Tag Archives: Birmingham Alabama

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Unwanted

“Call em’ a cab.” That’s a popular way to get rid of a person causing a problem. Whenever someone is being belligerent, drunk and disorderly, obnoxious or just in the way, a favorite solution to many is to call us and a car will appear and rid them of their problem. The person calling usually never thinks of the problems that person will cause the driver or anyone else after they leave. They just know that the problem will no longer be theirs. The following stories are about two very different people who were unwanted where they were and the cab solution was employed.

Edna Jean

It was early in the evening, just after dusk when I c-booked a trip in the 130 zone. It’s a pretty big zone that stretches from the Lakeview and Highland Park areas in Southside almost to Irondale in the eastern part of the metro. This trip was at the IHOP on Crestwood Blvd which is on the eastern end of the zone. I called the dispatch and asked that they call the customer to make sure they would stay there until I could get there, it sucks to drive a long way for nothing and many customers are very impatient. An employee of the restaurant answered and assured me that “she’ll be here”. I assumed that Edna Jean was an employee that I would be taking home.

She wasn’t an employee. I think I may have jumped a little in my skin when I saw her come out. A white woman in her fifties who looked totally bizarre. Her silver hair was standing out in every direction and looked like it hadn’t seen a comb in weeks. She was wearing a man’s jacket which was about four times too big. Under that I could only see her bare legs and a pair of ragged flip flops on her gnarly, dirty feet. I just assumed she was wearing pants under that jacket, I didn’t ask. Her piercing but almost frighteningly empty eyes looked straight in to mine and said “My name’s Edna Jean. What’s yours?” Rod is my name, where do you need to go? “I live in Walker County. Do you know where Sumiton is? How much will it cost? I got fifty dollars.” I said I’m afraid it may cost a little more than that. A trip to Sumiton would probably run about seventy or eighty dollars. “I ain’t got but fifty but I’ll give you that.” I said I’m afraid it’ll cost more than that to get to Sumiton. “Well can you take me to Leeds?” That I can do. It’ll be about twenty dollars from here.

As we pulled out into Crestwood Blvd headed to Leeds she said again “My name’s Edna Jean, what’s yours?” My name’s Rod. It’s nice to meet you Edna Jean. “I live in Walker County, in Sumiton. You know where that is?” Yes, I know where it is but I thought you wanted to go to Leeds. “I really caint go to Leeds. I been staying out there with my brother. He lives in the housing project. He ain’t sposed to have nobody but his wife and kids in there. They been tryin’ to get me locked up, that’s why I left.” How did you get to the IHOP, I asked. “I walked, I had to leave there cause theys tryin’ to get me locked up.” Do you mean you walked all the way here from Leeds? “Yeah I did. I’m tarred.” Well do you know anyone around here? Where were you going? “My name’s Edna Jean, I live in Walker County, Sumiton. Do you know where that is?” Yes I know where it is, are you telling me you were planning to walk to Sumiton? “Yeah, but that’s too far ain’t it?” Yes, it’s way too far to walk, probably fifty or sixty miles. “That’s what the girl in the restaurant said. She said I’ll call you a cab.”

“Please take me to Sumiton. It’s in Walker County. I got fifty dollars, please take me. I caint go back to my brothers place, they want to lock me up and I caint stand to be locked up. Please take me. I live in Walker County.” OK, I said. Give me the fifty dollars. She handed me four little balls of money. I straightened them out and could see it was two twenties and two fives. I stuffed them deep into my pocket and drove up the ramp to I-20, headed west. I decided to run the meter just to see how much it would actually cost to get her there. By now it was black dark and cloudy with just a few drops of rain on the windshield. Traffic was light in my mind but Edna Jean was freaking out. “All this traffic scares me to death, I couldn’t never drive on this road. Specially them eighteen wheelers. Them thangs scare me to death.” The sound of an ambulance siren was sounding pretty shrill coming up behind us. I barely pay them much attention because I hear and see them so much, I often joke that the sound of emergency vehicles is Birmingham’s theme song. Not so with Edna Jean. “What’s that?” she gasped. Just an ambulance I said, we see them all the time. “Them thangs scare me too, I’m glad I ain’t got to drive.”

As we exited on Arkadelphia and headed toward Sumiton she couldn’t hide her excitement. “Where we at?  We already in Sumiton?” No we’re still in Birmingham, we’ve got a long way to go. “My name’s Edna Jean. I live in Walker County.” I said yes, Edna Jean. We’ve already established that. “All my folks is dead except for my brother and he don’t want me, he wants to have me locked up.” I’m sorry to hear that I said. “My husband just died about five years ago. He’s buried upair in Taylor’s cemetery in Sumiton, you know where that is?” I can’t say that I do. I said I’ll bet you miss your husband, did y’all have a good life together? “Naw, not really. He was a alky-holic. He got mean when he was drunk. He died of cirrhosis of the liver. Naw, I don’t miss him much.” That’s too bad, I said. And all your other relatives are dead? “Mama and all her sisters and brothers died a long time ago. Daddy’s been dead since I was little. Oh, I forgot about my daughter, she ain’t dead. I don’t have nothing to do with her and she don’t like me. She’s a dope addict.”

After we passed through the last street lights of Forestdale, Adamsville and Graysville the road became significantly darker. “It ain’t far now is it?” We’re a lot closer than we were but we’ve still got a few miles, I told her. “I’m glad it was you that picked me up” Why is that? I asked. “I don’t trust colored men”. As much as I disagreed with this sentiment I decided that having a discussion about race with this woman wasn’t a good idea, so I just stayed silent and let it go. Soon we were passing Wesley’s Boobie Trap, an old strip club in the middle of nowhere near the Walker County line. “We close now,” she said. “Sumiton ain’t far from that old titty bar.” I said yeah, we’ll be there soon. As soon as we get into Sumiton you can show me where you live. “I don’t live nowhere, I ain’t got no home no more.” Alarms started going off in my mind. Ut oh, I thought. Where the hell am I gonna take her? So I asked, where am I gonna take you? “I’m gonna try to go up to my friend’s trailer. If she ain’t there or won’t let me in I’ll guess you can just take me to downtown Sumiton.” I was apprehensive. I’ve been in these situations before, where someone will hold you a long time going place to place for little to no money. In this case it would be no money.

Boobie Trap

In just a couple of miles after passing the Boobie Trap we started seeing the first few lights of Sumiton, mostly fast food. A McDonald’s and a couple of other chain burger joints. “We gonna go rat over this hill and turn by the Hardee’s.” This turn lead us down a winding country road that turned from pavement to gravel after about a half mile. “See that trailer up on the hill? I’m ona go upair and see if she’ll let me in.” I watched as she walked up the small hill in her ragged clothes to a ragged home. After some loud knocking the door cracked open and Edna walked in. I didn’t give her a chance to walk out again. I hit the road in a hurry. The meter was sitting at sixty eight dollars. Yes, I felt compassion for her but I’d already taken an eighteen dollar hit. That’s all I could afford for one night.

Jane

Picking up at upscale restaurants is usually easy. It’s almost always fairly affluent people who are visiting Birmingham and staying in the good hotels. Most of the time it’s a short trip to the Westin, The Sheraton, Embassy Suites or one of the other mainstream hotels near downtown. Once in a while it’s a twenty five to thirty dollar trip out to the hotel at Ross Bridge. The customers are almost always well behaved and never overly drunk.

This night was an exception. When I pulled up in front of the upscale seafood restaurant at five points south, a valet motioned for me to roll down my window. He ask, “are you here for Jane?” I said yes and he told me they were bringing her out. I thought it a little odd that she had to be brought out. Jane was an attractive young woman probably in her thirties. She had shoulder length blonde hair and was wearing a stylish looking blue dress. She was the kind of customer one would expect to see at this kind of restaurant. Jane was being escorted to the cab by the restaurant manager and another employee. She was holding on tight to both their arms. When they let her go to get in the cab she took a tumble when she stepped off the curb. They picked her up off the ground and physically put her in the back seat.

This was a strange situation. She seemed to be alone and was apparently well lubricated when she arrived. When I asked where she wanted to go she just gave me a blank stare, like “who are you and where am I?” The manager said “the best we can tell, she lives in Anniston and is in town for some kind of business meeting.” Can you tell me where you want to go? I ask her. “I don’t know, to my hotel I guess. My car’s here I can just drive.” “Ma’am we cannot allow you to drive” the manager said. “Why not?” she insisted. “Because you’re too intoxicated to drive, ma’am. If I let you drive our restaurant would be liable if you get into a wreck. You can leave in the cab or if you have a friend I can call them to pick you up. If you can’t do either of those things, I’m afraid I’ll have to call the police.”

I said ma’am I’ll be glad to take you to your hotel if you’ll just tell me where it is. “I don’t know. Fairfield Inn I think.” Which Fairfield Inn? I asked. “I don’t know I’m not from here.” I started googling Fairfield Inn near Birmingham on my phone. I found that the one I had remembered on highway 280 was closed. There were three others in the metro area. Bessemer, Fultondale and Pelham. I said we have three to chose from but they’re far apart. If we go to the wrong one we’re going to be a hell of a long way to the right one.

By this time she’s clutching my arm as she had the with the manager and the restaurant employee. “I don’t know just take me there.” she almost screamed. Ma’am I can’t take you anywhere until you can tell me where we’re going. She looked at the manager and yelled “I’M UNHAPPY WITH HIM.” as she pointed in my direction. I said I’m unhappy with you too. You’re taking up my time, and you can’t go anywhere with me if you can’t tell me where to go. You can’t ride around with me all night. The manager tried to convince her to let him see her phone. He thought maybe he could see where she had called a hotel and he could call to see which one. She flatly refused. “You’re not touching my phone” she told him.

It seemed abundantly clear that Jane wouldn’t be much help providing a destination. The manager and I started considering other options. He said “I really don’t want to call the police on her. Maybe you could take her to one the hotels in this area where she can get a room for the night. She can come back here and get her car tomorrow, when she’s sober. Good idea I said. I looked at her and said we have three hotels less than a mile from here. We have the Hotel Highland, the Doubletree and the Marriot Residence. Would you like to go to one of those? “Marriot Residence, take me there.” I did a u turn and headed down the hill. She was still clutching my arm and by this time laying her head on my shoulder in an almost flirty manner. After two red lights we were there.

“Where are we? Why did you bring me here? What is this place? This is the Marriot Residence Hotel. You told me to bring you here. “Why?” Don’t you remember? The restaurant manager said you had to go somewhere or he would have to call the police. Are you going to get out? I asked. “No, I don’t know why I’m here. What kind of car is this?” It’s a cab. About a 2007 Ford Crown Victoria. “This is my car,” she said. I said ma’am if you don’t get out here at this hotel I will have to call the police. “I’m not getting out of my own car! How did you get my car?” I put the keys in my pocket and got out of the car. “What are you doing?”she asked. I went to the desk and told the clerk what was going on. I was very happy this clerk was working because she was very helpful. When we both walked back out of the hotel Jane was in the drivers seat with her hands on the wheel. “Let us help you ma’am, just come into the hotel and we’ll get you a room for the night.” “Why are you trying to make me get out of my car?” Jane insisted. “Ma’am, you’re sitting in the driver’s seat of a cab. This is not your car.”

The clerk was very kind and gentle with Jane and apparently that worked. She took the clerk by the hand and stumbled into the hotel lobby. As with Edna Jean, I didn’t give her time to change her mind. I also didn’t ask her for any money as I knew that would be futile.

copyright R.W. Walker 2015

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

Fool Me Once

fool me once, shame on you. fool me twice, shame on me.  

ancient proverb

I got no gut feeling of anything being awry when I picked up a motherly looking woman who appeared to be in her sixties. She wanted to go to Walmart, not just any Walmart but a very specific one. She wanted to go to the Walmart in Roebuck, which is a $25 cab ride from where I picked her up in Southside. When we arrived she said “I want you to wait on me. I’ll just be a few minutes. Please don’t leave me.”

walmart

I found a parking place and began to wait. I surfed the net and perused facebook, twitter and instagram on my phone. It seemed like she had been gone a while. I looked at the time and 20 minutes had passed. I thought that the store may be busy and maybe she was in line. The meter kept climbing. The waiting continued until 30 minutes had passed. I had an appointment to pick up a regular customer back in Southside. I was beginning to think I’d never get back in time. After 40 minutes passed I decided to call dispatch to see if they could get in touch with her. She never answered her phone. After I had waited for 45 minutes it was clear that I had been duped. By this time the meter was so high that she probably wouldn’t be able to pay it if she wanted to. I believe she had devised a plan so that she could get by without paying cab fare both to and from the destination. I figured she was watching for me to leave, at which time she would call another cab and pay only $25 to get back instead of the $75-80 that she would have owed me. I finally left and called it a loss. It looked like her plan had worked.

A few days later I told the story to some fellow drivers. One guy told me of a game that some riders play where they will go to Walmart or some other big box store and go in one door and come out the other, where someone will be waiting to pick them up. I figured this is what she had done.

Fast forward two weeks.

It was a slow morning when I accepted the call in the 120 zone. The name on the screen was “Gwendolyn”. It was a pick up at the same place, a low income retirement home, where I had picked up the woman who had pulled off this stunt two weeks earlier. No doubt this was the same woman. I ran several scenarios through my mind as to how I would deal with this issue while on the short trip to pick her up. As I approached the retirement home I saw her walking toward it as if she were just getting there herself. She jumped in the back seat and said “I need to go to Walmart, the one in Roebuck and I want chu to wait on me”. I turned around and let know quickly that I remembered what had happened last time. “Oh I’m sorry” she said. “There was a long line at the money center and I just couldn’t get out. I know the money is already there this time, it won’t take me long.”

I decided to go ahead and take the chance. Once again the meter was sitting at $25 when we pulled into the parking lot. I told her that I had an appointment at 11:30 and I needed to leave by 11:15 in order to get back in time. That would give her 20 minutes in the store. “Don’t worry honey, you gonna get cho money. As long as they ain’t no long line it won’t take but a minute”. I asked her to pay me for the first part of the trip first, before I waited. “I ain’t got no money now. That’s what I got to do. I gotta go to the money center to get my money.”

I walked into the store with her, under the guise of going to the restroom. There was no line at all at the money center. She walked right up to the window. I went to the restroom and noticed she was still standing at the window when I walked back by. The optimistic and forgiving part of my mind said maybe she was telling me the truth, maybe she’ll be out in a few minutes and I can make a good round trip fare. Maybe everything will be fine. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The 20 minute deadline came and went. Another five minutes passed and still no Gwendolyn. At this point I decided to walk back into the store to see if I could see her. She was long gone from the money center and nowhere in sight.

Once again she had stolen an hour of my time, the gas to get her there and whatever business I would have picked up if I hadn’t had to deal with her. I called dispatch and told my sad story. Apparently another driver had also reported her. The dispatcher said “OK, she’s on the bad list. She can’t get any more cabs.” Of course that wouldn’t stop her from just getting someone else to call for her. I felt like a complete and total idiot.

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.

 

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.

Collateral Damage

She was standing in the small area where they allow smoking outside the emergency room. Wrapped in a blanket with spots like a leopard, she was dragging hard on a cigarette in spite of her red nose and unwashed dyed blonde hair that seemed to indicate that she was sick and had been there a while. Not knowing that she was the customer that I was dispatched to pick up, I drove on up to the front door of the ER. She hurried a bit as she walked fast toward the cab, she hopped in the backseat and said “Roebuck.” I said hello there, I would ask you how you’re doing but since you’ve been in the hospital I’d guess that you haven’t been doing too well. “That’s right” she said, “I’ve been doing pretty shitty.”

She made a couple of phone calls while on the highway to Roebuck. After the second one she asked “can you just drop me off at the Suzuki place in Roebuck?” Sure, I said. I think it’s just at the bottom of the 4th avenue exit. “Yeah, you right” she said, “it’s just right there. As we pulled up in the parking lot she started fumbling through her purse, and said “somebody’s done stole my debit card. I saw a bitch I didn’t know come in that hospital room. She stole my debit card.” I thought, oh shit, here we go, this damn girl is gonna try to get out of paying me. Who the hell goes in a hospital room and goes through somebody’s purse and steals a debit card?

The meter was sitting at $23.50. She handed me a very beat up looking iphone, the face was cracked so badly that you could hardly see the screen, but it seemed to be working. “Here, take my phone for collateral, I’ll go in there a see if I can get you some money.” Once she had been in the dealership for about 7 or 8 minutes, the phone rang, I answered it. The voice on the other end said “who are you and why have you got my phone?” I told him how I came about having the phone. He said “I’m still at the hospital, brang my phone back rat now!”  I said I’ve gotta get paid. She gave me the phone for collateral until she could come up with the money to pay me. “She gave you my phone, she stole it from me. Brang it back rat now!! You got a stolen phone!” I said when I get paid I’ll bring it back, as I hung up ending the conversation.

I decided it was time to go in the dealership and look for my leopard clad customer. As a I opened the door I saw the leopard blanket running away, into another part of the dealership. There were a couple of pretty rough looking customers standing in front of me looking at the details of a car they were interested in on a computer monitor. A man and a woman, I judged them to be at least a decade younger than myself but very rough looking for their age. Both had the same kind of stringy, unwashed hair as my customer and I could tell that they both had some serious dental issues. I figured it was probably meth mouth. Their snaggely teeth looked pretty horrible, some missing and some rotten. The woman had something brown on her lower lip, it looked like either chocolate or tobacco snuff, I wasn’t quite sure which, I just tried not to stare. “Who you lookin’ for?” the woman asked. Tamara, I said. I’m a cab driver, she owes me money, she said she was coming in here to get it. The brown lipped woman tried to play it off like she didn’t know Tamara, she just went back to staring at the screen. The man asked, “how much does she owe you?” By now, with wait time, the meter had gotten up to Twenty Seven dollars which was the amount I told him. “You got it?” the woman asked. “Naw, I ain’t got it” the man replied.

Just as I was about to turn and walk away, Tamera appeared. I said your boyfriend called, he wants his phone. “I just talked to him, take him his phone and he’ll pay you” she promised. “He’s got the money, take his phone back, he said he would pay you” she said as she told me his name. Since this was the only chance I seemed to have of getting paid I set out back to the ER to try to at least get something out of this situation. I had only been on the road a few minutes when the phone rang again. “You better get back to that hospital and take my son his phone or I’m gonna have you arrested for stealing it” said the voice of the boyfriend’s mother. This pissed me off enough that I couldn’t just let it go without saying something back to this crazy woman. I said I was on my way back to the hospital to take your son his phone, but if you’re gonna have that kind of attitude I just might not, I said. He’s gonna have to pay me when I get there, his girlfriend said he was gonna pay for her trip. “He ain’t gonna pay you, he ain’t got no money! You got fifteen minutes to get that phone back or I’m callin’ the po-leece! You got a stolen phone in yore possession!”

meth mouth

I hung up on her and called dispatch. I told the dispatcher the situation and asked her to call the Birmingham police and have them meet me at the ER. I got there before the cops. There were plenty of UAB cops already there, they do security at the hospital. I told them the situation and all they could say was “that’s crazy.” I said, yeah I know it’s crazy but that’s what’s going on. They couldn’t decide if they had jurisdiction to deal with the matter, the trip had originated at UAB but ended in Roebuck which is the city of Birmingham. The Birmingham police finally showed up and did the typical thing they do, try to blame the victim. “Why didn’t you call the police while you were at the dealership? Why didn’t you get paid up front? I think I’d make ’em pay me up front” the cop said. He took the phone to the boyfriend who was in a hospital room. Of course he didn’t come back with any payment. He told me that he did get all the information on the girl, her name and where she lives, he told me that I have up to year to swear out a warrant on her for theft of service. I think I just may.

image courtesy of kuatolives2084.blogspot.com

copyright 2014 R.W. Walker

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

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.

Not A Good Day To Die

It was late afternoon, just after 6:00 pm. The sun was starting to sink in the sky and the light was reflecting off the buildings in a way that made the colors more vivid than usual. I was sitting in one of my usual perch spots at the old closed down BP station on Highland Avenue when the call came through. Nothing seemed unusual, I was supposed to pick up Mark at a tattoo parlor in a run down part of Southside a few blocks away from 5 points south and near the projects. He came out immediately when I pulled up. He said he needed to go to Fultondale, which is a suburb just a couple of miles north of the city.

He seemed a little anxious, his voice was pressured and his speech didn’t flow smoothly. I tried to ask him about his tattoos but he didn’t seem interested in discussing them. He said “here’s an advance” as he handed me a sweaty twenty that looked like it had been folded over and over.  Just as I headed up the 3rd avenue ramp to I-65, a cloud of putrid chemical laden smoke which smelled like a science project gone bad, encircled my head. When I looked in the rearview I could see him toking hard on a glass crack pipe while holding a blue jet flame lighter to the bowl.

crack pipe

WHAT THE FUCK?, I screamed! Man, you can’t do that in here!  I rolled down all the windows and merged into the north bound traffic on the interstate. I said man, what the fuck are you thinking? “Are you the po-leece?” he asked. No, I’m not the police but these cabs are equipped with cameras. I pointed at the camera below the rearview which I immediately noticed wasn’t working. I said don’t do anything like that again! I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the camera, things started to go south fast. “I’m in trouble, they’re gonna kill me ain’t they?” I said, what? Nobody’s gonna kill you. “I’m gonna die tonight, they’re gonna kill me, I know it. I’m gonna die tonight ain’t I?”

I’m getting seriously freaked out by this point. It seems obvious that this guy is having genuine paranoid delusions that “they” are planning to kill him. I’m a square when it comes to most modern drugs. I smoked my share of weed in my younger days and tried powder a few times but I’ve never smoked crack, meth, heroin or any of the newer designer drugs. I like to think that’s a good thing but I honestly can’t tell the difference between the smell of these drugs when they’re being smoked. I know what he was smoking wasn’t marijuana but I can’t say exactly what it was. One of the other drivers to whom I told this story suggested that it could have been bath salts , a relatively new drug known to cause the paranoid hallucinations that this guy was experiencing.

“Hey mister, can you do me a favor?” What, I asked. “Please don’t let that guy in the front seat kill me.” There’s nobody in the car except me and you, I told him. “I CAN SEE HIM! He’s gonna kill me, he’s gonna torture me to death, please don’t do this, I ain’t never hurt nobody!” I made a point to check my temper and remain calm. I decided to try to put on my therapist hat and try to assure him that nothing bad was going to happen. I said we’re gonna be OK, I’m gonna get you home safely and nobody’s going to hurt you or kill you. “I’m gonna die tonight, I just know it.” No you’re not, you’re young, you’re not going to die for many many years, I told him.

I had to ask him which exit to take as we approached the first Fultondale exit. “Take the first one” he said. We drove up highway 31 for about a mile until he told me to stop at a Shell station. We sat there in silence for what seemed like a full minute before I ask him, well are you gonna get out? He said “my mama’s supposed to meet me here”. After another couple of minutes I said, don’t you think you should call her to see if she’s on her way? He took out his phone and seemed to hit twenty keys. I was convinced that he was so messed up that he couldn’t even operate a cell phone.

He said “how much would it cost to take me to where she is?” Well, that depends on where she is, I told him “She’s at Bingo Lucky’s up on Arkedelphia Road.” The meter was sitting at twenty five dollars. I said you’ve already paid me twenty and right now you owe me five bucks. It’ll probably cost at least another twenty to get over there, “OK” he said. I was pretty skeptical about a place called Bingo Lucky’s. A few years ago the state had cracked down on all the so called “bingo parlors” which were in reality just mini casinos, and closed them all down. I hadn’t heard of any of them reopening.

bingo

Before we left the parking lot of the Shell, he said ” Mister, could I ask you a favor?” Yes, I said, what is it? “Could you let me ride in the front? I think I would feel better.” I thought about it for a few seconds and decided that I didn’t want to be the bad guy, I didn’t want him turning his fear and anger towards me instead of his imaginary demons. When he got up front I got a much better look at him. He was wearing a plaid taxi hat and had a neatly trimmed beard. He had a few tattoos on his forearms but they were not covered with tattoos. I noticed one small butterfly shaped tat that had a raised red area around it, I assumed this was his new one. He bore a close resemblence to one of my younger cousins but not nearly as healthy looking. I could see the fear and traces of insanity in his piercing ice blue eyes.

He did indeed seem better on the interstate portion of our trip. I thought that perhaps the effects of the drug had worn off and that he would now act a little more normal and we could complete the trip without incident. I was wrong. Arkadelphia Road is heavily used by eighteen wheelers because it’s a connector road between I-20/59 and I-22, as soon as we took the exit we got into a traffic jam between the big trucks spewing their noxious diesel fumes. This is when it became apparent that all was not well with my customer. Now, instead of one guy in the front seat wanting to kill him, there were three in the backseat determined not to allow him to live through the night. “Please don’t do this, I’ve got two kids.” Once again I try my best to calm him by letting him know that he’s safe and no harm will come to him. “Don’t let them kill me!” he screamed! I was agitated enough to slightly raise my voice and say that there’s nobody else in the car. “YOU’RE LYING!” he shouted! “I CAN SEE THEM! THEY’RE RIGHT THERE!” “I know they’re gonna kill me, I’m gonna die tonight, they’re gonna torture me to death!” “Why are you letting them do this?” he asked as he narrowed his eyes at me. By this time I’m super freaked out and I told him so. I said this Bingo Lucky’s better be coming up soon because you are freaking me the fuck out! The big trucks slowly chugged up the road in front of us as he became agitated, couldn’t be still and seemed to be trying to get something out of his pockets. Again I asked, where is this Bingo Lucky’s? He said “just pull over there”, pointing to a big truck stop. I gladly pulled into the parking lot and he jumped out almost before I could come to a complete stop. I hauled ass! I turned right on Arkadelphia because I didn’t want to wait on traffic to turn left. The meter was sitting at forty two fifty but that was twenty two fifty that I was glad to sacrifice to get rid of this crazy motherfucker! I didn’t even want to turn around and pass the place again. I took a left into Pratt City and drove through Pratt and Ensley which are areas where some fear to tread. To me, Pratt and Ensley felt like the safest place in the world with this lunatic out of my car.

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.