Obviously, the most common drug was alcohol. I was offered so many beers there's no point in trying to count. I first started driving for Lefty's a little over a year after my last drink ever, and there was a bit of irony in constantly delivering to drunken college kids: they helped encourage my sobriety. It was a situation where I'd be around a gaggle of drunk students, and my thought process was not envy, but vicarious embarrassment. The horrible realization that I used to act like as big of a putz as they were, and that hurt deep inside. It would strike me, "Oh holy Christ, I was just as big of an asshole as these twerps." So yeah, they helped me stay steadfast in keeping off the bottle.
At the same time --- and it may just be me protecting my own ego --- I'd observe drunk students and think, "No. No way. I was never that much of a pathetic twit." My genuine alcoholic days were when I was older, for one. At the age of your standard undergraduate, 18-22, I'd have two or three beers while socializing, maybe as many as five (Oooohh!) over the course of the evening if I was at a party. My friends and I viewed alcohol as de-evolutionary. Sure, we'd all gotten plowed at some point, so we knew what too much alcohol could do. But in moderation or excess, we were unimpressed. Why concern yourself with something as declassé as booze when there are all sorts of chemical compounds and plants and fungi that make the world come alive, bursting with curious adventure?
(And to answer your question: homelessness and clinical depression. Those were the two main factors that got me on the Booze Train. I may write about my days as a bum, and I may not.)
Seven years of the job taught me one thing: the legal drinking age is too damn high. Twenty-one? Please. It's painfully obvious that restriction is ignored with impunity: those who are going to drink at all usually start around eighteen; by the time they turn twenty-one, they've learned their limits and are capable of acting like humans, not just standing on the roof of their apartment building yelling "WOOOO!" Knock the drinking age down to eighteen, young adults get the stupid behavior out of their system sooner and quicker.
Growing up in San Diego, we were lucky. Drinking age (and border crossing age) was eighteen in Tijuana. Two guesses as to where a whole lot of young San Diegans headed off to on Friday and Saturday nights.
It was educational in many ways. First, you began practicing the art of social drinking, so you wouldn't look like a fucking dipshit at the first Christmas Party you went to at your job. You also learned your limits when it came to intake. You had to, because Tijuana is the most rock-stupid place in the world outside of a Kabul mosque to get blitzed.
"Whatta ya talkin' about?" you cry. "I bin to TeeJay, dude, you walk down Revolución, every other place is a bar.... Or a strip bar! Dude! Tits!"
Uh huh. Shut up, Lumpy.
I didn't say, "Don't drink." I said, "Don't get blitzed." Being out of control in a foreign country is both bad manners, and very unhealthy.... For you.
See, along with the regular Tijuana police force (who aren't as bribable as rumored: yeah, a twenty will make a traffic citation go away. But odds are you, and your friends, and your friends' friends, aren't carrying enough cash to pay off a Tijuana cop after you decide to stand in the street waving your dick at oncoming traffic.) are Los Federales, who are the true peacekeepers and law enforcement in Tijuana. They're a bit hard to spot: they're plainclothes, well-groomed, good clothes, an aura of easy self-confidence.... And if you catch a glance in their jackets, shoulder holsters. And if you're out of control, they're the ones who will scoop you up and drag you to jail. They're well-practiced at ignoring people, like the pleas of your friends, as they frog-march you to their car.
Any vicious rumor you've ever heard about the Tijuana city jail is probably true.
And one of the best lessons taken away from forays to Tijuana is you get a three year head start ahead of your peers in the rest of the country, to learn how boring, tedious, and irritating bars can be. By the time I was old enough to drink in California, I'd already decided that live music (that I wanted to see) was the only reason to go to a bar. Sure, I'd meet friends at one so we could plan out our evening, but that was it. Most bars really weren't designed for me or any of my friends, at least not in San Diego. Loads of preppy and yuppie types listening to puke-inducing dance/pop garbage (which resulted in the soul-withering sight of white people attempting rhythm), expensive drinks ("Dude, we could have got a twelve-pack of Miller for what these two cost!"), and bouncers who were uniformly distrustful of our appearance, male and female. We didn't look like we belonged there.... Which was fine, because we didn't belong there. Just me and a few friends sorting out our options for the evening over a quick beer. If the leather and spikes and boots and disturbing hair and piercings was off-putting to the other patrons and employees, well, they'd just have to suffer through it for the thirty minutes we were there. And fuck 'em. We'd already been going to bars off and on for three years, and were trying to decide on something fun to do. This wasn't it.
There were a few dive bars scattered about that were fun, and would also sometimes have live music. Those places actually could be a destination. For the most part, though, every bar aimed for the honkies, or as I wrote in a different articles, snotty shitholes with lots of ferns and no ashtrays.
But that was the sort of place far too many UC Berkeley undergrads aspired to be at. Until then, they had to cultivate friendships with seniors, go spotting outside 7-11s and liquor stores, and wait until one of the fraternities threw a big blowout. (Sororities never, but never, threw ragers. All sorority houses looked like they'd been decorated by a grandmother with OCD. Far too much breakable shit.) Seniors who didn't mind underclassmen getting bombed would simply make one big beer run early Friday evening.... Although what the younger students did with their beer after that is beyond me; getting it up to their rooms past the front desk would be a challenge: you could lose your housing if they caught you with alcohol.
Spotting for alcohol always has been, and always will be, a pathetic joke. Especially in Berkeley. Any sophomore standing outside a liquor store going, "Dude! Dude! Hey, um, could you do a favor for me? I don't have any ID but I want to buy...." The guy being approached would, most of the time, stare at the kid for a couple seconds, then say, "Fuck you, officer," and go inside to shop.... Making sure to tell the clerk there's some little asshole outside trying to spot. The clerk would angrily shoo the kid away, using colorful expressions in an exotic language.
That left the fraternity blowouts. It was like a physics problem: how much stupid will fit in a confined space?
Quite simply, the fraternity houses never didn't have alcohol, mostly beer. And not just any beer, but nice watery American beer. If an individual was feeling snooty, they might pick up a couple sixers of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but you could count on the watery piss to always be around. I found this disturbing for a couple reasons. First of all, these are frat boys we're talking about. Mumsy and Pops gave them a thick allowance. While they weren't drinking Schaefer or Hamm's, they still insisted on boring piss-water, going for quantity over flavor. Also, they'd bring home their piss beer.... And get drunk on it! How on God's green earth can anyone get smashed drinking goddamn Coors Light!? How? Seeing the litter on the sidewalks, on the porches, and in the houses, Coors Light was really popular at the fraternities.... And I'd seen the condition the little brats had been in the night before: bombed. They got bombed on Coors-fucking-Light. That's just not possible, unless you...... Already have a low count of brain cells to start with.
As aspiring alcoholics, they still had their training wheels on, obviously. Still learning their limit, many of them --- unless getting 'faced was a conscious goal. On more than a few occasions I'd deliver to a frat house, mid-week, to find the customer in his room, passed out drunk.
I'd collar one of his brethren in the hall and explain, "Hey man, ol' Champ in there ordered a pizza and passed out. Do me a favor?"
Slighly suspicious: "Uh, what?"
"You know him, I don't. Frisk him for his wallet so I can get paid. It's only $12.50, he's gotta have that on him."
"Dude, are you serious?"
"Yeah. He'll be happy for the food when he snaps out of it, and I don't have a return. I hate returns, feels like I didn't get my job done, y'know? Or.... If you wanna buy the damn thing, hey, makes no matter to me...."
"Actually.... I am kinda hungry.... Fuck him, he'll be out for hours. How much again?"
So Champ's friend would get the food at full price, even tipping me. I'd leave a note on Champ's desk: "You were passed out cold. Pizza sold to another frat member (don't know name). --- Lenny (Lefty's Pizza)."
Only once did I hear back from the non-customer, and he was still tanked. I was actually in the store, and one of the phone girls called me over. "This guy's barracho. Dunno what he wants."
So I take the call and a slurring voice says, "Duuudde.... Y' soll' m' pizza to sommune ellsse?"
"Yep, sure did. You were dead to the world --- I shook you, I yelled in your ear.... Man, I could have set you on fire and you'd never have known it --- so other than going through your pants for your wallet, I was stuck. One of your fellow frat members said he'd take it, so I sold it to him. With you being in the condition you are, it's the only thing that made sense."
"Duuu-uuude! I wan' m' fucchin' pizza!"
"Do me a favor. Put somebody else on the line, 'kay?"
A few moments later a slightly confused voice said, "Hello?"
"Hey, how ya doin', this is Lenny from Lefty's Pizza. The dude that handed you the phone, he's down for the count, ain't he? Three sheets and all that, right?"
The voice said with a chuckle, "Oooohhh yeah. Big time."
"Look, we been there once already trying to deliver to him. He was out cold; I ended up selling the pizza to some random guy---- "
The voice laughed and said, "Yeah, that was me!"
"Oh! Right on! Anyway, he managed to operate the telephone, and is now saying he still wants his pizza. I don't wanna waste my time if he's trashed, and it sounds like he is."
The voice said, "He's --- Jesus Christ --- uh, he's drinking a can of Miller right now."
"Oh God. Look, unless he's got a fuckin' babysitter, ain't no way I'm taking an order to him. You wanna act in that capacity?"
"Sorry, bad timing. I was just leaving to go meet my girlfriend. Um, lemme check a couple other rooms."
The phone was a cordless, so I could hear him knocking on doors and occasionally speaking to people. After a couple minutes of this, he said into the phone, "Dude, everyone's either gone or in bed already."
"Okay, thank you for trying. What's-his-name goes hungry tonight.... Although I don't think he'll notice."
The voice laughed. "In his condition? Pizza would just be puke-fodder. He'd have something solid to hurl."
"Heh, you're probably right. Again, thanks for your time and effort, it's appreciated."
"No problem. Hell, I'm gonna razz him so bad over this one!"
Huh. Polite, sober, helpful. Must be a senior.
I hung up and told the phone girls that if anyone called from that number and sounded sloshed, they were to tell him we wouldn't deliver until he was sober, period, and hang up on him. I found out later he did try a couple more times, the phone girls did what they were instructed, and he finally gave up for the night.
Delivering to active parties was always a joy. These were the scenes where I'd get threatened with robbery, so I'd always approach them with my antennae up. (The phone girls would double-confirm that the number given was one the customer would hear ring, like a cell phone.) I'd put them last on my route because they'd take the most time, usually, and call them three minutes out: "Your pizza's on its way. Be at the sidewalk out front in three minutes. You're watching for a white Civic DX, two door, late model. The cost is $24.50." And I'd roll to their address.
They were usually pretty good about being out front. Sometimes I'd hear, "Dude, why didn't you just come in? I was downstairs."
I'd give him a pitying glare and point out, "Bud, I don't know you from Moses. How would I find you in the middle of.... That?" gesturing towards the bedlam. "'Sides, nothing to prevent someone else from saying, 'That for _____ ? Yeah, that's me,' and you never see your pizza."
They'd actually see the logic in that and we'd complete the transaction.
If I saw a group waiting for me as I drove up, my Mag-Lite would be in my hand before the car stopped rolling, and in my belt when I came to a stop. I'd get out my side, walk around to the passenger side and grab the pizza, which would be set on my roof. Then I'd say loudly, "Brandon ordered pizza. Who here is Brandon?"
One guy would step forward. "I'm Brandon! Give us the pizza!"
I'd laugh and say, "No. You give me the $24.50, then I give you the pizza."
"But we need the pizza!"
"Yeah, and I need the money. You pay up, you get food. Very simple. And it works that way because I said so."
At this point it would flip either way. 95% of the time, Brandon would give me the cash, which I'd shove in my jacket pocket, and immediately open the bag and hand them their food, saying, "There, that wasn't so hard, now was it?"
And I've covered the other five percent before: white-bread little chumps who get their drink on and decide they're hoodlums. The reason why I carried my pepper spray, and my Mag-Lite. Never actually used them, but made it clear I would, and could care less about doing so.
"Hey, we're takin' the fuckin' pizzas and we ain't payin' for 'em."
"HAHAHAHAHAHA no you aren't and yes you are."
"Pfff, you think you can stop us?"
"There's five of you and one of me. Yeah, you'll get the pizzas." I pulled out my Mag-Lite. "But at least two of you won't be able to eat any, 'cos you won't have any fuckin' teeth. Not to mention some of you fucking assholes will be headed to the hospital because I'm gonna go fuckin' head-hunting with this thing. I'll cave in some of your fucking skulls, and it won't bother me a bit. Yeah, I'll get arrested.... But I bet I'll be out of jail before you fuck-bags are out of the ICU."
I gestured with my thumb at the pizza bag. "The food's right there. You tools really wanna play?" I had a Jack Nicholson "Heeere's Johnny!" smile on my face the whole time.
There was a lot of shuffling of feet and glancing at each other. A voice said, "Dude, we were just fuckin' with ya."
"Uh huh. Your sense of humor is shit. Which one of you is Rick?"
One guy edged in closer; I still had the Mag-Lite in a swinging position.
"I'm assuming you have the money, you stay. You, you, you, and you, y'all get the hell back in that house." They looked at each other. I yelled, "FUCKING NOW!!" They began moving up the walkway.
As Rick and I exchanged money for pizza and I made change, he decided to play peacekeeper.
"We weren't really gonna rob you."
"Uh huh. $32.75, please."
"Seriously, we were just jokin' around."
"You been robbed before?"
"Whoa. Where at?"
"You ever use that cop flashlight on anyone?"
I paused for a moment to look at him, and said, "Not while delivering pizza."
"Whoa shit indeed."
He had the pizzas in his arms. "Seriously man, we weren't really gonna steal the food, we were just messin' with ya."
"Uh huh. And look where it nearly got you. I don't like being threatened, I don't like being threatened with being robbed, and I fucking hate when students at one of the more elite schools in the state --- hell, in the country --- threaten to rob me. Your inability to think before you act doesn't speak highly of any of you as UCB students or members of the Greek organization you belong to.
"You and the other merry little elves walked up to me and told me you were gonna rob me. You really got the stones to look surprised when I took you at your word and responded like I did?"
Rick frowned for a moment. "Dude.... You'd really fight five guys over thirty-two bucks worth of pizza?"
I laughed at him. "Dude.... You'd really try to steal thirty-two bucks worth of pizza from a guy who's better-armed than you, and, if I do say so, a lot fucking meaner than you? That's the thing: no, I wouldn't try to fight the five of you. My entire aim would be to hurt anything moving, as badly as possible. Like I said, I'd be in jail, y'all would be in the ICU. Maybe it's my own personal issues, maybe it's a weird sense of pride. Maybe it bugs the shit out of me when the supposed future leaders of the country act like thieving little pipe-head scumbags from East Oakland. Or...." I stepped closer to him ".... Maybe I just don't like drunken fucking bully-boys, ostensible adults acting like playground brats."
He was frowning vacantly at the boxes in his arms. His friends were standing outside the doorway, wondering what the hell was taking him so long. I said, "You have a good evening, sir," and walked around to the driver's side of the Civic.
"Dude! Dude! Wait a sec!" Rick met me on my side of the car. "Umm, we can still, like, order from you guys, right?"
I gave him a blank stare, then said, "Oh! You mean, like if I went back to the restaurant and told the powers that be about how on my delivery to ____ Warring, I'd had some drunk idiots threaten to steal the pizza from me, by force, and it was only by luck and the toys I carry with me that they don't like that they didn't?"
Rick added up the words into a sentence, stared at the boxes some more, and said, ".... Yeah."
"I won't say a damn word.... But you're going to do me a favor. Actually, it's not really a favor. More just a bit of courtesy.
"This bullshit tonight? Never again, not with any driver. You'll pass that word along to everyone in your house. Treating our drivers with respect shouldn't be a challenge for anyone. That's all. Treat the drivers with respect."
Rick looked surprised. "That's all? Just.... Make sure everybody is cool with your drivers?"
He smiled. "Yeah, no problem, totally! Hey, don't worry about it!" He stepped close to me. "Dude, um.... I thought you were gonna hit me for cash."
I smiled back. "Oh, the thought crossed my mind, but I decided, Nah, too tacky. You have a good evening, sir." I got in the Civic and drove off. I looked in my rear view before I turned down Bancroft and Rick was still standing on the sidewalk, his brothers coming down to meet him.
We had zero troubles from that house for a long, long time, and even that was the driver's fault. One of the rare occasions when roof signs would have helped: the driver, not the pointiest crayon in the box, ignored the fact that he was driving into a massive water balloon fight between two different frats and two different sororities, and just.... Got out of the car, carrying the pizzas. Un-bagged. Ignoring the five or six dozen water-logged students in bathing suits hurling brightly colored orbs of water at each other from all directions. And also ignoring the instructions to enter the building from the Prospect St. side, including the reason why.
So naturally he go soaked.... And they weren't even aiming for him The four sides had quite an arsenal at their disposal (plus garden hoses and Super Soakers), it was blatantly obvious what was going on.... So where better to stop the car, get out, retrieve the pizzas from their bag, and slosh up to the front door.
Naturally the customer refused the delivery, what with the pizza boxes being soaked through. The pizzas were ruined, the boxes sagging in half. Also soaked through was a certain Indian driver, who returned with a stolid look on his face. Both he and the customer had called the store to tell what happened. The driver said, "We cannot deliver there. Crazy kids, throwing water at each other."
The owner said, "Yeah, we know, that's why the customer told us to deliver from the Prospect side of the building."
"How do I know that!?" protested the driver.
"Because it's written on the fucking delivery tag, Vijay! Look!" The owner reached into the bag and slid the ruined food out. "Jesus.... I oughta make you eat the cost of these, you know that, right?"
With righteous indignation, Vijay was protesting loudly, "Where does it say to deliver on Prospect? Where does---- oh." The owner was holding up one of the floppy boxes, the one with the tag glued to it. Under "NOTES" were the words "Del. from Prospect side."
"I didn't see it."
"Shall I deliver the fresh ones?"
"No. You can sit out circulation for about four rounds or so while you dry out." (In other words, you can wait at your car and not make money until you're told otherwise.)
It always frightened me when a driver suddenly became as dumb as a student.