Tag Archives: west end

Liquored Up And Locked Out

“Go straight” said the well dressed drunken yuppie as he plopped down in the backseat. Where are we going? I asked. “Just go straight, I’ll tell you where to turn”. I hate it when customers do this, I want to know where I’m headed. I shouldn’t have even moved the car until he told me. I picked him up at the Blue Bottle Cafe, which is usually a worry free place to pick up customers. It’s mostly frequented by hipsters and hipster wannabes that turn out to see trendy urban indie rock bands and solo musicians. They have a menu with mostly vegetarian choices; it’s not the kind of place that drunk assholes like to hang out.

This guy was an exception. He had an open drink with clinking ice and it was strong enough that I could smell the alcohol. He immediately exhibited an attitude of superiority, as if I was his servant. I didn’t like him at all from the moment he got in the car. After driving a few blocks I said, where are we going, man? I’ve got to know a general area, I don’t like driving and not knowing where I’m going. “Crestwood” he said. ” I’m going to see my buddy in Crestwood” I felt a little better just knowing the neighborhood where we were headed. He got out and walked across the grass in the front yard to the door; he ditched the plastic cup that had held his drink in the middle of the yard. After banging on the door and a window and hollering for his buddy, it became clear, even to him that this was a futile effort. He staggered back to the car, fell in the back seat and said “now you’re gonna take me down 280”. I didn’t like this “you’re gonna” language but I held my temper and started driving. Before we got out of the neighborhood, he said “stop, I’ve gotta pee”. I stopped, he stood in the middle of this neighborhood street and let it fly. I thought well, at least it’s late at night and maybe no one will see him and if he has to pee I’d rather him do it here than in his pants in the car.

In a few minutes we were taking the split to 280 off the Red Mountain Expressway. I said OK, we’re on 280, where do you want to go? “Way down, all the way down”  he said. I was still not happy with his vagueness about his destination. He made a phone call shortly after the split. At least he pretended to make a phone call, I’m still not convinced he was talking to anyone. He was pretending to talk to a girl, slurring sexual comments and questions like “did you like it when I was rubbing up against you? Could you feel my hard dick?” ” I thought you were gonna pull your pants down and let me taste it, I sure would like to taste it.”

It was a cool night, probably in the 40’s. It was too cool for the air conditioning but not cold enough for the heater. I had my drivers window barely cracked just for some fresh air. He interrupted his imaginary porno phone conversation to scream “ROLL THAT GODDAMN WINDOW UP, I’M FREEZING!” That’s when I lost my cool. I couldn’t help it, I said you don’t order me to do shit you stupid asshole, you can either respect me or your drunk ass is gonna be out here on the side of the goddamn road! I pulled over to the shoulder with full intentions of putting his ass out. He said “I won’t get out, you can’t make me get out.” It was after two in the morning and I was tired, I didn’t feel like going through the routine of calling the cops and waiting for them to get there. I said just tell me where you want to go and shut up until I get you there. He said “take me to Patio 280”, I drove off as he continued his fake phone conversation “this cab driver is being rude to me” he said into the phone. He said “my girlfriend doesn’t like you being rude to me.” I said shut up, we’ll be there in a minute.

I was happy to see a moonlighting Birmingham cop in full uniform at the door of the Patio when we pulled up. My customer immediately jumped out of the back seat and slurred to the cop in a whiney tone, “he was rude to me”. The cop said “what did he do, make you put your pants on?” Seeing that the cop had no sympathy for him he started to walk in the bar. I said, I’LL TAKE THIRTY ONE DOLLARS PLEASE. The cop said “pay the man”. He handed me two twenties and said “I want change”. Not getting a tip was the least of my concerns, more than anything I was just glad he was gone.

Before I could leave the scene the cop approached me and asked “can you do me a favor?” Of course I said yes. He asked me if I was familiar with the west side of town, I assured him that I was. He said “I’ve got two guys in that car over there, they’re pretty drunk but mostly they’re sleepy. They were trying to leave in the car, I couldn’t let them do that. Can you take them home?” I said sure and he went to get them out of the car. I’d say they were more than just “pretty drunk”, totally shitfaced would be a more accurate term. I asked for an address and one of them kept saying “647 Southwest.” I asked 647 what street Southwest? He didn’t get the question, he again repeated, this time louder “647 SOUTHWEST.” I turned to the other guy and asked, can you give me an address? He managed to slur out an address that included a number and a street, we were on our way.

It was a long drive to their neighborhood, they both slept most of the way. I heard a few comments by the one who couldn’t remember his street address about how he was moving to Jersey because “they” just weren’t right down here. After that the snoaring started, before long it sounded like I had two chainsaws running in the back seat. The guy who had been talking about Jersey was awake when we arrived at the address that his buddy had given me. Ok we’re here, I said. “This ain’t where I live” he said. I said OK where do you live? “647 Southwest”. I said that won’t do, I’ve got to know the street. 647 what street Southwest? He finally understood what I was asking him and slurred out “647 12th street Southwest.” I said OK, now we’re in business. He recognized his house when we turned onto his street and said “just pull in behind that white car, that’s where I live.”

I looked at the meter and said OK, that’ll be thirty four dollars. That’s when the trouble started. He said “them folks done got me a ride home and I ain’t got no money.” Ain’t got no money? I asked. Do you have a credit card or a debit card? “Naw, I ain’t got NO money, I spent all my money at that bar.” I said what about your buddy, does he have any money? He shook his buddy awake and said “this man want to know if you got any money? He say we owe him thirty foe dollars.” “Naw” he said. “I ain’t got no money”. The first guy looked at me and said “you gon’ have to take him home, this ain’t where he lives.” I said if he ain’t got no money I ain’t taking him nowhere, this is the end of the line. “Well, how he gon’ get home?” That’s his problem, I said. I said y’all just get out, I’ve got other people I can be picking up that will actually pay me. With some difficulty they managed to get out of the car and I saw them staggering and stumbling toward the house in the dark as I was driving away.

I was pissed but mostly I felt stupid for not getting paid up front. These guys didn’t want to take a cab, they wanted to actually get out on the highway and drive in the ridiculously fucked up condition they were in. I did feel like I had at least done a service to the world by keeping these drunk assholes off the road, at least this time. Who knows, someone’s life could have very well been saved and to me that would be well worth thirty four dollars. It would be worth a helluva lot more than that. I still felt stupid, there was a cop right there, he could have and would have made them pay me up front if I had only asked. Oh well, live and learn.

I decided to make a pass through Southside to see if I could get just one more trip. I picked up a young guy in the Five Points area who was going downtown to the Sheraton. As he was getting drink keysout he said “hey look, someone left their keys.” He paid his fare, handed me the keys and walked into the hotel. There was a key ring with two keys to a GM car and what looked like several house keys. You know, I hear that locksmiths are expensive. It would probably cost a lot more than thirty four dollars to replace all those keys. Gee, I wonder whatever happened to those keys?

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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Birming-Images

For those of you who aren’t very familiar with our city, I thought that you may enjoy a bit of a photographic tour. These images are the landmarks that make us who we are; they’re the things that make us unique.

The Vulcan Statue is generally considered to be the symbol of Birmingham. It was sculpted, begining in 1903 by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti. He was Birmingham’s entry for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Vulcan was the god of the fire and the forge in Roman mythology. Since 1936 Vulcan has stood watch over the city from his perch atop Red Mountain. Symbolizing the city’s founding on the iron and steel industry, he is made from iron ore mined from the very mountain on which he stands. At 56 feet, he is the tallest cast iron statue on Earth and is the 7th tallest free standing statue in the United States.

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But Vulcan isn’t the only cool statue in Birmingham. “Miss Electra” has adorned the top of the Birming-images 005Alabama Power building since 1926. Unlike Vulcan who is partially clothed, Miss Electra is totally nude and has lighting bolts for hair and bolts in her hands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man greets visitors to the Medical Forum in downtown Birmingham.

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Once known as the “Football Capital of the South” Birmingham’s Legion Field has been home to some legendary games involving the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers. For many years it was the largest stadium in the state and the Tide and the Tigers usually chose to play their biggest, most important home games here. Up until the last few years of the 20th century, the Tide and Tigers always played each other here. That’s why the label “Iron Bowl” became associated with the huge rivalry. When the two teams began updating the stadiums on their own campuses, Legion Field became less important. Now those two stadiums, especially Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, dwarf the “Gray Lady” , a name often used to refer to Legion Field. The stadium is still in use but not for the big glory games of the state’s largest two universities. It’s now the home field of the UAB Blazers and is the home of the “Magic City Classic” another big rivalry game between Alabama’s two largest historically black universities, Alabama State and Alabama A&M. The BBVA Compass Bowl is also played here every January.          Birming-images 023                                                                                 Birming-images 019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year, 2013 is the fiftieth anniversary of a dark chapter in the history of Birmingham. A dark chapter in terms of the shameful way that city officials and many white citizens reacted to the struggles for civil rights by African Americans. On the other hand it could be viewed as a bright chapter in the city’s history because it was the catalyst of change. It was the begining of the dismantling of the segregation and discrimination that unfortunately; this city and state had become infamous for in the eyes of the world. The area along 16th street north between 4th and 6th avenue north is sacred ground. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute now stands across 16th street from Kelly Ingram Park, an area where Bull Connor once used water cannons and vicious police dogs to subdue civil rights demonstrators. It stands across 6th avenue north from 16th Street Baptist Church, the scene of a Ku Klux Klan bombing that took the lives of 4 little girls in 1963. Birming-images 048

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As I’ve mentioned before, healthcare is the economic crown jewel of modern Birmingham. Banking is a close second. Regions Bank and BBVA Compass Bank are both headquarted here. Wells Fargo has a large presence. Birming-images 008

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One of the most interesting buildings in Birmingham IMO is Southside’s Quinlan Castle. Built in 1927 to resemble a medieval English castle, the building has served mainly as residential apartments throughout it’s history. It’s now owned by the Southern Research Institute and is not being used for apartments. According to the Bhamwiki article on the castle, in 1940 Quinlan Castle was rumored to have been the Birmingham headquarters of the Communist Party. It was in fact the home of party secretary Robert Hall. Hall’s apartment was raided by the Birmingham police but they didn’t find much of interest. Just a letter from someone at the Tennessee Valley Authority suggesting communist activities in that agency. Birming-images 043

 

 

 

 

 

 

Familiar to many visitors to the city is sculptor Frank Flemming’s “Storyteller” fountain at 5 points south. It sits in front of Highlands United Methodist Church and is at the center of the 5 points entertainment district. Birming-images 032

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy Lovoy, a 5 Points South icon gladly poses in front of the fountain.

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The newest building on Birmingham’s skyline is the gleaming new Benjamin Russell wing of Children’s Hospital. marcsteel 008

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Steel’s Fairfield Works is still operating just west of downtown. uss 007

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ensley Works of USS ceased operations in the early 1970’s CIMG6868

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the location of the famous Tuxedo Junction “The place where the people go to dance the night away”. The song was co-written by Birmingham composer Erskine Hawkins. It was originally written as an instrumental. The nightclub that was the subject of the song was located in this building on 20th street Ensley. The building briefly served as a punk rock venue in the 1980’s. 3312010 002

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sloss Furnaces operated from the late 19th century until 1971 near downtown Birmingham.  The old mill has been preserved and is now a National Historic Landmark. It serves as a museum as well as a music venue, a venue for weddings, beer festivals and even a haunted house in the weeks leading up to Halloween. It’s said that the ghosts of many men who died on the job here over the decades still haunt the old mill.

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Built in 1929 this building was the home of the Thomas Jefferson Hotel. At that time it was one of the finest hotels in the south. In the 1970’s it became known as the Cabana Hotel and finally Leer Tower before it was closed in 1983. The object on the right side of the roof of the building is a zeppelin mooring mast, the last of it’s kind in the world. In 2012 a non-profit corporation was formed to raise money to buy the property and restore it back to it’s former glory. Jeff hotel 002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A mural with a message painted on the wall of an abandoned grocery store in west Birmingham.

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Sources: Wikipedia and Bhamwiki.

All photographs and text copyright 2013 R.W. Walker

Whatchu Gonna Do?

It was mid-summer and work was slack on my other part-time job. I was driving in the middle of the week trying to make a buck or two. On Wednesday morning at about 9:00 am cabs were stacked up 10 deep in the 120 zone and nothing was happening in the other zones. On mornings like this one I like to find a good place to perch, read the paper or a book or whatever I happen to have to pass the time. I was hoping that a regular would call or that something, anything, would pop up on the screen that I could bid on. I was worried about making my lease and how many trips it would take to do that. I hadn’t had any yet so I had a long way to go.

After about an hour had passed and I had long finished the Birmingham News and had read a chapter in Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, there it was. There was one open trip on the board in zone 210. This is southwest Birmingham west of I-65. Some drivers don’t like it, I don’t mind it at all during daylight hours. A large part of the zone is a neighborhood known as Titusville. No, it’s not pronounced Tight-us-ville, it’s TIT-us-ville. It’s not a terrible zone to work, it’s one of the flatter zones and it’s pretty easy to get around, no terrible traffic.

It didn’t take long after I made the bid until I heard the long beep. The call was to an apartment complex buried deep in the zone. It was beyond Titusville on a side street off Jefferson Avenue. When I arrived my customer was already standing outside. She was thin and dark skinned, wearing clothes for comfort, not style. She appeared to be toothless and her head was covered with a bandana. At first I would have judged her to be in her 70’s but once she got in and I got a better look I could tell she was younger.

She didn’t even have time to tell me where she wanted to go before a brown van pulled up beside us. In the flash of an eye, 8 cops jumped out in full riot gear! Dressed all in black, they were sporting helmets with shields on the front and bullet proof vests. They had the word POLICE on their backs and they were packing some serious firepower! Several of them had what appeared to be 12 guage shotguns. They began to take their positions, some on the ground and some on the second and third floor balconies of the apartments. All guns were pointed at one apartment on the second floor. Three of the cops were surrounding the door of that apartment. Two of them were pointing handguns at the door, the other one was busy bashing the door in with a large blunt instrument that looked like it was made just for that purpose. After about 5 or 6 hard blows the door flew open. All three of the helmeted, vested officers stormed in. cops

I was sitting there in the car mesmerized. It was as if I was watching an episode of C.O.P.S on TV. For a moment I had almost forgotten that I had a customer in the back seat. She was clearly not as fascinated as I, or maybe she just wanted to get the hell out of there. She said “let’s go” in a fairly urgent tone. She wanted to be dropped off at a post office just a few blocks away. The fare was $4. I never found out how the scene played out.

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.

Working Girls

I have the utmost respect for the working class. Partly because I’m a member of it but also because the working class seems to get so little respect from society these days. It pisses me off when I hear people, especially those on the political right, talk about how people on public assistance don’t work or about how they’re moochers on society. This is bullshit!  Poor people most certainly do work. Most of them work a helluva lot harder than the assholes that make these kind of stupid comments. I know first hand, because I take them to their jobs. Many people have to take cabs to work because the crappy jobs that they have don’t pay enough money to buy a car. Most will take the bus if it’s possible since the bus is much cheaper than a cab. Sometimes, because of the hour that the person must report to the job or some other logistics, the bus is impossible and a cab is the only option.

Many of the folks that go to work at odd hours live in public housing or what is more commonly known as “the projects”. Yes, many working people use the nation’s safety net programs because minimum wage remains at $7.25 per hour and many of their employers are just too damned greedy to pay any more than that. I have no problem at all with hard working people getting whatever assistance is necessary to make ends meet. To hear people disparage working folks and talk about them like they’re the scum of the Earth makes my blood boil.

It was 2:25 am on a Saturday morning. I had been out since about 7:00 pm Friday night trying to capitalize on the party and club crowd. I had picked up a couple in the the Lakeview entertainment district and dropped them off at Birmingham Southern College. Birmingham Southern is a private Methodist college located in west Birmingham. The area surrounding the college is what many people may think of as “ghetto” or “hood”. Of course this wasn’t the case when the college was first built, the area declined over many years. During daylight hours I will pick up anywhere. It doesn’t bother me at all to go into the projects or many other areas where most suburbanites would fear to tread. There are however; gangs that operate in these neighborhoods. The crime rate in west Birmingham and other similar areas is much higher than it is in the rest of the metro area. Most of the gangsters and criminals operate late at night; for this reason I generally don’t pick up in zones west of I-65 this time of night.

When I pulled out of the college I noticed that the dispatchers were begging someone to take a trip in zone 210, southwest Birmingham. The message on the screen of the dispatch computer said “zone 210 trying to get to work. Somebody please c-book 210. 210 really needs to get to work”. I was sitting at the red light in front of Princeton Hospital, the border of zone 210. I said what the hell? This is probably just someone going in early at UAB or some fast food restaurant or something. I booked into 210 and immediately got the call. I cringed when I saw that it was in Loveman’s Village. Loveman’s Village is an old barracks style project built in the 1950’s. It’s probably the most run down project in Birmingham and it overlooks what is probably the largest cemetery in the state. The television show First 48  featured this project in an episode several years ago. They documented the gang culture here and focused on the shootings and killings that had taken place here in recent years. You can put the words Loveman’s Village into you tube and watch videos made by gangsters where they rap and brag about crime and shooting. LVP  So as you can imagine, this wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be at 2:30 am.

The project was eerily quiet. I met one car and didn’t see anyone moving around outside. The address was on the backside next to Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. There were a few dim street lights and a quarter moon hanging in the black sky. The moonlight enabled a view of the endless tombstones in the huge cemetery across the blvd. The name on the screen was simply “Joe”, the information page only displayed the word “work” in the drop off destination line. Addresses in this project are notoriously difficult to find because most of the numbers posted on the apartments don’t match the address. When I was sure I was close to the pick up point I pressed the call out button for the dispatchers to call “Joe” to come out to go to work. I waited about 5 minutes and they never called him. I then called the dispatchers and told them that I couldn’t take anyone to work if they didn’t come out of the house. The dispatcher then called and connected me to someone with a woman’s feminine voice. She told me that I wasn’t in front of her apartment and that I would need to turn by the couch that was sitting next to the dumpster.

I found the apartment with all the lights on and figured this had to be it. The woman that exited the apartment was dressed to kill. The first thing I noticed was that she was very well shaped. A little too well shaped. Her coke bottle shaped figure was almost unrealistic. I thought damn, she either worked really hard for that or was just very lucky. As she approached the car and I got a good look at her masculine face I could tell that this was no woman. The face was made up but I immediately saw that no matter how well she may have shaved I could still see the shadow of a beard. She said in a very feminine voice “we’ll be right out, I’m waiting on her”. When she turned to go back in the apartment I caught a glimpse of a bubble butt. I wondered how in the hell do black drag queen they do that?

When the two of them exited a couple of minutes later I could see that the first woman’s companion was dressed just as fancy and was wearing silver platform heels. They told me that we were going to the Penthouse Club which wasn’t far away. I was actually relieved, trannies are better than thugs any night of the week. Apparently they had learned by past experience that if you want a cab to come to Loveman’s Village at 2:30 in the morning you have to tell the dispatchers that you’re “going to work”; clever.

We made a little small talk on the way to the club. The woman in the silver heels asked, “so, do you think we look good? Do you think we’re fine transsexuals?” Knowing that a compliment is always the right answer I said yes I do, y’all look great! She said “great, we love compliments”. I could see a blue light flickering in the distance as we approached the club. As we got closer more and more blue lights became visable. By the time we reached the front we could see about 15 police cars with flashing blue lights and what looked like all the people who had been in the club standing out in the street. I said y’all don’t really want to go in there do you? Miss Silver Heels said “no honey, looks like there’s done been a shooting or something. I ain’t gonna walk by all them polleeces either”. They decided on another club in the downtown area. I dropped them off without incident and even got a tip. Not at all what I expected when I took the call but it made for an interesting night.

My very first call the next day was just before noon. It was to one of the shady motels in the Woodlawn area that’s known for prostitution and drug use. This place is basically a brothel and though I’ve never seen it with my own eyes, rumors abound that they sell crack smoking kits complete with a small pipe,a brillo pad and a butane jet flame lighter in the motel office. The first time in my life that I was solicited by a hooker was about a year ago when I picked up a young woman at this very motel and was taking her to the Walmart pharmacy to fill a precsription. While sitting at a red light she said “you know I’m a working girl, do you date?” I said no, I’m married, I don’t date. She left it alone and we completed our trip.

On this day I was dispatched to pick up “Briana” at this sleazy shithole near the interstate. When I pulled into the parking lot I immediately saw a white woman probably about 35, wearing a cheap sweat shirt motioning for me to drive to her. As I stopped the car she walked over, opened the front door and plopped down in the front seat. Thinking this was Briana I said where do you need to go? She looked over with a smile on her ragged face with missing top teeth and said ” hey honey, do you want to come to my room?” When I said no she seemed shocked and disappointed. “Well, why did you come here?” she asked. I pointed to the name on the screen and said I came to pick up Briana. She said “she’s upstairs, blow your horn” as she jumped out almost slamming the door. Briana was a young African American woman who still had her looks. That drug worn look that afflicts most of the women here had yet to catch up with her. She was polite and didn’t solicit me. It was just a quick trip to the package store for a bottle of vodka.

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.