We all know that there are different degrees of drunkeness. It usually starts with just a slightly buzzed feeling after a couple of drinks. It can then proceed to slurred speech, staggering gate and talking about dumb and inappropriate things. After this stage comes complete incoherence of speech, inability to recall simple things like one’s name or address and finally unconsciousness. My customer on this day was at this last stage, just before unconsciousness.
It was a beautiful spring day and there was a beer festival going on at Sloss Furnaces. Sloss is an old steel mill near downtown Birmingham that stopped making steel in 1971. It has since been converted into a museum of sorts. The blast furnace and most of the other steel making machinery has been preserved and on most days it’s open for the public to tour. On some days it’s used as an event venue. There are weddings, concerts, festivals and even a haunted house in the weeks preceeding Halloween. It’s said that the old mill is home to the ghosts of some of the workers who died there over the years that it was in operation.
Just a few years ago, Alabama finally repealed an archaic law that didn’t allow beer containing more than 6% alcohol to be sold in the state. Since the law’s repeal, somewhat of a craft beer culture has emerged, at least in the larger cities. The festival going on at Sloss allowed the public to purchase a ticket and then walk through the festival sampling different craft beers from around the world. Needless to say it’s a very popular festival! I had made 3 or 4 trips to the festival to pick up the beer lovers. Most of them were just at the slightly tipsy stage, some were slurring but all were able to get around OK and communicate with me. When I dropped off a group in the Southside my dispatch computer immediately offered me a trip in the same zone. I accepted it, not thinking anything would be out of the ordinary. It was daytime, probably about 3:30 in the afternoon. The call was to a popular sports bar in the Lakeview entertainment district. When I drove up in the parking lot I could see a young man who apperaed to be very drunk leaning against a car with another young man who appeared to be sober standing beside him. The sober one was the bartender who had called the cab for the drunk guy. Apparently the two were aquaintances and the bartender handed me a twenty dollar bill and asked me to take him home. “I’ve never been to his house, but he said he lives near the peacock on the mountain”.
I assumed he was talking about the NBC sign in front of T.V. station channel 13, the NBC affiliate located atop Red Mountain. One thing I’ve learned as a driver is that when you have a customer who is at the incoherent stage of drunkeness and there’s no one else along for the ride with them, it never ends well. I don’t know if this guy had been to the festival or not, he couldn’t communicate well enough to tell me. One thing I did know for sure was that he had been doing some serious drinking somewhere.
At first I thought he may have been talking about the old brick apartments on both sides of Valley Avenue on the backside of the mountain and the T.V. stations. Do you live here, in these apartments? I asked him. He looked around a bit and made negaitve gestures. I then drove up the hill next to channel 13 but there were no houses or apartments there. Then I thought, he must be talking about the front side of the mountain. There are many houses, apartment complexes, and old houses broken up into apartments along 16th, 17th, and 18th avenues, it has to be in that area. You can see the NBC peacock sign from there. I asked him, is this your neighborhood? Do you live on this street? He didn’t recognize any of these houses as home. After a while I had driven over almost every street on the Southside side of the mountain and he never recognized the place he wanted to go. I decided I’d just take him back to where I picked him up, after all I couldn’t ride him around with me the rest of the day, I had to make money. When I got to the main intersection in Five Points South, 11th avenue and 20th street, I had to stop at a red light with three cars in front of me, I couldn’t go anywhere. Five Points South is a popular cultural area with many restaurants, bars, shops, a Starbucks and an area where people congregate to play music, do artwork ect… this area usually draws a crowd of everything from homeless people and freight train hopping hobos to UAB students, faculty and business people.
There were many people enoying their beverages at the tables on the street in front of Starbucks, many people at the gathering area, and several people standing in front of the Thai restaurant and the BBQ restaurant across the street. Five Points was bustling on this bright spring day. While sitting at the light I heard my back door open. When I looked around my customer was standing in the street in front of God and everybody, with his pants unzipped taking a leak. Before I could say anything I heard the whoop whoop of a police car siren that was waiting at the same light a few cars back. When my customer finished peeing and got back in the car he was able to say “take me to the Courtyard”. The Courtyard is a bar around the corner on Highland Avenue.
When I pulled up in front of the Courtyard with the police car close behind, my customer jumped out immediately and staggered toward the door. I could see that the shorts he was wearing were soaking wet from the crotch down, I guess he had a really bad aim. I looked around at my seat; yep it was wet too. Thank God it was faux leather and not cloth. The cop caught him before he made it to the door. What the cop did next astonished me. Instead of hand cuffing the guy and arresting him for public intoxication or indecent exposure, he took the drunk guy’s cell phone and found his father’s number in the contacts. He called the guy’s father, who lived in Gardendale, a suburb a few miles north of the city. He said “your son is here in Southside and he’s very drunk. I don’t want to take him to jail, if you’ll come pick him up I’ll let him go with you”. I guess it was the drunk guy’s lucky day. I drove up to the Chevron on the corner, bought some cleaning supplies and started to clean and disinfect my back seat.
copyright 2012 R.W. Walker
*All views and opinions are strictly those of R.W. Walker. These views do not reflect the views of any cab company.