WHEN I DROVE OUT OF SAN AN- gelo that morning, about the last place 1 expected to end the day was in the back of a Dallas Police Department squad car, handcuffed, under arrest for suspicion of driving while intoxicated.
Middle-class and middle-aged, 1 had always imagined that landing in that position would render me panicky, groveling while watching my whole life slip away-job lost, insurance canceled, AA meetings scheduled for the next five years.
But it didn’t happen that way. A strange calm took over my psyche, a sort of finality and peace in the knowledge that I was now totally in the grip of events and people beyond my control. I ceased to be a human being and became a cow at one of the old-fashioned slaughterhouses, where the cattle were tied on a conveyer head down and moved slowly to the place where their throats would be slit. They could see everything that was about to happen, but were helpless to change things. So was I. There was just one important difference: The cows were innocent. I was not.
I had come to Dallas on business. My work finished, I spent the evening driving around with an old friend, stopping for two beers here, three beers there, never slowing down enough to eat anything more than appetizers. When I finally dropped off my friend at his Gaston Avenue apartment, it was after 2 a.m. 1 had eaten almost nothing all day. Over a seven hour period, I had drunk II beers.
In my mind, as I left his apartment, I was driving the route I used to take downtown from my old house on Santa Fe Avenue, down Columbia until it turned into Main, then Elm. I should have realized that I was as dangerous as a gun in a shaky hand and just as loaded. I wasn’t on Columbia at all, but on Gaston. And the street wasn’t going to turn into Elm running one way toward downtown, but Pacific running one way away from downtown.
The squad car hit its lights and siren. God, what a jolt! I pulled to a stop and quickly opened the door. I kept saying to myself, Don’t slur your words, don’t slur your words.
“Can I see some identification, sir,” the younger of two cops said. He was not asking. “Yes sir,” I slurred, before going into a Lou Costello act of dropping a half-dozen credit cards while frantically looking for my driver’s license.
“Have you been drinking, sir?” the younger cop asked. Now there was a loaded question. To lie and say no was plain stupid. To admit drinking was dangerous, but seemed to be the only way out.
“Yes sir. I had a couple of Bass Ales,” I said. Or maybe I sputtered. Now followed a series of questions from the young cop and an older corporal. I was asked why I had been driving the wrong way down a one-way street. I tried to explain that 1 grew up in Dallas, and I was convinced that I was on Elm, not on Pacific.
Then the young cop told me to put my hands behind my back and he handcuffed me, telling me I was under arrest for suspicion of driving while intoxicated. I went into a dreamlike state, This couldn’t be real.
“How can this happen to me in my old home town?” 1 blurted out. The corporal answered in a strangely soothing way. ’”When you think about it, Mr. Boyd, isn’t it better that it did happen to you in your home town?”
Yes, it was better, if anything could make this nightmare better. Since I had grown up around Dallas cops, they didn’t seem as threatening and impersonal as, say. Houston or Los Angeles cops would have been. The young cop went over to check out my car, while the veteran explained that I would be taken to the city jail and given a sobriety test.
“Is there no other way?” I asked. “Isn’t there some kind of test you can give me here?”
“We can’t, because we believe you are intoxicated and that even if you passed a field test and then had an accident, we would be to blame for letting you drive,” said the corporal.
There was no more fight left in me. What was going to happen was going to happen. I felt the conveyer belt lurching forward.
At the station I was led into a huge room with a lockup on one side, a large desk with several cops behind it in the center and three rooms off to the other side. A line of my fellow cattle stood slouching against the wall. I was asked a few questions, then searched.
“Let me explain exactly what’s going to happen to you. Mr. Boyd,” the corporal said. “You will be taken into one of these rooms and given a breathalyzer test. You can also ask for a blood test. You don’t have to take the breathalyzer test, but if you refuse you will be locked up until a court appearance tomorrow, and your refusal can be used against you. Do you want a blood test?’”
“No,” I answered quickly. “No needles. I hate needles.”
“OK,” he said, “Let’s get those cuffs off you, and you just relax against the wall.”
That was a gesture of kindness. Only about half of the people in line had their cuffs off. I was between a cuffed young woman who was attractive in a longhaired, dirty-blond sort of way and a young African-American, also cuffed. He was trying to intimidate the young cop who had brought me in, giving him The Stare.
“What are you looking at?” the young cop asked. No answer. More Stare. After a long silence, the young black man spoke. “I’ll see you on the outside.”
“Tough guy,” the young cop responded. “I’ll be waiting on the outside for you.”
“Mr. Boyd,” the corporal said, “why don’t you move around the corner? You don’t have to see this sort of stuff.”
I was glad to get away from the burning eyes, but I wished the young man well. He was just another cow waiting for his throat to be slit, and we cows had empathy for each other.
I’d been granted a couple of favors, but now I needed another one. “Say, do you think I could go to the bathroom?” I asked the corporal.
“Not now. There’s no bathroom except on the jail side.” he replied.
So we waited, and I watched as prisoners were led into one of two rooms. Once the door was closed a red light would come on above the door. Nearly an hour later, I was still waiting. “Look, I really need to go to the bathroom,” I said to the corporal again.
He conferred with a sergeant, “OK, walk over to there,” the corporal said. The young cop walked with me. Before 1 went into the bathroom, he told me to take off my shoes and socks. “Hurry up, Mr. Boyd,” he said several times.
“We’ve really slowed down,” the corporal told the young cop soon after we got back. One of the breathalyzer machines was out of order. “You know, Mr. Boyd, this might work to your advantage. We’ve been waiting for about a hour and a half now.”
“I can use all the help I can get,” I said, noticing that only the blond was between me and the room where my fate would be decided. Door closed. Light on.
A little later, the blond was led out. You could see in her sad eyes that she had flunked the test. Now came my moment of truth. I was led into the room and told to stop at a black line. I glanced up and saw the video camera recording my every move. I was told to move to another line, stepping only on the black footprints, then turn around and follow the footprints to another line. I was asked my name, social security number and date of birth. I knew all this was being recorded, and this time I didn’t slur any words or miss any numbers. I was asked to count backwards from 38 to-27. I concentrated with all my might, understanding that this was a test to see if I could remember to stop at 27. I stopped.
The toughest test of all came when I was asked if I had learned any lesson from my experience. If I had said what I truly had learned and now believe with the fervor of a born-again Christian-that you should never drink more than a couple of beers and drive-I would have been admitting guilt. So I chose another answer.
“Yes, I’ve learned not to be so sure I can find my way around Dallas anymore-this isn’t 1960. Things have changed.”
I was told to step next to a Rube Goldberg-type machine with a rubber hose coming out one end and the other end connected to a computer. I was told to breathe into the tube until I heard a buzzing sound. It seemed like a long time before the buzzing sound; then I heard a computer printer spitting out my fate. The technician/cop tore off a little sheet of paper and handed it to the corporal.
“One more time. Mr. Boyd,” the technician/cop said. Once again I breathed into the tube. Once again the printer clacked and this time the young cop was handed the paper. I looked at their faces, but they were playing poker with me. For a few seconds of eternity no one said anything. Then the technician/ cop said, “That’s the closest I have ever seen in five years. What about the other factors?”
“Marginal,” the veteran cop answered. “I think we should let Mr. Boyd go back to his hotel and get some sleep.” Turning to me, he said that I had registered .097 on the test. A level of .10 means you’re legally intoxicated. “It was [he two-hour wait,” the young cop added. “If we had gotten you right in, you would be in jail now.”
Waves of unbelievable relief were sweeping over me as I answered. “I know. I will never put myself in this position again.”
Now the corporal was grinning broadly. He walked me out to the desk to retrieve my belongings and assured me that there would be nothing on my record-and that I wouldn’t even have to pay for having my car towed away. He handed me the receipt I’d need to get my car released and pointed the way out. “Just go right through those doors, Mr. Boyd. You’re a free man.”
1 extended my hand and the corporal shook it. “I want to thank you and your partner for the professionalism you have shown. I won’t make this mistake again.”
“1 believe that, Mr. Boyd,” he answered. “Now, you drive safely back to your hotel.”
Filled with awe at what had happened. I walked out the large doors. I didn’t even get a ticket for driving down a one-way street the wrong way. But I knew I had climbed out on my limb of luck way too far.