Sometimes I look back on my long drinking career at the milestones that were arrests for drunk driving. So easily I could have killed people on those occasions. I could have killed myself. Maybe there were times I was trying to. My drunken choices had me on a course of self destruction. For a little while, those arrests usually modified my behavior. I had to get sobered up temporarily. I had to behave myself and be a good boy. I had to stop drinking until the probation ended and the sentence was served or until people just stopped watching me so closely. I definitely couldn’t drink and drive again. Ever. I knew I shouldn’t be doing that. But eventually, I would go right back to what I’d been doing. My thirst would put me back behind the wheel, wasted, right where I’d left off. There were certainly hundreds of times I’ve gotten away with it. Maybe thousands. I’m not proud of that fact.
The night of my first arrest for driving while intoxicated came when I was just 19 years old.
By that time, I was an experienced drinker. I’d already been drinking for about four years. I’d been to all the high school parties and there wasn’t much in the way of drugs or alcohol that I’d turned down. I’d fallen in love with beer and I smoked weed almost daily. Speed, Quaaludes, LSD, coke, psychedelic mushrooms…I only avoided needles. Freshman year away at college had been a year of partying and drinking to excess at every opportunity. I was young and having fun. My friends and I were bulletproof and free and having the time of our lives. It’s what we were expected to do. Rules were made to be broken and authority was only to rebel against. The soundtrack was very loud heavy metal and I could never seem to get enough of anything. Louder. Faster. More.
So it happened on a warm June night not long after my first year at college. I was home for the summer and living with my parents. No problem, their rules or curfews could never stop me. They’d come to know that. And my plan for the evening was to pick up my friends in my new car and have some fun at the bar. I had a new car to show off. Heavy metal was in the tape deck. And the bar was having an event called Drink and Drown that night, all the beer you could drink for only $5.00. I was going to get my money’s worth.
I remember picking up the guys and getting a little high before going to the bar. I also remember paying at the door and drinking all the cheap draft I could drink, which must have been a lot. I don’t remember anything else until I was nearly home. I later realized that I must have dropped the guys off and drove the Camaro toward my parent’s house three towns away in a total blackout. But what I remember about coming out of that blackout is still crystal clear to this day. I was flying down the highway at 110 miles per hour.
The Judas Priest song playing from the tape deck was Breaking the Law. There are actually sirens in the background of that song and I was amused and crazily triumphant when I noticed that I was driving exactly DOUBLE the 55 mile per hour speed limit! Windows down, warm night, stereo cranking and I’m way fucked up, driving as fast as I could go. Living life to the fullest, it was crazy and fun until I realized that there were actual sirens blaring and flashing red and blue lights chasing me. They’d been chasing me for a while.
I managed to slow and pull over and stop at the next exit. Those cops were NOT happy with me. They’d been chasing me without my even realizing it from three cities east of where I finally stopped. And it was the cops from all three police departments that wanted a piece of me. I remember being roughly pulled from my car and thrown against the hood. I don’t remember anything else about that night.
I would learn the next day that I was charged for my offenses in all three cities that I’d drunkenly raced through. There were a lot of tickets, including, of course, drunk driving tickets for each town. I would eventually appear in court and be sentenced to nine days in jail total. Three days in each of the three jails. It seemed like a lot to me for one incident. The system was screwing my ass. It wasn’t fair. Nine days. It was total bullshit.
And that was how I saw it. Sure, what I did was stupid. I’d have to be more careful next time. But for them to give me nine days in jail for an offense that should have gotten me only three? That’s ridiculous. What a bunch of assholes. Those cops. Those judges. The system was biased against me. Probably because of my long hair and my loud music. I got a resentment. Big time. It was going to be me against them for years to come. Somehow, they became the ones who were wrong and I was somehow the victim. I didn’t see the danger my lawlessness and recklessness had caused. I didn’t think much about how I could have died that night. I didn’t see that I had a problem at all beyond the legal one. I’d just been young and having fun and this was a price I had to pay.
At nineteen years old I was showing a lot of signs of alcoholism. I blamed the rest of the world for my problems. I had anger and resentment and I drank and used drugs constantly. I couldn’t stop, nor did I want to. It was still fun in spite of the trouble I was getting into.
No alcoholism here. Just me trying to have a good time.
It would take three more drunk driving arrests for me to see the truth.