Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the freeway. . . .
Welcome to Jack III, the final chapter.
For those who just joined us, Jack is the 32-year-old Costa Mesa man who confessed two weeks ago in this column that he not only drinks and drives regularly, but he often drinks while driving--despite the current Zeitgeist that sternly disapproves of such risky behavior.
Speaking of stern disapproval, last week, representatives of the Orange County chapters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the National Council on Alcoholism came down hard on Jack, as did a Times editorial a few days earlier.
Now it is the readers' turn to speak out on the subject.
Some of those who wrote or called had harsh words for Jack--and me, for reporting on him. Others said Jack had made some valid points. And quite a few--even a couple of co-workers who came up to me in the office--admitted that if a few minor details were changed, "that guy could be me."
Which reinforces one of the several points on which Jack and the anti-drunk-driving forces agree. Whatever names you want to hurl at Jack--and you folks have thrown some doozies--don't call him a fluke, because he's got plenty of company out there on the road.
So much company that even if Jack became a teetotaler tomorrow, each of us has a 1-in-3 chance of being hit by a drunk driver at some point in our lives, according to Janet Cater, executive director of MADD's Orange County chapter. Before that organization was founded and attitudes began to change, the chances were 1 in 2, she said.
"I think Jack is a cold and heartless person," wrote K. Smith of Stanton. "If he is really bothered by the thought of hurting, or even worse, killing someone, while drinking and driving, he would not do it. . . . Go ahead and laugh at your own snide remarks, Mr. Jack. Perhaps next time you won't make it down Laguna Canyon Road."
But in his signature, Smith hinted that he once may have been in Jack's position. Below the name, Smith wrote: "X-drinker, even in the home."
Max Andrews of Mission Viejo was irate. "Some suggestions for future topics: How about a story telling the exciting aspects of the KKK or the Nazis? Maybe we can learn from a gang member how wonderful it is to murder innocent people. I am sure there are other topics which The Times can try to justify or make righteous."
In case any other readers are confused on this point, let me make it clear once again that neither I nor The Times endorses drinking and driving, by Jack or anyone else. But ignoring the problem won't make it go away.
One reader, Scott, who lives in Fullerton, was sympathetic.
"Although the article's subject, Jack, was a little too much of an extremist, the article brought up some very good points. Mainly, many of the people who condemn drinking and driving are often guilty of it themselves. I have known many people who have stated how terrible it is to drive drunk but perhaps have occasionally had one too many at a social gathering, yet drove home. While this is not a good idea, it is sometimes necessary," Scott said.
"I, too, have often driven after being probably drunk . . . but have never been concerned about it. The reason is that I know my limits. If I have been drinking to the point where I feel I cannot be responsible, my wife drives home, or I stay where I am.
"Drinking and driving have gone hand in hand since the invention of the car and probably will for some time to come. It is now more in the spotlight, probably due to people who cannot control themselves. Yes, those people are guilty of drunk driving. More important, they are guilty of sheer stupidity."
Without pausing to ponder what Scott may be saying about himself, let's take a look at another letter--this one from a man with a number after his name.
"I used to think that it was fun cruising around all liquored up myself until the MADD mothers put an end to my drunk driving spree. . . . I've been locked up in this Orange County Jail for the past 2 years on my third and fourth drunk drivings," wrote Dean Short.
"The laws aren't so easy anymore. (And I don't have) to mention how glad I am that I have a release date (or that) I didn't kill or hurt anyone but myself. I can still hop in a car drunk when I get out, but there's a lot more to think about."
Short has been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and he encourages Jack to do the same.
"Don't wait until you get put in jail, because by then it could be too late for you or someone you don't even know."
Robert, who lives in Huntington Beach, also got caught. He called to urge Jack to stop, not because he believes that it's wrong but because of the consequences.
He managed to stay out of jail but says it's no picnic. "I have to go to (AA) six nights a week. That's pretty hard to do if you have a business and a family," he said. "And a few months ago I made the mistake of admitting (to the authorities) that I'd had half a glass of wine at my mother-in-law's house, even though my wife was driving. They gave me a choice of going on Antabuse (a drug that makes the user violently ill if he drinks) or going to jail. So I'm on Antabuse."
Frank, who lives in Irvine, wrote to say that "I can empathize a bit with the young driver who admittedly drank before and during driving. In my lifetime I have done both. I have had three arrests ('65, '66 and '72).
"Like Jack at his age, I thought I was invincible. Until my first arrest at age 38. . . . Sooner or later it will happen to Jack.
"I would wish Jack luck--but more, I would wish luck for all the other folks so that when his time comes, if there is any damage it is only to him."