Monday, May 23, 2005

Decatur Debacle

The trip had gotten off to a rough start. My old friend Jack and his brother Steve got drunk after leaving Alabama and misread the map, resulting in several lost hours searching eastern Arkansas for the naval air station I was training at on the other side of the Mississippi River in western Tennessee. When they finally made it they were five hours late, pleasantly plowed and ready to get on the road back to their house for the July 4th holiday weekend. After reloading the cheap Styrofoam cooler they had brought with discounted beer from the Navy Exchange, we turned Jack’s Ford Ranger south and headed for Mississippi.

I had not seen Jack in well over a year. We had been stationed together at the Naval Training Center in Great Lakes IL, but after graduation I was sent to the USS Belleau Wood in San Diego while he was forward deployed to a destroyer home-ported out of Subic Bay in the Philippines. We had kept in touch and when we both found that we were going to be in the same general area of the US while he was home on leave in Alabama, we made plans to go visit his hometown in Decatur Alabama. We had survived a multitude of legendary benders together in Chicago and Jack wanted to see how I would fare drunk in Dixie. That was the primary reason he turned down my offer to drive, insisting instead that I sit in the back end of the Ranger’s passenger compartment and try to boost my blood alcohol level to something on par with what Jack and Steve were operating at. Not wanting to offend the hospitality of the person who was hosting me for the next three days, I obliged and started knocking back cans of Molson at a prodigious rate.

We crossed into northern Mississippi sometime after midnight and found eastbound Highway 72 nearly deserted. Without any significant traffic to contend with, Jack kept a pace that was at least 25 mph above the posted speed limit but were still making dismal time. Having been drinking steadily since just after noon, Jack and Steve seemed to be pulling the truck over every ten miles or so to either empty their bladders or, in Steve’s case, occasionally launch a liquid lunch onto the shoulder. I tried to hold out as long as I could, not wanting to break my seal, but as we crept towards the Alabama border I finally felt the need to relieve myself.

Not wanting to waste any more time, I told Jack to hold his course. I told him I would just work my way out of the truck’s back window into the flat bed and take a leak over the pickup’s tailgate. Unfortunately, I misjudged the size of the pickup’s back window and ended up getting stuck halfway out. In a futile attempt to free myself, I tried to plant my foot on the driver’s seat and push myself the rest of the way but instead caught the Styrofoam cooler and split it right up the middle. As the cooler burst, it sent an ice-water tsunami racing towards the front of truck that doused Jack’s feet and startled him into a minor swerve. Seconds later we found ourselves on the side of the highway anyway, cleaning out the truck cab and trying to get me freed from the back window before I flooded the truck again with a liquid that, though most likely much warmer than the water that had escaped from the cooler, would be just as shocking to the senses.

In the end, everything worked out. We cleared the inside of cab and transferred the cooler, along with what was left of the ice and beer, to the truck’s bed and got back on the road. As we were accelerating, Jack’s radar detector went off and caused him to breath a deep sigh of relief. He turned his head back and told me that if I had not broken the cooler, he probably would have come up on the cop at a speed that would have sent them right after us. After expressing his gratitude, he corrected his posture, told us to keep our beers below the window, double-checked his speed and ensured that the truck was moving down the road straight as an arrow. We spotted the state trooper parked at the beginning of a bend in the road but did not even crack a sweat. Jack’s driving was absolutely perfect. It was a crying shame that the condition of the Styrofoam cooler was not.

As we turned into the bend, the wind dynamics in the truck bed must have changed. When we were right alongside the patrol car, the breeze lifted the lid right off of the cooler and sent it flying into the middle of the road. Jack and Steve were staring straight ahead and had no idea what had happened but I had seen the whole thing. I just buried my head in my hands and shook my head. Jack spotted me in the rear view mirror and asked me what was wrong. “I think we’re about to get pulled over for littering.” I answered without looking up. Sure enough, no sooner had the words left my mouth when the patrol car hit its lights and peeled off onto the road behind us.

Jack, who had been the epitome of self-assured confidence just a moment before, came completely unglued and started barking orders at Steve and I. While he maneuvered the truck onto the shoulder we frantically set to trying to force the beer cans, both empty and full beneath the seats and get rid of all the evidence of open containers that we could find. As the two troopers got out of their car, Steve threw a handful of Tic-Tacs into his mouth, shoved a penny under his tongue and inhaled a blast aerosol breath freshener. He then implored us to do the same. By the time I got the breath spray, one of the officers was already at the back of the truck and I was terrified that he would see me trying to cover up the beer on my breath. With my vision locked squarely on the approaching policeman, I opened my mouth, brought my hand up above my chin and, emphasizing speed over accuracy, swiftly sprayed peppermint-scented instant blindness right into both eyes. The pain was excruciating, taking everything I had to keep the bloodcurdling scream at the tip of my tongue contained behind my clenched teeth while I resisted the urge to claw my own eyes out.

After what seemed an eternity, I eventually heard one of the officers say something to Jack. “Evenin’ sir. You got a license and registration?”

I then heard the glovebox open and the sounds of rustling paper followed by “Here ya go, Officer.”

After a quick pause, the trooper posed another question. “Y’all been drinkin’, son?”

My heart sank right then with the realization that we were probably soon going “swampin’” a la Mississippi Burning, but Jack was unfazed. With a surety in his voice that betrayed nothing but the highest confidence he had in the Tic-Tacs, breath spray and the penny he had covered his breath up with, he turned to the trooper and replied. “Nope. Not a drop.”

I heard the policeman inhale deeply through his nose as if he was smelling Jack’s breath. After exhaling he said, “I think you have been drinkin’, son. In fact, I’d say you’ve been drinkin’ Molson beer.”

My jaw just dropped in amazement. I wiped the tears out of my eyes and managed to catch a quick glimpse of the look of awestruck surprise on Jack and Steve’s faces before they watered back up. Then, surrendering to the inevitable, Jack blurted out, “Sir, that has got to be the most incredible thing I have ever seen. How on earth could you possibly smell the brand of beer I’ve been drinking over Tic-Tacs and breath freshener?”

The cop laughed. “Smell? I didn’t smell anything. I just read the label on the can you’re holding between your legs!” Not surprisingly, the officer next asked Jack to step out of the vehicle. The other trooper appeared on the passenger side of the vehicle and asked Steve and I to step out as well.

Steve complied with the order immediately, getting out of truck and walking towards the back of the bed. I was left in the back of the cab, fumbling blindly for the lever to put the seat up so I could get out as well. After yelling at me twice to hurry up, the officer finally sauntered back over and asked me if I was having a problem. I turned my head towards where the voice was coming from and told him I couldn’t get the seat up. With a grunt of disgust, he found the lever and freed the seat before stepping back to give me room to get out. Still almost completely without sight, I swung my right leg out, stepped into the darkness, misestimated the distance to the ground, tripped, fell out of the car and rolled head over heels across the shoulder before coming to a stop just before sliding into a ditch, virtually ensuring an encounter with the breathalyzer as soon as it was finished with Jack. “You that drunk, son?” the trooper asked.

“No,” I answered. “I just can’t see.” A fresh bolt of agony ripped through my eyes when the cop shown his flashlight into them.

“You blind?”

“Not usually.” Knowing fully well that we were busted, I could not see anything good coming from me trying to lie my way out of the situation (not that I usually have any kind of moral aversion to that kind of thing) so I decided that it was the time for the truth and just blurted out what I had done to myself. The officer chuckled and told me to stay put, as if I was in any shape to make a break for freedom without a sense of vision.

When I finally regained my sight I was watching Jack failing his roadside sobriety tests while Steve had a go at the breathalyzer, which I did not understand because he was not the one that was driving. Eventually though, one of the officers walked up to me and asked if I was 21. After acknowledging that I was, he asked me to prove it so I pulled out my military ID card. The trooper’s demeanor immediately changed. “You boys in the service?”

I nodded my head and pointed at Jack. “Yes, sir. Me and him are.”

The officer handling Jack then turned and asked, “You guys in that Desert Storm operation?”, referring to the first war against Iraq that, at the time, the troops were just beginning to return from.

I took the cue from the officer’s question that the moment for truth had passed and started lying my ass off. “We sure were, officer! It was terrible! We spent over a year at sea battling those savages and just got back this week. We haven’t had a beer in nine months!” In actuality, I spent the entire war trying to (unsuccessfully) learn how to surf in California and Hawaii. Jack spent the war sampling bar girls two at a time all over the Pacific Rim.

Jack and I ended up fabricating war stories for what seemed like more than a half hour. Eventually, the officers gave us back our IDs, made us pour out the open beers we had in the cab and told us to make a beeline for the Alabama state line, which was about ten miles down the road. We thanked them profusely for their understanding of our situation and promised that we would never even think about drinking and driving again. We then got in the truck and within fifteen minutes crossed into Alabama.

Once over the state line, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief at the serious consequences we had narrowly avoided. We were incredibly jubilant and in the mood to celebrate so we finished off the rest of the beer over the course of what remained of our journey to Decatur Alabama. We figured that we had gotten our scrape with the law out of the way early and should be in the clear for the rest of our bender. That was pretty much a true assumption for Jack and Steve but in my case I could not have foreseen that I would again find myself highlighted in a police officer’s spotlight less than twenty-four hours later.

The following day was positively brutal. The three of us spent the morning attending to our hangovers with some hair of the dog and by the time we arrived at the house of some of Jack’s friends for a July 4th picnic, we were barely able to stand. The libations were plentiful, the food was never ending, the company was without equal and the girls were absolutely to die for. I would have been hard pressed to find a more attractive grouping of the tender gender in any other locale in the US and, much to my advantage, they seemed to find northern big city boys fairly interesting. I met a really sweet belle who I’ll call Bobbi Sue (to play up the southern stereotype and mask the fact that for the life of me, I can’t remember what her real name was) who I hit it off with really well. She was incredibly gorgeous, way out of my league and was basically perfect in looks, body and personality. As an added bonus, she had a southern drawl that just drove me wild.

After sunset, we were all gathered around a bonfire when my conversation with Bobbi turned to kissing, which led to embracing, which soon led to a level of mauling that was probably highly inappropriate within such a large group of people. She eventually excused herself, exchanged a few quiet words with Jack and then returned to ask me if I wanted to go for a ride. Of course I did, so we excused ourselves and went to her car, an old beater with no air conditioning which made for some very uncomfortable traveling conditions in the middle of an Alabaman summer.

As we tooled down the road, both of us were sweating profusely when Bobbi turned to me and said, “My Gawd, it’s hawt! You feel like going for a swim?”

Though I kind of knew where this was going, I felt I needed some confirmation. “I’d love to, but I don’t have a bathing suit.”

She shot me a cruelly seductive smile and said, “Oh, that don’t matter much. I don’t have one either.” My heart started racing, I felt my blood pressure shoot through the roof and my breath got short. A few minutes later she pulled over to the side of the road and led me through some brush to a pond that seemed to me to be barely fifty feet off of the road. Before I knew what had happened she was in the water. Her clothes were not. I followed suit as quickly as I possibly could. I jumped in and swam after her, but she teased me out to the other side of the pond. Once I got there, she swam away again, splashing me every time I got close. I eventually caught her on the far bank and just as we were about to kiss, the cops hit the spotlight.

Now, I have always believed in chivalry. When in trouble, a man should always protect his woman, making certain that she is secure before looking after his own welfare. At least, that is what I believe when I am out in public fully clothed. When I’m completely naked and trespassing however, I’m more or less a creature of instinct. As soon as that light hit me I was off like a flash (no pun intended), diving into the bush.

My life as a fugitive was decidedly short lived. I was stumbling panic-stricken through the underbrush, letting out a litany of colorful adjectives as I tried to navigate my way through the dense undergrowth in my bare feet. Before long, I found myself in the spotlight again while a voice boomed over the patrol car’s loudspeaker, “Where in Gawd’s name do you think you’re going, kid?”

That turned out to be a damn good question. I stopped cold, stood straight up and surveyed my surroundings. Seeing nothing but darkness, I shrugged my shoulders, pointed in the general direction I had been heading and answered, “Over there?”

“Git back here!” the voice responded. I obeyed and walked the twenty feet back to the pond. I was greeted by a grinning officer who asked, “You know this is private property?”

I shook my head. “No sir, I’m not from around here.”

“Where you from?”


“You got some ID for me?”

I instinctively reached for my wallet but only managed to come up with a handful of my own ass. I then pointed towards my clothes on the other side of the pond. “It’s in my pants.”

The officer’s partner, who was coming down from the car grabbed them on his way over. As he was making his way to us, the cop in front of me then asked, “So, what do you two think you’re doing here?”

At this question, my brain instantly began formulating a cover story. Unfortunately, the only thing it could come up with right then and there had something to do with alien abduction and bizarre medical experiments so I wisely opted to do something that just did not come naturally to me when dealing with members of the law enforcement community. I opted to tell the truth.

A bit irritated by the delay in my response the officer repeated his question, this time adding the word “boy” at the end of it. Admitting defeat, I just looked at him and said “Foreplay, sir.”

After a few minutes of petty harassment, the officers ordered us to get dressed. They then listed off the number of ordinances we had broken and expounded upon the various penalties we could be subjected to. After he finished, one of the policemen handed me back my ID and said, “But we’re going to let you off with a warning tonight though. I figure you’ve got enough punishment coming your way.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked as I slipped my wallet back into my back pocket.

The officer shouted up at his partner to turn the spotlight back onto the area I had tried to escape through. “That place is just one big patch of poison ivy. My bet is that anyone dumb enough to try and run through it naked has one hell of an uncomfortable week ahead of them. I figure fining you now would just be redundant. Come 48 hours from now, you’ll have learned your lesson.”

Man, did I ever.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I instinctively reached for my wallet but only managed to come up with a handful of my own ass

That has to be one of the best lines I have ever read. I am going to fail my exams because of your long and hilarious stories. But I won't regret a thing.


9:55 AM  
Blogger JEP said...

Thank You Hannah. I almost forgot about this one (the swimming part anyway)until Amanda jarred my memory with the words "Ivy League". I guess I tried to repress the memory.

6:27 AM  

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