Drunking and Driving
In 1979, I started drinking before driving home from parties. Tucker usually sat by my side. We went to a party every week or so. In fact, when someone else from school wasn't throwing a party, we'd hold one outdoors in the fields by our houses or we'd set up a place in the woods.
We drank mostly because the cool kids did and we wanted to seem mature. I had another motive, too, which was my makeout sessions with cute girls. If I drank enough, I would do funny things, people would laugh, I'd sit on a couch or a chair and, after a while, a girl would sit in my lap. Or she'd come by to chat me up and I'd pull her onto my lap while we talked. The arrangement usually ended in kissing and a little more. Those encounters are what kept me drinking.
But as I drank more and longer into the night at parties, Tucker got worried that I was getting too tanked up to safely drive. He had witnessed my overly-cautious, impaired driving. He usually had a bit less than I did. Not always, but usually, and he didn't like what he was seeing when I'd drunk a lot.
One night at a house in Montgomery Village, Tucker told me I'd had too much to drive.
"I'm not going home with you right now, man," he said. "And you shouldn't go either."
He pointed to a girl who was a mutual friend of ours. On cue, she said, "Don't leave yet. Stay and sober up for a while."
But I had gotten grounded every week for a couple months running and I wanted to get home at the time I promised, so I decided to go. After I found my jacket and stuff, I discovered that Tucker had stolen my car keys. It took a moment to figure out what he'd done and barely another minute to steal them back.
"Eric, you're going to make me call your parents," he warned me.
I got furious and stomped out to my car.
That is, I tried. First, I had trouble finding my car. When I found it, I had trouble getting in. It was pointed in a different direction than I remembered. I opened the passenger door, slid in, and had trouble getting to the steering wheel because I'd left stuff in my own way. I put the key in the ignition, turned it, and nothing happened.
"Well, shit." For a second, I assumed I'd gotten into the wrong station wagon. I'd done that before. But I checked the ashes in the ashtray, the hat on the seat, and the papers on the floor. It sure looked like my family car.
I got out of the passenger door and walked around to the other side. After fumbling around on the street, trying to look sober when a car passed me, I managed to slide in. But I blanked out for a while. When I woke up, I remembered I was supposed to be driving home and tried to find the steering wheel in the dark. I fumbled for the wheel, couldn't find it, gave up, and rested. After I revived and slapped myself across the face a few times to wake up better, I got systematic. I carefully ran my hands across the dashboard in front of me from the left side of the car to the right. Dumfoundingly, I missed the steering wheel again. And I remembered that the car hadn't started anyway, before. This was getting to be a puzzle. As I thought, arms folded, I gave up on some level. For a serious block of time, I slept. I even woke up for a moment to move from sitting to lying down.
When I roused myself, I found that my eyes had adjusted better to shadows from the distant street lamp. Or maybe I was more sober. Anyway, I saw that I was in the back seat of my car.
"I'm going to be late," I told myself and hopped out. I dashed around to the driver's seat. For sure, I felt less drunk than I had earlier.
Once again, I turned the key in the ignition and got nothing.
Well, I was grounded again, for sure, and I had a date coming up. That seemed bad. I stalked back to the house, trying to figure out how to manage more time with my girlfriend. Her parents hated me. Mine hated me, too. It was a challenge. In the party home, a fair number of teens were still wandering the halls and having fun. But the place seemed quieter. Maybe half the guests had left. I successfully found and used the first floor bathroom. Soon, I felt better. I'd gotten more beer out of my system.
With my face cool and drying from a washup, I went looking for people I knew.
"You've been gone a long time," said the girl who was our mutual friend. I found her, Tucker, and another teen at a kitchen table.
"Yeah." I rested my hands on the back of an empty chair. "My car won't start."
"You found your car?" she said, startled.
"Well, yeah." Duh. My legs started to feel shaky. I leaned more on the chair.
"I guess we didn't hide it enough."
"What?" I pulled out the chair and took a seat.
"We were all worried." She said it as if it were a natural thing but, for teenagers in 1979, it wasn't. Our state had laws against drunk driving but no one enforced them.
"Yeah." Tucker tapped the table top. His hand made a hollow, metallic sound. "Everyone thought moving your car would do it. I was sure it wouldn't, though."
"What have you got in your hand?" I could see it was something black and round.
"Your distributor cap."
Tucker had taken the distributor cap off my family car and hidden it behind a houseplant. He'd gone a step beyond taking my keys from my jacket and putting them in his. Those, I'd had no problem finding. But the distributor cap was something I'd barely known existed. Finally, I understood.
After getting mad and snatching back the distributor cap, I staggered back out, opened up the hood, and fumbled around for about ten minutes. I was working by the light of a streetlamp. I'd never put on a distributor cap before. At some point, Tucker appeared.
"Almost," he said.
He found the missing wire and put it back in place.
"You really still shouldn't drive, you know."
I was still angry and hoping to tone down my grounding enough to keep my usual pattern, which was four days grounded each week, Monday through Thursday, and then finding an excuse to take the car on Friday anyway. It usually worked.
I managed to drive home, still fairly wasted but more careful than usual. It didn't help. Tucker's phone call to my parents had done it. Grounded with extra force. No car for two weeks. Well, I broke that rule by offering to do errands a few days later when my parents didn't want to go but as far as taking the car on dates or to school, it seemed I really was stuck. Normally, I had college classes and had to drive to them. But the college semester ended earlier than the high school semester. So I didn't have my standard excuse. My parents could keep me grounded.
Every day for a week, I stood next to Tucker at the bus stop and didn't talk. I glared and didn't say a word. And kept glaring. Finally, near the end of the two weeks I got permission to run errands on a Friday, which I knew I could turn into taking the car on a date. Plus, Tucker kept telling me jokes. While I glared. I didn't say anything but a couple of times, he'd gotten me to laugh.
"She looks great today," he confided in me despite my silence. As the bus pulled up, he gazed longingly at one of the girls he was infatuated with.
"Yeah," I agreed. He gave me a startled look.
I'd forgiven him already for being a traitor. In a way, I'd made up my mind about it. He could betray me again and I'd forgive him again. Likewise, he forgave me for being an idiot. Neither of us ever quite forgot. But somehow the foolishness of the other fools in school drew us together again. It was hard not to make jokes about the awfulness of our prison-mentality high school. And we were still best friends.
Even on the initial bus ride after I started talking, we laughed about the some of the same, stupid stuff we always did. A few hours later, at lunch, we started plotting about how to get away from our parents. But Tucker had me promise to at least try, just try, not to drive so drunk again.