It’s just past 3 a.m. on a Saturday night. Edward sits handcuffed in the back of an El Cajon police holding van. He watches through a smeared window while his black Ford Focus is hitched to a tow truck, the result of his failed sobriety test. The cop says he was driving erratically and straddling lanes. He doesn’t feel drunk at all, despite blowing a 0.11.
At this moment, he chooses to blame his predicament solely on the fact that Santana Mexican Grill makes the very best carne asada burritos in all of San Diego. Edward was on his way home from a bachelor party when an overwhelming need for a burrito overtook him. It was during his indecision as to whether he should stop and get one that the swerving began. He decided that yes, he would stop for a burrito. He turned his right blinker on and moved into the far lane of the 8 to take the Magnolia/67 exit ramp.
On second thought, his wife Kate (all names have been changed) was probably worried that he had yet to come home. She was waiting up. He was sure of it. She wouldn’t be happy. So he put his left blinker on and changed lanes again. But he was so hungry — right blinker back on.
But if he didn’t get home soon, his wife would hold it against him the next morning. Back into the left lane. Screw it, he thought, it was past 3:00 a.m. She was already going to be upset. What difference would 15 minutes make? He veered right and then saw the red flashing lights in his rearview mirror.
It’s been more than an hour since Edward gulped down his last drink at the bachelor party. He cut himself off shortly after two of his friends were ejected from Miramar Speed Circuit. They were being belligerent and operating go-carts while under the influence. The irony is not lost on him.
No big deal, he thinks, when he sees the cop getting out of his squad car.
He reaches into his glove box for a small bottle of Listerine, which he swooshes in his mouth and swallows. He forgets that Listerine has alcohol in it.
“Do you realize you were swerving back there?” the cop asks him.
“I was pondering whether or not to stop for a burrito.”
When San Diegans try to beat a DUI, they’ll say anything. Edward’s brother-in-law told an officer who found him passed out in his car on the side of the 52 freeway in Santee that he was napping after an especially difficult night. A former neighbor of mine told a cop that it was “that time of the month. The terrible cramps make it difficult to drive.” A coworker of Edward’s told an officer that the reason he had been driving in the turn lane on Adams Avenue in Normal Heights was that he was “unfamiliar with the neighborhood, not drunk.”
Of these four excuses, only the last one worked.
In San Diego it seems if you don’t have a DUI, chances are your neighbor does. According to insurance.com, America’s Finest City topped the list for having “the largest percentage of drivers with alcohol-related driving convictions” in mid-2010. (The list was based on information provided by people who’d asked for a car-insurance quote from insurance.com.) Over the Labor Day weekend, San Diego cops arrested 957 drunks. There were two DUI-related fatalities during that four-day stretch.
Edward’s initial thought upon failing his field sobriety test is that he may lose his job, followed by the thought of having to explain the DUI to Kate. Their alarm clock is set for about five hours from now, in time to wake him for church. Will he have to tell his pastor about this?
Ten minutes later, he is sitting in the brightly lit El Cajon police station, located on Fletcher Parkway, across the street from the Parkway Plaza mall. Edward is sharing a bench with a girl in handcuffs. She is wearing smeared pink lipstick and platform heels. The officers speak to her in gruff tones. Edward gets the impression he has established a much better rapport with them. The police have decided to remove Edward’s cuffs, thanks to his complacent behavior, which is due to the out-of-body surrealism that has overtaken him.
It’s cold and Edward is shivering. Across from him is a desk where a police officer casually fills out his DUI paperwork as if it were a routine procedure. But Edward can feel that a massive shift is about to occur in his life.
He consoles himself with the thought that it could be worse. He tries to envision something far more terrible happening to him, like the loss of a limb, the death of a loved one, his wife leaving him for an elderly millionaire. He decides to put an end to his pity party. He screwed up big-time, but he accepts his predicament with a Zen-like calm. He could’ve hurt someone or hurt himself. He is an idiot. He realizes that he deserves the consequences of his actions. He forgives Santana for making those tempting burritos.
The first phone call is to his wife. She is groggy, and it takes her several minutes to realize her husband has been arrested.
“What am I supposed to do?” she asks, turning hostile. “I have two sleeping kids here. I’m not waking them up and taking them to a police station. I am not picking you up! Figure it out!”
She wants to tell him that he is a moron, but she realizes from the tone of his voice that he is well aware of that fact already. She pulls herself together and advises him to call someone else.
Edward calls his brother-in-law. Nate is the easy choice since he has received a DUI himself. At least there will be zero judgment.
Edward imagines that an upcoming family dinner at his in-laws’ house is going to be awkward.