Thinking and driving: Hooptie Ride offers safety with style
by Christina D. French '98, M.A. '01
What do cool cars and crushed velvet-covered seats have to do with responsible behavior? They are signature elements of Hooptie Ride, a Blacksburg ride service that caters mainly to the downtown bar scene. A friend to inebriated students as well as both Virginia Tech and Blacksburg police, Hooptie Ride's eye-catching vehicles decorate the downtown scene--and may save lives, too.
The problem of student drinking
In a report by the Task Force on College Drinking of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, each year approximately 1,400 college students die and around 500,000 are injured in accidents related to alcohol use. More than 600,000 college students are assaulted annually by other students who have been drinking and more than 70,000 are victims of alcohol-associated sexual assaults or date rapes--sobering statistics.
Tech is not immune to alcohol-related
tragedies; readers may remember when three Tech students died
in one weekend in 1997, two in a head-on collision and
one after rolling out of her eighth-floor window
in Slusher Hall. The university continues to take measures
to combat the problem of student drinking with its
alcohol-free wellness dorm; continuing education for first-year students
about the number of non-drinking students; and the ban on
frat-party fliers that advertise "byob" and other alcohol-related
messages. Indeed, students who drink are drinking less since 1988,
according to a survey conducted by Tech's College Alcohol
Abuse Prevention Center.
Yet, donning rosy-colored glasses concerning the situation could prove as dangerous as wearing "beer-goggles," or the lenses through which the inebriated are said to see the world. A recent survey done by College Alcohol Studies at the Harvard School of Public Health found that 44 percent of students on college campuses52 percent at Tech--are "binge drinkers," those who've had more than four or five drinks on one occasion.
"Let Hooptie Ride be your designated driver"
David Robinson (environmental science '00), aka "D-Rob," is the founder and owner of Hooptie Ride, whose clientele is at least 95 percent Tech students. Robinson has a realistic view of student drinking--he assumes that some students will drink too much, and, if left with no easy alternatives, that they will drive. "Hooptie Ride was founded to offer a convenient alternative to students and others in the area," says Robinson. "One night after an evening on the town, I called a cab and was told it would be an hour and a half--that's when I realized the need for Hooptie. People won't wait around that long; they'll make a bad
decision instead and drive.
"You always hear, 'Use a designated driver,' which
is great. You should hear that, you should do that, but here in a college setting, no
one wants to be that guy," explains Robinson. "So
I said, hey, we'll step in, we'll be the designated
driver." Hooptie Ride even ran for free for the first three
months to encourage usage.
As part of an informal partnership, the
Blacksburg police often call Hooptie Ride to pick up someone who is
at risk of dangerous behavior or a ticket. "We try to give
them priority because an officer is tied up on the scene until we get there. They appreciate
that," Robinson says. "Some nights we're the Hooptie party
aficionados, getting the party going," says Josh Karchem, a Hooptie
Ride driver. "But some nights, the evening's theme is 'How
we're helping clear the streets,'" adds Shawn Moore (geography
'02), also a driver for Hooptie.
Robinson reports that a police lieutenant told him there
were 103 arrests for DUI in 2000. In 2001, after the inception
of Hooptie, police made only 80 arrests for DUI. "That's a 23.5
percent drop in the first year!" He says Hooptie Ride is also
a nice complement to Tech's Safe Ride, which is meant to
protect students from harm but only provides transportation on
campus. "Lots of folks need a ride from off campus back to campus, too."
While some might assume that the service makes drinking
an easier and more attractive option for students,
Karchem counters, "We're a good influence, people see us and say,
'This guy's having a great time, and he's not even drinking.' And
we're making those people who are going to drink no matter
what have a safer time."
Robinson founded Hooptie Ride to give students a "cool" alternative to drinking and driving. When asked whether it's insulting when the highly original Hooptie Ride is likened to a run-of-the-mill taxi service, Robinson responds: "Like Shakespeare said, 'What's in a name?' That which we call a Hooptie by any other name would still be as stylin'."
Although many parents would like to think their child
won't drink while in college, statistics show that four out of
five students do. Hooptie Ride's next objective in its pursuit of
safety for college students is to get their parents involved. Robinson
is offering "tickets to ride" vouchers for parents to give to
their college-bound children. "It's a great way to protect your kids
if you can't get them not to drink." With Hooptie's reputation
for style, students won't be hard to convince.
"Don't just get there, get there in style"
Hooptie Ride provides a wide range of services. In addition
to serving as a designated driver, it also provides airport runs and
a myriad of day-to-day transportation needs. But it is not
your typical taxi cab.
"It's all about the style," says Robinson. "You could get a
taxi, sure, but Hooptie is about service with style." Robinson is referring to Hooptie's "cool" public image: retro vehicles
with plush velvet interiors stocked with wacky hats for the riders
to wear. "We started a year ago with one car, now we're up
to three," says Robinson. "The original Hooptie Ride is a
1972 Buick Electra, also known as the 'Purple People Eater.' Then
we have the 'Disco Caddy,' a Cadillac Sedan
Deville, a real smooth ride we like to use for longer
runs, and finally, we've added the 'Mystery Machine,'
a large van we use to transport groups."
Hooptie Ride's popularity has also caused a demand for more drivers, including Trevor
Rice (mechanical engineering '00), who works as an engineering consultant full-time and drives
"for the fun of it," according to Robinson. Dan
Smith (art '01) also drives when he's not bartending
for The Waterstreet Gallery Café and Night
Spot, which happens to be a common
drop-off/pick-up location on the downtown bar scene.
A familiar sight patrolling the streets of downtown Blacksburg, Hooptie Ride
garners attention from all sorts. "Kids love it," says
Moore. "I have a good time when a kid sees the
'Mystery Machine.' I'll put on a wacky hat and wave,
and their parents love it, too." Robinson says
that "Hooptie adds a unique touch of flair to
downtown Blacksburg and to the Blacksburg party scene."
The ride service's notoriety is such that
"we have people hollering at us on the street;
we've started some sort of mini-cult thing, but we're
a happy cult, a happy Hooptie cult!" Karchem laughs. These hometown style gurus say
that they've become "mini-celebrities" and can't
go anywhere without being recognized.
Hooptie Ride's reputation has even spread to non-residents, such as visiting alumni. "Alumni
in for football games love it. I don't know how
they found out about it, but the first week, they were just like 'this
is great!' and the next weekend there were twice as many,"
says Moore. "Half the time they don't know what they're
expecting, they've just asked for a cab. They look around and see the
bright green van and say, 'Did we call you?'"
Who else might be "arriving in style" in the future? "I
think we're about to break into the high school crowd," says
Karchem. "You don't want your parents driving you to the prom, but
the Hooptie? Yeah!"
Robinson notes the high number of commuter partiers from Radford. "We would like to eventually run a shuttle between Radford and Blacksburg. Price's Fork, the main route, is an awful road to be driven drunk--all are, but especially that one," he says. And Moore mentions the possibility of not-for-profit
forging expeditions into other college towns that could "most likely use
a service like ours."
Robinson sums up the general feeling of the crew by
saying, "There's no stopping the Hooptie! We're rollin'."
A lesson in slang
Some of our readers might not be "down" with the slang term "hooptie," from which Hooptie Ride draws its name. In the 1920s, a car was called a "hoopie." And The Original Homeboyz Guide to Street Slang lists "hooptie" as a slang term for a motor vehicle, or an old beat up car, which "could be full of one's posse." The English department at the University of California at Berkeley has a slang dictionary with the following entry: "Hooptie, (HOOP-tee) n., Old, wrecked automobile. 'Let's go for a ride in my hooptie.' [Etym., '70s youth]." A synonym of hooptie is a "ghetto sled," listed in a hip-hop dictionary as follows: "(n) car, usually American made, that generally sports a rusted body covered with house paint."
Hooptie Ride's cars aren't beat up or rusty, but if we can add "cool" as yet another meaning, the ride is indeed hooptie. For more on Hooptie Ride, go to http://www.hooptieride.com.
Editor's note: Students shown on page 14 were in the car
expressly to be photographed for this article.