Drunk and Orderly
“That’s the place with the peanut milk. That sounds like ‘penis milk.’ But it’s right there. And it’s soooo good.” She sighs and flops back, pushing her bangs out of her eyes. “How do you even get milk out of a peanut?”
“I don’t know,” I shrug. “Like this?” I use my thumb and forefinger to mime milking a tiny cow, and she collapses into giggles.
“Like in that movie! Meet the Fuckers! Wait. What is it called? Meeting the … you know. Where he milks the cat! Oh my god, you’re so funny. But that’s the place with the peanut milk! And it’s soooo good!”
The girl is drunk. I am not.
To be honest, I don’t even remember her last name. I do know that I’m in her boyfriend’s car — he’s also drunk, and is sitting in the passenger seat. In the driver’s seat? A good-natured and sober guy, sporting a painfully orange windbreaker and a spectacular sense of humor.
Just another night shift, when you work for Zingo.
Zingo is a designated driver service that is part taxi, part friend who never drinks. The premise is simple: you drive your car to a bar or party, knock ‘em back, and call Zingo to come and meet you. A Zingo driver shows up on a collapsible scooter, drives you home in your own car, and then zips off into the night on that very scooter. That very tiny scooter.
Tonight, I’m riding shotgun in a Zingo car with Bay Area branch operations manager Andrew Hart, eavesdropping as he deploys drivers to pick up clients, and experiencing the city through the booze-tinted eyes of tonight’s bar hoppers.
When my mother was in her early 20s, she was a passenger in a car that was hit by a drunk driver. Everyone walked away from the accident with barely a scratch, except for mom, who shattered her face. She spent several anguished months in a hospital, sucking down liquids through a tiny gap in her wired-together jaw. The crash happened before I was born, but over 40 years later, my mom still suffers from the physical and psychological trauma inflicted upon her in a beer-soaked instant, when some irresponsible, shitfaced jackass decided to get behind the wheel.
Believe it or not, mom was lucky. According to statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 30 people in the United States die every day in accidents involving a drunk driver. Not to get preachy, but holy shit, y’all. Is it really worth risking fatal injuries just to make sure that you don’t get a ticket from parking at a meter overnight?
When I tell mom about Zingo, she tears up. That, she says, is a service that could’ve drastically altered the course of her life.
And yet, Andrew tells me that when he tries to promote his company to people standing outside of bars or clubs, people will turn him down by boasting, “I drive better drunk.”
The Zingo team uses its disgust for this hubris as fuel.
Zingo exists in several cities across the country. The San Francisco office has only been operating for a few months. So far, it’s signed up about 250 members and, following a successful Groupon run, has attracted the business of dozens of first-time customers.
On the night of my ride-along, Andrew picks me up around 10:30. He’s in the “chase car,” which expedites the driver drop-off and pick-up processes. Zingo driver Myles is in the backseat. We’re taking him to the Richmond so that he can drive a woman to her home in Mill Valley. Later, because motorized scooters aren’t allowed on the Golden Gate Bridge, we’ll go and pick him up.
Andrew and I will be doing this drop ’n’ drive routine all over the city and its surrounding suburbs tonight. I am intensely curious to see what kind of people use Zingo. Drunks make me a little nervous, but Andrew assures me that the biggest problem the company’s ever had has been puking. “And it’s not like it’s your car,” he chuckles. “It’s theirs.”
We drop Myles off in the Richmond and pick up Steven, also a Zingo driver. There’s a third driver who’s hanging out on a scooter in North Beach, handing out flyers outside of bars and making pick-ups on that side of town. Andrew takes a call from a member in Pacific Heights, so off we go. When we get there, the client is waiting outside. She’s well dressed and maybe in her 40s. She hugs a few kids, waves goodbye to another woman, and greets Steven with a smile.
Not exactly what I was expecting. Where’s the stumbling? Where’s the screaming? Where’s the crying about how much she, like, totally loves us, you guys?
This is Zingo’s typical client: late 20s to early 40s, professional, responsible. Some come to San Francisco from Marin for a work event or a night on the town; some simply understand that drunk driving can have legal, moral, and physical consequences. All of them, Andrew insists, are respectful and kind. Some, like the couple we go to pick up back in the Richmond, are hilarious.
Ross* and his girlfriend, Beth*, greet the Zingo car with hollers and fist pumps. They’ve been drinking for hours at the Blarney Stone (one of the SF bars that Zingo has partnered with, in a symbiotic effort to drum up business, promote safe behavior, and offer discounted fares to bar patrons), and they are happy to see us. Specifically, they’re happy to see me. When Ross called earlier to request a pick-up, Andrew asked if it’d be okay for me to ride along and observe, and drunk Ross thinks that’s the greatest idea he’s ever heard. When we arrive at the Blarney Stone to pick up this pair, Myles hops out and I follow.
Like some kind of bloodhound on speed, Ross manages to sniff out the fact that I’m from Boston in three seconds flat. He’s from New York. I brace myself for the mockery and aggression that generally characterize meetings between Red Sox fans and Yankees fans, particularly when booze is involved.
Nope. These guys rule. If you’ve ever been the only sober one at a party, you know how funny drunk people can be, just in their general behavior. Ross and Beth want to talk and talk and talk about how awesome Zingo is. Ross uses the service at least a few times a month.
He calls on Zingo when he’s been entertaining clients, or when he just wants to drive one of his cars (yup, plural) to the bar and doesn’t want to have to deal with getting a cab home.
Ross decides that he wants to hit a bar in the Haight on the way home, and we cruise down Divisadero. Beth, who has let her boyfriend do much of the talking up until this point, spots the KK Cafe, home of the famed and aforementioned peanut milk.
We get to the bar and hop out of Ross’s truck. I roll my ankle on the sidewalk and stumble a little. Figures.
Beth gives me a hug, Ross offers a high-five, and they’re off. We’ll pick them up again in a few hours and ferry them home, safely.
*Names have been changed, to protect the drunk
Want to get yourself and your car home safely after a night of boozing? Zingo charges $30 to pick up your drunk ass and take your keys, and then it’s $3 per mile. Want to stop for cigarettes or tacos along the way? Zingo is happy to oblige, for $5 a pop. Members have a sweeter deal: $20 for a pick-up, two free miles before the $3 charge kicks in, and a free stop along the way. Nonmembers can only use Zingo on Thursdays from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., while members can make reservations for any time, as long as they give at least 24 hours’ notice. Members can also take advantage of specialty deals like “Ghost Car,” a service where people who aren’t quite ready to head home can give their keys to Zingo, and an employee will take the car home, park it, and leave the keys and (if necessary) info about the vehicle’s location for the member to find in the morning.
Visit www.zingoca.com to learn more about hours, services, rates, and memberships.