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How We Used to Fight DWI

I have never driven under the influence one time in my entire life. What, you may ask, is the secret to my perfect success in this area, when others not only imbibe and drive, but do so often enough to be troubled by the authorities?

The reason I don't drink and drive is not due to my strict religious observance; I am sadly remiss in that area. Nor is it my iron will and discipline (just ask my cardiologist and endocrinologist). I am not a temperate, stoic man, nor a regimented and careful one (as friends and other columns of mine will attest). I can only attribute my caution in this area to two things:

My father made me a promise... and a threat.

Growing up, my old man only gave me two hard and fast rules: don't get caught and don't ever drink anything and drive a car, or I will kill you if you don't kill yourself. And he wasn't talking about being at .099, back when .10 used to be the legal limit. He meant one swallow of beer.

He was dead serious about it, and he is almost never serious about ANYTHING, including God, physics, work, my mother's cooking, or his attire: I took him seriously.

So I developed a few strategies. First, I didn't really drink that often, but when I did I started early. I was the guy at the party groping guests and throwing food around 7:00 PM. But then I stopped. By the time I was shown the door or it was time to go I was as sober as a judge. Bonus, I've almost never had a hangover.

Second, I would take a taxi or bus to an event where alcohol would be flowing freely (especially if it would be freely flowing freely, as I am cheep as hell). High-school reunion in Pat O'Brien's (look it up) with an open bar? Taxi. Don't remember getting back, but my car was still neatly parked in the garage.

My dad also made me this promise: "If you're ever drunk and you need to get home, call me and I'll pick you up. No problems."

I only took him up on it twice, but he came through. I didn't even hear about it the next day.

The first time, I was back home from college and I went out to Snug Harbor to listen to my old teacher, Ellis Marsalis, and have some dinner and it turned out a few drinks. Lets be clear, 90% of you would have just jumped into the Santa Fe Blue Dodge Omni GLH Turbo and zoomed home. I was not stumbling drunk, possibly not even legally intoxicated. But I was definitely impaired. Mom and dad showed up a little while later and mom drove my car home. (My mom can drive a stick shift. Can yours?)

The second time I was at college. Things had been rough: a break-up with my high-school girlfriend, a friend had killed himself. For some reason I didn't go to the bar that was a block away from LSU, but instead drove to one about 5 miles away. I started out slowly, probably figuring I would finish early and hang out. But as I got more and more sloshed, I just kept pulling out my newly minted bank card (we didn't call them debit cards, yet). I lost count at eleven boilermakers, or I thought I did who knows, I may have had 3 or 23. At some point I realized, there is no way I'd be near sober enough to drive home. At this point, when judgment would tell a person to take a taxi or hitch a ride, with my judgment smashed, I called my dad. In New Orleans East. 93 miles away. At 12:30 AM.

At some point, the bartender found me and shook me, telling me my dad was there. Dad collected me and brought me back to the dorm. The next day, late in the day, I got a ride back to the bar to collect my car. I went into the bar to collect my missing bank card and settle my tab (it was impressive). It was so late in the day that not only was the bar open, but the same bartender was back on duty. He said it was cool that my dad picked me up and didn't hassle me. Then I told him that my dad came from New Orleans and the bartender went pale. "But, I gave him directions to the bar on the payphone. It was 12:30. Dude, he picked you up at 1:15. We weren't even ready to close, yet." I just shrugged my shoulders. My head still hurt too much to explain that relativistic speeds aren't troubling to a physicist from the Ninth Ward that taught himself calculus at 16 so he could get race camshafts ground.

My dad never even brought it up. Like driving 120 MPH to Baton Rouge at 1:00 AM didn't warrant a mention, let alone a lecture.

That night others' smashed judgment would have dictated that they could drive back if they were careful enough, or maybe after a short nap drive home just fine when they weren't.

Maybe instead of lowering the legal limit to .08 and setting up Constitutionally suspect checkpoints and buying billboards, we could reduce DWI deaths by simply making a threat to our children and a promise. At least make a promise... and keep it.


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