One Hour, Five DUIs

The day didn’t go as planned. Some are like that. Most aren’t.

It was 12:30 and our Wednesday was pretty much complete. Grocery-shopping done, senior citizen discount received. Leisurely lunch. All we needed were afternoon naps to top off the fulfilling lives of retirees.

A call came from a friend we hadn’t heard from and had been concerned about since her recent divorce.

“How’d you like to get tanked?”

It wouldn’t have been my first choice for the day, but I knew there had to be more behind her question. I wanted to be a good friend.

My husband’s motives may not have been so pure.

Within an hour we were on the road. Our friend knew exactly where we needed to go, a joint she called TLETA. Seems it was over forty-five minutes away.

Though I’m a non-drinker, I didn’t need to be a barfly to know we were passing lots of places to get a drink, so why drive so far to get “tanked,” as she put it?

When we finally arrived, we saw it wasn’t a place we would have chosen, but this wasn’t about us.   It was all about helping our friend. The building was large and brick, institutional in appearance. We parked in back, but found the first door locked. A rather large individual, a bouncer I assumed, came around the corner and showed us another door to use.

Inside didn’t look much better. We were directed to a small, musty-smelling room, where clearly little to no money had been spent on atmosphere. The basics were there: tables, chairs, and a boom box. The music sounded like what I hear coming from the cars of teens driving through my neighborhood, by singers whose names I don’t know.  The bar itself was questionable—a mere table, two bartenders, several cardboard boxes of liquor bottles, and a couple pitchers of Coke.

Our friend really knew how to pick a place.

The bartenders looked us over and decreed how many drinks we could have: seven to ten for my husband, four to six for me. We considered protesting, but they looked like men who could handle any situation and wouldn’t take an argument. Further backing that conclusion was the fact that the only decorations in the room were display cases on the wall that contained knives, guns, and brass knuckles, obviously confiscated from less cooperative customers.

The room was pretty quiet as we started our first drinks, but it was only 3:00, a bit early in the day. It quickly came alive, though, as more people came in and the bartenders doled out drinks to each of their patrons. New friendships were being forged among vastly different types of people: the retired prosecutor, the kindergarten teacher, the corrections officer, the MADD employee, the welder. Secrets were being shared. And while everyone else was getting into it, I quickly noticed our friend was not drinking, nor was she pouring her heart out to those around her. We knew better than to press her; best to just give it time. We turned out attention back to our drinks.

We already had doubts about the place but were still surprised when, out of the blue, the bartenders announced, “Breathalyzer tests for everyone and this place is shutting down.”   It was only 5:30 in the afternoon.

They directed us to the door, then escorted us down the hall and into a large room where there were approximately two hundred law enforcement officers standing in small groups. Whoa!

Turns out TLETA stands for Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy.

It seems the trap was already set when our friend, Amy, who happens to be a sergeant on our local police force, called us earlier in the day. No wonder she hadn’t been chatty like the rest of us; she was the only one of the participants not drinking.

Each trainee who approached me went through a spiel, introducing himself, asking about any medical conditions I had, and explaining what he was going to have me do. He tested eyes first, having me follow a finger without moving my head. Then I had to walk nine steps, up and back, heel-to-toe, starting from a position where my feet were together, arms straight down by my sides. Next, with my arms again flattened against me, I had to stand on one foot with the other foot pointed in front of me, six inches off the floor, and count until they told me to stop.

After five trainees had tested each of us, they had us blow into the machine again, one last measure of our blood alcohol content.

We went into an auditorium where all the officer-trainees were sitting.   It was like a courtroom and we, the subjects, had to sit in the jury box.

One by one we stood up and the officers who tested us read the scores they gave and said whether or not they would have arrested us. All five officers said they would arrest me for DUI.

After our verdicts were delivered, the officers in charge questioned us about what we did for a living and whether or not we would have driven a car in the condition we were in. I responded with a definite NO! But it was unsettling to hear a few participants say they would drive anyway.

“I’m a single mom and do what I have to do to survive,” said a woman whose blood alcohol content was at .2. I could not have driven safely even though my blood alcohol content was only .016, far below the .08 level considered legally drunk.

The five DUIs I got in an hour have definitely transformed my thinking about drunk driving. Is the .08 limit too low? Not at all.

What an experience! I helped train law enforcement personnel, got a better understanding of how alcohol affects me, and came away with a more educated opinion about our DUI laws.

I missed my nap but still found it to be a fulfilling day for a retiree.


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