The Rogue Voice


September 01, 2007

Cabby's corner: 'Thanks for the water'

Finally, veteran bartender I was, I did what I’d done over the years to drunks passed out at the bar: I took my quart bottle of water and poured and splashed the entire contents on his face.

His head lolled to his shoulder, his eyes were badly glazed and three-quarters shut, and he had an asinine grin on his face.

Photo illustration by Stacey Warde

‘Thanks for the water’

By Dell Franklin

Around two in the morning I was waiting outside one of the more venerable dives in San Luis Obispo for somebody who needed a ride to somewhere in Arroyo Grande, an out-of-town fare, known in the cabby parlance as an OT. A bunch of drunks lurched and stood around outside, but none of them needed a cab when I honked. Finally, I got out of my cab, something I do not like to do. Often people in bars call cabs and then get caught up in conversations or whatever and forget to go outside and you have to go inside and enter the melee and bother the bartender or doorman to find out who called the dispatcher on their cell phones—usually a college kid with no clue. Sometimes they find a ride and leave, or they cancel, or they ask you to wait a few more minutes until they finish their drink, or, if it’s a guy, wait until they finish talking to some chick. Oh well.
I went in the bar. It was a weekday. The doorman was drunk and the few remaining patrons were weaving around or gibbering in loud, incoherent voices, or slugging down last-call shots and guzzling down beers. A few mopes were trying to move from their barstools to go out into the night and one guy was passed out, his head on the bar. This person looked and dressed like a bum as the bartender tried to revive and prop him up on his feet.
“ANYBODY NEED A CAB!” I bellowed.
The drunken doorman was beside me and the bartender who was reviving the passed out drunk signaled me over and pointed to the drunk.
“No way!” I exclaimed. “That guy’s gonna pass out and probably puke in my cab.”
“He never pukes,” insisted the bartender. “He’s a pro. He’s not as bad as he looks. He’s a great guy. He runs this bar.”
“The guy’s blind, comatose, can’t open his eyes for Chrissake.”
“You gotta take him to A.G.,” the bartender said. “He’s cool.” Then he named the street where the drunk lived.
“I don’t know where that is. I just started hacking. I don’t have my Thomas Guide yet.” By this time they had him up. His head lolled to his shoulder, his eyes were badly glazed and three-quarters shut, and he had an asinine grin on his face. The drunken doorman and the sober bartender and another drunken patron sort of held him up and steered the drunk past me and out onto the sidewalk. “Dammit, I don’t want him!” I cried, as the mooks on the sidewalk made way and the bar crew steered the drunk toward the back door of my cab. I watched helplessly as they opened the door and crammed him into the back seat and sat him up, his head still lolling to his side.
The bartender handed me two twenties. “The dispatcher said it’s about thirty-five bucks. You got a good tip there. Thanks a lot, cabby, we really appreciate it. Come in some time and I’ll buy you a few brew-skis.” He shook my hand earnestly and both he and the doorman hurried into the tavern.
I was stuck with the bum. As a bartender for years, I always tried to make sure a patron was in some semblance of coherency and had at least a shred of equilibrium before I stuffed him into a cab. Now I had no alternative but to start down Higuera Street and get on the freeway, half a mile away. I hadn’t gone a block when I heard snoring and saw no sign of the drunk through my rearview mirror. He had fallen onto the floor of the cab and was making sounds—gurgles, gargles, mutterings, and he began thrashing around, obviously heavily into the blackout stage and in the throes of a bad dream. I felt his feet thump against the back of my seat.
“Settle down back there, goddammit!” I hollered. “Hey, you damn wino, don’t pass out on me…I don’t know where you live!”
No answer.
I knew only what off-ramp to take in Arroyo Grande, had no idea how to find the street he lived on. Those drunks at the bar expected me to know every street in the county, did not even know the number of the address. I was pissed. It was cold, dark, and I did not know what to do with this drunk in his faded hooded sweatshirt, dingy, torn jeans, ratty sneakers. He could’ve passed for homeless.
I continued yelling at him to wake up, but since there was no response, I just drove on, keeping the windows open so cool air flowed in to keep the drunk from puking—every cabby’s nightmare. His snoring became so loud that it rattled the interior and roared like a choochoo train, and I turned up the volume on my radio.
When we reached the off-ramp in A.G., I pulled over on the frontage road and got out and opened the back door. He had settled down from his initial slobbering and thrashing and lay peacefully asleep on his back, not a care in the world, the asinine grin still on his face as he snored away. I shook him. I yelled as loud as I could, my face inches from his ear, repeatedly shaking him. No response. I didn’t want to hurt the guy, but I was growing desperate. I didn’t want to be stuck with his carcass for hours or be driving around like a lost fool, and I didn’t want to dump him at the wrong address in the chilly night, because, from looking at him, he reminded me somewhat of myself—just a drunk, not out to harm a soul, probably fairly good saloon company before the inevitable blackout demise.
Finally, veteran bartender I was, I did what I’d done over the years to drunks passed out at the bar: I took my quart bottle of water and poured and splashed the entire contents on his face. The drunk commenced flapping his arms, blubbered like a spouting whale and bolted upright, eyes open but sightless, a mess.
“Where the hell do you live, goddammit!” I screamed.
No response. Drooling. Still sightless.
“Come on, man, talk to me! I can’t get you home unless you tell me where you live!”
He listed to the side. I propped him up. Then a patrol car pulled up behind my cab. I approached the cop when he got out of his car and explained the situation in my cab.
“This is a nice fella, who chose to take a cab instead of being a menace on the road, but he took a little siesta and I had to pour a bottle of water on him to revive him and I’m still not getting any response. He says he lives on Wayne Street, but I don’t know where that is.”
The officer went right to work, shining his flashlight into the drunk’s dull eyes. “Where do you live, buddy?”
Not a flicker of response.
“May I see your ID?” the officer hollered close into his ear.
The drunk stirred. He managed to extract his wallet and fumbled around in it, retrieved his ID, which he managed to hand to the officer, who peered at it and seemed confused. “This license gives your address in San Luis Obispo, sir,” he said.
Now, out of the mouth of the drunk, came his first words. “Tha’s jes’ one-a my homes,” he mumbled. “I can’t go there. She’ll kick me out if I go there.”
“Sir, we need to know where you live—NOW!”
“I live in Arroyo Grande.”
“I know that, sir. But I need to know the address on the street you live on. Where do you live in Arroyo Grande?”
No response. Listing. Smacking his lips at the water that had saturated his face and sweatshirt. The patient officer propped him up and repeated the question over and over, flashing the light in his eyes, and finally, after about a tenth request, the drunk blurted his exact address. Then he sort of peered around, at last somewhat awake and perhaps aware of the situation. A cop. A cabby. Drunk. On the side of the road. Waterlogged. Something not right here? You bet.
“I’m thirsty,” he muttered. “Can I have some water?”
“I just poured my water on your head,” I explained.
“Oh,” he said.
The cop very patiently gave me directions to the drunk’s house and I thanked him effusively. He was the most pleasant, appreciated cop I’ve ever met. I got in my cab and began driving toward the correct destination. Turned out to be quite the exclusive neighborhood. The drunk, meanwhile, remained upright.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, seemingly in charge of his sensibilities.
“No sweat. Sorry I poured a quart of water on you.”
“It’s OK. I needed it. Thanks.”
“This is a really nice neighborhood you live in.”
“Yeah,” he said, disinterested. “I built it. Own some of it.”
“Yeah. Own a lotta stuff. Bars. Cars. Homes. Stuff.”
“Me, I don’t own anything of any value. Never have. The more stuff I own, the more stressed and depressed I get. Guess that’s why I’m a cabby. I’m fairly happy, compared to most.”
“Thanks for pourin’ the water on me. I appreciate it. How much am I gonna owe you?”
“It’s paid for.” I pointed to the meter. “Looks to be about thirty five bucks or so. The bartender gave me forty bucks.”
“What bartender?”
“I don’t know his name.”
“What bar?”
I named it.
He nodded, “I own it, too.” He pointed to a house and leaned for-ward. “That’s it. I live there.”
I pulled up to the driveway. A fifty came over the front seat. The drunk grinned at me. “Thanks for the water,” he said. “Really ‘preciate you pourin’ it on me. This oughta buy you a few bottles.”
I took the fifty and watched him climb out of the cab, salute me, and reel and lurch up the driveway, along a path, and up to his door, searching for his key, finding it, opening the door and pitching into his house. §

Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at

Read more of the Cabby's corner series, here:
  • Ode to Tobias Wolff
  • Sisters from South Central
  • A soldier's story
  • First fare (hair of the dog)
  • The good lawyer
  • Mr. Headphones
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • A rainy New Year's Eve in the 'A' cab
  • The mayoral candidate
  • Old blind Lizzie
  • Cheerleader
  • A real winner
  • The culture war
  • Fast times with Grace Ivey
  • One hundred degrees in the shade

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