Tag Archives: handicapped

Choices And Complications

A few months ago I made two consecutive trips that made me ask mental questions about how life choices affect life situations. The first trip was obvious, this person was about to make some very intentional choices that were likely to affect him in a very negative way. The next trip was a woman who seemed to have made a choice not to give up no matter how much things beyond her control were beating her down.

The first call came from a mission which is a Christian oriented rehab center for men struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction. When I drove into the parking lot I saw three men, two looked very straight laced. They were wearing white shirts with conservative looking ties, both wore glasses. They were talking to a man between them who looked a little like a football linebacker or a professional wrestler. He was a short white man, very stocky and had no visible neck. His bald head looked like a small ball that had been placed on his short muscular body. The two professional looking men were looking down at him and seemingly giving him instructions or advice. He looked back up at them nodding his head in agreement.

As I popped the trunk the short man quickly loaded his bags and hopped in the backseat. I’ll have to admit that I was a bit shocked by what he said. “I’m not gonna beat around the bush, I want drugs.” I turned around quickly and said I’m sorry but I can’t help you, I don’t do drugs! “Come on man! You’re a taxi driver for Christ’s sakes! Even if you don’t do them you’ve got to know where they are.” I said man, I’m not your father or your social worker or your rehab counselor. I don’t care what you do with your life but I’m telling you I don’t personally know any drug dealers and if I did I wouldn’t take the chance of taking them someone who I’ve never met.

“Surely you must know a part of town where it would be easy for me to find something, don’t you?” As I said, it’s not my job to keep you clean, my job is simply to take you where you want to go. I do know of several fleabag motels where; although I’ve never seen it with my own eyes, I’ve heard rumors of a lot of drug activity and prostitution. “Take me to the worst one” he demanded. OK, I said, we’re on our way. It wasn’t very far from the rehab center to the sleezy motels. He had time to tell me that he wasn’t from here, which I could easily tell from his accent. “I’m from upstate New York” he said proudly as most folks from New York do. “I’ve been stuck in this little hellhole down in the country. I’ve been in Faunsdale, Alabama. Do you know where that is?” I assured him that I did know where the little black belt farming town was located. He never explained how he ended up in Faunsdale, instead he went on to tell me how he had intentionally agreed to come to the mission where I picked him up. “I went ahead and agreed to come talk to these counselors, I just wanted to get to Birmingham to get some drugs. It was the only way I could get out of that hellhole. Now it’s over and I’m ready to have some fun.”

As we approached the motels I showed him the options. I said I was thinking of this one on the right as the most likely one to get what you’re looking for. It was the one with the sign advertising that it’s American owned. I said I’ve actually seen prostitutes here and have heard of constant drug activity. “What about the others?” he asked. Well, across the street is the Milky Way. His eyes lit up as I said it’s name. Apparently he had done some research. “Yeah, I’ve read about that one, it’s one of the one’s I was gonna look for.” Next, I showed him the Recline Inn. It’s the largest of the three but all three are in walking distance of the other. He said “take me to the nearest liquor store and let me stock up before I decide”. I continued on up 1st avenue to the little burglar bar adorned convenience store with the liquor store attached. “Is this a bad part of town?” he asked. It’s not a good one, I told him. There are worse parts. “Is it all black?” Mostly, there are some whites and some Hispanics. “How will the hookers treat me since I’m white?” I’ve never used a hooker but some of the hookers are white themselves and I can’t imagine that the others  would discriminate, as long as you have money. “How bad are the cops?” Well, sometimes they do stings and round up all the hookers and johns, I told him. That seemed to be a risk he was willing to take. He emerged from the ghetto store with a twelve pack of Bud Light and a bottle of vodka. His decision was to  go to the first motel I had shown him. He reasoned that if he didn’t like it, he could walk to one of the others. He had a few more questions before booking the room. “What’s the drug lingo like here?” I said I don’t really know since I don’t do drugs. “Well, how will I ask them?” That’s totally up to you I told him, but it probably won’t be long before you get solicited by a hooker and I can imagine that it’ll just go from there.

He emerged from the grimey no tell, mo-tel office almost giddy. He pointed to the room they rented him and I drove on over so he could get his bags out. He was smiling gleefully now that he was here at this lower than a snake’s belly place where he could indulge his vices. He handed me a huge wad of cash, way more than his fare and said “thank you so much! I really appreciate it!” I simply said good luck buddy.

The second I left this crappy motel my dispatch computer was offering me another call. This one was also in the 110 zone so I knew it wasn’t very far away. It was a house in a run down neighborhood that I wasn’t sure was a house at all at first. It was brick but the windows didn’t look standard, this place looked more like a small warehouse or some other type of structure not for human habitation. I almost called dispatch to make sure they hadn’t given me the wrong address. Then I noticed the faint numbers above the door, this was the correct address. I pressed the callout button and in a minute or so got a message from the dispatchers that the customer was coming out. I still wasn’t completely convinced that anyone would actually come out of this place. About three minutes later I noticed the door gradually crack open. I could see the figure of a very frail African American woman who I would judge to be in her 50’s standing in the doorway supporting herself with an old fashioned walker, the kind without wheels that has to be folded to put in the trunk.

She was wearing a skirt which exposed her legs and feet clad with white sports socks and black leather flats which looked very worn. Her feet seemed to be almost useless except to stand up straight. She moved forward by gaining a firm stand and then lunging the walker out in front of her body, She would then pull her body toward the walker with her feet dangling like a ragdoll’s feet. I turned the car around in the appropriate direction and opened the back door for her. It was excruciating to see this woman drag herself to the car. She had apparently done this many times before. She turned around backwards to sit in the backseat and then pull her legs in. Pulling her legs in was no easy task. She basically had to lie down and force her body to the other side of the car in order to get her feet all the way in. I helped her by putting one of her flats back on that had fallen off in the process.

pig wig

She said “I just need to go to the Piggly Wiggly to get a few things, it’s not very far.” As we traveled the short distance to the pig I thought about the choices she was making to just survive in a cruel world. Was she totally alone? Could she have gotten the supplies any other way? I didn’t know but I did admire her determination to not allow her disability to completely control her life. At the door of the pig the process of getting her out of the car was a little easier than getting her in. She asked the fare and I said don’t worry about it, the guy before you was very generous. He paid for both yours and his fare. Her eyes lit up in disbelief and said “God bless him.” I noticed a scooter with a basket on the front in the store, and asked her if she’d like me to get it for her. “No, honey. It just makes things more complicated.” All I could think was My God, how could it possibly be any more complicated than it is already?

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.

Leading The Blind

I guess I never thought about it before I started driving cabs, but one thing all blind people have in common is that they can’t drive. I’ve picked up several blind customers since I started driving, some with guide dogs and some without. I don’t remember the circumstances of the first time I picked them up, but Earl and Brenda would become my longest lasting regular customers. I’ve never asked them their ages but they appear to be in their late sixties or early seventies. They’re both blind.  blind

Brenda said that she gradually went blind from the eye disease retinitis pigmentosa when she was a child. By the time she was seven years old she was completely blind. Earl had some kind of cancer of the eyeballs when he was a toddler, his eyes were removed and now he wears two glass eyes. Brenda has some light perception. She can tell day from night or when it’s sunny or overcast. Earl, of course, cannot; his blindness is complete. They’ve only lived in Birmingham for a little more than a year. They moved here because their son, Kevin had moved here after marrying a local woman.  Brenda and Earl wanted to be near their son. Kevin is also blind; he inherited his mother’s RP and went blind at an early age, just as Brenda had. They moved from Chicago where Earl had worked for a major university in a program that taught the blind to use computers, among other things. He’s now retired. I don’t think Brenda has worked much outside the home.

This couple has given me a valuable education about both the special needs and the normalness of the visually impaired. Brenda has a German Shepherd guide dog named Chloe. To be quite honest, Chloe isn’t the brightest guide dog that I’ve ever seen. Many times on our outings I find myself quite literally leading the blind. Sometimes I find myself leading the guide dog also.  As I’ve already said, these folks can’t drive. They’re completely dependent on others to take them everywhere they go. Believe me, they go plenty. They live in a relatively new brick house in a cookie cutter subdivision deep in zone 235. There are many doctor and dental appointments, vet trips for Chloe, trips to the bank and trips shopping. Yes, shopping. Brenda loves to shop. There are certain stores that have employees that will stay with her during the trip and find the stuff she’s looking for. Yes they do use such phrases as “looking for”, “see you later” ect. They also travel, which was a bit of a surprise for me. They go back to Chicago every few  epcotmonths to visit friends and relatives but their absolute favorite destination is the Epcot Center at Disney World in Florida. Apparently, the Epcot Center has representations of many nations. They can enjoy the food, music and other sounds, smells and tastes of other cultures without actually traveling abroad. When they take these trips I usually pick them up at the airport. I find them, find their luggage at the baggage claim, guide them back to the car and get them home safely.

It’s more important for blind people to find regular drivers and other service people than it is for sighted people. It’s important for them to build relationships that build trust. They can’t feel the difference between a one, a ten, a twenty or a hundred dollar bill. They have to trust people to tell them the truth. They can’t tell one credit or debit card from another without some difficulty and they always need help at the ATM. These are things that require trust, things that almost no one would feel comfortable letting a complete stranger do. They’ve told me that they save up their mail for about two weeks at a time and then have a “reader” to come to their house to read it to them. Although they’ve never mentioned it, I assume they also have sighted people helping with laundry, matching their clothes and cooking. Brenda does buy foods at the grocery store that require prepreation and cooking. Other than sometimes being covered with dog hair from Chloe, their clothes are neat and clean and never grossly mismatched. This couple is living in a strange place in a region they’re not used to. They have few friends or relatives to help them with daily life. I admire their strength and courage.

Sometimes the fact that I can be of service to people who truly need my service and to be trustworthy to those who need trustworthy people the most can be very satisfying. It makes me feel as if I’m doing something truly valuable to others, whether or not there is great profit to be made. Recently, a friend who is a long time taxi driver called me to ask a favor. He said that he was away on vacation but he had been informed that one of his regular blind customers had been taken advantage of by some scumbag driver who had answered the dispatch to pick this guy up. I’m not an extremely religious person but I’d like to think that there would be a special place in hell for any despicable piece of crap that would steal from a blind person. My friend ask if I could go by and pick Charles up and help him with his shopping and banking routine since it would involve money and shopping. I agreed.

I watched him carefully as he made his way down the steps in front of his house to the sidewalk. He had a collapsible red and white cane with a little ball at the end that he used to find his way down the steps while holding onto the rails that looked like they had been put there just for his benefit. Our first stop was at the bank where I filled out his checking withdrawal slip in order for him to get the cash he needed for his shopping. I was almost hesitant to ask when I got to the line where I had to fill in the account number. He said “I don’t know the account number, just put my social security number on it and they can use that.” I wrote the number on the slip and then made a conscious effort to forget it. Our next stop was a large grocery store in the Five Points West area of Ensley. Unlike Brenda, who usually called ahead to the grocery stores to make sure that they would have someone there to help her pick out her groceries, Charles was depending on me to do this for him. I guess my friend had been doing it for him in the past. Charles hung onto my arm as we negotiated the aisles of the big store. I was able to find everything on his mental list in a relatively short time. When we got to the checkout it was time for him to put his trust of me to the test. He took money out of his pocket one bill at a time and asked “what’s that?” with each one. I said, that’s a fifty Charles, give it to the cashier. After repeating this exercise about three more times, the grocery bill was paid. The next stop was at a dollar store.  I went in while he sat in the car, bought a phone card and then put the minutes on his phone. There were then two fast food drive through trips where it seemed to me that Charles was buying enough food to feed an army. I guess it was stuff that he expected to last for a while, since getting out of the house was a major effort for him. I dropped him off where I had picked him up and carried his groceries in the house. Even though he did pay me for my service, I felt as if I had done my good deed for the day.

copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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

Lucky To Be Alive

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

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

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

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

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

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

copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

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