Author: Charles Arsenault
Neighborhood: Spring Valley
Occupation: Electronics technician (seasonally at McMurdo Station, Antarctica)
The judge had sentenced me to many hours of hard labor. He hadn’t mentioned the complete lack of intelligence that I would be subjected to, which would be 19-year-old white kids talking about how “gangsta” they were. Back-breaking labor was one thing, but I had no idea that I was in for that kind of torture.
One of the faux-gangster kids had just finished telling another about his extensive collection of samurai swords when the Caltrans work van we were in pulled over on the 125 South in between Navajo and the changeover to I-8. We were assigned the duty of pulling weeds and picking up trash for that stretch of highway. Although it was not as physically challenging as some things I had been assigned to in previous days, it was ten times as monotonous. We spread out and started our chores.
There was an older gentleman that looked even more out of place than me, and I attempted to break the ice with a remark about the naive youngsters: “Nice to hear from the future of America — I can tell that this country will be going places!” He made a nervous chuckle and quickly moved on. I think he had already judged me as in a category lesser than himself.
Is there no one here I can relate to? I thought to myself as I picked up half-empty beer cans. There were a lot of them, and they were a reminder of how I got there in the first place, and although I may have endangered other drivers that fateful night, I despise litterbugs. Besides the never-ending cigarette butts, condom wrappers came in second place for most abundant on the side of the road, and then gum wrappers. It hadn’t occurred to me, until that point, that the highway would have been a major venue for drunken copulation while maintaining minty-fresh breath.
In previous days, I had managed to relate to some of my fellow workers and engage in a few decent conversations. Most of us were there for DUIs, and we would talk about the different programs we were in to satisfy the conditions of our probation. These programs consist of different groups and classes and AA meetings. One guy had said he was in the three-month program for his first offense; another was in the nine-month program for his first offense, but he had been caught with a higher BAC.
I was in it for the long haul. I was in the 18-month program for being a two-time loser. One of the guys jokingly said, starting with the three-monther and ending with me, “Hey, we’ve got the good, the bad, and the ugly!” I laughed along but felt ashamed.
Trading stories of how we had been caught was a big thing. I would tell of my first experience, on St. Patrick’s Day in 2004. I had been drinking with some friends at a bar in Tierrasanta, and two of us had made an inadequate gesture of responsibility by giving our keys to the bartender and telling him not to give them back, not under any circumstance. This bartender later gave us both sets because we said we had to obtain “something” from our cars. I guess brainpower isn’t a prerequisite for that job, but ultimately the responsibility was not his.
In my friend’s state, he exited off the wrong exit at Aero Drive (instead of Friars) on 15 South. I, following in haste and believing that the exit was longer, quickly smashed into the back of his car. I woke up a few minutes later — spitting out pieces of teeth, with my car still running and the air bag deployed — and quickly drove up Aero to find a place to regroup.
After parking my car in some parking lot, I started to walk toward him in an attempt to regain my bearings, believing that I was somewhere on Friars Road. I called out, “Are you alright?”
“Huh?” he answered.
“I just crashed into the back of you! Are you alright, man?”
“That was you?”
I can’t recall where the conversation went from here, but he made it home just in time for his car to die as he pulled into his parking spot at his apartment complex. I was spotted by the cops on the side of the road and spent the night in jail.
Jail wasn’t fun. I was surrounded by cold concrete with some bleacher seats and a stainless steel toilet/sink combo that some homeless man would later defecate into without a proper courtesy flush. Perhaps I shouldn’t have given my bag lunch away to him, rousing his digestive tract, but I had no desire to eat the fusion of rancid bologna, processed cheese, and soggy bread that had probably been made a week prior. I did, however, take advantage of the grape juice they provided to quench my thirst, which had bold, black letters on it that said, “CONTAINS NO JUICE.” It was purple-colored sugar water, but it was better than drinking out of the sink.
Being that it was St. Patrick’s Day, I was joined by many people who were in the same trouble that I was, although most of them had ended up there from being stopped at random checkpoints. Many were saying how ridiculous it was that they were in jail because they had only had “one or two” beers and didn’t feel intoxicated. I, not thinking about the consequence of being truthful, described the actions that had led me to this predicament. They immediately vilified me: “See, you deserve to be here!” and “You’re a real piece of crap, aren’t you? If it weren’t for people like you, they wouldn’t have to set up checkpoints, and I wouldn’t even be here!”
Perhaps that should’ve taught me to keep my mouth shut, but there I was, many years later, describing the same events to some of my public-service workmates at our lunch break. But this group found the story amusing. I guess these were drunks of a higher order that would not judge a man for something they were guilty of themselves. That was on one of my luckier days, when I was assigned to work with some pretty down-to-earth fellows.
I have many more days to do, and I can only hope I have no more run-ins with “the future of America.” It will be a long road to complete everything I have to do to get my life back it order, and I’m not looking forward to it. All I can do is take it a day at a time and keep my promise to myself that I will never do anything to put myself in that situation again.