Simply Bunk Confessions of a shore-based cab driver

“I have a guy for your house,” my old buddy Jake said out of the blue.

“Your timing is excellent, Smithers,” I responded in my bad imitation of Mr. Burns. “Who is this fellow?”

“His name is Bunk and he would fit in well with your crew,” Jake said. “Play and knows sports, cooks, and will drive you wherever you want.”

“You’re giving me a butler. Shouldn’t his name be Cheeves?” I shot back but quickly thought, “Well, then again, Bunk does have a, ‘Your bath is ready, sir’ sound to it…”

“His real name is Bernie and he’s a van driver for a cab service down at the beach,” Jake explained. “Makes good money doing it too…”

“Like the movie Weekend at Bernie’s…gotcha. So when does he have time to go out?” as my mind was jolted from its one-dimensional state regarding summer weekends.

“He doesn’t…” Jake stated without ambiguity. “He works every weekend.”

“And when the summer ends?” I asked.

“He runs a pizza place at UConn and a ski house like a bed and breakfast in Mount Snow on the winter weekends. He’s basically his own boss and comes and goes as he pleases.”

“That’s genius,” I marveled. “OK, he’s in.”

That conversation took place over two years ago. In 2007, Bunk is a central part of my beach empire…driving members for food at 3:30 AM and more importantly, picking them up to go to and from bar to bar. He also contributes waffles in the morning, organizes a intra-house Olympics with events that include archery, tug-of-war and kiddie-bike-slalom-beer racing (See: Revenge of the Nerds I), and owns every college pennant in the universe, which are hung up in the beach house according to who went where during their undergrad days (a bit hokey, but it actually makes an otherwise listless living room portray a sports bar…and where else will you find a U Penn and a Willie P U. pennant side-by-side?).

I recently interviewed Bunk—who incidentially doesn’t drink due to being allergic to alcohol—during an early morning run to 1st Ave. Pizza while watching Hoosiers on his in-cab DVD screen.

Concha: What first got you into driving a van at the beach?

Bunk: I needed a job that coincided with my party animal shore housemates and the hours they kept. The cab was the perfect fit. It also enabled me to still be a part of the whole scene.

Concha: What kind of money can you make on a good night?

Bunk: I do OK, I’d rather not give you a number, but I have to hustle and put up with a lot of crap.

Concha: I guess if I asked any guy or girl in the house what kind of cash they brought home, I’d get the same answer. Well played. Still, at $4.00-$6.00 per person and sometimes 20 to a ride that may only be a mile or three, sounds like the money can add up quickly.

OK, a less-intrusive question: What are your hours?

Bunk: I start at 4pm unless someone pre-arranges an earlier pick up. I can get home anywhere between 3am and 5am.

Concha: What are some of the drawbacks of the job?

Bunk: I’ve had people fight in the van, throw up, relieve themselves, and always throw in the usual Jagoff who thinks it’s cool to give the driver a hard time.

Concha: With all of the alcohol and beer muscles involved that usually is a staple of the aforementioned Jagoff, how do you handle security within the van?

Bunk: You try to keep them happy and stuff like that won’t happen. I also try to be selective when picking up a group. You can tell a certain group will be trouble so I would stay away from them. You’re usually safe taking groups of girls. Though the craziest brawl in my van was between girls. It wasn’t a hair pulling cat fight, this was a NHL bench-clearing brawl! Clean, hard punches to the face. It took me and two other guys to pull these chicks apart.

Concha: What does your service provide that other cab companies don’t?

Bunk: It has been my experience that if I can make the customers transition from their house to the bar a smooth one the ride is much more fun for them and less stressful for me. I find that a good CD with music for all tastes can make a huge difference and one less thing to give me a hard time about. I am also courteous to my passengers and open the door for them when they get in and get out.

Concha: Not many, if any, cab companies down there extend that courtesy. Well, I’ve seen some—and admittedly participated in—some crazy stuff while in a beach cab in the past, so share two of your best stories from driving down there…

Bunk: Last summer I drove 12 huge guidos from Belmar to Seaside. They were completely obnoxious the entire 45-minute ride. But the funny part was that they spent most of the trip arguing about what the appropriate time to take their shirts off would be. As we were blocks away someone saw two gigantic dudes walking toward the bar without their shirts. At that point someone in the van says, “Yo Sal, I told you we was good… I’m taking off my freakin’ shirt!”

Then there was the time a few years ago I picked up three girls and one guy at the Parker House. Impressively, in the short drive from Parker to Leggett’s the guy up front talked his girlfriend and two friends into kissing and stripping in my cab! It was strange to say the least…

Concha: Hooking up and being at the shore are almost synomyous…does this process first begin in your van often?

Bunk: Most times a hook up has been pre-determined prior to entering the van. I have seen some crazy things happen though. I watched a guy who was loading his group into the van at DJ’s late one Saturday night start talking to a girl who was passing by and somehow within minutes convinced her to go home with him. Amazing… I also had a couple of 17 year olds doing some pretty unbelievable things in my van and they had just met as well.

Concha: Only at the shore do you see that sort of thing. I’ve never experienced that kind of cab ride in Hoboken. But those anecdotes are usually a product of the busy times. What do shore cab drivers do during the week when things are slow at the beach?

Bunk: Sit in their vans and go out of their minds with boredom! Back in the day when I would drive during the week their were a few nights like Monday (Boat House) and Tuesday (Bar A) that you would basically be a shuttle to and from the bar which was easy. Other than that I was carting around drunk teenagers from party to party.

Concha: Do people treat nickels like manhole covers or does being drunk mean being generous? What is the average tip?

Bunk: $1 per person… Some people give more and then there are some that won’t give you anything. I can understand, when I used to go out I would walk from PH to Edgars. Whatever it costs, it’s a lot less than a DWI. I can’t tell you how many DWI’s I’ve seen in the six years I’ve been doing this.

Concha: Speaking of DWI, how does local law enforcement treat you and other cab/van companies down there in general?

Bunk: In the early years it seemed like I could get away with pretty much anything except vehicular manslaughter. The thinking was, we were helping them get drunks off the street and making their jobs easier. Since 2005 it’s gotten pretty tough. I don’t know if it’s because back then there were only a few cab companies and now there are more like 20. Point Pleasant and Belmar are the toughest. Just this past weekend the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commision decided to enforce the taxi stand rules. Most of the larger vans have limo plates and are not allowed to park in the taxi stands. By chasing all the large vans the end of the night at bar closing was a disaster. It got to the point that the Manasquan police were calling my boss and asking him to send his vans to the beach front. Of course, this all could have been avoided, but balls need to be broken I guess?

Concha: Are there rivalries among the cab services at the shore?

Bunk: There are some rivalries amongst companies, but drivers all pretty much get along. Nobody likes Able or the gypsies. Able has a new owner who thinks he should have a monopoly, and the gypsies make it hard on the rest of us because they overcharge people and take advantage of drunk people.

Concha: Do you see yourself doing this five or ten years from now?

Bunk: You know what, I keep saying maybe this will be my last summer… But, then I make some money and have fun with my friends in my shore house. If I wasn’t working I wouldn’t be in the house. Maybe if I was involved with someone it would be a different story. As long as it’s still fun I’ll keep doing it!