My radio crackled instructions, as I drifted near sleep on a quiet Friday evening.
"Pick up Bowling Alley, headed to Moffatt..."
"Copy Bowling Alley" I returned, feigning interest. And failing.
The pickup was about 30 seconds away, and I pulled to the curb moments later. A small group of bowling alley loiterers watched, amused, as a man stumbled towards me, a small dog clutched tight against his chest. On first glance, it wasn't clear whether he was intent on reaching the cab, or was just careening wildly in my direction in a valiant attempt to remain upright. It was 50/50 that he'd slam into my van or miss it entirely as he lurched towards it. When he finally leaned against the passenger door for support, and grappled with the handle, while still squeezing the tiny dog to himself, I assumed the worst and welcomed him aboard.
"Hi there. Where are you headed?"
"Holy hell...holy f---ing hell..."
"I know, I know...but where are you headed?" I can be a smart-ass, even when there's nobody around to appreciate it.
"Jeezuz f---ing christ..." He took a moment to gather his thoughts, struggling to articulate his next revelation. "I'm f---ing pinned..."
He was anywhere between 45 and 65, with sparse, grey hair, and a rail-thin physique, toned by years of alcohol abuse. I later learned that he was not a popular pickup amongst some of the other drivers, which explained why he now sat next to me.
"Where are you headed Mister?"
He finally gave me the address, a short drive, and told me I'd have to help him to his apartment. I took that in, thought about it, and considered his proposal unlikely. He introduced me to his dog, Doggio, a tiny, frightened-looking chihuahua, but I submit that serves to describe them all.
I drove the few short blocks, grimacing at the fumes he gave off, pulled into the lot of his apartment complex, and requested the $7 fare.
"No..." He managed to slur the one syllable.
I asked him if he had money. He slurred the same response. I asked him why he took a cab knowing he couldn't pay?
"Call the dispatcher...he knows me..."
Given my growing experience with the helplessly plastered, I understood every mangled word. I felt some dismay at the thought.
The dispatcher confirmed their acquaintance, and allowed that the fare could be delivered the next day. I had doubts this guy would remember, but let it go.
"Here...let me tip you..." He reached again into his pockets, and found he still had no money.
"It's alright..." I lied. "Just get out and get yourself to bed."
He couldn't open the door, so I reached across and pulled the handle. He stepped out of the van, stumbled, over-corrected, and slammed against the rear window. I looked back to see the dog's face mashed against said window, and for a moment the wee chihuahua appeared to be impersonating a pug. The window held him up, but caused him to fumble the dog. A mournful cacophony of shrieks confirmed the dog's distress. Another impromptu dance of erratic stumbling ensued, before he rescued the poor creature, and cradled it tightly against his chest. I got out, walked to his side, and directed him towards the entrance. A woman in an apartment above us began yelling something about "the cabdriver", directed, I divined, at me. My fare gathered himself and his dog, and tripped drunkenly towards the door. I watched him lurch inside, and decided leaving now was the best policy, before his pathetic state could rouse me to offer further assistance.
Back in the van, my radio crackled once again.
"So..." intoned an amused dispatcher. "How bizarre was old Howard tonight?"