One Natty Ride
The front entrance to Herman's Hideaway looked like a hippie revolving door on a recent Friday night. A steady parade of dreadlocked white people danced to the music of Lion SoulJahs for fifteen to twenty minutes, then filtered into the shuttle bus waiting patiently out front in the loading zone, then headed back to the concert. Their motivation? Booze, of course. Stored in a coffin-sized cooler on board was an alcoholic sampler of beer, hard liquor and wine coolers, all brought by a guy from Golden who was celebrating his thirtieth birthday. Rather than endure the long lines inside, the crew simply worked up a sweat dancing, moved outside for a spirit in the bus they had rented, then stormed Herman's dance floor anew.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
"They were getting their shake on, running back to the bus to get their drink on, then back in to shake that ass," says Keith-David Hammock, owner and operator of Rocky Mountain Rastacar Transportation. "And I'm sure it saved them a lot of money at the bar. It felt good to be smiling and having a good time with them. It's always fun to share the happy times with people."
Hammock has shared many happy times with many happy people, shuttling them safely from concerts at Red Rocks, to University of Colorado football games in Boulder, to wherever riders need to go. But it was a decidedly unhappy time that got him into the game. An unhappy time that started with a bottle of Triaminic.
While driving for Yellow Cab in March 2000, Hammock was pulled over by a Glendale police officer who noticed he had a headlight out. What should have been a quick fix-it ticket devolved into an ugly two-year ordeal because of a bottle of cough syrup on the seat. Hammock was sick. So sick, in fact, that he was later diagnosed with walking pneumonia. At the time, however, he just knew he had to keep working to pay off his $375-a-week lease with Yellow Cab. Triaminic seemed the logical choice.
Hammock had sucked back bottle after bottle of the medicine (which contained a small amount of alcohol then, but is currently alcohol-free), but it still wasn't enough for him to blow a DUI. Undeterred, the cop gave him a roadside sobriety test. He failed.
"It's kind of embarrassing for me to say," he says now, leaning his head back and stretching his arms out wide. "But the close-your-eyes-and-touch-your-nose test, that ain't easy for me. Sober as a judge, I'd have problems with that. I've never been the most coordinated guy. And the alphabet backwards? Are you serious? Who can do that?"
At the police station, Hammock again took a breathalyzer and blew a .056 -- not enough for a DUI, but enough for a call to his supervisor and a ticket for Driving While Ability Impaired. He was suspended from work and ordered to do 24 hours of community service, attend twelve weeks of alcohol rehabilitation classes (where he was lumped in with domestic-violence offenders) and submit to two years of weekly random urine tests; he also had to pony up around $2,500 for a lawyer and court fees.
"It just made things impossible for me," Hammock says. "I was on probation with the cab company, which made things more difficult, and all the money that I would normally use to support myself was going to the city: $15 once or twice a week to pee in a cup, plus alcohol classes, court costs and fines. It made it so I couldn't get a normal routine down."
Hammock found himself odd-jobbing it just to stay afloat, but he was always working toward getting back into the business. So when a friend approached him about driving a bar bus for Jay Bianchi's quartet of clubs -- Sancho's Broken Arrow, Quixote's, Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom and Dulcinea's 100th Monkey -- he jumped at the chance.
"After what I went through, I never wanted anybody to have to deal with such a disaster again," says Hammock, who has a missionary-like zeal for transporting the inebriated. "Nobody should have to deal with the mess of a DUI. I just figured this way, I could provide people with a safe alternative. I could protect them."
Bianchi ran a shuttle between his bars when Quixote's was way out on East Colfax Avenue, but he garaged it when the bar moved into central Denver. Still, many of his loyal customers were frequenting all of his bars, often in one night, and he realized that Colfax hippies are an easy target for Colfax police. So he resurrected the party bus and put Hammock behind the wheel.
"When you get in a cab with him, you just immediately trust him as a person, as a driver," Bianchi says. "He has this whole aura of trust about him, and he's really got a good soul. You should see the way he deals with the guards or whoever up at Red Rocks. They're real strict about where you can and can't go, and they let him anywhere. He kills them with kindness. He's just a big, nice kid."
To wit: Recently a group of late-twenty-something mortgage brokers rented the bus to cruise around downtown for the evening. Toward the end of the night, things became a bit unruly, as one of the inebriated passengers began swinging from the bars of the shuttle bus, trying to kick out the windows with his feet. While most chauffeurs, cab drivers or bus drivers would become positively unhinged in such a situation, Hammock silenced the man with his typical calm demeanor. "Act your age," he told him.
Hammock operates his shuttle bus on a quasi-freelance basis from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. seven days a week, giving top priority to Sancho's needs and seeking out private parties or groups on the side. "It works better when Keith has more freedom and he can do what he wants," says Bianchi, who sold Hammock the converted RTD Access-A-Ride for a dollar and splits the insurance. "Obviously, we're a high priority for him, but it's really not about making money for me. We have our logo on the side, which is a big advertisement for us and everything, but it's serving the greater purpose of getting people home safe."
Hammock ensures that it's much more than just a safe ride, however. On a recent excursion from a CD-release concert to an after-party, girls danced like strippers on the shuttle's poles. Another expedition yielded a bus full of liquored-up patrons wildly barking animal noises out the windows while Hammock nodded his head and played along, sober and with his eyes on the road. People who rent the bus can take their own alcohol aboard, as long as it's swigged from a cup, thus avoiding open-container complications. Larger private parties generally work out rates beforehand by calling 720-275-1525, and those joining the party bus as it lumbers around town are asked to pay $1.50 a mile, ten to twenty cents cheaper than cabs and without the typical $1.80 entry fee. Most of the time prices are negotiable, as is the vehicle choice: In addition to the 25-passenger van, Hammond's also got a four-door sedan.
"I tell people that this is the way I make my living," says the Denver native. "It's not a free ride. But I have given people free rides before. You get your fair share of deadbeats, but hopefully, at the end of the night, the good people have made up for the deadbeats.
"I've seen so much destruction from drunk driving over the years," adds Hammock, who has been a professional driver in one way or another since 1992. "And it just kills me to see how many people are hurt from it -- brothers, fathers, cousins, uncles, aunts -- all from one stupid decision. That's why I love doing this. I love having people on my bus, laughing, giggling, flirting and just knowing that all those people who love them can continue to do so because they're staying safe."
But while Hammock certainly enjoys the laughing, giggling and flirting, he has one simple request of Rastavan passengers: "Could people please refrain from the grabbing or touching of my dreads? It's not a vanity or an ego thing, but it's like people wiping their hands on you. If a chick has nice boobs, you can't just walk up and grab them; I don't understand why people do it with my hair. I'm cool with the hugs, I'm cool with the handshakes, but lay off the touching of the dreads."
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