No one wants to admit they got pulled over three times in one night by the cops for the same infraction. But, I did. Let's see how this one unfolds...
Ft Huachuca(say it like your sneezing)in Arizona was my second duty station when I was in the Army. At the time, it was the home of the Signal Corp, although I think it's now moved to Ft Gordon, GA, where I attended my telecommunication training. The post itself was pretty chill, as we were mostly support companies, no combat arms like infantry. Although the possibility of a deployment was always there, typically my MOS(military occupational specialty)was more of a rear unit. My company, the 362nd, was allowed a fair amount of freedom and my job was relatively easy. Translation: I did a lot of partying.
I worked in Operations with the Commander and First Sergeant. When I arrived to the post all the slots for my job were currently filled, so I became a desk jockey. Why I would've gotten orders to somewhere that didn't need me for the job I trained for was beyond me, but that kind of logic is not uncommon in the military. To use some military jargon, it was "ate-up" or a bit FUBAR, or maybe a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot sorta scenario.
Either way, I was happy to work in OPs, as I was able to take advantage of some of the privileges of working with the leaders of a company. My entire military career, I tended to get in trouble. My father called the behavior "trying to beat the system". At the time I called it fun. Looking back, I think I was just a bit of a dumbass. Hey, I was 22. So, whenever I'd get in some hot water or maybe "sham" out of some duty I didn't wanna do, I could smooth talk the Captain or First Sergeant around to my side of things. I also was treated a little differently by most of the NCOs and other soldiers in our unit, as I was in charge of all their paperwork. I handled their finances and the applications for medals and awards, as well as any requests for some of the highly sought after tech schools Huachuca offered, such as fiber splicing. It wasn't that I had a lot of pull at my low rank of E-4, but I did become chummy with the officers and NCOs that could pull strings.
Allie was one of the clerks in OPs. She'd been with the company for nearly a year and knew all the ins and outs. She was a cute, petite gal a couple years older, who was from Alabama, too. She took me under her wing and showed me the ropes. We synced up together almost immediately and started dating.
Allie, like nearly every woman I've met over the years, loved to go dancing. Her favorite place to dance was a country music venue at the edge of the little town, maybe 10 minutes from post. It had a large dance floor and a serious sound system, and it's where most of the country music fans went on weekends, dressed up in their cowboy boots and tight blue jeans. I'm not much of a dancer, country or otherwise. My fingers gots the rhythm, but apparently not my legs or hips. I was happy to take her out, though, and drink beer and tequila shots while she was whirled and flipped around the dance floor.
This particular Friday night, we went out a little earlier than usual. Typically we'd wait until around 10 to head to the bars, but we decided to start pre-gaming in my barracks right after work. Allie lived in a house off post, but brought civvies(civilian clothes)with her so she could change from her work uniform in my room. The party was already in full swing in the barracks and my roommate met us at the door with tequila shots. I've never loved tequila, but when you live in the desert and you're like 30 minutes from Mexico, it just feels right.
Allie and I partied with the barracks troops for a couple of hours and she decided it was time to go. Usually we'd get a large crew together and take a van cab to the club(this was long before Uber, friends). Which would've been a really smart idea that night. No one else wanted to go out early, so I decided we'd just drive. We both felt fine, little bit of a buzz, no problem.
2 problems. First, your liver can only process alcohol at a certain rate. So, if you drink quickly, even though you're not feeling the effects at the moment--you will. And usually, it hits you all at once. Second, in all the excitement of partying and hanging out, I'd forgotten to run a very important errand that would've possibly made our evening much less eventful.
We hit the club around 7:30 and it was already moderately busy, considering the time. Allie wasted no time in grabbing a shot with me at the bar and hitting the dance floor, having no trouble finding a partner, all cute in her tight jeans and boots. I grabbed a beer and parked at a table, watching her smile and do far more exercise than I cared to. I mean, I did PT that morning and ran a few miles, it was time for sitting on my ass and drinking some beer! 'Merica.
Allie would come rushing off the dance floor after a few songs and I'd have a shot and beer ready. She'd stay long enough to catch her breath, down the shot, take a couple sips of beer, and some guy would come whisk her away. I'd always catch the dude's eyes and give him the casual man nod. The man nod is one of our more advanced forms of non-verbal communication. It can convey many things. I would usually add a slightly raised eyebrow, so it was something akin to "Ok, fella, you take her out there and dance it up real nice like, but she's going home with me." , to which the return nod would say "Easy there, guy, we're just having fun." If it were a fancier place, I'd probably use a less redneck man nod, but we were in a honky tonk, after all.
After a couple of hours of pouring beer, whiskey and tequila down my gullet, Allie'd gotten her fill of being slung around the room at a high rate of speed. I got dizzy just watching her. Or maybe it was the alcohol. Either way, we took one last shot, paid up, and piled into my tiny little red Nissan Sentra. A fairly inconspicuous car, unless you've got a bright white light shining from the rear of the car like a beacon to every cop who see you. Which I did.
You see, a couple days before I'd stopped at a gas station off post and this group of young, wanna-be cholos in an old Buick hoopty swung too wide around the pumps and ran directly into the driver's side rear of my car. I walked out of the gas station as they performed the hit-and-run at a whopping 2.5 miles an hour. I ran toward the obviously stoned guys, yelling for them to stop, but they sped away. The only damage was a busted out taillight. No big deal, I'd grab some of the red tape from an auto parts shop or Walmart before driving at night. Except, I didn't.
Blue lights #1. Allie asked me if I was ok to drive as we got in the car. I definitely wasn't and shouldn't have driven, but hey, I was 22 and kind of a dumbass. I closed one eye so the world would go from two images back to one and pulled out of the parking lot. Yeah, you read that correctly. smh...
We made it a half mile from the club and those blue lights in the rear view mirror that make your heart jump halfway up your throat, well, hit my rear view mirror. I could've worded that sentence better. Anyway, I looked at Allie, who had a panicked look on her face, which didn't help my constitution, and willed myself to be soberer as I pulled to the shoulder. I knew sober wasn't happening, so I was hoping for soberer. The world was a little more focused with both eyes open at this point, so things were looking up. What's sad is I'd still not remembered the taillight and had no clue why the cop pulled us over.
"Evening officer, how can I help you, sir?" I said, as the smell of beer and liquor rolled out the car.
"Evening. Do you know why I pulled you over?" "No, sir." "Well, son, you've got a busted taillight on the driver's side. You know how that happened?"
And then it hit me. We were going to go to jail and I was going to get a DUI because I completely blew off, and then forgot, grabbing 2 dollars worth of red tape from flipping Wal-Mart. Luckily, since I knew the reason he pulled us over, I could attempt to use my gift of gab. I valiantly regaled the tale of being beset upon by some ill-willed youths while helpless to intercede, to hopefully sway the lawman toward two poor soldier's favor. And it mighta worked, had I not smelled like a liquor store.
"I hate to hear that son, but I've got to ask. Have you or your friend there been drinking? Let me see both your driver's license, please." I attempted to quell my shaking hands as I retrieved my ID. "Sit tight, Mr. Johnson, I'll be right back." As the cop left, Allie and I frantically started chewing gum(as if that would help)and discussed our options. Namely if she was less drunk than I was, so she could drive us home, as sometimes cops in smaller towns were cool like that. But alas, the shots had hit her hard, as well.
"Mr. Johnson, I'm gonna write you a warning for the taillight, you make sure you get that fixed tomorrow, ok?" I nodded, waiting for the hammer to drop. "And this here is a consent form for a breathalyzer test. If you do not consent to the breathalyzer..." I honestly don't remember what he said from that point on. I simply knew I was screwed. I signed the form and he went back to his cruiser. Breathalyzer's were relatively new across the US and I'd heard a couple of rumors on how to beat them from "barracks lawyers", as we called them. This one involved sucking on pennies. Of course, I knew at the time it was probably bogus, but one doesn't dwell on "maybes" when one faces the possibility of spending his first night in jail. I snatched a handful of pennies from the console and pretended they were delicious watermelon Jolly Ranchers. I saw the cop approaching from the mirror and spit the pennies out. I think I was drunker than when the cop first pulled us over. Stupid alcohol.
The cop had me blow into the small breathalyzer as hard as I could. I kept trying to blow easy, hoping it wouldn't register. He kept barking for me to blow harder, so I finally gave in and blew out until I was blue in the face(the damn thing really did have a hard time registering). It beeped and he looked at me and said ".09". Just .01 over the legal limit. Pennies or no, I was drunker than that. I think we were both surprised. He scratched his head as I tried not to hyperventilate from the news and nearly blowing my lungs out beta testing his prototype breathalyzer. "Well son, I'm gonna cut you a break. Ma'am, I'm gonna let you drive to post. You and this young man get this vehicle home and park it."
I could scarcely believe what I heard. Especially considering Allie weighed like a buck oh five(that's 105 lbs for non-southerners or non-South Park watchers)and she'd drank nearly as much as me. And he didn't give her a breathalyzer or nothin'! Hey, whatever, we swapped seats, waited for him to pull off, I told Allie I was fine to drive, we swapped back, and hit the road, Jack.
Blue Lights #2. We made it a whopping four miles further and had our heart rates lowered back close to normal when the lights hit us again. My cop beacon was still hard at work. I pulled into a strip mall parking lot and waited for deja vu. The cop came up and went through the same spiel as his predecessor. I informed him this was so 10 minutes ago. Well, no, I didn't, but I did tell him we'd gotten a warning on it and showed him the paperwork. I knew this was a risky move as he might try to contact the officer and I could've gotten in trouble for driving, but hoped he would be swayed by our previous reprimand and would act kindly toward two poor soldier's favor. Which mighta worked if I didn't still smell like a brewery.
This cop was old school, or perhaps didn't have one of the newfangled breathalyzers, and had me exit the car to do a field sobriety test. This was my first full blown field sobriety test and while I was nervous, and still pretty drunk, I was a very coordinated individual with a good center of balance. I barely stumbled getting out of the car.
First up was some kind of finger test where you have to touch certain fingers on one hand to the other in a pattern, in quick succession. Yeah, I'm a piano player, next! We proceeded to the balance tests. Now, if you've ever lived in the desert, you know that during the day the temperature can be exceedingly hot, but the nights can be just as cold. I was still dressed in barracks partying clothes---t-shirt, shorts, and sandals, which was appropriate at 6 in the evening, but not 11 at night. It was frickin cold. Which I quickly realized I could use to my advantage. I really didn't have to embellish much as my body was racked with tremors from the cold and my nerves. I performed the balance tests fairly well, I thought, and after a couple more "touch your nose" kinda things, I was told to return to my car. I got back in and Allie and I waited. And waited. There were three cop cars on the scene at this point and I'm not unsure they weren't just making us wait while they shot the breeze in the parking lot. Maybe they communicated with the other cop and realized I was probably under the legal limit then. I'll never know---all I do know is the main cop finally returned with a, "Alright, Mr. Johnson, we're gonna let you go. You drive straight to post and you make sure you get that fixed tomorrow, ok?" I hastily agreed and swore to myself I'd be up at 0800 to go to the store and buy some damn red tape.
Blue Lights #3. So we drove the last couple miles to the post gate with our breath held, waiting for more lights. They never came. We showed our military IDs to the MPs at the gate, who informed me my driver's side taillight was out. With a scathing look, I replied that we were painfully aware and mentioned the night's activities. The young soldier's both had a long laugh and waved us through, saying, "Hey man, you might wanna get that fixed tomorrow!" Everyone in the military thinks they're a comedian.
Huachuca is pretty spread out, so it was still another ten minutes or so before we'd make it back to my barracks, especially driving the slow speed limits on post. And I was definitely obeying every traffic law to the T. Allie and I were now sober, and pretty much exhausted, from having adrenaline pumping through our veins the past two hours. We just wanted to get home and crash. I rounded a curve about a half mile from the barracks--I could see the building, we were there! When, you guessed it, more blue lights.
The two MPs jumped out of their jeep and walked up to the car. Man, this was getting old. They flanked the car, normal SOP, and the one on my side was like, "Hey guys, how ya doing? You know you got a taillight out?" Luckily, I knew if anybody would have our back, and appreciate, the crazy events of the night, it would be some fellow grunts. "Dude, you are the THIRD person to pull us over tonight! We left the club over two hours ago! I definitely know my taillight is out!" After the MPs stopped laughing and asked what company I was in, they pointed over toward my barracks. "OK, guys, go ahead and get to the barracks." You know what they said next. "And make sure you get that taillight fixed tomorrow!" Hilarious. I sure as hell fixed it the next day.
(Dear reader, I definitely do not advocate driving while drinking. I'm fortunate that I never paid the high price that many have paid, which is injuring or killing myself, or worse, injuring or killing someone else. Do not risk it---you will eventually either get caught, wreck a vehicle, and hurt yourself or others. Or all of the above. It ruins lives, don't do it, call an Uber. Also, put some damn red tape on your broken taillight.)