Tag Archives: title pawn

Caught In A Trap

The thing that makes this job much more interesting than say, retail, factory work or office work is the fact that you get a chance to observe the lifestyles and culture of every segment of society in a very personal way. Sometimes it’s business people in suits discussing multimillion dollar deals on phone conversations on the way to the airport. It can be surgeons talking about the open heart surgery that they just performed or engineers going over the latest bridge project. I once had two engineers get into an argument about the depth of the Mississippi River at Vicksburg. Sometimes it’s Latin American athletes speaking in Spanish or Portuguese about the latest soccer match. Cabbies are likely to see lavish displays of wealth and desperate, grinding poverty all in the same day, sometimes on back to back trips. Your emotions can vary greatly depending on the luck of the draw, the luck of who the dispatchers send you to pick up. It can be funny, ridiculous, dull, boring, delightful and disgusting. Sometimes it’s just downright sad and pitiful.

I was just getting started at about 8:00 am. My first dispatch of the day came from the 130 zone. I could tell by the zip code that this customer was in the far eastern section of the zone. I often reject trips that far away but on this morning I was headed out to the cab depot, which is near this customers location, so I went ahead and accepted the trip. I cringed a little when I saw that the call came from a low rent, quite gritty, extended stay hotel. I figured that it would just be a trip to the store for a pack of smokes or something similar. That’s the type of trip that typically comes out of this place.

The information page of the dispatch told me that this women needed to be picked up in front of her room which was on the back side of the hotel. I also noticed the code WC indicating that this customer was in a wheelchair. She was sitting outside, ready to go when I arrived. I could see that she had one partial leg that was the result of a below the knee amputation on the left side. The other leg seemed to be non existent. She had a very high above knee amputation on the right side. There was a toddler, probably about a year old, in her lap.

She asked if I would roll her down the wheelchair ramp and up to the car, she also requested that I let her ride in the front, she said it was “just easier” that way. She had another favor to ask before she wiggled her way into the car. She needed for me to hold the toddler while she accomplished this task. I was a bit surprised at how comfortable the little girl seemed in the arms of a strange man that she had never met. She didn’t resist at all, she just happily sucked on her bottle until her mother was securely in the car.

“You gonna make some money today” were the first words out of her mouth when I got behind the wheel. “I’ve got several errands to run, then we gonna go to Vestavia so I can get my power chair.” I told her that I couldn’t fit a power chair into the cab. “Don’t worry about that” she said, “they gonna bring me home.” All of the errands consisted of visits to payday loan/ title pawn businesses that are ubiquitous in lower income parts of town.

green-loans-payday-loans

“I’ve got to pay these folks, but I know I’ll have to borrow more before the end of the month. That’s the way it is every month, it just goes round and round.” Each visit required getting the wheelchair out of the trunk and positioning it for her and then holding the little girl. The process was reversed every time she came out of a business and back to the car. After the third visit she decided that she had to pay her rent. “I’d better go on and pay it now, cause I’m gonna run out of money then they’ll want to kick me out.” I asked if I could go in and pay it for her to avoid going through the process again at the hotel office. She enthusiastically agreed and handed me her debit card and told me her PIN. She volunteered it, I didn’t have to ask. There was a line at the office which was behind a bullet proof shield at the grimy hotel. She had told me to pay two weeks worth but the clerk said “You can’t do that here. A weeks worth, max.”

The next trip was to another payday loan place all the way across town on Green Springs Highway. After this she was supposed to be picking up her power chair, which I learned on the way that she would be renting, not owning. A call to the business supplying the chair yielded bad news, they wouldn’t be able to bring her back to the hotel after all. The power chair would have to be postponed indefinitely until she could figure out a way to get home.

By the time we got back to the hotel the fare was substantial. I had mixed emotions, on the one hand I truly had sympathy for this woman and her family living in a crappy hotel and caught in a hellish loan shark nightmare. On the other hand, I needed to get paid and this was enough to pay my lease for the day. I ran the card and purposely omitted adding a tip. I figured she had suffered enough for one day.

image: green loans-payday loans

All text 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.