I have a confession to make: I’m very nearly a teetotaler. I do have maybe two or three glasses of wine a year with dinner, and for three successive nights once a year I drink a fine Scotch with my good friend and whiskey connoisseur Doug Brandon of Timmins Kenworth. We stay at the same hotel in New Liskeard during the Rodeo du Camion, always arranging to have rooms facing Lake Temiskaming, and with the day’s festivities done we sit outside with glasses in hand listening to gentle waves and talking ‘til the wee hours. It’s a very special tradition.
Driving never follows.
Otherwise, you’ll find me with ginger ale or coffee in my hand, whether I’m in a bar or a restaurant, with other folks drinking merrily around me.
There have been exceptions to this rule, including one very drunken night during a press trip to Sweden 25 years back. The aquavit was flowing freely that evening and I chose, very deliberately, not to resist. My motor noter mates and one patient Volvo press relations guy remind me that I sang my complete Beatles repertoire for them after dinner, very much aloud. And I don’t even like the Beatles all that much.
Driving did not follow.
I think maybe that was the last straw. It reminded me too much of how out of control I could get, the way I did in my stupid high school days.
Driving did follow back then. Miraculously I never whacked either person or thing, though I did over-rev my dad’s three-on-the-tree Ford one night, sending valves in bad directions from which they couldn’t return. If that was the worst, I was lucky as well as stupid.
All of which is to say that I hate excessive drinking. Period. By anyone, especially if subsequently getting behind the wheel is involved. And I’ll admit being perilously near to wanting a ban on alcohol entirely. I’m not really serious there, but it’s simply the cause of far too much agony, too much strife, on the road and just about everywhere else.
Yeah, I know, who am I to disparage those who choose to drink? None of my business, some of you will say. Well, it really is my business if I’m sharing the road with someone in a car or worse, a truck.
That notion came home to roost a week before I began to write this when I got a call from the police.
“Your daughter’s been in an accident,” the officer said gently. “She’s OK but it was a bad one.”
That’s not a call you want to get.
Luckily it was just around the corner from our house so I was there in minutes, heart in my mouth, finding my favorite middle kid sitting on somebody’s lawn with paramedics and a fire-crew guy around her. Her month-and-a-day-old car was a totaled wreck further back on that lawn, all air bags deployed. Fully conscious but very pale and clearly in shock, she gave me a wan smile while the EMTs asked me to stay back so they could tend to her. An ambulance took her away to a hospital for observation but she was home not long afterwards, suffering from whiplash and a severe concussion. She’s still very sore and who knows what’s to come health-wise.
It was nearly a fully head-on crash. Had it not been for my daughter’s quick reaction, and maybe some training from her dad, it would have been. The key piece of advice I gave her ages ago was that brakes are rarely your first line of defence. Rather, steering and throttle are far more likely to save your bacon. She didn’t brake.
Traveling at the 50-km/h limit on a town road she met an oncoming car abruptly moving into her lane. Witnesses said he was going 80 km/h or so. Was he playing chicken, she wondered? No, she concluded a millisecond later, swerving sharply left such that her passenger-side front corner met the other car’s left front corner. It was the right move.
The other driver and his passenger didn’t fare as well as she did. The airbags of the un-plated car didn’t deploy and they weren’t wearing their seatbelts, so their heads obliterated the windshield. I don’t know their fates but one of them was airlifted to a bigger hospital that night.
While the police report isn’t yet finished as I write this, everyone on the scene – including a fellow who had been following the bad guy – concluded that he was drunk, possibly very high on something else. Either way, he should not have been on the road if he was. My poor kid was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The very next day I read a couple of stories online about truckstop garbage cans being full of empty booze bottles increasingly often, and drunk driving charges being laid against truckers on the Coquihalla in B.C. I’d be disturbed to read those articles at any time, but especially now. Booze has no place in a truck, period, and if there really is a trend forming here, I’m mighty worried.
I beg you to keep booze out of your working life. I beg you, really.
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