night into a very good night. God bless him.

As I said earlier, most big tips come from the inebriated but there are some exceptions. There’s a couple in town that takes cabs everywhere they go if they know they’re going to be drinking. Drunk or sober, they always tip very well. Not a two hundred dollar tip or anything like that but it’s not uncommon for them to give you twenty dollars for a five or six dollar ride. They’re always friendly and a pleasure to serve.

It’s always good to get good tips when you least expect it. Grocery store trips are usually trips where you don’t expect much, if anything for a tip. I picked up an older couple at the Winn Dixie at Five Points West in Ensley. I loaded the groceries in the trunk and drove them the short distance to their home. The fare was five dollars and that’s all I expected to get. The lady handed me three five dollar bills. I said I think you gave me too much as I tried to hand some of it back. She said “no, that’s what I meant to give you.” I jumped out of the car and hauled their groceries up to the top of the steps leading to the front door. This kind of thing doesn’t happen often but when it does it goes a long way toward restoring one’s faith in humanity.

I’ve known about the concept of paying it forward for years. It’s a spiritual principal that transcends religions. I’m sure I first read about it in one of the New Age books that were popular in the last decade. The idea is actually almost a century old. The idea can trace it’s origins to Lily Hardy Hammond’s 1916 novel “In the Garden of Delight”. The original idea was that a creditor would offer a debtor the option of lending the money to a third person instead of paying it back to the original creditor.

In the year 2000, Catherine Ryan Hyde wrote a novel called “pay it forward” which was later adapted to a movie by the same title . The idea was that for each good deed received, you should do three good deeds for someone else, thus making the world a much better place.

I just happened to be in zone 720 in lower Hoover when I got a call to a tire store in the circle around the Galleria Mall. The lady had had car trouble on the way to work that morning and ended up having to have it towed to this store. It wasn’t very much further to her job so she called a cab to take her the rest of the way. She was friendly and talkative and didn’t seem down at all about her situation. She didn’t speak of religion or spirituality. It was just a light, friendly conversation. When I pulled up in front of her office the meter read seven twenty five. She handed me forty dollars and said “I’m paying it forward, have a great day!”

sources: Wikipedia

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.