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Author: Charles Arsenault

Neighborhood: Spring Valley

Age: 30

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.

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MrTurkeypoult Nov. 23, 2010 @ 5:09 p.m.

I really like this read! This guy really brings the harsh realities of spitting things like pieces of teeth and the horrors of the smells of another's feces as truly traumatizing to a point that I could actually imagine myself there in his place. Not to mention I could actually feel the cheap grape drink hurt my own injured mouth after I decided the pain was too much to eat some nasty bologna.Also, he really hits it home with the description of "America's future".These kids that if someone called idiots would be complimenting them to the utmost highest standards for which they would be not at all deserving of. Good job! I have now subscribed to the San Diego Reader and am looking forward with much anticipation to future writings from this author!


JedipimpFlood Nov. 23, 2010 @ 6:40 p.m.

Wow, what an elequently written piece on what it's like to be a common criminal working on the chain gang to pay your debt to society. Though his obvious racisism against white people shines through in the first paragraph, I find myself actually feeling for this poor degenerate soul who probably had few choises in life. No doubt he was beaten regularly by a drunken stepfather in a jealous rage over his mother's infidelities with numerous white men. This story was so well written, I can't wait until this guy gets his third DUI, which he inevitbly will, and writes us another story about what it's like to spend enough time in jail to be another man's bride. Thanks, Arsenaultc80, for giving us law abiding citizens a glimpse of what it's like to live on the other side of the law. Don't get me wrong, I'm pulling for this guy to straighten out his act, it's just that he's probably at home right now drinking copious amounts of whiskey with his so called friends, and playing rock-paper-scissors to see who is the least drunk and therefore going to be the one to drive them to the local smoke shop so they can buy nitrous oxide (whip-its) and salvia.


Founder Nov. 23, 2010 @ 7:26 p.m.

Reality is Poetry instead of fiction!

I'm glad all you lost was teeth...


Shared Nov. 23, 2010 @ 8:06 p.m.

Sweet story, with a positive spin. I don't know why this "Jedipimp" is hating so much. God knows we need more pimps with Star Wars mind control abilities getting all high and mighty. Don't fall to the dark side Arsenaultc8o, like this other "gem" to society did... a long, long time ago in a basement far, far away from reality. Keep up the good work and keep writing el...O...quently.


MsGrant Nov. 24, 2010 @ 9:01 a.m.

"Here's to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems."

Homer Simpson


RondellHolmes Nov. 29, 2010 @ 9:25 p.m.

What kind of San Diego self-loathing white guilt having rich liberal momma's boy is this that expects sympathy for actually having to pay the price for the crimes he commits, but also has the audacity to call picking up litter "grueling hard labor"? Unbelievable!


RondellHolmes Nov. 29, 2010 @ 10:01 p.m.

... and another thing: PALIN FOR PRESIDENT 2012!


Boogie Dec. 6, 2010 @ 10:40 a.m.

Charles, the irony - you criticize others for their use of the English language, yet end your story with a preposition.


Charles Arsenault Dec. 7, 2010 @ 4:04 p.m.

Thank you everybody for you're comments whether they were supportive or critical. Although I never criticized anyone in this story for not using proper syntax, only the ignorant manner in which they conducted themselves, so I find there to be no irony at all. I'm pretty sure "to" is a preposition and "too" is not, BTW.


SurfPuppy619 Dec. 7, 2010 @ 5:45 p.m.

When I was a party animal in High Shcool, I drove drunk every weekend, and as I look back on those days I am kucky I didn't kill anyone.

Driving drunk is the low point of my life-even though I was never caught. I view it as one the biggest mistakes of my life-but I can now look back and say I learned from my mistakes.

I stopped drinking alcohol at age 28, for no particular reason except it just wasn't fun anymore. I look back on my drinking years of 16-28 and view it as just a learning phase I had to go through.

Alcohol is probably the biggest factor in making very bad mistakes for most people. 75% of all people arrested are under the influence of alcohol or some other drug-but mostly alcohol.

I have never missed it.

As I look back on those years I only wished I had stopped sooner..................BTW-I have no problem with social drinkers-as long as their drinking does not harm others I am fine with it.


MsGrant Dec. 7, 2010 @ 6:48 p.m.

I loved your story!! I believe that a cautionary tale can be an effective deterent to someone thinking about driving when they have been drinking. Well done - it took a lot of courage to write about your experience.


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