The reality set in when a white Richmond Police van was waiting for us in the Museum District. This is not a joke, the four of us realized. We were actually being taken down to the police station because of heavy drinking. It was not, however, a typical drunken trip to the station. Instead of it being a starlit stumble to a police vehicle against our own will, it was 10 o’clock in the morning, the officers waiting for us were not our enemies, and we weren’t drunk. Yet. They were about to get us drunk for free, and it was completely legal.
This is how the logic follows as I saw it: Police Academies all over the United States are training recruits for real-world situations. Recruits need to learn how to administer the sobriety test. How can they learn without real, live drunk people? Someone decided somewhere that the only way to do this was go out to the ABC store and then pick up some people. Enter us.
Almost everyone in the van was on the verge of giggling en route to the station. We often did, but the two officers up front seemed to find the situation little more than chuckle-worthy, largely maintaining the policely stern stares we’ve all come to know and love. They weren’t comfortable laying down their arms, especially not for these idiots. Relations between southern and northern soldiers post-Civil War probably weren’t much more awkward. We arrived at the station and were escorted to a presentation room with projector screens, a handful of officers, about ten other civilians, and a perfectly manicured table covered with what appeared to be munchies. My eyes zoomed and darted quickly from each chip brand to its corresponding dip. There are only a few circumstances in life in which I adopt a Sherlock Holmes-like ability to zoom in on details and make unbelievably quick deductions, and none of them are useful. Chips and dips is one of them. Off-brand tortilla chips and Food Lion brand salsa: Average. Ruffles potato chips and Lays onion dip: They must have read my file.
After we sat down, a thin man with glasses and a tight red polo tucked into his khakis strutted out in front of us. This was our curator. He was a serious man, who proceeded to explain that this wasn’t his first rodeo as he looked off into the distance. Apparently, every person’s own glory is visible in the distance, and vain people have a really hard time not staring at it while they talk. We learned that he administers these all over the eastern seaboard and we were given the impression that we were not about to surprise him as his well-oiled drunken machine had seen it all. As he talked he continued to tuck his polo into his pants, and one wondered if it would tear at the abdomen given enough time. He explained that we would be drinking heavily for two straight hours, and that Officer Jones behind him would be administering the drinks. Officer Jones, stocky, middle-aged, bald, and in full uniform, was grinning and waving as if to special needs children at sunday school.
Our fearless leader then outlined the rules of the game. We could choose between Rum, Vodka, and Bourbon, but we could not switch liquors once we started. We could, however, switch mixers, he told us, pointing to the table with all kinds of 2 liters of Coke, Sprite, and Ginger Ale. He then cautioned that we would only be receiving a single shot per drink, and if we tried to ask for a “double,” Officer Jones would only giggle and administer the prescribed amount. At this point, the room’s giddiness was only increasing, and I decided to interject and add to the carnival-like anticipation. I said to our curator and Jones that I was definitely going to ask for a double because I wanted to hear that giggle. Our curator stopped mid-strut as if struck by an invisible arrow through the chest. He didn’t like that the room approved of my buffoonery with chuckles. His glory in the distance flickered. Criminals he was ready for; class clowns he had no recourse for. And I was a practiced class clown, a skill that had only been honed after becoming a teacher. Jones, meanwhile, grinned a lip-heavy grin, making me think maybe it was he that had the special needs. Our curator attempted to gather himself and continue. Apparently, If we had to use the bathroom, one of the sober civilian monitors would walk us to the restroom, he explained. Still excited about this surreal event, I piped up again. I told our curator that I was misinformed, that I thought we were supposed to show up drunk, gesticulating the haze of confusion with both hands. He looked out over the top of his glasses at me and said, “this is me giggling.” No giggle followed.
He then asked us what we all had for breakfast and wrote down the results.
“Banana bread,” my friend, Annie (pictured right), said. So girly, I thought to myself. Then I realized what I was about to say.
“Three eggs, two strips of bacon, toast, and a bunch of kale.”
That last word, kale, seemed to be on high reverb, echoing throughout the room. Our curator turned and advised Jones that he needed to keep an eye on me, and he wasn’t being playful. My large breakfast meant more drinks. More to soak up. Jones grinned again. I didn’t know whether to be excited to be receiving special attention from the free bar, or sad at the prospect of being less drunk than everyone. In the morning. On a weekday. At the police station. This never wore off.
Now it was time. Our man in the tight polo pushed several buttons on his large sports watch at the same time. Right on schedule. An officer in uniform who wasn’t Jones asked us if anyone had any music preferences, and everyone looked at each other blankly. He proceeded to pull up Spotify on the projector screen and clicked on the station titled, “Top-40.” It was then that we all realized they were trying to make us more comfortable by re-creating a typical night of drinking. Top-40. Red solo cups. Munchies. Alcohol.
Then someone called my name. It was Jones; I was first. I walked up to his table complete with an ice cooler, liquor, and mixers. He asked me if it was okay if I started with a double. I didn’t know if he was joking and I was supposed to giggle back, but I really wanted the double. So, I acted like he was serious and told him that was more than fine with me.
“Cheers,” he said with a smile as he handed me my double Bourbon and ginger. Jones was on our side.
Fifteen minutes later, our tightly wound leader sped by with a gust of wind, telling us to finish up, that we had to keep going. Now, it was like a weird themed party. Uniformed cops were our bartenders and DJ’s, and some were even walking around peer-pressuring us to drink. I wouldn’t have been surprised if another cop walked in and started tearing his uniform off in front of us and thrusting hips about the room. Hell, I would have thrown out some cash. The peer pressuring was working, too; we were getting drunk. Stories were getting crazier. One group’s game of Phase 10 at another table was getting out of hand. I was strongly considering trying to wrestle a police officer. Black ladies were starting to love me. At one point I was even invited outside for a smoke break by one of the monitors and her daughter, was one of the drinkers. The monitor told me she worked for the justice department and had been a drinker before when her friends were administering the drinks. That time, they were all trying to see how drunk they could get her and she ended up throwing up. I began to be worried about my own safety, after getting on our curator’s bad side.
Finally, it was the moment of truth. The two hours were up. I had peed a dozen times, and pooped once. This is pertinent because after a few bathroom uses, I had to urinate again, and I became very upset at whoever had decided not to flush the toilet after going number two before me. Then I realized it had been me. Classic come to Jesus moment.
After three double-Bourbon mixers and three single-Bourbon mixers (nine shots total), it was time to get breathalyzed and tested. Everyone had a different amount to drink based on weight and breakfast, mine the most. After we blew, the results were in: we were all legally drunk. I blew a 0.09 (0.01 past DUI territory). A guy I became friends with during the debauchery blew a 0.14. Any controversy about who was a better man was settled then and there.
We were then ushered into an adjacent room full of police recruits, over 30 of them. Each drinker had to take the sobriety test six times so that each recruit had a chance to administer. Some seemed like pros. Others stuttered. It was cute. In Richmond, the test has four components: the pen back and forth in front of your face, which is apparently fool-proof at proving drunkenness; walking the crooked/single line (we couldn’t tell at that point); and counting to thirty with one foot in the air. It was not easy.
Every test was accompanied by a breathalyzer test. Another drinker, David, and I joked around about how we were shooting for the “dream”: 0.079. About halfway through the tests, I successfully blew a 0.078, and achieved the secular American dream.
Afterwards, our leader told us lunch was on the way, as we all sat, salivating in a stupor.
“Your Jimmy Johns should be here any minute,” he said.
The re-creation of a drunken night out was complete. Jimmy Johns. How they knew the consistent pattern of a night of drinking I couldn’t figure out. They must have someone on the inside… As if the re-creation wasn’t already complete, during our sobering up phase of several hours (the boring part), I had the DJ put on 10 Things I hate About You on the projector.
For me, who had just received his official validation as a “heavyweight,” it took a few hours to sober up. For others, it took several. When most of us were sober, “.14,” as some of us called him, couldn’t seem to recover. He continually blew above 0.04, the limit at which they would release us. After speed walking around the room for about an hour, he finally realized he had been blowing remnants of old drunken saliva into the machine because he was using the same tube all day. After he tried a new tube, his score dropped drastically. We said goodbye to Jones and were set free around 6pm.
We ruminated on this indispensable educational experience on the way home. I’ve learned that there are actually loopholes in life, despite what our parents told us, and I want to find more of them. I now am one hundred percent sure I am a heavyweight, and will drink confidently. And now I know, thanks to a lawyer friend who was amongst the drinkers, that I can legally just flat out refuse the sobriety test anyway. Thanks, Richmond Police!
I then went home and had a beer.