Tag Archives: Walker County

The Unwanted

“Call em’ a cab.” That’s a popular way to get rid of a person causing a problem. Whenever someone is being belligerent, drunk and disorderly, obnoxious or just in the way, a favorite solution to many is to call us and a car will appear and rid them of their problem. The person calling usually never thinks of the problems that person will cause the driver or anyone else after they leave. They just know that the problem will no longer be theirs. The following stories are about two very different people who were unwanted where they were and the cab solution was employed.

Edna Jean

It was early in the evening, just after dusk when I c-booked a trip in the 130 zone. It’s a pretty big zone that stretches from the Lakeview and Highland Park areas in Southside almost to Irondale in the eastern part of the metro. This trip was at the IHOP on Crestwood Blvd which is on the eastern end of the zone. I called the dispatch and asked that they call the customer to make sure they would stay there until I could get there, it sucks to drive a long way for nothing and many customers are very impatient. An employee of the restaurant answered and assured me that “she’ll be here”. I assumed that Edna Jean was an employee that I would be taking home.

She wasn’t an employee. I think I may have jumped a little in my skin when I saw her come out. A white woman in her fifties who looked totally bizarre. Her silver hair was standing out in every direction and looked like it hadn’t seen a comb in weeks. She was wearing a man’s jacket which was about four times too big. Under that I could only see her bare legs and a pair of ragged flip flops on her gnarly, dirty feet. I just assumed she was wearing pants under that jacket, I didn’t ask. Her piercing but almost frighteningly empty eyes looked straight in to mine and said “My name’s Edna Jean. What’s yours?” Rod is my name, where do you need to go? “I live in Walker County. Do you know where Sumiton is? How much will it cost? I got fifty dollars.” I said I’m afraid it may cost a little more than that. A trip to Sumiton would probably run about seventy or eighty dollars. “I ain’t got but fifty but I’ll give you that.” I said I’m afraid it’ll cost more than that to get to Sumiton. “Well can you take me to Leeds?” That I can do. It’ll be about twenty dollars from here.

As we pulled out into Crestwood Blvd headed to Leeds she said again “My name’s Edna Jean, what’s yours?” My name’s Rod. It’s nice to meet you Edna Jean. “I live in Walker County, in Sumiton. You know where that is?” Yes, I know where it is but I thought you wanted to go to Leeds. “I really caint go to Leeds. I been staying out there with my brother. He lives in the housing project. He ain’t sposed to have nobody but his wife and kids in there. They been tryin’ to get me locked up, that’s why I left.” How did you get to the IHOP, I asked. “I walked, I had to leave there cause theys tryin’ to get me locked up.” Do you mean you walked all the way here from Leeds? “Yeah I did. I’m tarred.” Well do you know anyone around here? Where were you going? “My name’s Edna Jean, I live in Walker County, Sumiton. Do you know where that is?” Yes I know where it is, are you telling me you were planning to walk to Sumiton? “Yeah, but that’s too far ain’t it?” Yes, it’s way too far to walk, probably fifty or sixty miles. “That’s what the girl in the restaurant said. She said I’ll call you a cab.”

“Please take me to Sumiton. It’s in Walker County. I got fifty dollars, please take me. I caint go back to my brothers place, they want to lock me up and I caint stand to be locked up. Please take me. I live in Walker County.” OK, I said. Give me the fifty dollars. She handed me four little balls of money. I straightened them out and could see it was two twenties and two fives. I stuffed them deep into my pocket and drove up the ramp to I-20, headed west. I decided to run the meter just to see how much it would actually cost to get her there. By now it was black dark and cloudy with just a few drops of rain on the windshield. Traffic was light in my mind but Edna Jean was freaking out. “All this traffic scares me to death, I couldn’t never drive on this road. Specially them eighteen wheelers. Them thangs scare me to death.” The sound of an ambulance siren was sounding pretty shrill coming up behind us. I barely pay them much attention because I hear and see them so much, I often joke that the sound of emergency vehicles is Birmingham’s theme song. Not so with Edna Jean. “What’s that?” she gasped. Just an ambulance I said, we see them all the time. “Them thangs scare me too, I’m glad I ain’t got to drive.”

As we exited on Arkadelphia and headed toward Sumiton she couldn’t hide her excitement. “Where we at?  We already in Sumiton?” No we’re still in Birmingham, we’ve got a long way to go. “My name’s Edna Jean. I live in Walker County.” I said yes, Edna Jean. We’ve already established that. “All my folks is dead except for my brother and he don’t want me, he wants to have me locked up.” I’m sorry to hear that I said. “My husband just died about five years ago. He’s buried upair in Taylor’s cemetery in Sumiton, you know where that is?” I can’t say that I do. I said I’ll bet you miss your husband, did y’all have a good life together? “Naw, not really. He was a alky-holic. He got mean when he was drunk. He died of cirrhosis of the liver. Naw, I don’t miss him much.” That’s too bad, I said. And all your other relatives are dead? “Mama and all her sisters and brothers died a long time ago. Daddy’s been dead since I was little. Oh, I forgot about my daughter, she ain’t dead. I don’t have nothing to do with her and she don’t like me. She’s a dope addict.”

After we passed through the last street lights of Forestdale, Adamsville and Graysville the road became significantly darker. “It ain’t far now is it?” We’re a lot closer than we were but we’ve still got a few miles, I told her. “I’m glad it was you that picked me up” Why is that? I asked. “I don’t trust colored men”. As much as I disagreed with this sentiment I decided that having a discussion about race with this woman wasn’t a good idea, so I just stayed silent and let it go. Soon we were passing Wesley’s Boobie Trap, an old strip club in the middle of nowhere near the Walker County line. “We close now,” she said. “Sumiton ain’t far from that old titty bar.” I said yeah, we’ll be there soon. As soon as we get into Sumiton you can show me where you live. “I don’t live nowhere, I ain’t got no home no more.” Alarms started going off in my mind. Ut oh, I thought. Where the hell am I gonna take her? So I asked, where am I gonna take you? “I’m gonna try to go up to my friend’s trailer. If she ain’t there or won’t let me in I’ll guess you can just take me to downtown Sumiton.” I was apprehensive. I’ve been in these situations before, where someone will hold you a long time going place to place for little to no money. In this case it would be no money.

Boobie Trap

In just a couple of miles after passing the Boobie Trap we started seeing the first few lights of Sumiton, mostly fast food. A McDonald’s and a couple of other chain burger joints. “We gonna go rat over this hill and turn by the Hardee’s.” This turn lead us down a winding country road that turned from pavement to gravel after about a half mile. “See that trailer up on the hill? I’m ona go upair and see if she’ll let me in.” I watched as she walked up the small hill in her ragged clothes to a ragged home. After some loud knocking the door cracked open and Edna walked in. I didn’t give her a chance to walk out again. I hit the road in a hurry. The meter was sitting at sixty eight dollars. Yes, I felt compassion for her but I’d already taken an eighteen dollar hit. That’s all I could afford for one night.

Jane

Picking up at upscale restaurants is usually easy. It’s almost always fairly affluent people who are visiting Birmingham and staying in the good hotels. Most of the time it’s a short trip to the Westin, The Sheraton, Embassy Suites or one of the other mainstream hotels near downtown. Once in a while it’s a twenty five to thirty dollar trip out to the hotel at Ross Bridge. The customers are almost always well behaved and never overly drunk.

This night was an exception. When I pulled up in front of the upscale seafood restaurant at five points south, a valet motioned for me to roll down my window. He ask, “are you here for Jane?” I said yes and he told me they were bringing her out. I thought it a little odd that she had to be brought out. Jane was an attractive young woman probably in her thirties. She had shoulder length blonde hair and was wearing a stylish looking blue dress. She was the kind of customer one would expect to see at this kind of restaurant. Jane was being escorted to the cab by the restaurant manager and another employee. She was holding on tight to both their arms. When they let her go to get in the cab she took a tumble when she stepped off the curb. They picked her up off the ground and physically put her in the back seat.

This was a strange situation. She seemed to be alone and was apparently well lubricated when she arrived. When I asked where she wanted to go she just gave me a blank stare, like “who are you and where am I?” The manager said “the best we can tell, she lives in Anniston and is in town for some kind of business meeting.” Can you tell me where you want to go? I ask her. “I don’t know, to my hotel I guess. My car’s here I can just drive.” “Ma’am we cannot allow you to drive” the manager said. “Why not?” she insisted. “Because you’re too intoxicated to drive, ma’am. If I let you drive our restaurant would be liable if you get into a wreck. You can leave in the cab or if you have a friend I can call them to pick you up. If you can’t do either of those things, I’m afraid I’ll have to call the police.”

I said ma’am I’ll be glad to take you to your hotel if you’ll just tell me where it is. “I don’t know. Fairfield Inn I think.” Which Fairfield Inn? I asked. “I don’t know I’m not from here.” I started googling Fairfield Inn near Birmingham on my phone. I found that the one I had remembered on highway 280 was closed. There were three others in the metro area. Bessemer, Fultondale and Pelham. I said we have three to chose from but they’re far apart. If we go to the wrong one we’re going to be a hell of a long way to the right one.

By this time she’s clutching my arm as she had the with the manager and the restaurant employee. “I don’t know just take me there.” she almost screamed. Ma’am I can’t take you anywhere until you can tell me where we’re going. She looked at the manager and yelled “I’M UNHAPPY WITH HIM.” as she pointed in my direction. I said I’m unhappy with you too. You’re taking up my time, and you can’t go anywhere with me if you can’t tell me where to go. You can’t ride around with me all night. The manager tried to convince her to let him see her phone. He thought maybe he could see where she had called a hotel and he could call to see which one. She flatly refused. “You’re not touching my phone” she told him.

It seemed abundantly clear that Jane wouldn’t be much help providing a destination. The manager and I started considering other options. He said “I really don’t want to call the police on her. Maybe you could take her to one the hotels in this area where she can get a room for the night. She can come back here and get her car tomorrow, when she’s sober. Good idea I said. I looked at her and said we have three hotels less than a mile from here. We have the Hotel Highland, the Doubletree and the Marriot Residence. Would you like to go to one of those? “Marriot Residence, take me there.” I did a u turn and headed down the hill. She was still clutching my arm and by this time laying her head on my shoulder in an almost flirty manner. After two red lights we were there.

“Where are we? Why did you bring me here? What is this place? This is the Marriot Residence Hotel. You told me to bring you here. “Why?” Don’t you remember? The restaurant manager said you had to go somewhere or he would have to call the police. Are you going to get out? I asked. “No, I don’t know why I’m here. What kind of car is this?” It’s a cab. About a 2007 Ford Crown Victoria. “This is my car,” she said. I said ma’am if you don’t get out here at this hotel I will have to call the police. “I’m not getting out of my own car! How did you get my car?” I put the keys in my pocket and got out of the car. “What are you doing?”she asked. I went to the desk and told the clerk what was going on. I was very happy this clerk was working because she was very helpful. When we both walked back out of the hotel Jane was in the drivers seat with her hands on the wheel. “Let us help you ma’am, just come into the hotel and we’ll get you a room for the night.” “Why are you trying to make me get out of my car?” Jane insisted. “Ma’am, you’re sitting in the driver’s seat of a cab. This is not your car.”

The clerk was very kind and gentle with Jane and apparently that worked. She took the clerk by the hand and stumbled into the hotel lobby. As with Edna Jean, I didn’t give her time to change her mind. I also didn’t ask her for any money as I knew that would be futile.

copyright R.W. Walker 2015

*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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Pain and Anguish

The centerpiece of modern Birmingham’s economy is healthcare. Just off the top of my head I can think of 11 hospitals including multiple campuses of UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham) and St Vincent’s around the metro area. In addition, there are a plethora of clinics of all types all over the area. As with carless people who still need to go to work, there are also many carless people who need to go home from the hospital or doctor’s office.

One of the first hospital trips I remember came shortly after I first started driving in the winter of 2010-11. Unlike many winters in the last few decades, this winter was actually a cold one. We had snow in Birmingham three times that year and had freezing temperatures for several consecutive days. When I picked him up at the ER of one of the largest hospitals there was still a little snow on the ground from a snow shower a few days earlier. I saw the nurses wheel out a very frail man who I would judge to be in his late 70’s. He was wearing a cap with some company’s logo on it, a plaid shirt and blue jeans. His legs were bent and the nurse had a hard time getting him out of the wheelchair and into the cab. When he was finally in I greeted him with my usual hello! how are you doing tonight? “There ain’t nothing they can do for me. They’re sending me home to die” was his response.Well, I didn’t quite know how to respond to that. I didn’t think telling him that I hoped he died peacefully and painlessly would be appropriate. I remained quiet, it was a bit awkward.

He gave me an address in one of the suburban towns north of the city. It was actually outside of the town on a sparsely traveled road in a single wide trailer. He had used my phone to call his son to tell him that we were on the way and that he, the son, would have to pay the fare. When we pulled up in the drive I could see the snow and ice covered ramp coming from the door of the trailer. The son came out looking pissed. He was a total ass. I assume he was pissed because his father had come home. The fare was $19, he handed me a twenty and I gave him a one. He didn’t offer a tip. He also didn’t offer a hello, a how are you or a thank you for bringing my father home.

When he finally got his father into the wheelchair it was time for him to be pushed up the icy, snow covered ramp. I pushed as the son pulled from the front. It wasn’t easy. When we finally got the old guy to the door, I turned and carefully headed back down the ramp to the cab. There was still no thank you or even an acknowledgement that I had helped. The son acted as if it was my job. It’s not. All I have to do is drive the customer from point A to point B. The fare doesn’t include any help beyond that. I was glad to help even though there was nothing in it for me, I didn’t see how it would have been possible for  the angry son to have done it on his own. The only regret I had as I left was that this pitiful old man would have to spend his last few days with a fucking asshole.

The trip started from a dispatch to a church affiliated hospital in west Birmingham. This hospital is in zone 210, what many would consider to be “the hood”. Good, lucrative trips can and sometimes do come from this hospital. When picking up at a hospital, any hospital, one big mystery will be the condition of your customer. Sometimes they walk out on their own power, get in alone, are completely coherent and the trip is no trouble at all. Other times the customer will need assistance from either the hospital staff or a family member but still no big deal. This time it was different. I was having serious doubts during the trip that I would be able to get this guy home before he died. His sister was with him, I think I would have refused the trip had she not been.

He was a young African American man probably in his 20’s. He could not stand or walk or even shift his sitting position in the back seat. Other than on TV commercials for C.A.R.E and other similar charities and maybe in National Geographic, I have never seen a human being so emaciated. I never asked about his diagnosis but it had to have been the final stages of AIDS or some kind of cancer. His bones and joints looked as if there was no muscle or fat at all, just skin and bones. His head was tilted back with his eyes rolled back in his head. We had to make a stop at a pharmacy near the hospital for his sister to pick up a prescription. During this time I was alone with him for about 10-15 minutes. I was looking for signs of life. After a few minutes of total quiet I heard a gurgling sound and I could see his bony chest rise and fall, albeit at a much slower rate than a healthy person.

We arrived at an old apartment complex in Ensley a few minutes after his sister returned. A teenage girl came out of the apartment to help the sister get him inside. The two of them were having a very hard time. I thought about just picking him up and carrying him inside. I thought about what could happen if I dropped him or broke one of his brittle, fragile bones and held back. In just a minute a man who was a friend and neighbor showed up and did exactly what I was thinking of, picked him up and carried him inside. I was glad.

A few months later I was back at the same hospital. This time it was an account trip, meaning that the hospital is paying for the trip. You simply fill out a voucher and get paid by the cab company. When  Alabama court 005we are dispatched an account trip, we are able to see the destination on the computer screen, that’s how I knew this would be a lucrative trip. I waited and waited and waited some more. The customer wasn’t coming out. Before pressing the noshow button I decided to call dispatch to see if they could get in touch with anyone at the hospital to see if the customer was indeed there. The company will pay us $5 for a noshow on an account trip but judging by the distance showing on my GPS this would be a $45 or $50 trip if the customer was there, so I was willing to wait a little longer if necessary. The dispatchers put me through to some hospital staff person who assured me that my customer would soon be out.

They eventually wheeled out a guy who looked like he had just been taken straight out of his hospital bed and sent out the door. He was bent over forward in the wheelchair with a string of saliva drooling from his toothless mouth. He was holding a pale pink kidney shaped drool or vomit receptacle. He was accompanied by a woman probably 10 or 15 years his junior. She had the look of a country woman but with a hard edge. When they got in she barely gave me a hello. It was clear that she wasn’t interested in exchanging niceties with me. Before we got out of the parking lot, the man with the drool pan started screaming in agony. “OH GOD, OH GOD, OH GOD”, he shouted! The screaming didn’t stop. All the way through west Birmingham and all the way out of town he continued to shout “OH GOD, OH GOD” while hyperventilating and clutching his side and chest. For a minute I was thinking that we may need to turn around and take him back to the hospital. I was wondering why they sent him home? No insurance, maybe? The screaming didn’t stop until we finally reached our destination northwest of the city near the Walker County line.

The only words that I heard come out of his mouth other than “OH GOD” were “I’m so thirsty”. After he repeated this several times, the woman asked me to stop at the next gas station to get him a Sprite. Sprite was his favorite soda. After a couple of minutes sitting at the gas station listening to this man scream, I saw her exit the store empty handed. She lacked 40 cents having enough money to buy a Sprite. I thought to myself, it’s a damn good thing the hospital is paying for this trip. I told her to get back in the car and I went in the store and bought the man a 20oz Sprite.

From the view of society that we cab drivers get, stereotypes are sometimes, even often, shattered. This wasn’t one of those times. It took four turns off the main road to get onto the two ruts that the woman called a road. I could almost hear banjos playing as we pulled up in front of a run down trailer with assorted rusty auto parts strewn about in the yard. It was a scene that would confirm the mental image that many have of poor whites in the rural south. A young man, probably in his late 20’s, wearing a camouflage hat and a shirt with cut off sleeves that exposed his tattoos, one of which was a confederate flag, came out and assisted the woman in getting the man in agony out of the car. I couldn’t turn around in front of the place. I drove probably a quarter mile before finding a safe place to turn around. When I came back by the trailer the young man and the woman were gone. The sick man was sitting on the ground leaning against the mailbox, clutching his Sprite.

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.