A Special #OneontaRides Report
This April, we’ve opened the doors to our new building on Water Street (made possible by the generosity of our friends) on five separate occasions and invited Oneonta’s nightlife inside in order to serve the community’s needs. What follows are three of the most memorable stories from the first three weeks in our new home.
Barefoot and Burned Out from the Scene
At the beginning of the night I was walking back to the station after giving a ride and I encountered two female students standing at the street curb. They were at that same spot before I left to give the ride, so I knew they’ve been there for a while. What made them stand out to me is that they were both barefoot and holding their high heels as if the shoes were broken, and they were both huddled up next to each other like they were cold (and they probably were due to what they were wearing… or the lack thereof). To summarize, these two ladies looked miserable, so I approached them, introduced myself, and told them about the Kindness Station.
At first, they were both hesitant to come to the tent, so I pointed out that we now have a space inside the building, located behind the tent, and that it’s warm and carpeted. I then pointed out how hanging out inside and standing on the clean carpet would be much more comfortable on the feet than standing barefoot on a dirty/cold sidewalk. Upon hearing this, the two girls looked at each other, shook their heads yes, and followed me inside.
Once in the building, I proceeded to give them the tour. I pointed out the pancake corner and told them how we’ll be cooking up some pancakes soon. I pointed out the bathroom and told them how it’s clean and how we have attendants volunteering their time to keep it clean throughout the night. They then sat down on the futon and placed their busted shoes on the coffee table.
I offered them both cookies from a nearby table and something to drink. From across the room I pointed out the rack of winter clothes and offered them some, seeing as they looked cold. They asked me where the clothes came from and I told them that they’re donated and how the scarves and hats are handmade by ladies who knit them during the church service and pray that they will be used to bless someone in need.
After all of this kindness, the look on the two young ladies’ faces was priceless. It was a look of being nearly overwhelmed with both relief and joy. They replied by saying “Thank you,” over and over again, and it was obvious that they were fighting back tears. They told me how refreshing it was just to have a quiet place to sit and talk, and how annoyingly loud the music is at the bars. Then they both mentioned how safe they feel here, and how much a place like this is needed downtown because there have been many times when they’ve been out and didn’t feel safe, and how thankful they are to know that there’s now a safe place they can go to if they need to escape a bad situation. I told them that’s a big reason why we provide the space, and I encouraged them to make the space their own and to let us know if there’s anything else we can do to serve their needs. I then pointed out the wall with the paper that says “How Can We Love People Here?” and I encouraged them to take a marker and write on it any ideas they may have. Upon seeing this, a few small tears were shed and they both said with wet eyes “Thank you, thank you so much”, over and over again.
I then got called away for a ride so I said goodbye and left them to talk amongst themselves… on a comfortable couch, in a warm/safe space, and with their bare feet no longer exposed to the dirty downtown sidewalk. I don’t know how the night ended for these two young ladies, but I’m confident that this act of kindness put some cheer in their hearts, and I’m pretty sure that we’ll see them again.
Becoming BFFs With 6 Bros
It was a busy OH-Fest and towards the end of the night a group of six bros wandered into the building. I greeted them and right away asked, “Are you guys here for a free ride home?” They replied “no,” and told me that they were just checking out the place. I then proceeded to give them a tour. As you can imagine, the guys were excited and a little on the rowdy side. But, as I walked them through the building and showed them the Nintendo room and offered them cookies and a place to chill, the rowdiness was replaced with friendliness.
The first thing that the group wanted to do was test their BAC levels. We all gathered around the breathalyzer unit and I got to test each bro. As I did, I correlated the results with a chart on the wall displaying what the different levels of intoxication amounts to. At first, there was an attitude of, “Let’s see who’s the drunkest.” But, after I communicated sternly that, “That’s not why we’re doing this. It’s for educational purposes,” the boys got the message and honored my intentions by knocking it off--except for the gentleman who actually was the drunkest of the group, but I’ll get to him later.
The group’s intoxication levels varied from person to person. Most BAC readings were in normal range for Oneonta’s bar patrons on a Saturday night. That is, until one guy in the group blew a 0.20. He was visibly taken aback by this reading and his demeanor grew more serious. He said that he didn’t think he was that drunk. I then pointed to the chart and asked if he felt like he was only one or two drinks away from vomiting and passing out, he admitted that he thought so. Later that evening, he thanked me for the BAC test and said that it was an eye-opening experience.
The last guy from the group happened to be the drunkest. He blew a 0.23. He celebrated this fact by proclaiming that he must now go to The Black Oak Tavern so he can get that number higher. He then tried heading for the door, but his buddies held him back and got onto his case for missing the point of the exercise. I then cautioned him and the whole group that this young man is very close to experiencing alcohol poisoning, and how it’s in his best interest to cease drinking for the night. To the group’s credit, they took this charge seriously and decided, as a group, that they should all stop drinking and just hang out in the building, sober up, and even get a ride home with the next available car.
Now, it’s important to keep in mind that NONE OF THESE ACTIONS WHERE ON THE GROUP’S AGENDA PRIOR TO THEM COMING INSIDE THE BUILDING! They came inside looking to check out a new space. They then all had a good time and decided to 1) stop drinking for the night, 2) hang out in a safe and supervised environment, and 3) catch a safe ride home. This is an example prevention work at its finest!
After the group made the decision to catch a ride home with us, they then hung out inside the building for what seemed like more than half an hour. Due to the size of the group, they had a longer-than-normal wait time, but they were happy to wait and hangout on the couch while eating snacks and chatting with each other. Interestingly enough, the boisterous young man that blew a 0.23 ended up in our bathroom, vomiting his guts out. After this experience, he was much more subdued. Actually, I’m happy to have provided him with a clean place to vomit--better in our toilet than on a city sidewalk. Plus, it was interesting for me to see how the situation with the drunk young man played out. One minute, he’s ready to throw caution to the wind and continue his binge with the confidence that he can handle anything. The next minute, his body is violently rejecting the alcohol from his system, causing him to accept defeat and call it a night. Every time I experience someone who’s set out to binge drink like this young man, I feel sad because I know that it’s not going to end well. At least now there’s a safe place to get cared for and have the night end well.
I’d also like to point out how serving this group inside vs. outside at the Kindness Station tent may have made all the difference. There have been several times in the past where I encounter a group like this where one or two people in the group want to continue on to the next bar, meanwhile the rest of the group wish to call it night. But, the group ends up having a difficult time restraining the odd one in the group that’s gung ho about moving on, so they all end up leaving the tent and reluctantly follow him to the bar. In the case of the group of 6 bros inside the building, it was much easier to keep the one guy in the group from exiting the door. Plus, the guys weren’t faced with the distractions of various groups walking by, encouraging them to come with them to the next bar.
Eventually, we were able to take the entire group home in one trip, and they were super thankful for the kindness shown them. It’s a classic case of a group coming in as strangers, but leaving as friends.
Providing a Place to Recover for a Girl that’s Drugged at the Bar
Around closing time, we spotted a girl sitting on the street curb in front of the bar. Her boyfriend was standing over her trying to care for her. We could see from the Kindness Station that it wasn’t a good situation. The girl appeared to be incapable of keeping herself upright and the boyfriend was having a difficult time keeping her from lying on the pavement. This scene caught the attention of the Kindness Team volunteers at the tent and they approached the couple to offer assistance. The couple, who were both a bit older than college-aged, didn’t seem interested in a ride to the hospital, but, eventually, they agreed that getting her indoors and on a couch was a good idea. Kindness Team volunteers assisted her inside and helped her lie down on the couch. They then provided the girl with paper towels and a trash bag to vomit in.
As the girl laid on the couch, incapable of moving, her boyfriend offered his take on what happened. Apparently, the couple went out to together and made the choice to split up for a couple of hours so he could go to one bar and she could stay at another. When he came back to join her, he found her in this condition. His assessment of the situation is that she was drugged at the bar. Based on the evidence we saw, the story made sense. Plus, to the team’s credit, they were skeptical at first as to whether or not this guy was actually her boyfriend, so they questioned him until they felt like he was being truthful.
Over and over again, the team members overseeing the situation urged and pleaded with the couple that we take them to the emergency room. Unfortunately, the couple was adamantly opposed to such a notion. The boyfriend’s reasoning is that there was a time when he went to the hospital for an overdose and, “They didn’t do anything.” The girl, despite being unable to move, could function enough to confirm that she didn’t want to go to the hospital.
This situation put us in a tough spot. Clearly, the girl needed medical attention. But at this point, calling an ambulance would be seen as a breach of trust. I happened to be on the road during all of this so when the team reached out to me for instructions and explained the situation, I advised them to continue caring for them and to call an ambulance if the situation deteriorates. Therefore, the team continued to provide compassionate care with paper towels and water. They even turned off all the lights and gave her a blanket so she could perhaps get some rest. The couple was in our care for more than an hour and, thankfully, spending time on the couch did the girl some good and her situation began to improve.
By the time I got back after a long, long ride filled with drunken drama, the girl was up on her feet and able to move a bit by leaning on her boyfriend and having him guide her. It turns out that the couple only lived two blocks away so two Kindness Team volunteers walked with them and escorted them home down the now-deserted city sidewalks. Before saying goodbye, the boyfriend asked us questions about our church, and complimented us saying, “This is an amazing organization. Thank you.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first drugged girl we’ve encountered outside of the city’s downtown bars, and it probably won’t be the last. It’s a very real and very scary problem that I feel doesn’t get enough attention. That said, if it does happen again, hopefully the Kindness Team will be there to provide a safe ride to the hospital, or a quiet couch to rest and recover on.