Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Street people

Street people ... homeless ... disenfranchised ... crazy ... you name the adjective, I've heard it!

As a taxicab driver who "worked the streets", particularly as a Yellow Cab driver, I came to know many street people.

"Working the streets" means that you are looking/waiting for and accepting trips via computer or radio dispatch from people who call for a taxicab from their home/place of business/street corner telephone/whatnot -- as opposed to sitting at an airport or a hotel, for example. It is often considered by other cab drivers as somewhat dangerous.

As a Yellow Cab driver, I was required to "book into" a particular zone of the city. And, until they installed a GPS system throughout the fleet (poking yet one more unwanted hole into my vehicle), I could 'get away with' sitting somewhere close to the zone while still being allowed to book in.

I seldom worked the airports, unless I had a trip that took me out to one or the other late in the afternoon.

But I'm getting away from the main point of this post, which is "Street people".

In all of my nearly eighteen years of driving a taxicab, I had only one actual 'street person' in my car. He had called for a cab from a pay phone. When I got to the pickup site, there he was ... an obvious street person, raggedy clothing, and a smell that could be discerned from many feet away!

He started towards the car. I rolled the front passenger window down and said, "Sir? I'm waiting for a customer." He said, "I'm your customer", and proceeded to get in.

Dear Lord!! It was hot outside (this is Houston!), and I told him that I was sorry, but I'd have to leave the windows down. He said he understood, told me where he wanted to go (which wasn't very far, thank goodness!), and off we went.

I didn't think I'd ever get the stench out of my car!!

I came to know other 'street people' (By the way, I never saw the above-mentioned person again!) over the years. I'd like to share just a few of my observations, if I may.

Are they all crazy? Certainly not, altho there was one who lingered in 'The Montrose' near the corner of Alabama and Dunlavy for years, I was told, who carried a machete and was dangerous as all get out! I saw him, many times, and stayed way clear of that corner!! (Would never have accepted a dispatch to that corner, either -- kind of goes without saying.)

'The Montrose' ... an area of Houston that is just southwest of downtown. A really interesting community ... not far from the Medical Center, so there was a pretty good-sized group of doctors, nurses, medical students, and the like who lived there ... a humongous amount of "gay" residents, and they called for taxicab service a bunch (we had, unfortunately, experienced quite a number of gay-bashing incidents, including at least one homicide)! ... and a significant number of artists and musicians, in addition to your normal everyday Joe Blow average citizen-types.

ANYhoo, if I was to be working late at night, I would most often book into The Montrose, but would 'sit' at one of two places ... either the Stop and Go (zone 115, in The Montrose) or the parking garage at a Washington Mutual Bank (zone 122, just next door).

It was while I was sitting in the bank's garage over a period of time that I came to know "Danny", a street person who often slept in that garage at night.

I really didn't come to know Danny very well. He didn't allow that, but he did tell me that his brother was a dentist here in Houston, and that he would have preferred that Danny live with him. Danny said that he preferred to live on the streets.

This one time I insisted that Danny accept a blanket from me (the weather was getting colder). He didn't want to. Later, as it turned out, the blanket that I had given him was stolen by another street person.

Danny's is only one story of many thousands, I'm sorry to say, of Houston's street persons.

Another street person I got to know but slightly, "Jeanie", was one I saw -- over and over again -- as I was sitting at the cab stand at the Doubletree (downtown).

She would come moseying up to the various cab drivers at the stand, looking for money. I never gave money ... never! If I had extra food, I offered it. Every once in a while, Jeannie accepted it.

We got to talking. I never found out one thing about her or her story or how she'd come to be on the streets. Nothing!

One time I gave her one of my old winter coats, I'm almost ashamed to say it! I'd been about to throw it away when I thought, "I bet Jeanie doesn't have a winter coat!"

She seemed to be really grateful. I absolutely MUST make a mental note to get downtown to see if she's still around, but I don't know where I'd 'sit' ... I'm no longer a cab driver.

One thing that has almost always turned me off or infuriated me is panhandlers who ask for money!

Just a couple or three stories here.

The first is one time when I was getting off of the freeway to go to Yellow Cab to pay my lease. Coming up the exit ramp, I saw a fellow carrying a sign that said, "Vet looking for enough money to get to _____ (I forget where his sign said he wanted to go)."

He looked madder than *******! I had never seen him before (and haven't seen him since!). If I'd had extra $$$ on me, I'd have stopped and given him some, but I didn't. I remember having the distinct feeling that this was no ordinary panhandler, and I'm pretty sure that I was right.

The second is a story that was aired locally involving a 'notorious' downtown panhandler that, somehow or another, got involved in a light rail accident. It was discovered, somewhat later, that he had many tens of thousands of dollars hidden in his socks and various pants and shirt pockets!

The third involves a time when I stopped at Gessner and I-10 to give some of my extra food to a street person who was advertising, "I will work for food."

There was absolutely nothing wrong with my food, OK? He refused it. He wanted money, probably to get his next drink. Disgusting!

We all have stories, don't we?

1 comment:

Craig Peihopa said...

Thank you for sharing these experiences Goldenrod. It is an amazing thing that we have so many experiences on a daily basis and find time to absorb them. Some experiences are better, I personally believe that they occur around us to help us remember and feel gratitude. I love the diversity of experience and emotion and am grateful for life and the chance I have have to be a small part of it.
Really appreciate you