By Lee Cataluna
Roger Ridgley is sitting by his phone right now like a comic book hero waiting for the bat signal. At any moment, he may be called in to save someone from peril.
Every Christmas and New Year's for the last twelve years, Ridgley has offered the services of his towing company, A Tow in Paradise, free to anyone on Kaua'i who gets too drunk to drive home.
"People ask, 'are you going to do it again this year?' And I go, 'Yeah, I'm going to do it EVERY year.' " Ridgley says. "The main thing is to get people home safe and maybe save some lives."
As a tow truck driver, Ridgley has seen his share of smashed up cars and the remains of drunk driving. He believes one of the main reasons people drive drunk is they don't want to leave their cars behind. Ridgley and his flat-bed car carrier can make sure both drinker and auto make it home in one piece.
The tow truck doesn't drag the car behind. It carries it, all four wheels, on a flat bed. "The bed slides back and then down," says Ridgley, "and then I put the car on top and put the people inside the truck with me.
"A lot of times, my wife rides along with me and we meet a lot of people that, you know, you don't usually meet in that kind of a condition."
Ridgley's program is modeled after one set up by the towing industry in Mainland cities called "T.O.W.E.D." , which stands for "Tow Operators Working to Eliminate Drunk drivers." (Ignore the extra letters and go with the flow, OK?)
Each holiday season, Ridgley gets between five and eight take-me-home calls, which he says costs him maybe $700, depending on the length of the run. The cost, though, is not his main concern.
"The hardest part is to get people to not be embarrassed about it," he says.
When the program first started, Ridgley took home someone he describes as a "very influential" member of the Kaua'i community. But Ridgley won't name names. He doesn't tow-and-tell.
"He was drunk. His wife called. But he didn't want to ride in the truck. So I told him, 'Brah, nobody knows that you're drunk. They just see your car in the back of my truck and they figure you broke down.' And he said, 'You know, brah, I never thought of it that way.' And after that, I was getting calls right and left."
Ridgley himself doesn't drink, but he doesn't pass judgment on those who do. His mission statement is this:
"If they're too drunk to drive, I'll take them and their car home free of charge. No hassles, no police. But the car must be operable, and I'll only take you from the point of pick-up to your home." That is, no, stopping for a last round or picking up buddies along the way.
For Kaua'i partyers, the number to call if you've had too much and need to get home is 245-8818. Roger Ridgley is standing by.
Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or firstname.lastname@example.org.