Slurring Body Language

As a driver for a ride-hailing company, I am a weird cross between a taxicab driver, your "friend with a car" (you used to have one of those), and someone picking up a hitchhiker. Really, anything can happen. People seem to realize that strangers in confined spaces make for interesting interactions, and after a rider settles down in the back seat, they sometimes ask, "What's the craziest thing that's ever happened?"
or casually, "Anything weird ever happen?"
“Well,” I usually say, “I work the late shift, so I deal with a lot of drunks.” When I first started for Lyft, I would drive from 10PM to 4AM. (I have a day job and a wife and family and all that, so my days are pretty full. Also, it's important to me to be present for my kids. I don't want to be the dad that misses seeing his kids grow up.)
The shift I chose is a good stretch of time, and my average rider changes throughout the night -- which keeps things fresh. At the beginning of my shift, I take excited folks to the clubs downtown. Around midnight until two, I take them home again. At three, it's all bartenders, dancers, and servers. I finish the night off with a ride to the airport around 4AM. People who work service industry jobs often can't afford to live close in. From what I've observed, they tend to live way out in Beaverton, Hillsboro, Troutdale, or Milwaukie, so I am out there around 4AM to take someone to the airport in time for their redeye flight. It's a good flow of people throughout the night, and I can sometimes do thirteen rides. The worst part is dealing with the drunks.
The absolute worst part about dealing with drunks -- other than the smell of perspired alcohol and the constant fear that someone's gonna puke in my car (I have to take my kids to school in the morning, man) -- is that they are completely unpredictable. They are so hard to read -- it’s like alcohol slurs their body language. You could be having a totally chill conversation, where everyone's happy, and then everything suddenly goes sideways.

Take Gregorovich, for instance. I picked up him and his friend early one Monday morning at a 7/11 in Milwaukie. The more macho the riders, it seems, the less likely they are to sit next to each other in the back seat.  Gregorovich is a big man with an eastern European accent. He sat up front with me. His buddy sat directly behind me. Each man held an unopened can of beer in each hand. They were pretty chatty, so I chatted with them. They invited me to come back and drink with them. Declining, I said I had to get my kids to school in the morning.
Gregorovich wanted to open his drink in the car, but I insisted he wait. "No open containers in the car," I told him. His friend in the back just laughed, but I could tell Gregorovich was grumpy about having to wait. To placate him, I sought our commonalities. When Gregorovich said he was in the Coast Guard. I was like, Really? Wow, I used to be in the Navy.
He didn’t like that, though.
He gave me a surly sideways glance and hunched his shoulders. “The Navy always gets the glory and lets the Coast Guard get in trouble cleaning up the mess.”
To be honest, I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I made a sympathetic noise like, "Hmm."
He went on to describe how some Navy ship had apprehended a vessel and requested the Coast Guard board the vessel. The Coast Guard had done so, and that had led to some kind of embarrassing International Incident. Of course, the Navy ship had kept quiet and pretended like they hadn’t started the whole thing. The Coast Guard ship took the fall. This story wasn’t familiar to me, but I said it was deplorable and hardly surprising.
Back in Florida, Gregorovich had been part of a team that boarded drug-running vessels. It had been an action-filled life complete with shootouts and gun battles.
This sounded terrifying to me.
When he told me that he was just transferred up to Oregon, and that he was now inspecting crabbing vessels, a relieved “that’s cool” accidentally slipped from my mouth.
Turning towards me in the front seat he shouted, “Not really!”
His friend chuckled in the back seat.
Gregorovich looked extra surly. Hastily trying to regain some traction, I inadvertently dug myself in deeper.
“So what do you do?” I asked, “Measure crabs?” I thought it was a legitimate question. What would someone who inspects crabbing vessels do?
Gregorovich steamed at my question. He hunched over in the front seat, drawing himself into a giant ball. The guy in back exploded in laughter,
“Yeah, Gregorovich,” he called out, “what do you do? Measure crabs? Bwahahaha!" and he rolled around on the back seat.
Gregorovich exploded, too. “THAT’S IT!” Gregorovich was furious. His red eyes bulged. The screen of my phone's GPS reflected, tiny and blue, inside their watery depths. His nostrils flared, and he was inches from my face.
“OK, funny guy! OK, Navy Boy! YOU are going to DRINK!”
His friend stopped laughing.
“I have to work.”
“You are going to drink!” He was yelling in the car.
His friend stopped rolling around, “He has to work.”
“I have to feed my children.”
"He has to feed his children."
“Too bad! You and me are going to drink!”
His friend leaned between the seats, “Are you…”
“TAKE ME TO A BAR!” Gregorovich demanded, gesticulating wildly with beefy arms better suited for machine guns than crab gauges. His friend sat back.
This is where I kinda started to worry. I didn’t see an easy way out.
“There’s one around the corner,” he pointed. “Go!” He was rising out of the seat.
Looking at the GPS, we were only a block from his house, but I was turning away from it.
The bar was just around the corner. It was a little wooden shack right off the road. The lights were on. I pulled into an empty parking space out front.
It seemed kinda quiet, though. Kinda deserted. There was no sign of anyone. The OPEN sign was off.
They were closed. It was 3AM.
Thank God.
“They’re closed,” I said.
“They’re closed,” the guy in back said with a, “Well, nothin’ we can do,” sorta tone.
Gregorovich sank into the seat slightly.
Without missing a beat, I backed into the street, sped around the block to his house, dropped them both off, and got the hell out of there. Five stars.
Just as fast as he had inflated, Gregorovich had deflated.
Drunk people are unpredictable.