Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Trust Me Officer, I'm A Professional...

You know folks, in a lot of ways, I feel damn lucky. I've got a job doing what I love to do and a family that supports me in it, even though I would tell me I'm nuts to do it. I've also made some great friends over the years and we've shared some truly wild times. Sometimes though, they get some crazy ideas to do stuff that most normal people would scoff at. And in the name of getting a good story, I jump in with 'em. This is the tale of one of those times.

Now, throughout the year, a bunch of Utah law enforcement guys go Danny Glover and decide that they're "too old for that shit" and retire. This means, they've got to hire a bunch of new cops, and new cops need training. And this state loves nothing more than busting people for DUI offenses, whether they're legitimate or not. No matter whether you're a drinker or not, we can all agree, driving under the influence is pretty much the most irresponsible thing a person can do. You're literally taking the lives of hundreds of people in your idiotic hands if you get behind the wheel after you've had a few too many. The problem is though, nobody's a good enough actor to mimic all of the physical characteristics of being steaming drunk. Although, I saw a great movie starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (RAMONA FLOWERS, SCHWING!) called Smashed at the indie theater a couple months ago that came pretty close, but I digress.

Anyway, these new cops need the proper training in order to recognize the difference between somebody that's sober, somebody that's had a few too many, and somebody that literally has to grab the grass to keep from FALLING OFF THE EARTH. They also need to learn the proper procedures for conducting field sobriety tests. So once a year the State of Utah gets fifteen ordinary folks together and pays them to get completely obliterated so that they can conduct these tests on as realistic a subjects as possible.

Now it just so happens that my old college buddy Ninja is pretty good friends with one of the police officers charged with organizing the training and he pulled a couple strings and got your humble Golf Monster on the subject list. Frankly, I was curious, this whole thing sounded way too good to be true. The State of Utah, driest state in the union, actually cuts a check for people to get blitzed? I had to find out. And it was yet another excuse to have a good time with my buddies, albeit in a clinical setting. I couldn't pass it up. 

I was picked up at 10:30 AM on the test day in a UHP cruiser by nice fella by the name of Trooper Marshall out in front of my condo. Couldn't pass up the chance to look like a hardass in front of my neighbors. I was told that we had to pick up a couple other guys on the way down to the State Police Academy which was located on the south end of the valley. I was curious about what was about to go on today and he replied, "We're going to get you drunk, and then run some tests." That was it. He seemed to be into the whole brevity thing. He asked me why I signed up. I told him the old me, the college me would've been in it simply to get smashed and get paid. The current me was actually curious about the effects of the booze in a clinical setting and how many it would take to be legally intoxicated. I'm a big guy, I figured it would take a lot.

A quick aside, my Grandfather, Papou as he's known in Greek, and his best friend Bill used to meet twice a week for a beer session dating all the way back to when the two of them settled back in the hometown a few years after II. Their routine was simple. Each of them would drink about one pitcher plus one bottle's worth of beer. Now here's where it's gotta be awesome to be an old guy that everybody in the county knows and is afraid to fuck with:  After a session at a bar called The Regis in the nearby town of Helper, they got this crazy-assed idea to try an experiment. So they walked across the street to the town police station to volunteer to blow on the breathalyzer machine and see the results. The verdict:  neither were legally drunk, but both could technically be cited for public intoxication. They thanked the officer on duty for his time, walked back across the street, got in my Papou's pickup and drove the ten minutes back home to Price. That story still blows my buddies' minds. I related that story to Trooper Marshall and he busted out laughing.  I was finally able to break the ice with the dude.

This Fairly unassuming building houses something called the "Wet Lab"
We picked the other guys up after I was able to locate their homes by using the GPS on my phone. It actually worked better than the GPS in the cruiser. Couple nice fellas named Chuck and Dave. After passing up an accident on the road, "The next guys that drive by will call it in," he said. We arrived at our destination, The POST Academy at the Salt Lake Community College south campus. We were led up four flights of stairs and down several winding hallways. "Jesus, I wonder how people can find the pisser in here?" I thought to myself as we took about a half dozen rights and lefts until we arrived at a door with a two-word engraving on the window, "WET LAB."

I walked in and took a seat at a very large table next to my good pal and old college roommate Jose', The Ninja, his wife, and another friend of hers named Vicky. They were already well into it by the time we arrived. Chuck, Dave and I were told by a fairly stern looking lady in a lab-coat that we were already behind and were going to need to catch up. We all had to sign a release form stating that we wouldn't even look at a car until about fifteen hours after the conclusion of the training session. Makes sense. Then they asked us for our drink order. They had a huge collection of the basics, vodka, whiskey, rum and tequila as well as several mixing options. I asked for a red wine and got the stinkeye from Labcoat Lady. Probably best if I quit fucking around with all these cops in the room. After literally a moment's thought, I settled on a screwdriver, vodka and orange juice. Since I'm basically an idiot, I figured, "what the hell. May as well have something a little bit healthy, low calorie booze and Vitamin C! GOTTA WATCH MY FIGURE!" We were told that all of the drinks would be doubles served in a large Solo cup. And since they were closely monitoring our intake, we wouldn't be allowed to switch up to anything different once we started. There was a sparse collection of crackers, chips and salsa scattered in front of us, as well as a large television in the corner showing day #2 of the first round of March Madness. At least we won't miss the games!

The Lab! Looks like your average break room.
Our bartender, a Sandy City Police officer named Steve served me up with my first drink at 11:30 AM. TIME TO GET DAY DRUNK. It didn't take very long for me to realize that my drink selection didn't lend itself to quick consumption very well. Lot of acid in it. I polished it off in about twenty-two minutes and was served my second double screwdriver at 11:54 AM. "To our health!" I toasted the table as I took a sip. This one went down a little bit quicker. It only took about twelve minutes to slurp it down and I was served my third double screwdriver at 12:08 PM. About halfway through this drink, Labcoat Lady sauntered over, whispered something flattering about my chiseled physique in my ear, straightened up and then sternly told me to pick up the pace. One of those things wasn't true. Evidently, I was behind, but it felt like I was hammering them down twice as fast as everyone else in the room.

It was now 12:13 PM and it was time to take our first breathalyzer test into the big machine, the one they have "down at the station." We were all given a tube and blew a lungful into it as Labcoat Lady recorded our results. I started to notice that it was starting to get a little bit louder in the room and things were starting to echo in my head a little bit. I ate six Triscuits and tried not to freak out.  The results of my first breathalyzer after six shots of vodka in 45 minutes:  .058. Well below the legal limit.

It was now 12:30 after we got the results of the first test and it was now time to get back at it. Labcoat Lady ordered Steve to make my next one a triple and yelled at me to drink faster. I managed to choke that one down in twenty minutes and she scaled down the next one, drink #5, back down to a double. GLAD I COULD CATCH UP! It was getting really loud in the room now, and I didn't feel too good. I rallied though and slammed that one down like a champion. I gave it my best Archer WOOOOOOOOOOOO and it was on to #6 at 1:00. I got about halfway through it when I realized it was time to take the lid off. I asked one of the observing officers, Officer Bryan, if I could be excused to use the john, and remembering the maze of hallways that led us in to this place, directions. Nice guy that he was, he walked me up and down a dozen hallways to the men's room. However, when I came out, he was nowhere to be found.

I managed to stumble my way back to the lab, whistling Ricky Nelson's "I'm Walkin'" the whole way. I'm not sure how I did it, It might have something to do with the concept of drunken recall, or my crazy ability to go from not even being able to hit the board to dart champion after a few beers. I quickly polished off #6 and we were told it was last call. Labcoat Lady put me down for another triple for drink #7. I felt like a lab rat. I managed to finish that last Solo cup of booze and juice right at 1:30. It was deafeningly loud in the room and it felt like I was blinking about 400 times a minute. I managed to remember the good looking gal sitting across the table's name, and felt like I was putting on a good face, but my guts were turning somersaults. The whole time I kept notes on the experience in my phone. "I havent Benny this hacked in Awhile!" I typed on my touchscreen. No, I have no clue what that meant either.

It was time for our second breathalyzer test. I blew into the big machine and recorded a .107 BAC. They then added a second variable and had us blow into the portable machine that is carried in your average cop car. That one read .079. Still not legally drunk by that definition. But my eyes didn't lie. I could barely see at this point. As hammered as I was I thought it was amazing that the field tester was that far off. Definitely fucked up. It felt like we'd been in that lab for about eight hours. We'd been in there for TWO hours and I'd had what amounted to sixteen shots of vodka in that time-frame. I felt awful, and we hadn't even hit phase two of the testing yet, the field sobriety tests.

Now, I remembered back to my junior college days when they'd bring in the drunk goggles to the student center at Eastern Utah to try and scare us off of drinking. And I remember my buddy Skwez and I putting those goggles on and moonwalking backwards heel-to-toe on their painted white line. Not an accurate simulation. I didn't want to make an ass out of myself, so I spent the two days before the test trying to re-create your average field sobriety test. I practiced walking the white line in my condo parking lot. I taught myself how to speed through the alphabet backwards while I was swimming laps. I was going to ace these tests. That is, if I didn't kill myself stumbling down those five flights of stairs down to the academy basement to the firing range where the tests were going to take place. If you've never hiked down a bunch of stairs after you've thrown on a massive drunk, I don't recommend it. It's not a pleasant experience.

I'm feeling ill just looking at it.
We walked through a corridor into a massive room filled with parallel lines and what felt like a barely seven foot ceiling. Just looking around was nauseating. There were around fifty police officers from what seemed like every Utah jurisdiction imaginable. We were each assigned three different officers and went through three batteries of tests. Sadly, I never had to recite the alphabet backwards. But had to perform a seemingly endless array of balance tests. Tests that frankly, I don't think I could pass if I was as sober as a nun. I don't think anybody could.  The lesson as always, never take the field sobriety test. It's designed to make you fail! I thought I handled my shit pretty well, all things considered, but I could barely make it through each test. I was a mess. At about 2:40 we trudged back upstairs for our third and final breathalyzer test. I blew a .121. According to a table I found online, that's what a 160 lb. guy should blow after 8 shots in two hours. That's what I blew after 16 shots in two hours and I could barely stand up.

At 3:30 we were ushered into a classroom where all of the officers from the day had gathered and they gave us a standing ovation. At least, that's what I think they were doing. It sounded like thunder in my head. They had our results written on the big-ass whiteboard in the front of the room. As expected I pretty much failed every test, but managed to score higher than a few people in our group. It also showed number of shots consumed, and I'd had four more shots in that two hour span than the next highest person in the group. Then I remembered, "hey, you look like Grimace compared to everyone in here," and things snapped back into focus.

A nice fella named Officer Archie from the Park City Police Department gave me a lift back home across the valley. That drive felt like it took an hour, but it only took about twenty minutes. My head was spinning and I was doing everything I could do to not spew in the guy's Ford Escape. I recall asking him if he saw any crazy shit during Sundance. He told me he was the first officer on the scene when Tracy Morgan started freaking out and babbling incoherently before he collapsed during an awards ceremony. That brought on my last smartassed followup of the day, "How did you know anything was wrong? Isn't he like that all the time?" Officer Archie, obviously a 30 Rock fan started chuckling.

He dropped me off and I pulled myself up the stairs to my condo, returning a conquering hero. I stomped past my roommate, pretending not to hear her request for a rundown on the day. Obviously, I wasn't in any condition to talk to anyone at this point, and she probably wouldn't understand anything I had to say anyway. From there, I kicked off my sneakers, damn near knocked my bedroom door off its hinges and face-planted into my bed, passing out in my jeans. This broke one of my cardinal rules: NEVER FALL ASLEEP IN JEANS.

My phone woke me up about six hours later with a surprising text message from this one girl that I kinda sorta liked. She wanted to hang out tonight. To my recollection, that was the first time she'd ever contacted me wanting to get together. By my count I'd been shot down about a half dozen times before, and had kind of given up on her. Sadly, it wasn't to be. A gut full of booze and juice, combined with my own stubborn insistence to not throw up had brought about the nightmare scenario for anyone that's ever been day drunk: THE DREADED NIGHTTIME HANGOVER. Plus, I'd signed that release form. For all I knew, if I would've gotten busted behind the wheel, they were gonna lock me up and throw away the key. I'm pretty sure I'd end up in the local PMITA prison, if not the drunk tank they locked us in once when we got the jail tour in the ten minutes I was in the cub scouts. I sent her the most pathetic, rambling drunken text reply ever sent to anyone before 10:30 PM, and politely declined. My head hit the pillow once again, just as the final NCAA basketball game of the day was signing off the air. What a goddamn loser.

Somehow, the early hangover was beneficial, as I still had some responsibility. I actually felt great the next morning!  I pulled up to the gates at my beloved Rose Park Golf Course promptly at 5:30 AM and knocked out a full, busy shift of work without any lingering after effects. I sent my friend another message, apologizing for the gibberish I'd sent her the night before. She replied with a ton of LOLs and a "Too bad, we had a blast! Pretty lame that you missed out, ya lightweight." response. C'est la vie, I guess. Two weeks later though, I got an envelope in the mail from the state of Utah. I'd completely forgotten about DUI training at that point, so it was a nice surprise to get a check in the mail for twenty-five bucks from the Utah Department of Public Safety. Proof positive kids that if you work hard, believe in yourself, and know a cop on the right committee, you too can officially call yourself a professional drinker.