March 17, 1983, my last St. Patrick’s Day as a single guy. By this time the next year, I’d be in a committed relationship with the woman who would become my wife.
I was working at a low-level computer job for a security company, nights and weekends. One of my responsibilities was to verify the totals of all the nightly reports and have them waiting on the appropriate executive’s desk in the morning.
Since most people left the office at 5:00, but we couldn’t bring down the system until after 8:00 in order to accommodate the West Coast data-entry clerks, the computer operators, usually Tom or Kevin, and I had a lot of down time, much of which was spent talking about the Holy Trinity: beer, sports and women. I think the statute of limitations is up, so I can confess that one night we shut down the computer for an extended time, went to a local sports bar and watched an Islanders-Rangers playoff game before finishing our shift. None of the executives were the wiser.
This St. Patrick’s Day, Tom, Kevin and I all happened to be off work, so we decided to spend it pursuing the Holy Trinity.
I met them in Yonkers, where they both lived, and we drove across the George Washington Bridge to the Meadowlands to watch a hockey game. While the then-champion New York Islanders kicked the then-woeful New Jersey Devils all over the ice, we downed a few plastic cups of Milwaukee’s finest.
After the game, we headed to one of Yonkers’ Irish pubs, blended into a sea of green and while trying to hear the uilleann pipes above the din, chugged down a couple of pints of glorious Guinness.
Finally came what was my first and – except for a misbegotten bachelor party – only trip to a topless bar. The words “erotic experience” never entered my mind. The bar was dreary, the clientele was sparse and sleepy, and the dancer looked so bored I pictured her assembling her grocery shopping list in her head. It was such a dismal time that I felt compelled to donate some more of my hard-earned cash to Anheuser-Busch.
Finally, in the wee hours, I said goodbye and stumbled blearily to my car. It would take me 25 minutes to get home via the winding Saw Mill River Parkway, and my vision was not optimal, to say the least, so I drove slowly and carefully, with the driver’s side window rolled down in the vain hope that the fresh air would keep me alert.
After five minutes, I saw red lights flashing behind me. I checked the rear view window and sure enough, the cop was pulling me over.
In 1983, attitudes toward drunk driving were fairly lenient by today’s standards. Laws were milder and Mothers Against Drunk Driving had yet to make an inroad on public conscience. Still, a DWI was an awful experience. A co-worker had recently been caught, and I knew what I was in for: court appearances, the hiring of an attorney, court-mandated counseling, restrictions on my driving and, undoubtedly, jacked-up insurance rates. My heart sank.
“License and registration, please.”
I already had the documents ready and handed them off. I sadly put my head in my hands. How could I have been so stupid?
I began wondering about the logistics. Do they handcuff you for drunk driving? Oh shit. I’m going to have to call my parents to bail me out. How humiliating. All those years of trying to live carefully, thrown away in one night of stupidity.
As the officer returned, I was preparing to step out of the car and be asked to walk a straight line. He handed back the license and registration.
“Here you go. We’re looking for a stolen vehicle that matches this description, but everything checks out. Sorry for any inconvenience.”
What? Did I hear that right? Am I so drunk that I’m imagining things?
I exhaled deeply. I realized that my eyes were suddenly not so bleary, as if a rush of adrenaline had kicked in. I checked the rear view mirror, pulled carefully into the right-hand lane and began driving home, staying well within the speed limit. Twenty minutes later, I was pulling into the driveway at my apartment.
I went into my bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror. You stupid son-of-a-bitch, I thought. You were just given a lucky break that you totally did not deserve. You could have killed somebody with your carelessness. Cats may have nine lives, but drunk drivers don’t. This isn’t the first time you’ve done this, but it had better be the last time.
Don’t worry, I assured myself. I will never ever do that again.
And I haven’t.
(This is what my mugshot would have looked like, though hopefully with a better shirt.)
(Photo from mugshots.net)