Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Drunk Drop

In all team sports there are certain set plays that are used as part of a strategy in trying to win the game. In baseball, for example, there's a play called the "suicide squeeze". In American football there's the "down and out". In basketball they have one called the "pick and roll".

In taxi driving, there's the "drunk drop".

The drunk drop is when a patron of a bar or restaurant has become so drunk that he or she is semi-coherent and is bordering on becoming incoherent or even passing out completely. The patron is then escorted, hustled, or just carried from the establishment by bartenders or waiters and is deposited into a taxicab. If the taxi drives away, the strategy has been successful.

I had one a few days ago. It wasn't pretty.

I was cruising down 2nd Avenue on the Upper East Side at around 9 p.m. looking for my next fare, having just returned empty to Manhattan from the Bronx. As I crossed 89th Street someone with his hand in the air appeared from the left side of the avenue so I deftly cut over and pulled to a stop. There's great craft in being able to cut through traffic safely and swiftly, but there's also great craft in being able to instantly size a person up before you allow them access into your vehicle. And in this I was lacking.

As I stopped my cab what I saw approaching from the curb were three people - two men in waiter's attire flanking a middle-aged woman, a blonde, and kind of half-carrying her. In other words she was walking on her own volition, but just barely, and the men had their arms under her arms to catch her should she stumble or fall.

It was a drunk drop in progress.

I think it was because it had been about twenty minutes since I'd dropped off my last fare in the Bronx, plus the fact that it had been a slow night up until that point, that caused me to pause a moment longer than I normally would have in this situation. Normally if I see a drunk drop coming toward me I either just keep on driving or, if I'm already at a stop, I lock the doors. But due to these financial considerations I just froze for a moment. And in that moment one of the waiters got his hand on the door and opened it.

And in came the drunk.

The waiters turned around and walked back into their restaurant, a chic little Mediterranean joint. One of them said something to the other that made him laugh.

For the briefest of moments I let myself think that maybe she'd just turned her ankle or something and wasn't actually drunk at all. Maybe she just needed some help walking and I'd probably be driving her to the emergency room of a hospital. But one look at her as she plopped down on the seat with her head tilted to one side told me that was just wishful thinking.

I asked her where she wanted to go.

There was a long pause. I repeated the question. Finally she said, rather conclusively... "I don't know."

Yes, not only did she not know where she wanted to go, she was sure she didn't know where she wanted to go. But at least she could respond to a question, even if it took half a minute to do so. That was a plus. After another futile attempt to get a destination out of her, I realized I had to pull a play of my own...

The Reverse Drunk Drop.

It's a wise cabbie who realizes that he mustn't step on the gas pedal in a situation like this. There is potential trouble in all directions here, especially if the semi-coherent inebriate is a female. So the play is to reverse the drop that has given you the drunk. Or, to put it in postal terms, "Return To Sender".

I got out of my cab, leaving the woman in the back, and walked into the restaurant. The two waiters were nowhere in sight, but a fellow who looked like he was some kind of a maitre d' was standing there. I told him in a voice that was calm yet had an element of restrained anger in it that two waiters from his restaurant had just put a woman in my cab who was so drunk that she couldn't so much as tell me where she wanted to go. And that they'd better come back and get her out of my cab.

Or I would call the police.

And with that I turned around and walked out of the place.

I returned to my cab, opened the rear door, and confronted the unwanted cargo that was sitting there. She had opened her bag and was looking through the objects in it, apparently hoping to find a clue as to what her destination might be. I was searching for a way to tell her that she was too wasted to meet the minimum requirements for membership in my taxi club when I was confronted myself by one of the waiters who had dumped her there.

He wasn't too happy with the situation.

I was perfectly willing to handle the matter in a civil tone, but the guy, a slightly-built man in his forties who was a bit shorter than I, was in a non-negotiating attack mode. Immediately he was yelling at me, demanding to know who the hell I thought I was, walking into his restaurant like I was some kind of authority. The implication being that taxi drivers should be seen and not heard.

Well, I would say that the guy was clearly an asshole, except that I don't use language like that in this blog. Instead, I will just say that he was clearly an orifice that is found at the very end of the alimentary canal. What followed was one of those scenes that seem comical in retrospect, but in the moment are red-hot episodes of human idiocy.

The waiter got right in my face, giving me about an inch of space between us and also providing me with an opportunity to learn that he'd been sampling the garlic bread in the kitchen. With a "how dare you" this and a "the nerve of you" that, he flew into a self-righteous rage which would have given the passerby on the street the impression that I was the offending party.

Of course it was all pretense. It reminded me of an incident that happened about two and a half years ago in which a passenger in my cab had flown into a weird, out-of-context tirade that was so insulting that it brought me to the verge of a physical assault. (Go to Doctor Evil for that story.) People who have secrets that you're a bit too close to discovering have a definite tendency to become quite upset with you, and the neon sign that announces this is their self-righteous indignation.

This waiter's secret was, no doubt, that he's served the woman far too many drinks. This could be a big problem to the owner of the restaurant (and thus to the waiter) as it could lead to the revocation of their liquor license if harm should come to her as a result. And there may have been other things he didn't want revealed, as well. Perhaps he'd lifted money from her purse after she'd been reduced to a semi-conscious blob. Perhaps he'd overcharged her. Perhaps he'd decided to give himself a $50 tip when he ran her credit card through the system.

Of course I didn't know what it was, but I did know it was something. And what I also knew was that this guy's aggression toward me was about to become a shoving match. And that could lead to a punching match. And that could lead to - well, it could lead to a very bad night, indeed.

But then, as often happens in life -at least in my life - a sort of divine intervention occurred.

In a scene that seemed reminiscent of something that happens in a silent movie, the woman suddenly emerged from the back seat of the cab, took a couple of wobbly steps forward, and then fell straight down like a sack of blonde potatoes onto the pavement.

There was a sudden break in the action.

The waiter looked at the woman.

The waiter looked at me.

The waiter looked back at the woman.

It was decision time.

Fortunately, the waiter went with the woman. He dropped his "you wanna fight, taxi-schmuck?" demeanor and with a new demeanor of frustrated desperation began attending to his fallen customer, first propping her up and then guiding her into one of the outdoor seats on the sidewalk in front of his restaurant. I got back into my cab and called 911 on my cell phone, telling them there was a semi-coherent woman who needed assistance in front of this particular establishment.

They said they'd send an ambulance.

And that was good enough for me.

I took off down 2nd Avenue in search of my next fare with thoughts of drunk drops past and present racing through my mind. And wondering what in the hell my next out-of-nowhere adventure might be.

Which is the best part of being a taxi driver.

In case you were wondering what your next out-of-nowhere adventure might be, how about considering the possibility that it might be found by clicking here for Pictures From A Taxi? Hey, just a thought...