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LIFE ON WHEELS

Drinker Tells Key to Survival: Drive 'Like a Saint,' Not a Sot

October 06, 1988|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

By looking at Jack, you would never guess that he's seriously out of step with fashion. No polyester leisure suits for this guy; his attire is spiffy Newport Beach nautical, up to date right down to the his gym shoes--the most popular brand, natch.

But appearances aside, there's something about this 32-year-old Costa Mesa bachelor that's as outdated as sideburns and disco music. He is, as he puts it, "an anachronism."

Despite the tremendous national attitude shift of the past decade, begun largely by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and backed up by a plethora of new, stricter laws, Jack still drinks and drives. Sometimes in sequence. Sometimes simultaneously.

"I walked into a party at a friend's house in Laguna Beach the other night holding a half-empty bottle of (beer)," he says, "and his wife looked at me with her mouth open and said, 'Did you walk here?'

"And I said, 'No, I just wanted to celebrate making it down Laguna Canyon Road.' It really freaked her out."

Although he admits up front that drinking and driving "is wrong, no question about it," Jack says he isn't about to give it up, either. To him, it's an acceptable risk.

"I love that bumper sticker that says, 'Don't drink and drive, you might hit a bump and spill your drink.' But I would never, never put anything like that on my car, not even a 'Bud Light' decal. That's just asking for it. You don't want to do anything that's going to draw attention to you.

"I drive like a saint. I wear my seat belt. And I appreciate all those people who cut in and out or fly along way over the speed limit, because they're taking the burden off me."

Jack says he has never had an accident, hasn't had a ticket in more than six years and has never been charged with drunk driving.

There have been a couple of close calls, however, he says: "One time a year or so ago, I'd had two drinks and I was drinking a beer in the car, so I had a good stink on me. A cop came up and flipped his lights on right behind me. So I pulled over. My nervousness might have made me flunk the field sobriety test, although at the station I don't think I would have blown an illegal (on the Breathalyzer). He got an important call, so he let me go, but for a moment there, every bone in my body just melted.

"I fear the 502 (the old California code for a drunken driving charge) more than anything," he says. "But it's a game I play, not getting caught."

Still, Jack says there are nights and mornings when he is frightened to realize that he had no business on the road. "I'd be a liar if I said otherwise," he says.

"But I don't think you can find too many people out there who haven't had that experience. Drinking is part of our culture. And in Southern California, for any part of your business or social life or for any silly reason, you have to drive major miles. It's easy for people in New York City or Boston or even San Francisco to be self-righteous about drinking and driving, because they don't have to drive.

"But around here, it's not rational on a Friday or Saturday night to assume that out of every 100 drivers, 99 of them haven't been drinking. They've probably had a glass or two of wine with their dinner, or they're going to or coming home from a party where alcohol is served. People still drink and drive. Maybe they have wine instead of hard liquor, but they still do it.

"Some Saturday nights I'm out there, and I don't trust a lot of the other people on the road, because they might have drunk as much as I have, and they're not paying as much attention as I am," Jack says.

He disagrees with the prevailing public attitude toward drinking drivers: "Hey, it's OK for me to be a little looped and get in the car and drive home. And if I drink in the car, that's OK too, because I'm accepting responsibility for what can happen."

And what if he injures or kills someone as a result of the risks he takes?

"I couldn't live with myself. I, and I think a lot of the other people I know who drink and drive, if they ever racked somebody up or killed them, they'd probably end up committing suicide six months later in a fit of prolonged depression. But if you (ever killed someone) out of plain stupidness, wouldn't you feel the same way? I don't know, maybe the alcohol would make you pounce on yourself even more."

One factor that has influenced Jack's attitude was an accident he witnessed four years ago, in which "I saw a child brutally slaughtered by a very stone-cold-sober young nurse on the way home from work. She was inattentive for just a moment, and I saw a body fly 60 or 80 feet in the air and come down like a rag doll.

"There's a lot of carnage out there and it happens whether you've been drinking or not. That's not a fair rationalization, but still, that's the effect it had on me.

"I drink in the car less and less the last few years, not so much out of social responsibility but just because of all the hysteria--and the consequences if an officer pulled me over for a bad lane change or a mild speeding," he says.

"I remember people used to say, 'Oh, I've got three drunk driving convictions.' But now it is not cool.

"But being a social to moderate to heavy drinker, it would probably change a lot of things in my life if I stopped drinking and driving. There are so many places I just wouldn't go."

But Jack's aware of which way the wind's blowing: "I know the restrictions are going to keep getting worse. In the future there are so many things you won't be allowed to do. They probably won't even let you put salt on your fries."

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