Tag Archives: stiffed

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.

Silver and Gold

The thing that most people fear most about cab driving is the possibility of being robbed at gunpoint or even murdered by a customer. Thank God I haven’t been robbed. I know it has happened to some of our other drivers over the years but contrary to popular belief, it’s not an everyday occurrence. There is however, another thing that happens much more frequently that’s not nearly as dramatic but can still put you in a bad mood and mess up your day. It’s when you don’t get paid for your services. Most drivers call it “getting stiffed”.

As with most cities, at least in the working class and poorer areas, the check cashing, payday loan and title loan business is big business in Birmingham. These places are everywhere you look in payday loancertain parts of town. I had just dropped off a customer in Fairfield and was heading back toward downtown. I booked into the 200 zone as I approached the Arkadelphia Road exit. I immediately recieved a call to an address I knew to be in the Elyton project.

The cell phone seemed to be a permanant attachment to her body. She didn’t take it down from her ear until we had reached our destination. She was young, I’d say about 20. She was thin and dressed cheaply, a red bandana covered her hair. She quickly told me where she wanted to go, a payday/title loan place on Greensprings Highway. She was talking with someone who was obviously selling her something. I overheard talk of shipping options, dates of arrival ect…Whatever it was, I guess she really wanted it. So much so that she would call a cab to take her to get a loan to buy a money order in order to buy it, whatever it was.

I started to worry that my cab fare depended on my customer being able to get a loan as well. I was right, it did. I had had a similar situation about a week earlier when getting paid depended on my customer being able to pawn a Kirby vacuum cleaner. That trip worked out in my favor, the pawn shop took it and I got my money.

She didn’t stay in the place very long, she was turned down quickly. It seems the only payday she had was a government check for a little more than two hundred dollars a month. She had no car to pawn the title to, she was S.O.L and so was I. She already owed me more than $20 by this time. Once it became clear that she had no means of paying the fare I just turned the meter off and told her I would take her home but let her know in no uncertain terms that I didn’t have to. I could have, and probably should have, just left her ass stranded there.

I gave her a lecture on the way home about why she should make sure she had money before she called a cab. I told her that I could have called the cops and that most drivers would have called them. “Fo’ real?” she asked. “Fo’ what?” She had no idea that stiffing a cab driver could possibly be against the law. I told her it was called theft of service, which is similar to theft of property, like shoplifting from a store.”Naw it ain’t” she said. It seemed to me that this young woman had grown to adulthood without a clue as to how to function in society. Pitiful, I thought. At least she did offer a “thank you” as she got out of the car back at home.

It was fairly early in the morning, after sunrise but before 8am. I had been working the going to work business in the 400 and 500 zones. It had been raining off and on and was a very gray morning. Norwood is one of Birmingham’s grand old neighborhoods that fell into decline and disrepair after the white flight. Big houses that were once elegant mansions line some of the streets. A few of them, a very few, have been bought in recent years and renovated back to their former glory. Most are still in sad shape, some repairable with a major effort. Others that are burned out or literally falling down are beyond repair. This call wasn’t to an old mansion but to a decent home in good shape.norwood 018

She was sitting on the front porch when I drove up. A young girl, no doubt a teenager, jumped up and immediately got in the back seat. “How much will it cost to take me to Bessemer?” she asked. i said probably about $40, maybe more, depending on where it is in Bessemer. At first I didn’t worry about getting stiffed because most passengers that intend to stiff you don’t ask for an estimate. That’s because they’re not planning on paying you anyway.

On the way to Bessemer I learned that she was 16 and she had been out all night with boys that her mother didn’t like. She anticipated a big fight with her mother when she got home and was clearly anxious about it. She didn’t tell me but I instinctively knew that my fare would depend on an angry, possibly hysterical mother paying me. I started to worry. When we arrived at the house the meter was at $42 and mom was nowhere to be found. My customer’s brother said that he thought she had been called to work but he wasn’t sure. The girl made no attempt to call her mom. Maybe she couldn’t take calls at work or maybe it was just out of fear, I don’t know.

The girl was about to panic. “I don’t know how I’m going to pay you” she said. I had just been stiffed by the payday loan girl about a week earlier and I wasn’t in the mood to get stiffed again. I had already decided that I would call the cops if it became necessary. She approached the car window and said “I’ve got this little bracelet, it’s made of silver and gold. If I can pawn it I’ll pay you.” She saw that the meter was at $42 already and was able to reason that by the time she got to the pawn shop and took the necessary time to pawn it, the fare would be much higher. She asked if I could just charge her a flat rate. I told her that if she didn’t mess around and take too much of my time I would turn the meter off and just charge her the $42, she agreed.

The first place turned her down cold. The second place had a sign out front that said “We Buy Gold”. She stayed in this place for about ten minutes. She came out accompanied by a bling wearing heavyweight dude that reminded me of Biggie Smalls. The rain had started to fall steadily as the big guy knocked on my window. He had a $100 bill in his hand. He asked “you got fifty eight dollars?” I dug around in my pockets and found that I did indeed have fifty eight dollars. Just as we made the transaction my customer said “you don’t have to worry about taking me back home.” She and Biggie walked back into the office. I got paid and I don’t know how the story ended with her mom.

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.

Disappearing Act

I’ve been “stiffed” probably about ten times since I started driving taxis. That’s the slang that’s used in the industry when you don’t get paid for the trip. A customer who stiffs a cab driver can be charged with Theft of Service, a misdemeanor. Of course this almost never happens because the “customer” will be long gone before the police ever arrive. When you are first hired as a driver, most companies show an orientation film which includes several scenerios that you should expect to happen eventually. One part of the film shows the cab stopping at the destination and then the passenger bolts from the cab and runs like hell. I’ve never had that happen. Most times that I’ve been stiffed involved either  declined debit or credit cards or sometimes the customer just admitting that they didn’t have any money when we arrived at our destination. I’ve also had two that have gone into houses and never returned. Once, my fare depended on a woman being able to get a loan at Easy Money; it didn’t happen. A few nights ago I had something happen that was similar to what happened in the film, but with a twist.

I was driving down Richard Arrington Blvd toward downtown when I saw a young man with his hand high in the air flagging for a ride. It was at the intersection near the Stillwater Pub so I assumed that it was someone who had been hanging out there. He was a young white man in his early twenties with a very short haircut, like a crewcut. When he got in I could tell by his speech and mannerisms that he wasn’t the type of person who usually hangs out at Stillwater. He mumbled something about Findley. There is both a Findley Blvd and a Findley Avenue in North Birmingham. The area is very industrial, with warehouses, distributing companies, trucking companies and the like. There’s not a lot of residential areas, what few there are are almost entirely African American. There IS a halfway house. A place where many men live when they are transistioning from prison life to life in the world. I figured it was a good bet that that’s where this guy was going.

He asked that I stop at a gas station on Findley Blvd so he get could get a pack of smokes, when he got out I finally got a good look at his face. He didn’t look like the stereotypical halfway house resident. He was actually quite good looking but as I mentioned earlier, his speech and mannerisms didn’t quite match his looks. I didn’t trust him, not at all. He never actually said that he was going to the halfway house but when we got on pitch dark Findley Avenue he was suddenly sick and had to pull over. “Please pull over now, I’ve got to throw up”. You don’t want me throwing up in your cab do you”? I pulled over and said no, please don’t. We were close to the halfway house and I could sense that he was up to something. He gagged a few times and said “just give me a few minutes and I’ll be OK”. After not hearing him say anything or make any sounds for about ten seconds, I looked around and my gut feeling was confirmed, he was gone. The meter was sitting at $12.50. For some reason I didn’t even get upset, I guess I expected it deep down. I drove away and headed back to Southside. There were other people needing rides.

copyright 2012 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.