We were driving from L.A. to Portland, OR. Big Head, Paddy and Me in my sporty new Acura, so new that the round-trip would double the mileage on its engine. It was a two-day roader, a late-night start and sleepy pit-stop in Sacramento, then a straight shot to the Rose City bright and early. Our soccer game ran late on Wednesday night, so we were behind schedule and didn't clear The Grapevine--the serpentine descent out of the Los Padres National Forest that marks the figurative end of Southern Callifornia--until almost 2 a.m.
We very nearly missed Last Call.
We secured a half-rack of Budweiser from a gas station just under the real witching hour and settled in for the long, straight and flat drive through the Central Valley. The Buds didn't last that long. Good thing for us Paddy brought along a bottle of Jack. Another gas station and a couple bottles of Coke rounded out the ensemble. Big Head emptied the bottles of half their contents, filled 'em back up with Jack and we started passing 'em around.
In the back seat, Big Head started calling out shot times, one every 15 minutes, complete with a Rain Man-esque countdown. "Two minutes to Wapner."
The sun was not yet up when we turned away from the Coast and headed toward Stockton, but the early commuters were out and our lonely road got crowded in a hurry. We planned on bunking at my friend Schotty's place in Sacramento for a few hours, but we were way past the point when he expected us to arrive. I was tired, impatient, drunk and hungry and the only solution I could find for those afflictions was to drive fast and eat the sole food we had in the car: pretzels.
I had a fleeting hope the police lights behind me were for some other car, but no such luck. We sprang to evasive action. No, not that kind. Just hiding the Jack bottle. I pulled over, shaking and anxious, but also suddenly sharp of senses. We did have a few things working in our favor. One, by mixing the Jack into the coke bottles, we limited the smell. Two, it was 6 a.m., as opposed to 2 a.m., so the CHP wasn't going to immediately assume drunkeness. In fact, I wasn't swerving at all. But I was allegedly going 90, which was news to me.
The cop appeared at the window--which I'd rolled down even before I'd stopped so any stench that was present didn't escape right under his nose. He asked for my license and registration, ran his flashlight over the faces of the others and the car, then went back to his cruiser. We were talking in low tones. "Be calm. We're cool." I then got the bright idea to eat a couple pretzels to disguise my breath, just in case.
I was still trying to chew them when he came back to the window. I had been robbed of all saliva and could not get the pretzels down.
"Get out of the car, sir, and come with me," the cop said. This was it. So much for our weekend in Portland. So much for my spotless record. So much for these goddamn pretzels, which were like a big ball of sand in my mouth. I used my hand to stealthly wrench the undigested snack out from between my gums as I got out of the car and followed the cop back to his.
He leaned on the hood and spread out my papers and his citation book. "We got a problem here, son," he said, and started jabbing his fingers at the documents. "Your license has one address, your insurance has another and the goddamn registration has a third!"
Nervous laugher leapt from my mouth. "I'm sorry, officer. I JUST moved. The address on the insurance is the right one. I only got it yesterday."
"Alright," he said, and began writing. "Where you boys headed anyway?"
"Portland. We're going up to see a soccer game. US versus Costa Rica."
"You're driving straight through from L.A.?"
"No sir, we're stopping in Sacramento at a friend's place."
"Good. You look tired," he stared at me pointedly, like he knew, like he fucking knew, but was going to let it go. He handed me my info and my ticket. "Try to stay within the speed limit the rest of the way."
I got back to the car and sat there a few minutes, totally silent. Had to regulate my breathing. Back on the road, I stayed right at 70 mph, all the way into Sacramento. The sun rose, we grabbed a couple burritos from a Taco Bell drive-thru and pounded on Schotty's door, waking him up. Made it. I was relieved. I was grateful. I was pissed.
Getting pulled over made me lose a really good buzz.