April A-to-Z: A Celebration of the Automobile! (If You’re the Devil)
Many years ago – I was nineteen or twenty years old; the age when men think they know everything and if their lives go well, later discover they knew nothing – I got into the habit of hanging out at a little bar across town. It was the local bar where Bio-Dad hung out every night and got completely drunk before staggering a couple blocks home. I tended to go on Friday nights. A group of five owned the bar and served as its main bartenders. We were chummy with all of them. They replaced my beers without needing to ask – until I stopped them, at which time we switched to vodka and tonics. And if the night grew long enough the vodka and tonics turned into shots of sipping whisky. Then when the bar officially closed at one thirty or so in the morning they’d lock the door and often a few of us would stay behind and help ourselves behind the bar for free.
Sometimes Bio-Dad and I cabbed it back to his place where I crashed on a pull-out sofa, or sometimes I would just retreat to the parking lot and crawl into the backseat of my Chev Cavalier and sleep off the worst of things before drifting home in the morning with a pounding head and a blood alcohol level likely still on the wrong side of the limit. I was not a big guy back then.
But then I ran into occasions where I would go there on weeknights – such as when the Blue Jays were busy winning post-season games every night en route to their first World Series championship. Everyone in the bar got a free shot with every Jays home run. And there were a lot of them. On nights like those I would slip out of the place at two or three in the morning with a work day ahead of me and a need for a short sleep and my alarm clock, and a strong sense of bravado and legitimacy: It’s the middle of the night. No one’s on the roads. Certainly no children. I can see straight. I’m walking in a straight line. There’s nothing to stop me getting home safe and sound. No big deal.
One night I even came out with keys in hand and my car in the rock star spot – right in front of the door. A cruiser with two officers on board sat parked one spot away from me – an empty spot between us, and with them looking on and my nerves tingling I smoothly slid my key in the lock, calmly entered the car, started it up and right before their eyes, calmly and smoothly drove away.
Then one night as winter had come and the roads were snowy and channeled by snow banks, I drove home from the bar in the middle of the night, confident in my mastery of the situation, and then discovered to my absolute amazement – that I was not in control. The lane I was presumably driving in (the lines were entirely erased from view beneath the tight packed shiny snow) was ending, becoming an extra left-turn lane, while I was going straight, and right directly in front of me was a snow bank and a towering steel lamp post.
I cranked the wheel, bumped off the snow bank and then repeatedly over-steered back and forth trying to gain control of the car. Eventually I hit another icy snow bank and came to a stop.
A motorist came by a few moments later and stopped beside me. “I’m fine!” I said with a wave. Soon after I restarted the car and continued home.
In the morning I looked at my car in the driveway. It wasn’t going anywhere. I’d be calling in sick. I’d done enough damage it would need repairs. My partner looked on beside me, knowing full well what sort of thing had gone on the night before. “What have you got to say for yourself?” he said calmly.
I’ve rarely felt so ashamed. All I said was: “I’m never going back.”
Bio-dad has passed away and the corner bar became a number of different retail joints over the years, including a music store for a while. I only ever went back there once: to buy guitar strings.