Patron Saint of the Inebriated

There are 15,187 taxis in New York City that will unceremoniously pick you up and drop you off at the nearest curbside without even a glancing smile.
In Crested Butte, the Alpine Express Late Night Safe Ride, locally dubbed the Tipsy Taxi, will not only get you to where you need to go, but oftentimes the driver will help walk you to your front door. I can unashamedly claim that at one time or another I have taken everyone in the north end of this valley home. I’ve seen all the who’s whos, and who’s with whom at 3 a.m., and guarantee that what happens on the taxi unequivocally stays on the taxi …except for a few stories that are too good not to share but whose characters will remain unnamed to protect the embarrassed.
Between the hours of 9:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m., the late night chariot runs from Crested Butte South to Mt. Crested Butte and all points in between, on demand, seven nights a week. On particularly festive nights the taxi buzzes back and forth like a bee gathering pollen between the local watering holes, picking up the slain in the spirits sometimes until 4 a.m. The holiday season is exceptionally busy, especially after the free Mountain Express Town Shuttle goes off to sweet slumber after its last haul up the mountain from the liver of downtown at 11:40 p.m.
But the wee hour hack drivers are a unique breed of night owls, gently maneuvering their two-wheel-drive passenger vans through three feet of fresh snow drifts on unplowed roads, hoping to keep the stomachs of uninitiated lowlanders, who don’t know about the altitude-alcohol ratio, calm enough to make it out of the van before their beer does.
We are the late-night caretakers for the passengers who can’t remember where they live, after delivering them to the wrong house of a confused stranger at 2 a.m. Most of the time, the driver knows where the lost local lives, the van having repeatedly beaten a late night path to the their door after the bar closed.
Drivers can usually figure out which condo a lost tourist is staying at despite a description of, “It’s brown with wood and stone.” Other times, the driver helps carry sleeping children or schlep items up unplowed driveways. They give tours, event suggestions and dining consultations (“All the restaurants are excellent in this town!”). We are the transit Fairy Godmothers to the night dwellers.
I once picked up a passenger who got into the van with his dog. As it was against company policy to carry animals I sympathetically said, “I’m sorry, you can’t bring a dog in the taxi.” Shocked, the man shot back, “Dog?… DOG? How dare you call my date a dog! She’s been buying me drinks all night!” I considered this for a moment and silently headed up the mountain to drop him and his date off.
At 3:15 one morning, heading down the mountain from the last drop-off in a horizontally blowing white-out at a frigid 17 degrees, I glimpsed an older man standing in a snow bank just above Slate River. No hat, coat, nor gloves, in slick cowboy boots and obviously not a local. Not a snowplow or vehicle in sight, I slowly backed up, rolled down my window and said, “What the hell are you doing? Get in the van.” It took awhile to figure out that he was trying to walk up to Meridian Lake somewhere. The image of a frozen stiff body still clinging to a fence post in the frigid morning light haunted me for months.     
Despite the imagery of fluffy Saint Bernards bounding through snow-laden slopes with barrels of brandy around their necks, alcohol doesn’t warm up your body and actually contributes to its cooling and raises the chances of hypothermia in this cold environment. Sure, you feel warmer and your cheeks are flushed like a lovely rose when you imbibe that cocktail, but it’s seriously decreasing your core body temperature, which is maintained when blood normally flows from the skin to our organs and keeps that vital 98.6 degrees.
However, after you’ve consumed a drink or more the blood flows to the extremities, dropping your core temperature rapidly. If you pass out unnoticed outside, you’re a goner in no time and although it’s said to be a relatively calm way to die, you just made it through the predicted end of the world… you may as well try to stick around a while longer.
In the days in the early 1970s, there were a few frozen bodies discovered in the narrow alleys between the old Salt Lick saloon and the Wooden Nickel, back when revelers slipped out the back door. The snow-packed alley was just wide enough for a person to squeeze through, but if they passed out on the way, the snow would trap them standing upright, only to be found stuck and rigid there in the morning, their spirit wondering what the hell happened.
Several years ago, during the sub-arctic ice age Crested Butte was trying to reenact, I was walking to Kochevar’s to pick up a passenger when a strange gurgling growl coming from the alley made me turn around. Halfway to the back of the lot, stretched between the Forest Queen and Kochevar’s was a dark indistinguishable mound. I shuffled through three feet of snow to find a snoring man with only his sweatshirt hood pulled over his head. He was out cold …literally. It took three of us to drag him back into the bar. Happily, he thawed well and we taxied him up the mountain. Again, I shivered with the thought of how a mere 20 minutes would have changed the next morning for that sleeping beauty.
New Year’s Eve is absolutely amateur night. People who rarely drink make the mistake of over-imbibing, whether by accident, peer pressure, or intent. The taxi runs incessantly after midnight.
So remember, if you’re drinking, leave your vehicle and let us take you home. Every bar and restaurant in town has the taxi phone number and most of the locals have it on speed dial.
This New Year’s Eve, the Mountain Express town bus is running until 2:30 a.m. It’s free.
If you want to stay out later, or need to get to where the town shuttle doesn’t go, call the Late Night Safe Ride. A DUI will cost you thousands of dollars, community service and jail time. A taxi ride will cost only $5 anywhere north of Crested Butte South, and $7 to Meridian Lake, Trappers Crossing or Crested Butte South so drink up, bundle up, and give us a call: (970) 209-0509.

For additional transportation options you can also call Specialty Services at (970) 404-1930, and Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle also provides nightly shuttle service to and from all restaurants in Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte South. Advance reservations are necessary. Call (970) 209-9757.

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