Each year when November rolls around an amazing thing happens. We all gain a lot of weight and many of us drink alcohol with wild abandon. People who rarely if ever drink during the year suddenly have voracious appetites for food and spirits. Too much of both. However, one can eat half a turkey and still get in a car and drive home. There might be a seat adjustment (removing the steering wheel from our guts) but eating 8000 calories of Thanksgiving food still gets us home—sick but safe. Drinking multiple bottles of wine and consuming fancy cocktails does not.
There are many holidays throughout the year but Thanksgiving begins a pig fest of enormous proportions. Most people I know pull out all the stops and dig through traditional family recipes with vigor and spend way too much money on these meals and work their fannies off all in an effort to make a lovely event for family and friends. Sometimes it’s a group preparation event but all too often it’s one woman working from dawn to midnight feeding hoards of people wondering if she’ll also be able to pay her utility bill when it’s all over. After we have just barely recovered from Thanksgiving it’s the steady and relentless march to Christmas and New Year’s. More food and more alcohol.
I’ve scaled back on all of this. Many years ago I gave up mall shopping and Christmas cards. I used to send out 300 cards. Now I wish everyone a Merry Christmas on the Internet via social networking, email, etc. I buy a few gifts online, I often make a few gifts, and I prepare very nice but simple meals. Granted, there are fewer of us left in the family so feeding those who remain is a lot easier. And alcohol is almost nonexistent. Maybe one bottle of very nice wine for all of us to share at one dinner. We love wine. We are Californians. I hate drunks. When I’m in charge of the meals, alcohol is minimal.
News reports each year at the beginning of the feeding frenzy warn all of us about drinking and driving. More law enforcement officers are required to be on duty than any other time of the year and they spend a large amount of their day/night looking for the drivers who had a bit too much alcohol—and they find them. Even with all the warnings about holiday drinking drunk drivers are out there by the thousands.
Some habitual drinkers have learned to take appropriate steps to get home without interruption by law enforcement. Many now take cabs to and from drinking events, some sleep over at their hosts’ homes, some buddy up and someone becomes the designated driver (which means the DDs are not allowed ANY alcohol), and some sleep it off in their cars. However, that last trick is still begging for a DUI.
Years ago on “Everybody Loves Raymond” “Deborah” went to an event and because she knew she had probably consumed more alcohol than was allowed she decided to sleep in her car until she felt she would be safe to drive. Instead, she was arrested for a DUI. No one who has consumed alcohol can sit in a car even if they are passed out unless there is a sober driver behind the wheel. Even though that seemed the sensible thing for her to do she was an inebriated person alone in a car with car keys. The assumption is that people who drink use bad judgment and though she was trying to be prudent how would she determine she was sober enough to drive? After a 30 minute nap? 60 minute nap? What would be the appropriate amount of time to pass before the remnants of alcohol no longer remained in her system making her legally able to drive? Who knows? So rather than take a chance on someone’s faulty assessment of their abilities, law enforcement considers that a DUI.
As I recall that character was not a “drinker.” In fact, many people who end up on the bad end of a DUI are casual social drinkers. A little wine with dinner, maybe a cocktail. But when I researched alcohol levels for this post I found that there are many guidelines but they are only guidelines. Most people can probably have a glass of wine with dinner and much later drive home. Apparently, not all people are that lucky. (And what size is the wine glass?) If a person has a health condition, is small and doesn’t weigh much, does not eat much of a dinner but nibbles, doesn’t drink often and has a low tolerance for stimulants of any kind, all of these people can find themselves in trouble.
One example of a typical social evening providing the inability to avoid a DUI is a nice cocktail before dinner, and a few glasses of wine with dinner. That is the classic recipe for disaster. And it is not the hardcore guy sitting at a bar chugging down drink after drink. It’s the fancy spiked Christmas punch followed by expensive holiday wines for the meal. Casual social drinkers are actually more of a problem than those guys hunkering down over a bar. Bartenders routinely call cabs for those guys and smart lawsuit-savvy bartenders cut those drinkers off. (Not just guys. Plenty of women hunker down on a barstool.)
I know many people who drink too much. These people drive all the time. If there were bounties for reporting drunk drivers I’d be wealthy. And these people know they have had too much, but they also believe they know “how to handle” their liquor and believe themselves to be great drivers. Part of alcohol enhancement is an abundance of overconfidence in one’s abilities (this includes sexual prowess, driving, being amusing, singing, dancing, and the list goes on). Police aren’t looking for people driving the wrong way at 100 miles per hour (though those people are out there). No, they find those people easily. They are, however, trained to look for the slight swerve, driving 40 mph on the freeway, making incomplete stops and coasting through intersections, too much braking, speeding up then slowing down. Those folks make up the bulk of DUI driving. Sipping a beverage, any beverage while behind the wheel, is also suspect.
When I was growing up police officers stopped people and made a face-to-face determination about a person’s alcohol level. Sometimes drivers were asked to get out of the car for a walking test. Sometimes officers interviewed the driver and upon learning the driver was on their way home they were told to drive straight home with no stops. Sometimes they were taken to the local jail to sleep it off, no arrest. Sometimes they were told to sleep it off in a parking lot and the officers would escort the driver to a safe place and drive by and check on them from time to time. This happened all the time. Sometimes officers drove intoxicated drivers home. I personally know folks in my family and circle of friends who were the recipients of these benevolent police
Those days are gone. Too many drunks have killed, maimed, and injured too many. Drinking and driving with ANY alcohol is a tremendous risk and very expensive. Depending on how bad the DUI is it can involve jail time and the loss of a license, car impoundment, and the list goes on. This isn’t the hardcore drinker, it’s you and me. We are the light social drinkers who go off the grid and get ourselves in more trouble than we ever thought possible during the holidays.
Merry Christmas—-but, please—-not too merry.