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A DUI Story With A Happy Ending

You know the feeling you get, when the universe is trying to send you a sign? We often ignore it, but occasionally we take our own good advice based on the context clues of our surroundings. It's in these critical moments that our past experiences culminate and hopefully equate to smart decisions.

           These days, it is rare amongst my peers to not have an DUI. Driving under the influence is so prevalent in our culture and that... is part of the problem. Alcohol is so glamorized, that it's easy to think that everyone drinks and drives. The truth is, driving under the influence can be fun, convenient and in the short term, cheaper. I said it. But what is not fun, convenient, or cheap, are the consequences that come with it. I am not referring to the DUI itself, although $10,000 and two years of your life isn't just a slap on your wrist. However, none of this can compare to the consequences involved with ruining the lives of other people.

       There are two things that really hit home for me, personally. One of these was a close call. The other was a message from the Commanding Officer of the USS Ronald Reagan. These stars aligned within 24 hours of each other, almost like a sign from the universe letting me know that the potential was out there for me to learn this the hard way. Why not? I have learned almost every other lesson of my life the hard way. I am not a very good listener, or maybe I am. I did acknowledge the warnings, but historically I have always proceeded with caution in the wind. I must say, I picked a good lesson to learn the easy way.

       When you are on deployment with the US Navy, you spend most of your free time thinking about what you are going to do when you get back to living your life. Before you are released back into the wild, they figure it would be a good idea to have local law enforcement come aboard and remind you what the rules are in the free world. I remember this particular officer was going over the reasons they will pull a vehicle over. On the top of the list was, speeding and somewhere towards the bottom of the list, was driving below the speed limit. This is because it appears like you are hiding something. Not breaking the law, is a sign that you are breaking the law. So... warning, we will pull you over if we feel like it. At that time, San Diego (25% Military Population) led the nation in DUI's.

       This isn't to make excuses. People should not be driving drunk. Period. But, our community should have been doing something other than profiting off of DUI's. Military drunk drivers have paid a lot of money to the judicial system. I had a friend who didn't want the permanent military decal on his vehicle (required to access a military base), so he went to Pass & Decal every 3 days to get a temporary one. This is because if a cop saw your military decal after midnight, you were almost certainly getting a breathalyzer. The better solution would have been to not drink and drive. So, it's not like the stereotype was false. But to solve any problem, you must dig deep into the issue to figure out why it is happening.

       It happened because it is cheaper in the short term, because public transportation didn't stretch to San Diego's biggest drinking area, after hours. Nobody wants to leave their vehicle overnight in a parking lot and have to come back the next morning. Because the military doesn't spend a lot of time on land so we like to make the most of it. It happened because we were selfish, but also because we are deprived of freedom for so long. We needed to make up for lost experiences. None of these reasons are logical, or justifiable excuses.

       At this time, what solutions were out there? You aren't going to stop people from going out and drinking. Taking a cab to a suburb, on average costs $80-100, one-way. Some of us were only making $700 after taxes, every two weeks in one of the most expensive cities in the world. It makes sense why an E-1, who doesn't have a home that they can safely drink at, is more likely to drink and drive. Less opportunity not to. I have always said, if the City of San Diego wanted to solve drinking and driving they would set up a trolley from Pacific Beach to Downtown, and it would stay open until 04:00 AM. It would pay for itself. It would bring more jobs to the city. Most importantly, save lives.

However, it wouldn't pay nearly as much as the checkpoints they put up every Friday and Saturday on the outskirts of Pacific Beach. The Military did try to fix this problem. They started a program that paid for cabs, called 511. That worked great, minus the losers who took advantage of that program and took cabs to Phoenix, AZ (5 Hour Drive). Or, my fellow service members who started selling these cards to cab drivers for twenty dollars a piece, so the cab drivers could turn them in and claim a more expensive fare. People will always take advantage of the system.

Finally, how I learned the easy way.

I had just come back from deployment, and my roommate and I were catching up with some old friends. I previously had consumed about four Red Bull and vodkas, and because of the red bull I felt fine to drive. I started drinking much earlier, so I am not even sure if I was beyond the legal limit at this point. I pulled up to my apartment complex, and right before I turned in, red and blue appeared in my rear view mirror.

I looked at my roommate and said  "Man. I am sooo done for. My life is over."
To which he casually responded  "You are fine. Play it cool."

It was absolutely critical to have someone there to provide emotional support. I couldn't imagine how it would have gone if he would have looked at me and said "Yep...."

I didn't have the physical appearance that I had been partying all night. I actually looked kind of nerdy. I was wearing my boot camp issued prescription glasses. Those glasses have a legendary nickname "BC Goggles," for Birth Control (I have linked them here, so you can purchase your own really cool glasses).

The police officer walked up to my vehicle. I already had the feeling like my life was over, so I wasn't as nervous as I normally am during a traffic stop.

"License and registration, please." That is when it hit me. One of my first chores to do when I got back on dry land, was to update my registration. It had just expired a week before. I had broken the cardinal rule:

Never break two laws at the same time.

He looked at me and asked "Are you in the Navy?"

"Yes, sir" I responded, trying to hide any sign of shame.

"Can I see your Military ID?" I handed him my Department of Defense Identification.

"Reagan, huh? You guys just got back from deployment."

At this point, it can go either way. It would be logical to assume that I was out drinking as I was a sailor that just spent half a year at sea. 

"You know your registration is expired, right?" To which I explained that it was on my list of things to take care of  when I got back.

I know in California that if your registration isn't a month old they cannot tow your car. Well, unless you are driving drunk.

"Have you had anything to drink tonight?" 

Why is it, that this is the question that is responsible for uncovering so many DUI's? 
Is it because you are afraid of lying? You doubt your own performance? Is it because you know that they know? Maybe zero is too unbelievable. I just got back from deployment. Obviously, I am drinking. It is hard when you are looking in the eye of a flashlight, to bypass that pressure.

"Nothing." - I went all in. In my mind, I was already going to jail anyway. I might as well try to sell this officer some property.

"You have had nothing to drink? Why does it smell so fruity in your car?" - My only option here was to point out to the police officer that there is a live red bull in my cup holder.

"I am going to need you to step out of the vehicle." - Ok, things are getting real here. I need to focus. Luckily, I just had about four and a half red bulls. I walked a straight line. I slowly said my ABC's backwards. I actually used to rehearse this while watching episodes of Cops. Now comes the hard one. He held a pen and a flashlight and told me to follow it with my eyes. That was the longest thirty seconds of my life. My theory is that the Birth Control glasses were the best accessory to be wearing at that moment.

"Alright, good enough for me. Get that registration taken care of."

"Thank you, Officer." 

I drove the five feet required to get to my driveway, and experienced the flavor of bittersweet. I was happy I escaped, but disappointed in myself.

The next day we had a Captains Call. This was an opportunity for the CO to address upcoming issues to the thousands of sailors attached to his vessel.  Leaders talk about DUI's all the time. It usually is the same thing, and it goes in one ear and out the other. That day, he really said something that stuck with me. It was practical and impossible to deny.

"You can drink and drive tonight. You probably won't get caught. If you drink and drive every night, eventually you will be caught or even worse... you will take the life of another person."
-CPT Terry Kraft

What situations have you encountered that your past experiences have steered you in the direction of common sense?

During this day and age, with ride sharing apps, driving drunk is the absolute dumbest thing you can possibly do. Don't be selfish. Make the right decision before you take substances that cloud your judgement. Don't be the person I used to be.

Use my promo code if for whatever reason you do not have the app. Uber (Chris's Promo)

-submitted by Chris Hensley

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