"It's kinda strange." That's how Christina McDonald, 24, described the feeling of having a stranger drive her home after a night of drinking -- and in her own car, no less. "It's also kinda nice," she added.
She's talking about designated-driver services. When you live in the suburbs, it beats the cost of taking a taxi in and out of the city ("I don't want to be in a grungy, nasty taxi," McDonald said). It also beats leaving your car in a parking garage overnight or on the street to be ticketed. It definitely beats getting a DWI.
The Twin Cities is home to several designated-driver businesses, which will pick you up and drive you home in your car. On Friday, I tagged along with McDonald and her boyfriend, John Bauer, 26, as they enjoyed an early Friday night at O'Gara's in St. Paul. After dinner and four rounds of Captain-Cokes, the couple was ready to head home at about 9:30 p.m.
They jumped into their white Chevy minivan and snuggled up in the back seat. At the wheel was Bob Janisch, a driver and co-owner of Drink and Drive Intelligently (DDI). Customers simply need to call DDI's hotline and a car will meet them within 30 minutes at their location (the company prefers reservations). The services work with two-person teams. So on Friday, another DDI driver tailed the minivan on the 12-mile drive to McDonald's White Bear Lake apartment.
"I can pay for a DWI, but I can't pay to take back someone's life," Bauer said. "I lost my dad to a drunk driver."
This was an average run for DDI -- calm and courteous passengers who were just happy to get home safely.
Every run isn't this harmonious. Getting Twin Cities customers into their cars during the 2 a.m. bar-close can be like herding cats. Drunk customers have forgotten where they live. Some can't stop puking. Others demand late-night stops at a fast-food drive-thru.
"We try to make it like you're driving home with your buddy -- but your very sensible and sober buddy," Janisch said.
While it seems like they provide a taxi service, designated-driver companies aren't regulated like that industry. They don't need a taxi license because they're driving your car. Some companies rely on your insurance if there is an accident, while others insure their own drivers.
This isn't a glorified cab service, said the guys behind DDI. They cater to their customers.
"The last time I was in a taxi, I had to puke and the guy wouldn't pull over," Bauer said. "So I puked on myself."
"We're good at pulling over," Janisch said.
DRINK AND DRIVE INTELLIGENTLY
- Contact: 651-338-1425 or www.youdrinkwedrive.org
- Cost: $30 minimum fee for first five miles. $3 per addi-tional mile. Average fare: $50
- Coverage area: Up to 30 miles outside the Interstate 494/694 loop.