The drunker of the two was a white kid. He immediately slumped in his seat, nearly unconscious. His black friend at least did not look like he was going to puke. The white one did. Other than that, they seemed like nice kids.
”Take us back to base!” the black kid said.
Before even moving the car, I turned around and looked at them for a bit. They seemed very, very young.
“How old are you guys?” I asked. “You guys 21 yet?”
There was an awkward silence: No answer.
Over the years, the Navy has had...varying...policies regarding underage drinking of their students at the NATTC (Naval Air Technical Training Command). Now, I hear that there that it's “zero-tolerance.” Underage drinking gets you “separated,” which means “kicked out.” But back then you might get away with it with just NJP (non-judicial punishment) or a visit to the “Captain's Mast” which is more serious and probably career-ending but might result in you staying in.
Back at the base, the boys would have to sign-in and get across the “Quarterdeck,” which is a reception desk of sorts where people monitor the comings and goings of their sailors. And these two never would've gotten away with it.
I told them that I wasn't taking them back to base. I said I'd take them to a fairly inexpensive hotel near the base so they could sleep it off and sober up, and that I'd pick them up and take them to base for free in the morning. I told them that if they could not afford the $70 for the room, I'd spring for it. After the usual macho bluster subsided, they agreed. I handed the white kid my puke bucket and we departed.
When I started driving a taxi, I'd work downtown on the weekends. This was before Uber came and pretty much put taxis out of business in Pensacola. Because of the fear of drunks getting sick in the cab, I bought some large plastic child's beach pails. They were, like, a buck at Walmart. I put some plastic bags in them and...voila! they look like little garbage pails. But they're not ;)
The black kid kept telling me about how the white kid was out partying with some older sailors (who could obviously hold their liquor better and) who'd abandoned him at some point in the night's festivities. The black kid took the white kid under his wing and assured him that he'd get them both back to base. He was very proud of himself for sticking up for his buddy and being The Protector. He was equally dissatisfied with the older guys.
We got to the Ashton Inn and Suites. The black kid went in to register. Then he disappeared (ostensibly somewhere to relieve himself, I'm sure). The receptionist, a woman about my age came outside to smoke a cigarette. She looked into the cab and saw my comatose young passenger, who was leaning forward in his seat, face buried in my emergency Bodily Fluid Ejection Device.
”He been that way for long?” she asked with a chuckle.
”All the way here from downtown,” I replied.
I gave the kids my number. I told them I'd pick them up whenever they wanted. With that, they stumbled away. I got up early the next morning, figuring that they'd call, but they never did. I assume they found their own way back to base.