Thursday, July 31, 2003

"I know where weapons of mass destruction are... Joblessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Poor health care is a weapon of mass destruction. And when the government lies to the American people, that is a weapon of mass destruction!!"
-- Dennis Kucinich, 21 May 2003 (

Assuming the building doesn't catch fire or some other random act of randomness, at about 3pm today, I'll be getting three of my wisdom teeth ripped out of my mouth. Joy!

On the off-chance I don't survive (the potential complications waiver they make you sign is scary!), I wanted to reflect on one of the crossroads that led me to where I am today. Get comfortable, this is a long one.

Ten years ago this month, I went out with a group of friends to celebrate my impending early discharge from the Army after two years and four months of service. I had qualified and been recommended for the Green-to-Gold program that offered 4-year scholarships to historically black colleges (three years for regular colleges) to enlisted personnel that would result in my becoming a commissioned officer and agreeing to serve four more years in the military, active or reserve status. I applied and was accepted to Fisk University in Nashville, TN, majoring in English, and signed an agreement to accept a commission in the National Guard after I graduated. Because my actual ETS date was October 7, 1993 and my contract didn't allow for early transition, I had to use my accumulated leave time to get out in late-July, in time to find a part-time job and housing, before Freshman orientation started in mid-August.

It was a big night and we invited a bunch of the barracks rats (the guys that didn't drink and rarely went out) to come with us, mainly to be our designated drivers. We hit our usual club - I forget the name; JB's, I think? - a local bar with a dance floor and a DJ that played a varied mix of everything from pop to hip-hop to country to the thrice-nightly mandatory line dancing favorite: Electric Slide. The crowd was always a diverse mix racially as well as civilian/miltary, and we generally had a good time whenever we went. As it was a celebration, we proceeded to get lit. Mind you, I was in my Zima phase at this point: less-filling, drink more, maintain your buzz longer.

A little past midnight, a friend of ours rolls in from the hip-hop club he'd gone to earlier, looking for someone to drive his car on post because he's too drunk to get past the MPs. We look around for our designated drivers and all the bastards had broken out on us! Revenge of the nerds! I've always said that if I was going to die in a drunk driving accident, I was going to be the one driving so I had my last Zima at 12:30am and started sobering up. Considering I'd been drinking since 3pm, though, it took some work. We left the club at 2am; hit Krystals (the south's version of White Castle) where I had three double cheesburgers, a large order of waffle fries and two big cups of water; then stopped at my girlfriend's place to drop her off. (Side note: she lived in a trailer park! Leave it to me to find a Latina from the Bronx living in a trailer park in Clarksville, TN!)

All logic said that we should stay at her place for the night, sleep off the alcohol and head in first thing in the morning but I was sure we wouldn't wake up on time and be late for formation. So, around 3:30am, we head back to the base. At the main gate, we pull up, me driving my friend's car (which had beer spilled in it a few days earlier that the summer heat had cooked to a raw stench), and get waved through without a fuss. Seconds later, I see the MP pull out behind us, maintaining about a 50 yard distance. My mind clears and I focus hard on the weaving double yellow line, making sure to stay in my lane. We drive the mile or so to our barracks, reaching the intersection just before, and stop at the red. The MP slows down, maintains his distance. Light changes and I move through the intersection and drift left to park on the other side of the street, opposite our barracks. The MP throws on his flashers and hits the siren!

My best friend, Scott, jumps awake in the passenger seat and I explain what's happening. Two other friends are passed out in the back seat. The smell of old, hot beer fills the car. I'm already out of the car as the MP walks up, demanding my license and ID. I pull it out and Scott starts to plead our case.

Scott: "This is our barracks. We're home. How can you pull us over as we're parking?"

MP: "He was weaving and crossed the double yellow line."

Me: "What double yellow line?"

MP: "That one."

He points to the line behind us that I crossed over to park!

Me: "Dude, I crossed it to park! And I wasn't weaving. I saw you following us since we came through the gate!"

Scott: "Come on, man! He's getting out in two weeks! We made it home. This is our barracks. What's the big deal."

MP: "I've got his ass."

He has me stand behind the car and take a few sobriety tests: touch your nose with your eyes closed; walk the straight line; and, my personal favorite, stand on one foot, other leg pointed straight out, foot six inches from the car's bumper, and balance! Shit I can't do sober, much less buzzed, which I most definitely still was. He puts me in the back of his car and takes me to the MP station, telling Scott, "I've got his ass!"

At the MP station, I sit in a holding room for almost an hour, and start to get curious about the whole process. I'd never taken a breathalyzer before - hell, I'd never been arrested before! - and wondered what my level of drunkenness equaled on the BAC scale. I could feel myself sobering up the longer I sat there and, by the time he finally came back with the breathalyzer, I blew .09, .01 over the base limit but .01 UNDER the state limit. At this point, going further is purely up to the arresting MP's discretion but, having realized I was with 5th Group (Special Forces, who the 101st hated with a passion) decided he was going to "nail" me.

Ended up getting released to our sympathetic NCO on duty (SF guys despised the 101st in return) around 5:30am and had to report to formation at 6:30am. That morning was a special day and, instead of our usual PT, we had "fun" stuff to do, including activities like spinning around with your head on a bat and then trying to run. Great stuff when you're still kind of drunk and haven't slept yet!

Anyway, as a result of the arrest, for "suspected DUI," my outprocessing was suspended and I couldn't get out of the Army until after the hearing which was set for August 15th, a day before my 24th birthday, and about a week too late for me to get out in time for Freshman orientation. I beat the charge, getting it reduced to "careless driving" and a $75 fine, and ended up serving the rest of my enlistment, getting out on October 7, 1993. I left Tennessee behind having never attended a single class at Fisk, heading first to Miami, then to NYC and, after a couple of month's temping for a magazine publisher, fell into magazine circulation and marketing.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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