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
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.
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
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?
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.