Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Parting With Prone Passengers

Sometimes a night leaves you wishing that you had another job. It’s like that with every job at one time or another, but the thing that most often sets it in motion for me is the feeling of helpless confusion that I feel when I have to leave a fare who I am unable to help to their feet, after they collapse in a drunken stupor. Although it has happened numerous times, there are three distinct episodes that are especially indelible in my memory.

The first incident took place my second year of driving cab, in the Fall of 2005, before the first rains drenched the valley with its torrential downpour during the wet Northwest winters. I picked up a woman at the Triangle Inn, who was going to an address in South Salem that was close to a country club, so it was a nice area. After she mumbled her destination, she passed out and I opened the windows to keep it cool in the cab. That was an important trick that I learned after having to clean passenger regurgitation a few times. Drunks who get sick, tend to do so more readily when the temperature is warm.

We arrived without incident, and I was able to revive her, so that she paid me with a credit card, and included a $5.00 tip. After the transaction was complete she said goodnight, and got out of the cab. Then she took about a half dozen steps to the center of her lawn, and laid down, curling up into the fetal position.

“Are you okay?” I asked, but she waved me off and said that she was fine, and to just leave.

Later that night when I got back to the office, while we were doing our paperwork I told my story. Number 50 then said. “Oh, you mean the lady that lives by Creekside Golf Course in South Salem?”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” I answered.

“She does that all the time,” Number 50 said.

The other time was Mick a 300 lb. plus bearded behemoth, who I picked up at Westside Station, one sweltering hot night, the end of July. I was sitting in my cab, waiting when he burst out the door and nearly fell over. The bar tender was escorting him and trying to keep him from falling over, in what looked like a tango, as they put one foot forward, and two back, and then reversed direction. After about 5 minutes of dancing, they traversed the 10 meters between the exit and my cab.

Mick collapsed in my seat, and I asked, “Home?”

“Yeshh,” he slurred.

Since he a was regular and all the cab drivers knew where he lived and we could take him there without any instructions. He was silent during the drive, but on previous trips I had learned that he was of Ukranian heritage and worked as a financial counselor, for the state, by independent contract. He was single and lived in a nice house in the hills of West Salem, in the same area, where the Christian rock star Larry Norman lived before his death in 2008.

When we arrived at his abode, he couldn’t find enough cash in his pockets to pay me, so he drunkenly slurred that he would have to go in the house to get some money. My heart sank when he said this, because he was so drunk that I questioned whether he could even get in the front door, let alone find money to pay me. He wanted me to help him to the door, which I did, and then took his key, after he failed to find the keyhole after 10 or 20 tries, and opened the door. He went inside, while I waited on the porch, until I heard a thud, and a voice cry out.

“Help me,” Mick cried, reminiscent of the movie “The Fly”.

I went up the stairs and found him lying prone on his bedroom floor, with a $50.00 bill in his extended hand. He told me to take the currency, and keep the change, for the $9.50 fare. Then he asked me to help him get up so he could get in his bed 5 feet away. Since I only weigh 160 lbs., I failed to budge Mick, and our sweaty hands slipped out of each other’s grasp each time that we clasped, until I finally gave up and told him that he would have to sleep on the floor. After I gave him a pillow and put a blanket over him, I locked his front door and drove off.

Then just last Monday night I picked up a drunk Native American, who couldn’t hardly walk, but that was due more to being crippled that drunk. His stepson and I helped him to the cab, and after he was inside he asked where his half gallon of whiskey was. His stepson said that the would get it, and after he handed it to him we drove off. He said that he was a retired 32 year veteran of the Air Force, who became a pilot. He enlisted in the early 1950's and spent a couple of tours in Europe, and saw the devastation from WWII first hand. He said that he felt sorry for the people and gave them his rations a lot of times. By the time that the Viet Nam war came along, he was dropping napalm, which broke his heart.

“Have you ever gotten napalm on your skin?” He rhetorically asked. “It burns like hell, and isn’t even on fire. I used to drop bombs of that stuff all over the place.”

When we got to his trailer, he paid me and gave me a$1.00 tip. I helped him out of the cab, with his cane, but he collapsed on the sidewalk. I tried to help him get up, but he was dead weight, even if he wasn’t much bigger than me, and I told him I couldn’t. He told me to leave, when I asked about calling for help.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ll get up, I just need to do it in my time and my way.”

I drove off with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, thinking to myself, “What should I do?”

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