The Brawler

Maybe it’s ironic that the very day I posted about the most obnoxious drunk I’ve ever driven I get another patience-testing ride with a drunken sailor.

I picked them up at Hot Tuna close to closing time. Two navy boys–call them Ernie and Bert–and Ernie’s girlfriend. Bert sat up front and the girl sat in back. She was model thin in a form-fitting sequined dress and heels. Dark hair with Asian features and very pretty.

“We’re just waiting on one more,” Bert said. “He’s right there.”

Ernie was talking to a guy who was sitting on a three-foot brick planter that surrounded some ornate grass. His back was to us, but he seemed pretty animated.

“Is he about to fight?” I asked.

“No. That’s just Ernie. He’s messing around.”

Ernie and the other guy were both average height, but thickly built. Ernie had been a high school wrestler. I thought they’d be in about the same weight class.

I couldn’t hear them from inside the car, but Ernie turned his ball cap around so he could get closer. He was definitively “in his face” at this point, and the other guy looked bothered.

“He looks pretty worked up.”

“It’s cool. We’re in the same platoon. He’s just kidding around with that guy.”

The guy in question put his hands on Ernie and tried to create some space between them. In response, Ernie planted his feet, put both palms on the guy’s chest and shoved him with surprising power.

The dude, who was not small, flew completely off the wall and into the grass behind him. Ernie laughed and started bouncing like a boxer. Bert and the girl were on their phones and didn’t see it.

“Uh, he just shoved that guy. I think they are going to fight.”

“What? No. Ernie’s just f–ing with him.”

The dude climbed awkwardly out of the grass. It would have looked awkward even if he hadn’t been drinking. He flew at Ernie and landed a wild right hook to the side of his head.

“Yeah. They’re fighting,” I said.

Ernie landed a couple punches on the guy’s chin. The guy tackled Ernie onto the sidewalk, almost cracking heads on a metal bike rack.

Bert finally leaped out of the car. Three beefy bouncers came flying out of the restaurant at the same time. The brawlers rolled onto the pavement and disappeared from view in front of my vehicle. Bert and the bouncers eventually succeeded in pulling the two apart. The one guy raging, spit and blood flying. Ernie laughing.

“Ernie, quit it. Get in the car,” his girl called out the window.

Ernie and Bert both climbed in, the other guy cussing, lunging, trying to escape the grasp of the bouncers. They lost their balance as a group and rocked into my vehicle.

“Go, dude!” Ernie told me.

I did not peel out. I drive an Uber, not a getaway vehicle. At the exit to the parking lot, I stopped to start the ride on the app. They didn’t like that.

“What are you doing? Drive!” Ernie said.

“I need to know where we’re going.”

“Just take a right. I’ll tell you where to go. Come on! I don’t want to be here when the cops come.”

I should have told them to get out of the car then and there. I really wish I had. But things would have been ugly and I have no doubt that Ernie would have threatened me. I figured it would be best to at least leave the area. If they talked any more crap to me, I’d pull over and deposit them elsewhere.

The ride took an eternity. I think I wore down some molars listening to Ernie recount the fight over and over.

“Did you see that, dude? I totally f–ing shoved that mother f–er into the bushes! He got me one time on the ear, then I punched him like three times in the f–ing face! That was awesome! I’m so pumped! I want to go back right now and kill that f–er.”

“What were you even fighting about?” the girlfriend asked.

“Nothing. I totally instigated it.”


“Because I can! It’s what I do!”

Bert tried to talk about other things, but Ernie wasn’t interested. He repeated the play-by-play of the fight I had already seen. And the more he told it, the more he dominated his opponent. His version of the story sounded less and less like the fight I had actually seen.

I finally arrived and dropped off Ernie and his girlfriend, wondering why attractive girls go for idiots like that.

Bert, on the way to his house, could tell I was irritated and tried to mend things with conversation. Turns out he and Ernie are SEALS and would be deploying to South America in a week. They had some freedom in the meantime. Ernie, apparently, was pretty worked up about the coming mission.

They’ll be fighting drug cartels, trying to interrupt the flow of narcotics into the U.S. On a similar mission last year, they confiscated $150 million in cocaine.

Bert is a radio operator. Ernie is a sniper.



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