honorary Hose Monster:
Sometimes I love it when my decisions suddenly make themselves. I know what I am giving up for Lent.
Wednesday night is Darts night here at the Cornfield College of Law, the night we all converge on a local drinking establishment to consume inebriating spirits and through little pointy things at the wall. Beer Darts is a great mid-week release and something to which I look forward every night. I'm a fairly competitive person, so the chance to match skills with my teammates through such physically grueling activity while consuming Bud Light always makes for a happy evening, win or lose.
Last night was a big night, with a basketball game to watch, my girlfriend's team's match at 10 and my team's match at 12. We arrived at the bar at around 9:45, had a beer and watched the end of the hoops game. At about 11 I had another beer, which lasted until about quarter to midnight when my team started congregating around our dart board. We won our match and departed for a local munchies joint at about 12:45. So do some math with me: two beers in about three hours, more or less.
On the way to grab some food, a cop pulled me over for going 38 in a 30 and because I unbeknownst to me had a tail light and a light in my license plate well out. No big deal. However, when the lady noticed our clothing, the late hour and the smell of cigarettes emanating off of us, she probably realized we had been at a bar and asked if I had been drinking. A couple beers, I responded honestly. Which led to her administering a sobriety test on me.
I don't think I did very well in the initial part of things. I had to say the alphabet, but starting at E and ending at R, and for some dumbass reasons, perhaps nerves, perhaps because I always have difficulty performing extremely simple cognitive tasks, I screwed up a little around M or N, but then corrected myself. I then had to count backward from 34 to what I recall being 12 but what my girlfried said was supposed to be 21. I might have kicked the numbers and reversed, I don't really remember. But I did the counting flawlessly. Then I had to do a sensory test, touching each finger to my thumb in rapid succession and in a set pattern. This I performed without problem. She then took my license and insurance back to the squad car to run them and make sure everything was kosher.
What I realize now is that she went back to her car to call for another unit to show up with the camcorder for the drunks.
For a few minutes, I sat in the car joking about things with my girlfriend. I knew I was clearly sober and that everything was fine, but still, in the back of my head I knew I hadn't performed those initial tests with precision. No big deal, I reasoned: I have difficulty performing even basic addition and substraction in my head, and I kick my words all the time. I think I might suffer a little from dyslexia. I don't have a middle ground: either I am extremely articulate or I cannot convey myself to save my life. But for the most part, I felt fine, and wondered when I could go on my merry way and get my burrito at 1 in the morning.
Not for a while, it turned out. Another unit showed up, and my lady cop returned to my door, asked me to step outside into the bitter cold night and walk behind my vehicle, where she informed me that she had some concern after my initial tests and wanted me to perform some more physical functions.
At this point I got a little scared. I knew, without a doubt, that I was not intoxicated nor anywhere remotely close to the .08 limit the state legislature has imposed. But I was tired, cold and extremely nervous. Out of curiosity I have tried walking in a straight line while sober, and I admit that I have some difficulty doing so, even when I have not had a drop of alcohol in days. I started imagining myself getting thrown into the pokey, and I envisioned my law school career disappearing in a flash, my strong career potential dissipating like that, and the HM Blog going into a relatively permanent state of abandonment. Not what I would call, as they say, good times.
So outside I stood in the single digit degree cold, first extending one foot out six inches off the ground, staring at my toe and counting to thirty-one thousand. In a straight line I walked, heel to toe, nine paces up the sidewalk, before planting the foot, turning around and walking nine paces back. On tape the police now have film of me staring at the tip of a pen cap, following it with my eyes, back and forth, up and down. In my mind, I repeated to myself, concentrate, don't screw this up, focus. And then it was over and she sent me back to my car to sit down.
At this point I knew everything was fine. She would have had me return to my vehicle if she had wanted to haul my ass of to jail. But as I sat down and learned that my girlfriend was halfway to calling her father the attorney to tell him how bogus this was and ask him what to do, I couldn't stop shaking. I was cold yeah, but I suddenly had all this nervous tension in my body that had to work itself out. Meanwhile, not wanting to look like a complete ass, I'm trying to be cool and laugh about how I performed the tasks flawlessly and that I was so sober that this whole thing was crazy. Anyway, the cop finally came up to my window, informed me that I demonstrated some impairment but not so much that she wanted to throw me in jail, returned my license and insurance to me, and issued me a verbal warning (for what, she never said, I don't know) and told me to change the lights on my car. Then I drove the remaining 150 yards to the eatery to meet my friends. Yup, all this happened within 150 yards of my destination.
All through the meal I tried to downplay things and laugh about it, probably some macho thing about not wanting to look asinine in front of my friends (who were wondering if they were going to have to make a trip to the ATM to bail me out), but I feel no shame in admitting that I was damn scared and I didn't know what to do about it.
I don't begrudge the cop anything for stopping me. Yeah, 8 miles over the limit is a little sad, and the lights being out is sort of dumb, but they are legitimate reasons for stopping me, and I honestly believe they were not pretextual reasons for stopping me. I refuse to believe that she suspected me of driving under the influence and pulled me over for that reason. Moreover, while I specifically told her I had consumed 2 beers, I bet you she hears that all the time, and therefore I think she had adequate justification to conduct the intial screening on me, which I admit to performing on a level less than stellar, though not because of any alcoholic impairment but simply because I am an idiot. That she seemed to feel I had some impairment seems, to me, a little questionable, but oh well, nothing came of it, so I'll leave it at that.
The thing I am more concerned with is the way my mind shifted into overdrive when I started to fear that I would suck at the tests for one reason or another. No more law school, arrest record, potential criminal trial, stimatized, etc. Not things I want. I slept beyond poorly last night because I dreamed all night about getting thrown into the clink and all the horrible things attached to that, how I would have to confront throwing away my promising future, watching my relationships fizzle, and of course, the dreaded line from my parents of "we're so disappointed in you." I'm exhausted today. But at least I feel like it's over.
Anyway, relating this back to Lent. I'm giving up drinking anything alcoholic on Wednesday nights. I can throw little pointy things without enjoying Bud Light. Although I was fine last night, on previous occasions I have had more than two beers and might really have screwed things up had I gotten pulled over. But Wednesdays only come once a week, so I don't feel like I'm giving up anything substantial. So here's the second part: anytime I'm going out and I drive (if not a Wednesday), I will not have more than one drink that night. Period.
Regardless of what I may write up here, I don't have a drinking problem, nor am I stupid enough to think that I can drive soundly after drinking lots of alcohol. Driving under the influence is something I take seriously, and while I will admit to one night last semester when I absolutely should not have driven myself home, I do not make a practice of it and I mentally accosted myself the morning after for being so dumb as to get behind the wheel the night before. So perhaps I'm overreacting a little bit.
But honestly, something about last night really scared me, and justified or not, I really never want to find myself in that situation again. So a little overreaction here and there won't hurt me, right?
And besides, it's Lent. I can pass it of that way too.