Drunk Man Walking 

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

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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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