There was a time, sophomore year of College, when I didn’t drink. It was half a conscious decision, with the other half decided for me by my then girlfriend, Ella. The reason that I did not do much drinking is a story for another time, but my sobriety was the rationale behind the events of a cold November night. It was no later than nine pm when I left Ella’s room to go back to my own, at least in theory. In reality, as I entered my building on the quiet New Hampshire campus I was stopped by a friend, Ben.
Ben was as close to a NH local as you could be while still being a Massachusetts yuppy wasp. I loved the kid, but he was one of the quirkiest people I had ever met. We had become fast friends the year before through our shared predilection towards 4am cigarettes and voluntary all nighters. Whenever he smoked a cigarette he would spit after nearly every drag, many times on himself in fact. New Hampshire mountain wind was not the most forgiving for someone with that habit. He was from a well off family but one of his front teeth was chipped, a remnant of a beer bottle taken forcefully to the face, from another friend of ours. He could have gotten it fixed but he didn’t. Amazingly none of this stopped beautiful girls from dating him with a surprising amount of regularity.
Of course his car didn’t hurt. He had an incredibly fast, loud, black Mazda speed 3. Essentially it was a small hatchback car that someone made the mistake of dropping a 350 horse power engine into. I had never been anything but a passenger in the Mazda; in fact I couldn’t have driven it if I had wanted to. I did not know how to drive stick. The fastest I had ever gone in the car was a ball dropping 150 miles per hour, Ben assured me it could go faster, and I believed him without question.
On the November night in question, as I walked into my building Ben walked directly into me.
“TONY!” He stumbled and grabbed onto the straps of my backpack for support.
“Hey Ben, what’s up fucker?”
“Going to the Mansion. You coming?” The mansion was a mammoth farm house my fellow Rugby players rented every year, a complete den of iniquity. It was an absolute blast.
“Sure, what else are you gonna do on a Saturday night in New Hampshire? How are we getting there?”
“The Mazda.” At this point a group of our friends had gathered. Ted, the environmentalist, buddist, pothead from Alaska. Tyler, the ginger, skateboarder from a Boston suburb. And Mike, the hot head, hypochondriac, who would transfer at the end of the semester.
“Hey boys, you are gonna let this drunk bastard drive all of you to the party?” I looked at the group for a response. I turned back to Ben, “Dude let me drive.”
“No fucking way man, you can’t drive the Mazda.”
“Ben, you couldn’t drive a golfcart right now.”
“Maybe Tony should drive.” Mike piped up.
“Trust me Ben, I’m not drinking tonight. I’ll drive us down to the Mansion, it’s only a mile.” I could see his resolve was weakened by the beer.
“Oh alright. If you stall it then I’m taking over.”
“Fair enough.” I had no idea how easily a racecar clutch stalled out yet.
Our merry band of boozers walked out of the building, smoking and yelling, out to the car.
“Alright Ben, give me the keys.” I put my hand out.
“Know what, I got this bro.” It was Ted’s turn to back me up.
“It’s all good Ben. Um… Tony’s got this.”
“Thanks Ted.” I snatched the keys from Ben’s fingers. “See? We’re good.”
“Like I said man.” Ben tried in vain to open the locked passenger door. “If you stall, I’m fucking driving.”
“We’ll be fine dude. Just enjoy the ride. It’s only a mile.” I unlocked the doors and the 5 of us piled in. A task made much more difficult for Ted, Tyler and Mike by the mountain of dirty clothes and hockey gear in the back seat.
“Ben you need to clean this damn car.” Tyler pushed the pile onto the floor as much as possible before sitting on top of it.
I took my place in the driver’s seat, turned the key and nothing happened.
“Ben your car’s dead.”
“You have to press the clutch down… Fuck this man, I’m driving.”
“Dude I got this, you are way too fucking drunk.”
“Yeah man I’m not coming if you drive Ben.” Mike added from the bitch seat, middle in the back. Taking advantage of the distraction I pushed down on the clutch and turned the key. The car rumbled to life with the growl you would expect from a Ferrari. I pushed the shift into reverse and started letting off the clutch. The growling stopped.
“Did you just stall my car?”
“No way man.” I really hoped he was as drunk as he sounded. I turned the car back on. With my foot still on the clutch and the car still in reverse, I plugged in my phone to play some music. Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO came thumping from the speakers. I hoped it would cover the sound of me stalling. I expected it to happen again. I pressed down on the gas much harder as I started letting off the clutch. I dropped the clutch and the car lurched back with a roar, but my foot was back on the clutch before I stalled. I was out of the spot.
“Did you just stall again?”
“Nah man, I’m just getting used to the clutch.” It was at least partially true, to my credit.
Now to figure out how to get it into first gear. I jammed my foot down on the gas. I looked down. It was still in reverse. I shifted to first and tried again. We lurched forward and down towards the street.
“Ok guys, I got this.” Now that I was on the road I got ballsy. I shifted to second and really hit the gas.
“Go faster pussy!” Ben yelled over the music. He had a cigarette in his hand but his window wasn’t open and he was ashing on the door.
“Ben open your damn window. You’re getting ash everywhere.”
“Oh shit.” As he opened the window, I shifted into third gear. Another 3 seconds and I was in fourth, going around 80.
“Tony, slow the fuck down man.” Mike was not pleased with the speed.
“It’s all good man, I’m totally sober.” We tore down the hill towards the intersection where the Mansion sat on the other side of the four lane state highway.
“Ok Ben, how slow do I need to be going to take this turn?” I had slowed down to around 50.
“You got this man.”
“Are you sure dude?”
I took the right turn hard, but the summer racing tires held the road like glue. As we ripped down the ramp I saw it. A patch of sand, laid down for the rapidly approaching icy winter. We were almost through the turn, the ramp had ended as we hit the salt and sand patch. ‘Ironic,’ I thought, as the tires lost traction and we started squealing to the left, ‘this is here to keep you from sliding.’ We slid through the two lanes on our side of the street, someone was yelling in the back. ‘Thank god there’s a 4 inch tall island here and not a real barrier.’ We hit the island hard and crashed right over the granite slab dividing the road. Something went flying into the fence in front of the Mansion, less than 20 feet away. The Mazda landed in the first lane for oncoming traffic facing the wrong direction. LMFAO was still blaring.
“Holy shit.” Ted, the buddist in the back seat was the first to speak.
“Oh man, are we ok?” Mike sounded like he was about to cry.
“Dude, fuck, let’s go.” Ben looked past me with his drunk eyes.
“Um. We aren’t going anywhere. The front tire is next to the fence over there.” I broke the news of our current situation. I personally was amazed that the car didn’t flip over.
“Are you fucking kidding me?!”
“No. Do you have a spare?”
“Yeah, it’s in the trunk.”
“Hey guys, you should probably go.” I turned to the terrified three in the back. “The Mansion is literally across the street. I’ll change the tire and meet you there.” I thought for a second, then I changed the tone for the rest of the night. “We’re gonna have to call the cops.”
“What? Why?” Ben unbuckled his seatbelt as the three in the back stopped moving.
“We’re sitting at the top of a hill on the wrong side of the road. We need some lights to keep us from getting hit while I change the tire.”
I stepped out of the car as Ted, Tyler and Mike got out of the back. It was cold, definitely below freezing, and that was before the windchill.
“Oh shit dude. That rim is fucked up.” I looked down. Tyler was right.
“Hey Ben, you are gonna want to see this man.” He got out and walked around the car. The front left 18 inch rim had splintered and pieces of the spokes were everywhere. What remained of the rim that was still on the car was had dug itself into the ground. The front left corner of the car was touching the pavement. There was no way I was getting the jack under there without superman to lift the car for me.
“Fuck. Are you kidding me man?”
“Wish I was. Also now that I think about it you might want to go to the mansion with the rest of them.” I turned to ask Ted if he could help with the tire. The three of them were gone. “Well, you can go meet them.”
“No way, it’s my car.”
“But you’re drunk.”
“I wasn’t driving.”
“Good point. Alright, lets try and get this rim off.” We walked to the trunk and pulled out the spare, and the jack. “Um, Ben, where’s the tire iron?”
“I don’t know. I bought the car last month.”
“Well it doesn’t look like you have one.” I kept looking under dirty clothes, lacrosse sticks and stupid hats. “Wait I found it.” We went to the front of the car and tried it. “It doesn’t fit.” I looked up at Ben.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Suddenly a cop car pulled up.
“Ok Ben, let me do the talking.” The cop walked up to the two of us. “Hello officer. How are you tonight?”
“Is anyone hurt?”
“Nope, we are fine sir.”
“What happened here?”
“Well we were driving down the ramp over there, I hit a patch of sand and we slid over the median.” I pointed to the tire leaning on the side of the fence in front of the Mansion. “There’s the tire.”
“Did you call a tow truck yet?”
“No but I can.”
“Don’t bother, I’ll radio it in, it will be faster.”
“Ok, thank you sir.”
“Where were you headed?” I opened my mouth to answer, but Ben stumbled forward.
“We were going to my house officer. Right down the road over there.” After a moment of silence the cop responded.
“Have either of you boys been drinking?”
“I haven’t sir.” He was looking at Ben as I answered.
“Just a little.” By the look the cop had on his face, Ben might as well have thrown up on the cop’s shoes.
“I’m going to have to arrest you son.”
“Wait officer, why is that? I was driving, not him.”
“Because he is drunk and underage.”
“He doesn’t have any alcohol with him.”
“Internal possession of alcohol.”
“Seriously? That’s bullshit.” Ben started getting loud.
“Ben, chill man.” I turned to the cop. “Ok well how do I get him out? Is there bail or what’s the deal?”
“It’s $40, someone sober and over 21 has to come get him.”
“Officer, we go to college here and it’s Saturday night. How am I supposed to find someone sober?”
“You can always get him out tomorrow morning.” I looked at Ben as the officer cuffed him. He looked like he was going to cry. The cop walked Ben to the crown victoria.
“Can you wait till the tow truck comes to do that?” I didn’t want to be the only one freezing my ass off out in the cold.
“No. sorry.” The cop closed Ben in the back seat. He didn’t look drunk anymore. The cop got into the front seat of his car. “The fire department will send someone to wait for the tow truck with you.”
“They should be here in the next 10 minutes or so. I suggest getting off the road.”
“It’s freezing out here.”
“Like I said, they should be here in the next 10 minutes or so.” He rolled up his window and pulled away.
I walked back to the Mazda and got inside. I pulled out my phone and started texting anyone I knew who was over 21. The few responses I got were not promising. A few minutes later the tow truck arrived. No sign of the fire department.
“Hey, can you help me change this tire? I can’t get a jack under it.”
“No I can’t I just have to tow the car to the nearest garage.”
“Wait why?” I was about to lose it.
“You didn’t call, the police did.”
“Wow this is bullshit.”
“Sorry kid.” I checked my pockets. I didn’t even have any cash on me to try and change his mind.
“Well can you give me a ride over to the college on your way?”
“I’m not supposed to.”
“Oh come on man, it’s fucking freezing and it’s a mile away. It’s not like I have another ride.”
“Alright, I’ll give you a ride. Go wait in the truck.” I took the passenger seat and waited while he dragged the car up onto the truck bed. I didn’t want to think about what might have torn off the undercarriage while he did that.
A quiet tow truck ride later, I stood outside my building, smoking, thinking of who I could recruit to walk down to the police station with me, who was over 21, and sober, even if just barely. My phone starting ringing. It was Ben.
“Hey man are you alright?”
“You need to get me out of here.” I think he was actually crying by this point but I could be wrong.
“I got you dude. I’m working on it. Wait a minute, they let you have your phone?”
“Alright Ben, this is my fault, I got you.”
I walked into my building and down the hall to my rugby teammate Mississippi’s room. I hoped playing rugby would pay off. I knocked, he opened. There were a few guys I kind of recognized sitting on his couch.
“Hey Miss, hey boys.” I gave the room a wave. “You know Ben?”
“I crashed his car. The cops came and he got arrested for being drunk underage. I need someone who is sober and over 21 to help me bail him out.” I looked at the coffee table in front of the couch. There were at least 40 open, probably empty, beers sitting there. At least they were Bud Light.
“You got a car?”
“Nah, do you?”
“It’s less than half a mile, can you just walk down with me?” I pleaded. Mississippi did not look happy. “It’s after two am man. I can’t leave Ben in jail over night. Please?”
“Thanks bro. Let’s go get him. Oh also, do you have $40? I don’t have any cash.” Mississippi looked at me like he was going to slap me.
“Yeah let’s go.” He grabbed his coat and wallet and headed out the door.
Getting Ben out of jail turned out to be a piece of cake. We walked down to the station, give the woman at the desk $40 and in return we received one shaken looking Ben. The three of us walked out of the station.
“Hey man, you ok?” I asked Ben. He had said nothing since we left the station.
“Yeah man. That was terrible.”
“Oh come on dude, it’s small town New Hampshire, it’s not like this is inner city LA or something.”
“Shut up, this is your fault asshole.”
“Dude you told me the car could take that turn.”
“Well I’m fucking drunk. You shouldn’t have listened to me.”
“And I told you to leave the car.”
“Well I didn’t know they were going to arrest me.” He started laughing.
“Yeah me neither.” I was laughing too.
“That seriously sucked man. Thanks for getting me out.” We got back to my building. Ben looked up at the brick dorm. “I never thought I was going to see this place again.”
“Oh come on you retard.” I shook my head. He walked up the front steps, kneeled down and literally kissed the ground. “Ben! That’s so fucking gross. I have literally seen you piss there. I think it might have been last weekend.” He stood up.
“Oh yeah, you’re right.”
“Let’s go inside bastard.”
“You’re fucking gross.”
“Alright idiot let’s go get a drink. I need a beer. We’ll get your car tomorrow, they towed it.”
“Oh what the fuck.”
“I know.” The next day we picked up his car, with the spare on it. I eventually bought him a new rim and he went on to drive that car for the next five years. But I’ll never forget the feeling of going airborne in that Mazda with LMFAO – Party Rock Anthem blasting in my ears and Ben kissing the stairs outside the grimiest building I have ever lived in.