MEEKER | What sprang from a desire to provide a service to others is turning into a business venture for Meeker’s Lonnie White, a 2012 transplant from the East Coast.
There aren’t a lot of places for single folks to hang out in Meeker besides the bar. White, an electrician by trade with two decades of sobriety under his belt, needed to do “something of service” as part of his sobriety. While socializing and playing pool at Chipper’s, White realized people were leaving the bar in their cars, risking their lives or a DUI, or calling friends or family members in the wee hours for a ride home.
“What better way to be of service than to offer rides for free?”
White started offering free rides home, but his passengers often insisted he take a donation.
In 2017, the idea began to evolve. A bar patron commented, “You’re a sober buddy who shuttles people around,” and the Sober Buddy Shuttle was born.
Since then, the idea has evolved and expanded. Inspired by the story of Harp Bros. Transportation Services who hauled people and freight to and from Meeker in the late 1800s and early 1900s, White has added more services to a town severely lacking in public transportation options. He now offers rides around Meeker for $5, and rides out of town for $1 a mile (significantly less than most taxi services). He’s taken riders to medical appointments, airport drop-offs and pick-ups, on grocery runs, and more. The Meeker Streaker—which provides transportation services for area seniors—has his number for residents whose needs don’t fit the Streaker schedule. On the occasion homeless individuals need a ride to the next town and the police department is understaffed or overscheduled, they have White’s number.
He has two “regulars” who live in Meeker. Their car is broken down and they rely on White for grocery trips. They’re on a fixed income and disabled, and White’s service is cheaper for them than owning and operating a vehicle would be.
“Helping people get by, that really makes me feel good,” White said.
Preventing accidents and injuries from drunk driving remains a big part of what he does, too. Providing a service is part of his own sobriety, but partly because of personal experiences with people who crashed and suffered severe brain injuries or died.
“My job is to make sure they get from Point A to Point B safely,” White said. It doesn’t matter who they are, or what the circumstances look like, his rides are available to anyone, young or old. If he can prevent one traumatic accident, whether from drunk driving or falling asleep behind the wheel, he’s done something good for the community.
“It’s about letting people know and changing small town mindsets,” White said, acknowledging the tendency to choose independence over safety. On the East Coast public transportation is readily available, easily accessible, and affordable. In Meeker, where there are no public buses, trains, taxis, Ubers or Lyfts, White’s Sober Buddy rides provide residents a valuable service, one White hopes to expand in the days ahead.
To request a ride, call or text 970-930-2091, anytime, day or night.
By Niki Turner | Special to the Herald Times