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Private Eye

Drunk Man Walking

Mayor Becker knows as much about getting a cab in this town as a donkey knows about needlepoint.

By John Saltas
Posted // December 16,2009 -

Many years ago, when I did time as a bartender, a friend of mine would come into the bar I worked at and get supremely cross-eyed. Besides being one of the nicest guys I ever met, he was one of the fastest drunks I’ve ever met. He’d lay down a 10-dollar bill and before he could spend it all, he was halfway to the moon. He had a great laugh and, for a big guy, a really nice giggle. Guys usually don’t giggle, especially big guys.

Whenever he’d tell a story, he’d giggle all the way through it. Sometimes those stories were something or other about drinking and the trouble it always got him into. It was weird laughing along with someone who had done something wrong, but how can one resist a giggler? When he’d tell his stories about being drunk this or that, being drunk seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do. He could have giggled all the way to the bank if there were a job as a drinking spokesperson. Years later, when he drank himself into a very early grave, no one was giggling, least of all him.

I traveled with him only once when he was drinking and driving. Back in the 1970s, persons leaving a private club could ask for a plastic cup to take their mixed drink out the door with them. It was one of those many stupid quirks of Utah liquor law that our silly Legislature never understood—they were so busy counting mini-bottles and trying to keep the public out of private clubs, they never bothered to check the door to see what was leaving them. At any rate, my buddy and I left a popular club of the day, cocktails in hand, and raised a little hell on State Street.

He was drunk, but he drove safely. His biggest problem wasn’t the booze, anyway—he was nearsighted as a goat and too shy to wear his glasses. Had we been pulled over, he would have earned two offenses—drunken driving and driving blind. But he was a careful drunken driver, since he was extra-cautious, due to being unable to tell a pedestrian from a tree stump. Over time, he must have lost that knack for being cautious, since he eventually earned multiple DUIs. I know, because those were the stories he’d giggle about when I was serving him.

He lived near the club then so was not a threat to drive. He simply walked home. One night, he came to the club with a new story, one I’d never heard. A few nights prior, the local cops had arrested him for drunken walking. That’s how he told it between giggles—drunken walking. Not public intox. Not public nuisance. Drunken walking. He told them he was being careful not to drive, but that didn’t matter. They told him he wasn’t walking in a straight line, and that was that. He lived about half a mile from the club, and they nabbed him something like 60 feet from the club’s entrance. A short time after that, he became a repeat drunken-walking offender.

So, I asked, why don’t you take a cab? His answer was as relevant then as it is now—what cab? Sure enough, look around. If you see any cabs at all in the Salt Lake Valley, chances are you’re at the airport. Dumb laws being what they are, our local taxi cabs cannot be hailed for a fare except in rare instances no one can define. A hotel doorman, for example, cannot hail a cab for a waiting customer. He has to phone the cab company and request one. However, he can hail a cab if there’s a big convention in town. That’s right—if you’re drunk and need a cab, check with the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau to see if there’s a party going on.

Isn’t that the same nonsense as always? We bend our liquor laws for tourists and we bend our personal safety for them, too. Instead of taking cabs, those tourists are shuttled in hotel-operated vans that steal income from cab drivers. Now, Salt Lake City is about to enforce a law that says only newer vehicles can become licensed cabs. According to one cab firm, depending on how that law is interpreted, more than half his fleet will be forced off the streets, even if those cars are mechanically sound. How would you like to pay for a couple score of new cars that you can’t use to pick up people who need a ride because the hotel shuttle is ready and waiting?

Apparently, new taxi cabs will indicate to drunk tourists—not drunk locals who just want a friggin’ ride home—that our cab system is aesthetically pleasing. Drunk or sober, it’s dumb—geez, look at the marvel that Fidel Castro has made of the Cuban taxi system, reliant as it is on aging DeSotos. And, how many of the people who suggest and enact such laws have ever used a cab in Salt Lake City in the first place? I’d say not many. It’s a hunch of mine that Salt Lake City’s bike-riding Mayor Becker knows as much about getting a cab in this town as a donkey knows about needlepoint.

Local laws have crippled the usefulness of the local cab business. People who need them most—like drunks—have to call for them, then wait. It’s not uncommon for them to say, “Hell with it,” and drive home. Couple that with the recent announcement that UTA is cutting the weekend late-night TRAX hours, and our governments are courting disaster on the streets. And take it from my old, dead friend—it doesn’t pay to walk, either.


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Posted // December 28,2009 at 08:39

Not only bizarre rules against hailing a cab like people in normal cities, but bizzare relationships and sweetheart deals for cab company owners by SLC to limit any new, start-up competition.

One or two organizations have a strangle-hold on the cab business here, limited as it is. (Hmmmmm, story idea?)


Posted // December 21,2009 at 08:35

Don't really mean to lecture but... Geez, I don't know if anyone *drunk* can actually drive *safely.* Cars were made with more metal in those days and there were less people on the road, I'd call it lucky.

With Salt Lake's air inversion problem, I don't think having cabs wondering around the city streets are a good idea either. In most major cities taxi companies are switching to hybrids... for a reason.

Now a days most people have a cell phone to call a cab or they should ask the establishment to call one for them. I've occasionally used a cab, granted it's not convenient. but not being patient enough to wait for the cab is just plain stupid. One needs to be responsible for their actions. A little creativity helps. To save a little more drink $$, I'll take public transportation to my destination, then a cab it home. Granted, I have to plan more time for this but it's worth it.

Its too bad to hear that UTA is cutting weekend late-night TRAX when they should be adding more. As for New Years Eve, also known as amateur night, it'd be a great gift to its patrons if UTA was free from 10:00 p - on. Restaurants and bars could form an alliance with cabs to flip the bill for one way to a place of residents only (not to another restaurant/bar). After all, they just dumped a boat load of $$ and after all who doesn't like repeat customers. Me, I'm staying home ;-)


Posted // December 22,2009 at 07:46 - You're right--lucky is the better word. We arrived to where we were going safely, but not in a safe manner. On the other point, cabs don't really have to drive around--they can turn off their engines and wait outside a busy club or restaurant Yes, it's silly to become impatient and drive hope while waiting for a called cab, but people do. Hoping your personal responsibility rubs off. Good idea on amateur night. Thanks.


Posted // December 16,2009 at 13:46

"Years later, when he drank himself into a very early grave, no one was giggling, least of all him."

Speaking of giggling, that is a damned funny sentence. I'll bet your friend would have gotten a kick out of it.

Becker sucks.