In Your Own Backyard: Call Desi, I'm drunk

Desi the Designated Driver brings you and your care home for $25

 by Danielle Peterson
 published on Thursday, March 10, 2005

Danielle Peterson
Danielle Peterson / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
Greg Murray is the proud owner of Desi, the designated driver, a flatbed truck service that picks up people who are too drunk to drive, and their cars, for $25.

It's Friday night. The weekend has begun.

While other students are pouring themselves into the closest bar and drowning their cares in a tall pitcher of beer, I wait anxiously by my phone, hoping that at any second, the ring will put an end to the uncertainty of the night. �

A few moments past midnight, the jingle of my cell phone startles me. The voice on the other end sounds like a line from "Ghostbusters."

"We got one!"

My friend and I dash out the door and get into a black flatbed truck named Desi.

Desi The Designated Driver is a flatbed truck service that picks up people too drunk to drive home for $25, about the same cost as a taxi, except Desi takes your car home as well.

The slick roads glisten from the continuous drizzle that has lasted 24 hours. �Reflections of green and red traffic lights illuminate the road. In one smooth motion, Desi eases onto the freeway like a tall ship setting sail. �

Our destination is Alice Cooperstown in downtown Phoenix. Our driver's animated hand gestures and need to make eye contact briefly distract his attention from the road.

"I better keep my eyes on the road," he chuckles. �

After a couple of wrong turns and an unexpected detour, Desi rolls up to Alice Cooperstown, like a reliable friend rushing to the rescue. �

According to the Designated Driver's Association, a person is killed in a drunken driving crash in the United States every 33 minutes. By offering a low fixed rate, Desi hopes to change the drinking and driving habits of local residents one ride at a time.

"The more you drink, the better we look," says Greg Murray, Desi's owner.

Murray, a self-described small-town Iowa boy, came up with the idea when he was out drinking one night in Phoenix. �

"I had just finished a baker's dozen," Murray says with a laugh. "And I realized that I would have to pay for a cab ride home and then wake up extra early in the morning to cab it back to my car."

"I can't drive. I can't afford to get a DUI," he adds. "There needs to be something where you can take your car home with you."

Murray thought about the idea for a year and designed a simple, efficient vehicle. By October 2004, Desi was ready for action.

In December, Murray pitched his idea to Anheuser-Busch, the nation's largest-selling beer, who agreed to sponsor Desi as a pilot program.

Anheuser-Busch instructed Murray to charge a flat rate of $25 and offered to pay the extra costs, enabling Murray to offer an affordable rate.

Murray says Desi is unique to the Phoenix area. �

"I don't want to be real dramatic like I'm trying to save the world," Murray says.

"I just want to see if I'm going to make any money," he says sarcastically. "I'm not in it for the money, honestly. �I just want this concept to work. �The business is about safety, first and foremost."

As we pull up to Alice Cooperstown, the drinker who called Desi stumbles into a puddle as he waves to Murray.

Murray waves back with a smile and asks the man where he parked his car. The man, James Rinkenberger of Chandler, points down the street at a black 2004 Range Rover parked in the shadows. He climbs into the cab of the flatbed and introduces himself as "the drunk guy."

"I think it's ridiculously stupid not to use Desi," says Rinkenberger, who resembles Christopher Walkin. "I can't believe people who don't. I make everyone I meet put the number in their cell phone. The odds are you will get pulled over at some point. I got pulled over on the way to the bar."

Within a couple minutes, Murray drives the Range Rover onto the flatbed, secures it and is ready to take Rinkenberger home.

The $25 price tag is nothing compared to what Rinkenberger would have paid had he gotten a DUI. Charges for a DUI can range between $250 and $2,500, and that's excluding surcharges.

Other consequences for a DUI could include a 90-day license suspension, eight hours of driving school and possible substance abuse treatment. Fines for a felony DUI range from $250 to $150,000 plus surcharges and could lead to jail time.

In 2004, Tempe police issued more than 2,000 DUIs, according to department statistics.

Rinkenberger, who is middle-aged, says he's not sure he would call Desi if he were 22. He pauses for a moment and recalls with glazy blue eyes that he didn't do a lot of thinking before the age of 29.

The service remains largely unknown for 20-something students at ASU. Even if they knew about it, some students say they would not call Desi.

"It's a great idea, but I probably wouldn't use it," says math senior Andy Long. "If I get drunk, I usually stay home or make sure that I have a designated driver."

Other students embrace the idea of Desi. �

"Kick ass!" says political science junior Nate Myres, who had never heard about Desi. "I would use it all the time."

About 1:30 a.m.,The street is dark and quiet, and the whole neighborhood appears to be tucked in for the night.

Murray carefully backs the Range Rover off the flatbed and parks it in the driveway.

Rinkenberger, looking dazed, says, "Could I have driven home? Should I have? No way."

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