Tipsy Taxi totes tipplers safely home

The free service runs from 6 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. through New Year's Eve.

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The service cellphone in hand, Tipsy Taxi drivers Ramona Kemph (left) and Cheryl Rickertsen promote knowledge of the holiday taxi service while surveying the crowd at the Red Monkey Downtown Lounge on Friday evening. The two hope that by being seen at a variety of local night life scenes anyone in need will use the service.

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Tipsy Taxi drivers Ramona Kemph (left) and Cheryl Rickertsen (right) park their van outside the Green Lantern Tavern and head in to let customers know of their holiday taxi service on the first day of its operation for the holiday season. Use of the van, along with insurance and gas are all donated by various local businesses so that the free service can help prevent drunken driving.

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Bar crusing for a different reason, the Tipsy Taxi arrives at the Green Lantern Tavern on the first Friday night of its holiday season service.

WALLA WALLA - Equipped with sweatshirts, a map, schedule, vomit/urine bag and a practically new 2010 Kia Sedona with 16,000 miles, Ramona Kemph and Cheryl Rickertsen were ready to keep city streets safe.

"This is when the college kids come back," Kemph said around 11:30 p.m. on Friday, as the two approached a busy Green Lantern Tavern.

As Kemph turned the corner around the establishment to look for a parking spot, the white Sedona with the black and yellow checkered logo was spotted by someone who was just about to enter.

"Oh. Is the Tipsy Taxi going tonight? 5-2-2-8-2-9-9," the patron said, perhaps a little too loudly and enthusiastically, leading Kemph and Rickertsen to wonder if he would be one of their riders that night.

So far, the drunk-driving-fighting duo had experienced a slow night; no rides requested yet.

So they decided to head into the Green Lantern in hopes of promoting their service, which was also emblazoned across their chests.

They had just finished doing the same at the Red Monkey; while there they noticed their poster was hung too high and where it wouldn't get the attention it deserved.

"We will come back and try to put some in the bathroom," Kemph had vowed.

As the two entered the crowded Green Lantern, which had somewhere between 80-100 mostly college-aged patrons, they again looked for their posters; they were not found.

Kemph made a note to come back and fix that problem.

For now, their shirts would have to do to alert people to what they offered.

"This is the first year we got sweatshirts," Kemph proudly said.

Kemph and Rickertsen are two of some 27 volunteer drivers who will man a small fleet of Tipsy Taxis this year.

The service kicked off on Friday with two vans, and will continue every evening through New Year's Eve, offering free rides home from 6 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.

Drivers will pick up within Walla Walla or College Place and dropped off at home, not another establishment.

Destinations also have to be within or near the city limits, coordinator Nancy McClenny-Walters said, explaining that the drivers can't cross state or county line and need to stay close to the two cities.

The program is run by the Walla Walla County Traffic Safety Task Force with very little costs to taxpayers.

Newer vehicles to use were donated by Abajian Motors, cellphones by Inland Cellular, insurance by McDonald Zaring, posters by Inland Saxum, shirts by Graphic Apparel and the answering service that greets callers with a "Tipsy Taxi" was paid for by Odom Corporation.

The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin provides free advertising to help get the word out about the free and potentially life-saving service.

"I used to live in Spokane and it would be a small cost," Rickertsen said.

In spite of the low cost and great importance, the service transports only about 200 people a year.

Scanning the crowded tavern, Kemph was sure that too many would choose to drive themselves home when they shouldn't.

"A lot of people don't call. But then you think about those 200 people that didn't drive, and all the people we saved because those 200 people didn't get in a wreck," Kemph said.

On Friday only six runs were made by the two vans in service.

To get a Tipsy Taxi ride over the next two weeks, call 522-8299.

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