Tag Archives: projects

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.

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Let’s Make A Dill

It was about ten o’clock  on a Thursday morning. I was beginning to wish that I hadn’t leased the cab this day. I had started out at eight and I hadn’t gotten even one call in two hours, I felt almost certain that this day would be a lost cause. It looked like the company had just hired a bunch of new drivers. There were more cabs out than usual and so many were stacked up in the good zones that it would be impossible to get a trip in one of the usual spots. I studied the T-screen on the computer. This is the screen that shows how many cabs there are in each zone. There were cabs in all the zones except for one. I headed for zone 200, west of downtown where I would be first in line.

Much of zone 200 is what many people would consider ghetto. There are a couple of projects, as well as some pretty run down rental housing. This zone is the home of Legion Field, the stadium that used to be the pride of the state, where the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers played some of their biggest, most important home games. For years this stadium was known as “The Football Capital of the South”. It no longer carries that title. It’s still used as the home field of the UAB Blazers. It’s also the home of the “Magic City Classic” a big rivalry game between the state’s largest two historically black universities, Alabama State and Alabama A&M. The stadium also hosts the BBVA Compass Bowl every January. The stadium is still active but her glory days are long behind her, she looks a little sad in comparison to the now larger and more modern stadiums on the campuses of Alabama and Auburn.

A large part of the zone is somewhat of a industrial wasteland with many empty warehouses along with several scrap yards, junk yards and metal related businesses still operating. Needless to say, it isn’t one of the most beautiful areas of the city. I found a place to park and wait for a call across the street from a long closed business that used to be a car dealership, body shop and mechanical shop. I was amazed but not terribly surprised when I noticed some obvious misspellings on the sign painted on the wall of the building. I laughed out loud when I saw that they had spelled Used Car Dealer “Used Car Diller” and Mechanical Shop “Mecanical Shop”.

Make a dill

I wondered how long the place had been closed. I wondered who had painted the lettering and who had approved it. I wondered if anyone had ever pointed it out to them. How could they have stayed in business any length of time without bothering to correct it? It was one of those things that was so ridiculous that it was funny.

I took my eyes off the scene for a few minutes while fiddling with my phone camera and trying to post this thing to facebook. When I looked up, she had appeared out of nowhere. Out in the middle of the street in front of this God forsaken place was a young woman wearing what could best be described as upscale evening attire. It was a pretty dress, multi-colored and obviously not cheap. The quality of the garment was apparent. The person wearing the dress wasn’t quite as upscale. She was young, thin and very dark skinned. Not a beauty queen but not ugly either. She didn’t have the shoes to match the dress, she was wearing flip flops.

The thing that was most noticeable about her was that she was smashed, shit-faced, totally messed up on either drugs, alcohol or both. I have no idea where she came from, but she sure seemed out of place out here at 10 am.  She was waving a dollar in the air trying to get my attention. She slurred, “I need a ride, I got money”, I said, hop in. She told me she wanted to go to the Smithfield library, which was just a few bocks away. She immediately confessed to me “I ain’t gonna tell you no lie, I ain’t got but a dollar”. I told her not to worry about it, there was nothing else going on, I’d finish the ride. A few seconds later I noticed that she had slid forward in the seat, then her hand reached for my crotch. I gently removed her hand and told her that I wasn’t interested, I was just doing her a favor.

She didn’t quite know how to react to that, she started slurring some jibberish about God and Jesus and how “we all the same, black and white”. I nodded in agreement as we passed the library, she wanted to go to a house just a little further up the street.  As I pulled up at the house she was making a drunken speech that made absolutely no sense. It ended with “you and me, baby, black and white, we da peoples of tha Earf!” I said have a nice day, I didn’t even ask for her dollar.

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.

Early Morning Craving

As I’ve alrady told you in the story “Diaper Money” I have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy when it comes to shady dealings by my customers as long as it doesn’t involve violence or thievery. I don’t consider what my adult customers are doing to be my business as long as they’re not causing me any trouble and as long as I get paid. As I’ve said before, I’m not going to ask you what you’re up to and for God’s sake, please don’t tell me. If you don’t tell me I can always say I don’t know what’s going on even if it seems obvious. I can remember picking up a middle aged white man in a very rural part of zone 550. It was in the direction of Pinson but not actually in Pinson. He was very much a working class kind of guy wearing steel toed work boots and sporting a new crewcut. He said “I need to go into town for just a few minutes, this will be a round trip.”

He had his own route in mind which was fine with me. I always ask customers if they have a prefered route and if they do, I always abide by their wishes. Many customers believe the stereotype that all cab drivers are out to cheat them by trying to up the fare by driving a route that’s longer than necessary. Letting them be in charge of the route takes this issue off the table. We rode along some roads that I don’t think I’ve ever driven on. We eventually came out on I-65 near Fultondale, north of the city. We had made some small talk along the way but nothing concerning exactly where he was going or what he was doing. His destination was in a public housing project, one of the older ones that look like red brick barracks. This project was next to a large city high school, west of downtown in a neighborhood that’s almost entirely African American. He had me park a building away from the building where he was going. True to his word, he was in and out in less than five minutes. We followed the same route we had taken to the project back to his country home. The fare was $95, he handed me a hundred dollar bill and said “keep it”.

The name on the screen of the dispatch computer was a traditionally female name. When I saw the person come out of the house I thought this must be the wrong customer or maybe someone else called for him; that happens sometimes. I would have sworn this tall, broad shouldered person with close cropped hair was a man until she got in the car and I heard her voice. It was a deep voice for a woman but still a feminine voice. She wanted to go to one of the gentlemen's clubgentlemen’s clubs on the west side of town, she said she worked there. I certainly didn’t think she was a stripper so I figured she must have been a bartender, a bouncer or maybe even a manager. When we arrived I turned the meter off and told her the amount of the fare as I thought this was her final destination. She said “I’ll be back, wait on me. I won’t be long.”

When she returned a few minutes later I couldn’t see that she had anything that she didn’t have when she went in. But man, could I SMELL that she had something that she didn’t have when I picked her up. The skunky odor that filled the car was so pungent that it made my eyes water! It almost made me think that Cheech or Chong had just gotten in my cab. She said “let’s stop by the store. I’m gonna get some beeuh then you can take me to my gull house.” Was she aware of the smell? Maybe not, she went into the convenience store smelling like that. She came out with a twelve pack of Bud light, I guess she and her “gull” had a party.

This brings me to the only person who, as of yet, has violated my don’t ask, don’t tell policy. I had had some success earlier in the week by getting up early, by five or five-thirty am and catching the going to work crowd. It was about six in the morning when the call came through in the 235 zone. It was an old, low rent apartment complex almost to the summit of Red Mountain off of Greensprings Highway. This was late winter, it was still black dark, there was no hint of the morning sun.

She was standing outside when I arrived. A thin, middle-aged white woman wearing a V neck sweater, knee high leather boots and short hair dyed dark red, almost purple. I could tell she was no spring chicken but still not bad looking. I could tell something was awry by her hyperactive behavior. She got in and out of the cab four times before she finally settled in and was ready to go. It was obvious that she wasn’t one of the morning workers that I had been aiming for that morning. She said she wanted to go to the extended stay inn where my wife and I had lived when we first moved to town. I saw dollar signs because this place was clear on the other side of town from where we were. Shortly after we got started I was a little concerned when she said “after we go to the inn I need to go to Rugby.” Rugby avenue is a pretty seedy area in East Lake. I figured that this was probably a don’t ask, don’t tell situation.

About halfway to the inn she waved a big red flag indicating that this trip was probably not going to end well. She asked me “you’re cool ain’t you?” I said yeah, I guess I’m pretty cool, why? She said “you know we’re going to get my smoke. We don’t have to go to the inn if you’ll lend me twenty dollars to get it.” In hindsight, I should have stopped the car right where we were and put her ass out. We actually have a code that we can send to the dispatchers that means “refusing drug run.” I would have been better off this morning if I had used that code. I said, I’m not lending you any money. How the hell were you planning on paying me? She said “don’t worry honey, I’ve got PLENTY of money, just take me to the inn and I’ll get it.”  When we got there she frantically ran to one apartment and then to the next banging on doors. Someone finally let her in the second one she tried. After a few minutes she came back to the car and we headed to Rugby. After about five minutes of ringing the doorbell and knocking on the door she became frustrated and came back to the car. “I guess he must be dead asleep” she said. She now wanted to go to a house in Roebuck. By this time the sun was coming up and I felt a little safer as I could see my surroundings. I still had an inner knowing in the pit of my stomach that this wasn’t going to end well. I waited and waited and waited. After about 30 minutes I said to myself, if she doesn’t come out in five minutes I’m calling the cops. The meter was sitting at fifty two dollars, I had been fucking around with her all morning and hadn’t yet made a penny. I knew the chances were slim to none that I would see any of this money.

After forty minutes had gone by and she was still nowhere in sight I decided to call. I called the non-emergency number. I didn’t think this warranted a 911 call. I gave up after twenty rings. I decided to just drive to the nearest police station which I knew to be just behind the Roebuck Walmart. The policeman on duty was less than enthusiastic about writing up my report. I didn’t expect anything to come of it. I wasn’t wrong.

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.