Tag Archives: poor

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.

Working Hard For The Money

Get a job. Work hard and you’ll make it. How many times have you heard that? For some, taking a cab to work is a temporary condition, usually because their car is broken down. Some people take cabs to work because they’ve lost their licenses due to getting a DUI, too many tickets, too many accidents or some other reason. I’ve actually met a few people who have told me that they’ve simply never learned to drive a car.  There are still others that are disabled to the point that they can’t drive but have jobs they can do even with their disability.  For most, the reason that they don’t have cars is because they can’t afford them.

For most folks that take cabs to work it’s not temporary at all, it’s their primary mode of transportation to and from the job. Many take city buses when they can. Buses are much cheaper, but if a person lives a long distance from the bus stop or if they don’t have time to deal with the bus schedule, they often end up taking a cab. Most of the jobs we’re taking these folks to are at fast food restaurants, full service restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores or big box retail stores. Some of the jobs are in hospitals or other health care institutions but are usually lower paying jobs in food service or housekeeping.

burgers

I don’t want to get on a political soapbox, at least not for long but I will tell you that I get pretty damned upset when I hear people disrespecting the working poor. There’s a common belief that anyone can do anything or achieve any goal they set out to achieve in America if they will only work hard enough. Sure, I’ve seen examples of a few people overcoming great odds to become millionaires, but I believe it requires much more than just hard work. Quality education, a family that values education, examples of people around you who have achieved success, others who encourage you instead of working against you, family inheritance, access to capital and a lot of luck are just a few of the things that need to be present to go along with all the hard work.

No one works harder than a single mother working two jobs, day and night to support her kids or some guy trying to support a family by paving the roadways in the hellish summer heat for little more than minimum wage. Yes, sometimes these working people receive public assistance in the form of Food Stamps or housing subsidies. That’s because their jobs don’t pay enough to allow them to make a decent living without these programs. It makes my blood boil to hear people say that these people are “lazy” or that they are “moochers” on society. The same people who are against food stamps are also against raising minimum wage. I don’t understand this, what do they want? Do they want to see America become a third world country? Do they want people to work hard all day and go home to a garbage dump at night? It wouldn’t take much for most of the people saying these disgusting things about the working poor to be in the same situation. The loss of a job or a major illness would likely do it, why can’t they see that? OK, off my soapbox, Here are just a few examples of working folks before I let this topic go.

underpaid        two jobs

Jessie live in the projects in North Birmingham. Her work is at a fast food restaurant in Irondale. the fare from her house to where she works is nearly twenty dollars. She can’t take the bus because she has to be there at 4:30 am to get ready to open for breakfast at 5:00 am. Maybe she takes the bus home, maybe she gets a ride from a family member, I don’t know. Even if she goes to work only in morning by cab, it will cost her one hundred dollars per week. If she’s making minimum wage and working forty hours per week she makes $296 before deductions. So, just going to work in the morning costs her more than one third of her salary. That’s if, and that’s a big IF, she’s only taking a cab one way. She could be spending a much larger percentage of her salary commuting to work. You may ask, why doesn’t she just buy a car? I ask you, how will she get to work while she saves for the down payment?

Jimmy lives in a trailer park in Adamsville and works as a security guard in western Homewood. Going to work costs him more than thirty dollars one way. He often rides a bicycle. If you know much about the metro area you know that it’s a long way from Adamsville to Homewood. Not only is it a long way but it’s very treacherous with no bike lanes and heavy traffic including a lot of eighteen wheeler traffic. Of course he can’t ride his bike in heavy rain, thunderstorms and other inclement weather. Taking cabs is a common part of his commute to his low paying job.

Carolyn has braces on both legs. She’s able to stand and walk short distances but is mostly confined to a wheelchair. I’m not sure what her job entails but she has a job at a local hospital that she can do from a wheelchair. She lives in a nearby apartment complex near the top of Red Mountain. It’s so steep that she can’t go anywhere near the apartments without the aid of a cab. She said that she’s looking for a place that she can afford on more level ground. There’s not a lot of level ground in Birmingham. She goes to and from work and everywhere else she goes in taxis. Her taxi bill is substantial.

images courtesy of: businessinsider.com, peacock-panache.com, greanvildpost.com

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.

The First And The Third

The eagle flies on the first and the third of each month. Money is flowing in places where it’s usually very scarce. EBT cards are reloaded, social security, SSI, disability and other goverment checks come out around this time. It doesn’t last long. It’s usually gone in two or three days. For a little while, just a few days, the cab business gets a big boost because many of the people dependent on this money are carless.

Many of our first of the month customers are elderly. Before I started cabbing I never realized there were so many people without checking accounts. I guess someone who has lived for seventy or eighty years without an account doesn’t see any need to start one at this point. After I had been driving for several months I found myself picking up many of the same people over and over around this time. A first of the month customer is typically a longer lasting fare than at most other times. It didn’t take me long to learn where all the utility companies and many of the finance companies were located. Going from place to place, the power company, the gas company, the water works, ect., it’s not uncommon to have a customer as long as two hours before all this in person bill paying is said and done. In addition to bill paying trips there are also many grocery store trips. Buying for an entire month when the EBT card is reloaded is a common practice.

Fast food trips are also common. For many, these trips are the one time each month that they get to eat somewhere other than home, or at least from somewhere other than home. Most choose to go through the drive through and take the food back home. I’m a fat guy so I don’t have much room to talk but the obesity epidemic among the poor is something that you just can’t not notice. There was once a family that weighed the car down so much that the body sat down on the tires and prevented the car from moving. One of the bigger folks had to get out so the others could go. It’s pretty easy to see the cause of the problem. Cheap food equals greasy, fatty, starchy, sugary, unhealthy food in most cases. Most of these folks never give a thought to nutritional value, fat, calories or cholesterol. The only issue is how much it costs. I get a strong impression that some of my first of the month customers never leave home except for their monthly cab trips.

Most of the first of the month business comes from poor zones. If you hang out over the mountian you’re not going to see much of a spike. Hang out in the zones west, north and east of downtown and you’ll see a big spike. For three months straight I was dispatched the same trip in zone 210. If you looked up the word “ghetto” in the dictionary, there would be a picture of this apartment building. Burglar bars adorn most windows not broken and covered with plywood. There’s crude grafitti on some of the plywood windows, most are just blank. ghetto 008

My customers are two women, one elderly and one middle aged. I assume they’re mother and daughter. The younger woman is quite obese, very dark skinned and wears very thick, coke bottle like glasses. I would judge her to be in her mid 40’s and she is obviously mentally handicapped. Both have walkers that must be folded and put in the trunk. The elderly woman is bent with osteoporosis and the younger woman has braces on both legs. The walkers are necessary for them to get around.

There’s something a little different about the younger woman’s walker. There’s a basket on it with a pillow inside. Upon the pillow lies a creamy brown colored plastic baby doll dressed in baby clothes and wrapped in a blanket. My customer lifts the baby and holds it gently to her breast before the walker goes in the trunk. She never lets go of the baby, where ever she goes, it goes. Just judging from our brief, once a month cab trips, I’d say that this plastic baby is the thing that gives her life the most meaning. I’ve never been bold enough to ask it’s name, although I’m sure it has one. The trip is always to the same two places. The mother has an account with a finance company in downtown Birmingham, this is always the first stop. The mother, probably in her mid 70’s, always has problems exiting the cab. I retrieve her walker from the trunk and give her a hand to get out. The mother of the plastic baby never gets out here. I wait in silence in the drivers seat as this proud mother sitting behind me nestles her baby. The next stop is always the same, a grocery store on the west side of town where they’ll buy groceries for a month. In an hour or so another driver will take them home.

On the first of the month some people who almost never have any money will have a little. It was almost midnight and I had just dropped off a customer in East Lake, in the 300 zone. A call came through to a gas station that was nearby on the main drag of First Avenue North. She was bundled up like an Eskimo but it wasn’t cold and hadn’t recently been cold. I’ve found that inapproprite seasonal dress is almost always a sign of mental instability. She had a big black plastic trash bag full of something and was pushing it around on a little folding cart. “Be careful, it’s very sensitive” she told me as I started to put the bag and the cart in the trunk.

I secured her “sensitive” materials in the trunk and got in the drivers seat. That’s when I smelled it. The odor of clothes soaked in week old piss filled the car. It was all I could do not to gag. Where are you going, I asked. “Piggy Wiggy” she said. Which one? “North Birmingham”. I knew this would be about a $15 trip and at first I wondered if she had $15. Then I remembered it was the first of the month and thought yeah…she probably does. I had the windows down and the air conditioning turned up. I was trying not to puke from the stench. Stopped at a traffic light she began to have a conversation. At first I thought she was trying to talk to me but quickly realized it wasn’t me she was talking to. Maybe it was the voices in her head, maybe it was imaginary friends, I don’t know.

“Things is strange now” I heard her say. “Yeah, things is strange and I know why. It’s because of all them atomic bombs, that’s why”. She continued on with her apocalyptic themed diatribe a while longer. She mentioned “fire in the sky” and as I expected, she soon started talking about God and Jesus. I had been silent since she started talking. Suddenly she shouted “IS YOU LISTENING TO ME?” Not knowing if yes or no was the right answer, I flipped the coin and said yes ma’am! She seemed to like that answer. She asked “I’m right, ain’t I?” I said yes ma’am you’re right. We rode the rest of the way to Piggly Wiggly in silence. When we arrived the store was dark and closed up tighter than a drum, just as I had expected it to be at this time of night. She told me to stop right out in the middle of the parking lot. She pulled a twenty out of her pee soaked pocket and handed it to me. I gave her back a five and she took it. I didn’t expect a tip.

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.

note: the building pictured is not the home of the two women in this story. It is very similar and nearby.