Barrel 33 donates tires to downtown shuttle
By Misty Volaski
If you decide to drink and drive in Ventura County, that last apple martini could end up costing you a lot more than $10.50. According to local law enforcement statistics, an arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol could cost you a cool $10,000. But all too often, DUIs end up costing lives.
It was for that very reason Ojai’s Dutch Van Hemert has run the downtown shuttle service since February 2008. Now, anyone needing a ride to, from or between watering holes can call (805) 340-6850 and get a safe and sober ride.
It began in January almost three years ago, when “Pulp Fiction” screenwriter Roger Avary got in the car after having too much to drink. His wife was ejected from the Avary’s vehicle, and injured but an Italian visitor, Andreas Zini, was killed.
It inspired Van Hemert, Nigel Chisholm of The Village Jester and other local bar owners to organize the downtown shuttle. “It’s hard when you have to wait for a taxi,” Van Hemert said. “Lots of people don’t want to wait long, so they decide to drive. That’s when bad things happen. I didn’t want that to keep happening.”
At first, business was booming, and Van Hemert — who also runs a shuttle service to the airports in the daytime — was getting tips from riders as well as money from local bar owners. “That was great, but it began to taper off after three or four months,” he said, probably due to the recession. Now, he is working for tips only, and things are tight. “One time I got a torn dollar,” Van Hemert said of his worst tip nights. “I just need enough to keep this thing going.”
Tires, of course, are animportant part of keeping the shuttle going, but declining tips meant Van Hemert was unable to afford tires. So he decided to seek assistance once again from local merchants. This time, Norbert Furnee, owner of the new Barrel 33 answered the call.
“My guests getting home safe — that is every important to me,” Furnee said. “We don’t want to be a ‘shooter-slammer’ bar. We want to be responsible. Dutch basically said to me, ‘I need tires, and I don’t have the money for it.’ Being the new guy in town — I’ve been here 29 years, but we’ve only been here at Barrel 33 for four months — it was the right thing to do.”
Furnee’s donation will fund all new tires for the shuttle, which operates weekend nights. Van Hemert said he gets between 50 and 100 customers per weekend, but that often goes up past 200 on holidays and during special events. He has put 45,000 miles on his white Suburban in three years, many of those stopping near Barrel 33 (located in the Arcade where Movino used to be).
“That Norbert would do this for our town is just, wow,” said a grateful Van Hemert. “It’s very generous.”
“Dutch runs an important service,” Furnee said. “When I go out, I get a driver — you just never drink and drive, it isn’t wise. Even if it’s just a block or two like it is for most people in Ojai.”
Donating tires to Van Hemert, Furnee said, “All the way, it’s a win-win-win for everybody. It’s a lot of money for us, too, but this service is just too important. Taxis can be unreliable (in Ojai), but Dutch is there, always, every Thursday to Sunday.”