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“It was not until I found myself picking up trash on the side of the highway, dressed in an orange vest, that the gravity of the situation really sank in,” said the impeccable blond as she delicately rearranged the silverware on the dining table. Dressed in a chic boucle jacket, graceful chantelle lace blouse and trendy pair of Seven jeans; she looked like the last person you would expect to see riding the back of a police car. And yet, over lunch at Balthazar, she was slowly spilling the details of her personal drunk driving hell, her pink-tinted pout quivering with embarrassment. I could hardly believe that the elegant girl sitting across from me was the ‘proud’ owner of a tainted police record and horrid mug shot. It was utterly appalling. As I tried to overcome my obvious state of shock, she continued, “You should have seen Daddy’s face when I told him I had been arrested and needed an attorney.”

Let’s call our Ivy League educated heroine, who wishes to remain anonymous, Nina. Nina is a friend of a friend. She loves fashion, art, debutante balls, horses, polo games, and summer vacations in Nantucket, but above all Nina loves cocktail hour. It is a family tradition. Nina prides herself in never getting ‘too intoxicated’-- for that would be considered ‘bad form’-- but she likes to polish off a few colorful cocktails when the occasion arises. And as many already know, in high society nothing arises more often than an occasion to celebrate. Thus, coming from a long lineage of social drinkers, it was like homecoming when Nina plunged head-first into the vibrant college party scene. Rows of fraternities, filled up to capacity with polo shirt wearing hunks, serving alcohol to minors without impunity… it was like finding the perfect pair of sold out Christian Louboutin heels out of nowhere, only better!

Right off the bat, Nina befriended a few like minded gals, and before long the girls were having too much fun for their own good. At the time, it seemed like every guy wanted to be with them, while every girl wanted to be them. Despite their ever increasing popularity, Nina and the gang soon outgrew their campus confines, which became duller and tighter with every Toga bash. It was time to explore new horizons and frequenting bars in the neighboring town was the easiest way to get away. Some of Nina’s pals had valid IDs and were of drinking age, while a considerable number cheated and lied their way to Cosmopolitans and Margaritas and a menagerie of shots. Alcohol increased the already overblown adolescent egos, their sense of invincibility became 80 proof. They had money, class, and connections. What could possibly go wrong?



What the girls did not know at the time was that the police patiently waited outside popular hangouts right before last call, watching for inebriated party goers, foolish enough to get behind the wheel. Then the officers would quietly follow the vehicle in question, only to spring into action at the first of the slightest breach.

After a seemingly ordinary night of bar hopping, unaware of what could be (or how blindingly drunk she was) Nina piled her sorority sisters into her convertible Benz, turned up the radio and started heading back to the dorms. The cool breeze brushed their cheeks and ran its slinky fingers through their long flowing hair, as Bono screamed from the loud speakers, “If you wanna touch the sky, you better learn how to kneel.” Somewhere in between singing along and fixing her lipstick on the rear view mirror, she had zipped past a stop sign and the sirens were telling her loud and clear to immediately pull over. “The rest is rather blurry. The last drink I had had started hitting me hard once the officers began my field sobriety test. They were asking me to walk in a line, read how many fingers they were holding up, touch my nose with my index finger and such; she said and continued, “I still did not think they had anything on me. I was just annoyed and wanted pass out.”

Unimpressed by Nina’s incoherence and lack of motor skills, the officers asked her to blow into a breathalyzer (a gadget devised to measure an individual’s blood alcohol level.) Still convinced that she was not over the legal limit Nina agreed. Following that “it all happened to quickly” she confesses. Apparently, as soon as the number 0.08 appeared on the screen, the law enforcement handcuffed her, read her her rights and delivered the shocked young woman to the local police station. As she tells me the embarrassing details, Nina does not look up from her napkin. Occasionally she twists the edges of white fabric and repeats, “It was just ghastly. The backseats of those cars have no cushions.”

For someone like Nina whose worst imaginable nightmare consisted of a declined credit card, navigating the way out of an arrest, a brief stint in jail (or more accurately the drunk tank filled with crack addicts and prostitutes) and the sentencing that followed would prove to be an instant reality check. In the year following her take into custody Nina would have to pay heavy fines, do community service with every single wife-beater and petty thief in the 20 mile radius of her 45K- a year school, attend a DUI traffic program, suffer through 3 years of probation, and pay punitive insurance rates. Still, she is thankful. “I am just glad that I did not hurt myself, or, worse, someone else in one of these drunken driving episodes,” she sighs towards the end of our interview. Indeed, Nina is going to have put down on every job application for the rest of her life that she is guilty of a misdemeanor, but she is glad the worst is behind her.

Nina is not an aberration. Every year, thousands, ranging from 60 year-old grandmothers to 21 year-old college students, are charged with driving under the influence. Most of theses drinking related arrests are made around the holidays. It is not infrequent that social drinkers, who have had a few drinks too many at a family gathering or party find themselves behind bars. To make a long story short, the DUI is not an urban legend and it could certainly happen to you. It is easy to pontificate about the merits of sobriety, but since most often people have a high opinion of themselves and their capabilities, this message rarely registers.

The next time you reach for an alcoholic beverage first remember that your weight has a direct effect on the amount of alcohol you can consume before you are considered eligible for a DUI. In other words, the amount of alcohol a 250 football player can consume without treading the DUI line is quite different than what a 5’4” lady with a 100 lbs frame can handle. Secondly, do not drink on an empty stomach because low blood sugar speeds the rate of alcohol absorption into to the blood stream. If you decide to drink, knowing fully well you need to drive home, pay special attention to pacing yourself. As a rule of the thumb, people are advised to consume NO more than a single drink ( a drink is considered a 12- oz. beer, a 5-oz. glass of wine or a cocktail containing 1.5 ounces of 80- proof liquor ) every hour. Finally, quit drinking at least 90 minutes before you are scheduled to leave. Of course, these are life saving tips for those capable of exercising moderation and restraint. But, if you have a history of going over board and testing the limits of extremes, always make sure to arrange for a sober driver, or, better yet, take a cab when going out.

Nina’s story is a pseudo-Aesopian tale about how costly an individual’s recklessness and lack of common sense can be. But when dealing with drunk driving there are higher prices to pay than fines. According to official records, “ The percentage of alcohol-related crashes in 2003 represents an average of one alcohol-related fatality every 31 minutes and one alcohol-related injury every two minutes.” To avoid being a number in these death-toll statistics -- or wearing an orange jumpsuit for the foreseeable future -- please drink responsibly.

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