Chapter 33 – A Beeline Reaction
One afternoon while in Yangon, Myanmar, I ventured over to the local bus station to buy a ticket for the following day to a town called Bagan that’s famous for its vast array of ancient Buddhist temples, stupas and pagodas.
“So, uh, how long does the ride usually take?” I asked the guy who’d been ringing me up.
“It usually takes about eight hours but it really all depends on how much whiskey the driver’s had to drink.”
“Ha,” I forced myself to chuckle at what I thought had been the vendor’s attempt at an off-color joke.
“If the driver’s had more whiskey,” he continued with a perfectly straight face, “he’ll usually get there very fast. If he hasn’t had as much, he tends to drive more slowly.”
“Wait, are you – are you serious right now?”
The man had been dead serious.
“Ah, okay, thanks,” I said while taking my ticket and walking away from the station.
When I was a kid and my brother and I would be riding around in the truck with my dad, he’d often stop off somewhere to pick up a twelve pack and set it in the backseat with whichever one of us had been sitting back there at the time. And he couldn’t ever wait until we got home to start drinking. As soon as we’d pull away from the liquor store, he’d reach into the glove box, pull out his trusty bottle opener and tell us to hand him a beer. We’d often refuse because we were taught by our mom that it was wrong and my dad would get all pissed off, turn around and try to open the box himself with one hand while driving with the other. Since he wasn’t paying attention, he’d be swerving lanes and we’d get freaked out and say, “Okay! Okay! We’ll hand you a beer, just keep your eyes on the road!” Don’t fuckin’ kill us, ya know?
And then he’d tilt his head back and guzzle that one in two sips while making this sickening sucking sound. It was like he was making out with his precious Corona or Rolling Rock because he loved it so much. And then we’d be in line at a drive-thru at the bank waiting to cash some checks that he got in the mail from his window washing business and he’d demand that we give him another one. And we’d be like, “Yo, there’s cameras here and those people in the bank can see that you’re drinking.” And he wouldn’t give a shit. He’d just ignore whatever we had to say on the subject and demand that we pass him another one. So we’d give him a second and he’d pound that one too, stuff the empties into the box and we’d go home whereupon, if he didn’t go to the bar to meet his buddies, he’d post up in front of the TV, put some sports on and proceed to slug the next ten over the course of the following couple hours.
This is how I remember a lot of my childhood – worrying about the drinking and driving of my father and that of his cop and fireman cronies who’d regularly get so shitfaced together that they could barely walk before getting behind the wheel. It seemed a sickening point of pride among these men to get so drunk at the bar that they’d be falling off their stools and then being able to drive home without crashing. And it’s always rubbed me the wrong way how these guys whose jobs it is to keep the public safe – guys who readily accept/expect praise for what they do – can then go ahead, turn around on their days off and put the very same public in peril by being so god damn reckless with all this drunken driving bullshit.
I mean, I always wondered since I was a little kid whether or not these guys realized what life is really worth. That, god forbid, if one of them ran over some fucking kid riding a bike, nothing could ever atone for such an ultimately careless act – for bringing an untimely end to a totally unique and irreplaceable person because you’re too proud to take a taxi or to walk home from the bar while intoxicated.
When I was young, I’d get stomachaches when my dad would go out with his friends because I knew the risk that that entailed. And I hated getting in the car with him while he was wasted, but I never had a choice. In fact, I wasn’t even ever allowed to have an opinion on it. If I ever dared voice my disapproval, I was made to feel that I’m stupid, that I’m wrong, that nothing bad’s gonna happen and that I need to mind my own fucking business. And even though it made me feel sick, I’d suppress that side of myself as to not disappoint my father, to avert his angry side and to save myself from losing his love which I so badly needed as a child to survive.
I’m twenty-six now, but all the emotional weight attached to drunken driving can, for me, at the very mention of it, tear open these ancient wounds. And in Myanmar, the words of the man at the bus station hit me like a knife in the gut. The simple sounds he’d used to form simple sentences to convey a simple idea had made me relive my father’s disdain for my thoughts and feelings every single time alcohol was in the picture. It made me remember all the times he told me he was gonna quit drinking and smoking for my upcoming birthdays but never did. It made me once again feel like the worthless piece of shit I’d always been made to feel I was when standing up for my belief that drunk driving is wrong. It triggered in me an irrational pain, the origins of which I have an intellectual understanding but can do nothing to prevent from belittling me time and time again – a primordial reaction that perpetually turns the man back into the scared, angry kid I once was.