The night’s over. I limp out of the Bistro and start walking towards my car. It was a brutal shift. I must’ve served over fifty people. My feet ache and my right knee hurts whenever I put pressure on it. Maybe I need new shoes. Maybe I need a new job. Maybe I’m just starting to get old.
As I shuffle past an outdoor café I hear voices call out my name. It’s Robert and a bunch of servers from Alain’s having some post shift beers. They wave me over.
“Hey man, sit down and have a beer,” Robert says.
I shouldn’t. I should just get in my car and go home. But the pain in my knee says otherwise.
“Sounds like a good idea,” I say wearily settling into a chair.
“You look like you got your ass kicked tonight,” Robert observes.
“Oh man it was killer,” I reply, “how was it by you?”
“About the same,” Robert says, “but the money was good.”
“The only reason we’re here.” I say taking a pull from a fresh bottle of Bass.
“You did good?” Robert asks with a sly smile.
I made half my rent in one night. Sometimes this job pays well. “Oui,” I reply.
We make small talk for a while. I finish my beer and decline another.
“I’ve got to drive home,” I say getting up from the table, “otherwise I’d party with you guys all night.”
“Yeah yeah,” Robert laughs waving me off, “two beers and you’re done for the night.”
“Thanks for the beer.”
“Later my friend.”
I continue down the street. Damn. My knee’s still killing me. Maybe I should call the doctor. I have insurance. No sense not getting it checked out.
In a few minutes I’m in my car heading down the highway towards home. I’ve driven this route thousands of times. Turning on the radio I relax and slip into autopilot mode. It’s late and the traffic is light. I’ll make good time.
Flashing lights appear in my rearview mirror. “Oh boy,” I think to myself, “someone’s getting pulled over.” I slow down to let the cop pass me.
Imagine my surprise when, instead of passing me, the cop sets up on my ass. “Me?” I say aloud, “What the fuck did I do?”
I pull over to the shoulder. Rolling down the window I get my paperwork out of the glove compartment. I kill the engine, put the documentation in my lap and place my hands on the steering wheel – all nice and non-threatening like.
The cop takes his sweet time getting out of the car. Probably running my plates. Dumbfounded I start wondering why I was pulled over. I wasn’t speeding. Point of fact, my brother says I drive like an old lady.
The officer greets me by shining a Mag Lite in my face.
“Good evening sir,” he says, “I’m Trooper Smith of the NY State Police. How are you doing tonight?”
“Fine officer,” I reply, “I’m just driving home from work.”
“Do you know why I stopped you?” he asks.
I answer honestly. “I don’t know why.”
“I observed you signal a lane change. You failed to make the lane change. You then touched the line and then returned to the center of the lane you were traveling in,” he says in a clipped official tone.
Sounds like bullshit to me. But let’s not antagonize the guy by saying so.
“I’m sorry officer. I don’t remember signaling.”
“Have you been drinking sir?” he asks.
“I had a beer after work, yes,” I say.
“You had two beers?” he asks.
“No just one.”
“How long ago?”
I look at my watch. “About half an hour, forty minutes ago,” I say.
“I can smell the beer on your breath,” the trooper says.
“It was Bass Ale.” Ugh. Dumb thing to say.
“Sir, it is my opinion you are driving while intoxicated,” the officer says ominously.
I can’t believe this is happening to me.
“I’m going to ask you to step out of the car,” the officer drones, “I will conduct a series of test to determine your level of intoxication. If you fail these tests you’ll be charged with driving under the influence. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”
“Yes officer,” I reply nervously. Oh shit.
The officer takes my paperwork and returns to his cruiser. I wait several minutes. When he comes back he asks me to get out of the car. Soon we’re doing the dog and pony show on the side of the road.
The officer shines his flashlight directly into my eyeballs. Ouch.
“You sure you only had one beer?” he asks.
“Cause you look like you’ve had several.”
“I’m tired officer,” I reply, “I’ve been working all night.”
The officer pulls a pen out of his pocket. “Sir, I want you to follow the tip of my pen with your eyes,” he says, “I don’t want you to move your head. Follow the tip of the pen with your eyes only.”
“Ok,” I say.
The officer moves the pen in front of my face. At first it’s easy. But then he moves the pen to the extreme limits of my peripheral vision, straining my eyes as I try and keep up. I swear he’s putting the pen behind my head.
“Ok sir,” he continues,” I want you to place your hands at your sides. Raise one leg a foot off the ground and start to count.” He raises his leg off the ground to demonstrate. “Count one one thousand, two one thousand. If your leg hits the ground, raise it back up and restart at one one thousand. Got it?”
I look down. I’m on the side of the road where the ground is uneven.
“Officer, the ground is sloping here. Can I move to flatter ground?” I ask.
“Don’t worry,” he replies, “I’ll take that into account.”
I put my hands to my sides. I raise my left leg. My right knee, now supporting all my weight, buckles. The officer grabs me to keep me from falling. Just fucking great.
“You all right sir?” the cop asks.
“I’ve got a bum knee,” I explain, “And I’ve been on my feet all day. Let me try this on my good leg.”
“Go ahead,” the officer says. He thinks I’m smashed.
I hop on my left leg and levitate my right foot off the ground. I start to count. Around ten one thousand I start to wobble. I’m gonna go to jail for being uncoordinated.
“Ok sir,” the cop says, “you can stop.”
We do a few more tests. I pray he doesn’t ask me to recite the alphabet backwards. I can’t do that drunk, sober, or trippin.
When we’re finished with all the tests the cop says to me, “Sir, you’ve failed three of the six tests. You’re like borderline. You can’t be driving.”
“Borderline?” I ask. “What does that mean?”
“That means I’m going to charge you with driving while impaired, not intoxicated.”
“So I’m still getting arrested.”
I finally find my balls. This is bullshit.
“Then I want to do a breathalyzer or take a blood test because I’m not drunk,” I say.
“Sir, trust me. If you take that test you’ll fail.”
“If I’m going to be arrested I want it on the record that I volunteered to take a sobriety test.”
“Listen, I don’t want to be a pain in the ass,” I say, “I’m tired – not drunk. I think you’re confusing exhaustion with intoxication. I worked all night and I just want to go home.”
“Where do you work?” the officer asks. I tell him.
“Hey. I’ve eaten there,” he says.
“Yeah, the food’s pretty good.”
“Was I your waiter?” I ask.
“Come to think of it – you were,” the cop replies.
I fervently pray I wasn’t a dick to this guy.
The cop thinks for a minute. “Listen,” he says, “I don’t want to arrest you. But if you crack up your car after I let you go it’s my ass.”
“I’m going to call my supervisor and he’s going to come and retest you,” the cop says, “If he’s comfortable with letting you drive, we’re all square.”
“One problem though,” the trooper says.
“Your license has expired.”
“Huh?” I say incredulously.
I look at my license. It expired two days ago. Shit.
“Officer, you know, my brother got married, my boss went on vacation, I was so busy it just slipped my mind,” I say.
“I believe you,” the officer says. “But you’re getting a ticket for driving with an expired license.”
DUI versus an expired license? It’s no contest.
“I’d be happy to only get a ticket,” I say.
“Ok sir. Wait in your car until my partner arrives.”
I get in my car and wait. Twenty minutes goes by. I start to worry. What if I still get arrested? What am I going to do? A DUI can really fuck up your life. I should know – several of my waiters have gotten one.
I shift uncomfortably in my seat. I need to take a piss.
The anxiety parade continues. If I get arrested whose gonna bail me out? My brother? He never answers the phone. My ex? No. Who?
Fluvio would get out of bed and bail me out. He’s good that way. But he’d torture me with his bullshit for years to come. Maybe I should take my chances in the cell with Bubba.
The cop returns. “Sorry it’s taking so long,” he says, “My partner’s on another call. He’ll be here in five minutes.”
“Officer, I have to go to the bathroom.”
“I have to urinate,” I say in clarification.
“Why?” he asks.
Something tells me saying, “I just had a beer,” wouldn’t be the swiftest response.
“Because I’m nervous.”
“Ok,” the officer says, “You can go in the trees up there.”
I get out of my car and clamber up the embankment to the tree line. The officer illuminates me with his flashlight. “Now where the fuck am I going to run too?” I think to myself.
I unzip my fly and start to drain the lizard. Every car I hear passing by is getting a spotlighted view of me taking a piss. Lovely. They all think I’m a drunk. Then again, if it was me driving by, I’d be thinking the same thing.
I seem to be pissing forever. As I wait for my bladder to empty a funny thought hits me. I suppress a giggle. Shit, even if I get a DUI my life won’t be over.
I can still be President of the United States.
I zip up and walk back to the police cruiser. The other cop has arrived. We go through the whole song and dance again.
“Sir,” New Cop says, “would you be willing to take a pre-breathalyzer test?”
“It’s not as accurate as a breathalyzer but it’ll give us an idea if you’re drunk or not.”
“Let’s do it,” I say with the ease of an innocent man.
The cop gets the gizmo out of the car and explains how it works. I blow into the tube. The cops huddle around the device. They look at each other and shrug.
“Ok sir, you can go,” New Cop says.
“Here’s your ticket sir,” the first trooper says.
I take the ticket and put it in my shirt pocket.
“What did the gizmo say?” I ask.
“You’re not drunk,” the trooper says.
I resist the urge to say I told you so.
“But sir,” the cop says getting in my face, “let this be a lesson to you. You can have one beer and still get arrested for driving drunk.”
All my life I lived by this rule – one beer you can drive, two beers and you give someone the keys. Guess I’ll be rethinking that one.
“I appreciate you giving me a break sir,” I say.
The trooper readjusts his hat. “Good night sir and drive home safe.”
I get in my car and pull away. What a night.
As I’m driving I process what just happened to me. I’m aggravated that I wasted forty five anxious minutes on the side of the road. But then again drunk drivers are a menace and those cops were just doing their job. I have no problem with that.
My exit is coming up on the left hand side. I signal and coast into the exit lane. Suddenly some idiot comes rocketing out of the exit – in reverse.
What saves me is twenty years experience on the road. If hit the brakes my car’s forward momentum will still cause me to plow into this moron’s back end. I look over my shoulder, ascertain no cars are in the right lane, hit the gas, and pull out into the middle of the highway. I hear a rush of air as our cars narrowly avoid each other. I swear I can hear somebody laughing.
I straighten out in the middle lane. My heart is in my throat. The offending car blows past me. It’s a bunch of kids. One gives me the finger.
Resisting the urge to commit vehicular homicide I continue home. When I pull into my driveway my heart’s still racing.
I go inside. My dog’s excited to see me. Since I got home so late he took a dump by the door. Not his fault. I clean it up and wash my hands.
The clock reads 3:30 in the morning. I’m a bundle of nerves. I pull a beer out of the fridge and flop down on the couch. I stare at the beer. Maybe this isn’t a good idea. My dog makes himself comfortable in my lap. I take a pull from the bottle and turn on the TV. Someone’s screeching about buying a house with no money down. What bullshit. I tilt my head back and close my eyes. I think about how my reflexes saved me from certain disaster. Drunk my ass.
Cops were just doing their job. I’d hate to have to walk up to a strange car, wondering if my life could end violently on the side of the road. I’m lucky I didn’t have………
I guess I coulda………..zzzzzzzz.
The next morning I wake up with a warm dog in my lap and a warm beer in my hand.