2014/06/21

A gift from the goddess

I'm feeling rather sober this morning.

Double entendre intended. I am of course not drunk. It's before 9 o'clock. I'm not even hung over. But last night I was not sober. I went to a club. I had a couple of drinks. I purposely stopped drinking well before I left the club and got in my car. I felt fine. My head was clear. I had no trouble driving.

It's funny how choices work. I always say that my goddess is metaphorical, but sometimes I wonder.

There are a few ways I could have driven from the club to the highway. My favourite was not really available because a large section of road is under construction to the point of being closed. I might have gone around the closed section and still joined the highway at the usual spot. That's a favourite route (at least when the road is open all the way) not only because there are few traffic lights but also because it's very unlikely that I would encounter a roadblock. Think about that reasoning.

I could also have driven the way I would have if I had been going around the closed road, and then instead of turning to get back on the open section I had just kept going. There are a lot of traffic lights in that direction, but it was late, and I wasn't in any big hurry. There probably wouldn't have been a roadblock in that direction either.

Instead of those two choices, I cut across Chinatown and took a route that zigs and zags a bit but is normally a pretty efficient way to get onto the highway. There are also a few service stations along that route, and I stopped to top up the tank at one of them. Gas prices are hitting record highs in these parts, and this one had a slightly lower price, so I took advantage of that.

By the time I reached the on-ramp to the highway, it had probably been at least an hour and a half since I'd had a drink, maybe more. Certainly not less. I noticed that traffic was backed up on the ramp. I thought about going straight, which is a slightly slower but reasonable alternative when there's a hold-up on the highway. I thought the backup was due to construction, which has continued on some nights well past when it was supposed to have been completed. I joined the lineup, thinking I wouldn't remain stuck for long.

I didn't recognize it for what it was—an RCMP roadblock—until I was committed.

They weren't letting anyone through without a stop. A member told me to pull over. She asked where I had been, and I told her. She asked if I had been drinking, and I told the truth, including the timing. She demanded my licence and then told me to get out of the car and walk to a point behind a police vehicle. There, she read a formal statement about suspicion of drinking and driving and then explained how the breathalyzer worked. I blew. We waited for the number.

We both saw the number come up. She told me what the legal limit was. My number was a fraction over that. But then she said that she was satisfied that I was fit to drive. I was surprised, but I wasn't going to go checking out the dental work of that gift horse. I got back into my car and drove away.

Just so you know, the cop was unfailingly polite through this whole thing. Firm, but polite. There is a reason that we respect the Mounties, despite some recent incidents. For the most part, they are consummate professionals. Maybe that was one reason why I remained curiously calm through the entire procedure.

If, if, if. If I had had my last drink a bit later, if I had left the club a little sooner, maybe even if I hadn't stopped for gas, my weekend might have been very different. The penalty for blowing over the limit when it's your first offence (as it would have been) is a roadside suspension. They would have impounded my car and taken my licence for 24 hours. I would not now be preparing to drive to the farmers market, the first stop in my usual Saturday morning routine.

If I had driven either of the other ways toward the highway, I would not have encountered the roadblock, and I doubt there was another in the area. You might think that would have been a happier outcome. I was calm during the ordeal, but it was still stressful. And yet, let's just call it what it is: a wake-up call. And a gift, not just from the Mountie, but from the goddess.

Decades ago, before I moved to Vancouver, a guy with whom I'd played in a band got busted for drinking and driving. He had to go to "drunk school"—mandatory classes. That was an early wake-up call. I changed my behaviour. I became more cautious. But not cautious enough. I knew it. I knew I had been on the road when I could easily have blown over the limit, with no margin for error. And however you feel about cops, I think we can all agree that operating a vehicle when you're not really in shape to do so can have tragic consequences, all too often for innocent parties. I never want to cause harm to anyone, myself included, because my judgment and reaction time are impaired by alcohol.

I already take transit when I know I will want to drink more than would be safe for driving. But clearly my calculations of safety have been a bit off. I'm still not likely to go completely sober even when I have to drive home, but I will need to drink less, or allow more time, or a combination of the two. I might still drive the route out of town that is less likely to have a roadblock because it's a good way to go. But if I am pulled over again, I am going to make sure I know that I will pass the test. And we'll all be safer for that. I was given a second chance. I don't expect a third.

2 comments:

Coline said...

girls don't get to consume as much as boys before they hit the limit.

Last year there was a rule in France that drivers had to carry a breathalyser though that meant buying two 'cos if they asked you to use one you could not drive away! Many bought electronic testers but they need a yearly test to prove that they still work but can give you peace of mind before you drive off...

I once got a caution for speeding in France, a sporty hire car and I was still accelerating in third when caught, I had forgotten the limit and it was only my first few seconds on the roads... I am sure that being calm, honest and charming helped me drive away.

Véronique said...

One hopes that neither girls nor boys are getting into the booze until they become women and men. :)