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.
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!”
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.