f falling asleep behind the wheel is one of the most ubiquitous, insidious dangers of life on the road, becoming victim to driving while intoxicated is the black sheep first cousin, the bad seed who has been in the paper way too often.
Sleeping while driving is not viewed with the same vehemence as drinking and driving, but they are remarkably alike: one need not be the perpetrator to suffer the consequences. All it takes is bad luck.
Like many youthful drivers, I flirted with this serious crime, and am grateful for the bone-stupid GOOD luck that enables me to write about it now.
The date was August 9, 1980. I know this for a certainty because it was my good friend Dave's wedding day.
Dave married Janet in Northern Virginia. He was one of the first of my recently graduated college fraternity crowd to tie the knot and we were all in a bit of shock. It was so grownup, so far removed from the life of foosball and beer we'd so recently lived.
I attended the wedding, but could not stay for the reception because I had a gig at another wedding, three hours away, in the Central Virginia mountain town of Staunton (pronounced STAN-ton) Virginia.
Driving to the gig I was reflective about the situation, and though I liked Janet I couldn't help but feel a little strange. The first fraternity wedding symbolized a loss of innocence for us all.
Such was my mood when I arrived, uneventfully, at my wedding gig. It was at a beautiful mansion, but the setup was unusual, even bizarre.
We set up outside along a path in a beautiful terraced garden. The effect was carnival-like. We felt like we were part of a freak show, the performing monkeys on display as the guests strolled the garden:
"LAY-DEEZ AND GEN-TULL-MEN STEP RIGHT UP! SEE the boy with two heads! SEE the Bearded Lady! SEE the Five Trained Monkey's Playing In the Mood in the Garden!"
The sheer weirdness was piling up. The final blow came when out of nowhere, a freak thunderstorm scattered the wedding. We were completely exposed, and scrambled like mad to disassemble our gear, looking for any port whatsoever to store it and prevent its ruin.
Next to our little monkey-stage stood the bar, a small sheltered cabana. It was a mad dash, and in a short time there we were: me, the bartender, Judy, our PA system, my drums, the torrential downpour and a generous supply of everything alcoholic.
It was too bizarre and silly. We were soaked, our gear was soaked, all reason had left for the day and right or wrong, we began drinking. My choice was straight Virginia Gentleman Bourbon over ice, in a large plastic cup.
The rain stopped. The wedding was over and not a moment too soon. We'd had a few drinks now, though we were well enough to pack up and get things ready to roll.
But as far as I was concerned, this day wasn't over. I still had the generous cup of bourbon and didn't let it out of my sight.
Our saxophonist, Mike, asked if he could hitch a ride back to Charlottesville. Mike wasn't in the little cabana and I guess he didn't notice the large drink and red-faced leer I was cultivating.
I felt sober enough, though it is unclear I would have passed a sobriety test. The good news is, the drive from Staunton back to Charlottesville is only AN HOUR, and only involves crossing A MOUNTAIN.
We were on our way. Mike wasn't aware that things were awry. He was a straight, studious guy. If my behavior revealed the truth he would have insisted on driving, and I would have let him.
As timing would have it, it was only at the peak of Afton Mountain that I began to realize "Holy shit, I'm REALLY drunk! I better be REALLY careful!"
I know, readers. You're thinking: "Why, if you KNEW you were drunk, didn't you pull over and let him drive?"
The answer: I WAS DRUNK! I wasn't in a reasonable way and I wasn't behaving reasonably. I was going to make it back in one piece, so was Mike, and better yet, he would never know.
And that, by the random grace of luck, is exactly what happened. The trip was blessedly uneventful. We made it down the mountain and into Charlottesville. I dropped Mike off, said a minimal goodbye (by then my speech was slurring) and drove, nice and easy, the additional half mile to my apartment.
I gingerly got out of the car, carefully made my way down the steep hill and through the front door.
That is when my brain, karma and good luck gave up the ghost. I knew I was home, safe. All bets were off.
I was drunk as a rat. Like a defective cruise missile I ricocheted down the hallway toward my bedroom. I burst in, hoping that by accepting unconditional unconsciousness my temerity would go unpunished. But before I could escape scot-free, I committed one final, pointed act, something that later would serve as a graveolent reminder of my irresponsible gamble:
I vomited full, all over my beloved state-of-the-art, Nakamichi cassette deck.
THEN, I passed out.