It will always be ‘That Night’.
It could have been so much worse . . .
Lethbridge, Alberta is a city of about 50,000. Forty-nine miles north of Milk River.
For the kids of my home town, it was the ‘big city’.
The place for movies and fun on the evenings when two-movie-a-week Milk River had rolled up its sidewalks.
In the hands of a steady, careful driver, it took a good part of an hour to get there.
And some planning ahead if one wanted to get to a particular movie on time.
Me and a group of my friends had stuffed ourselves into a car belonging to a friend of a friend.
And I do mean ‘stuffed’.
I’m not sure how many people were in there.
Let’s just say that, if we’d had seatbelts, there would not have been a sufficient number.
Moving on . . .
We made the trip and arrived at our movie with plenty of time to spare.
Happily, we got in line for tickets.
It was then that our driver/car-owner announced he wasn’t interested in seeing, to quote him, “Some stupid movie”.
Instead, he would wait until we were finished.
In the bar across the street.
We watched him go.
Not really worried. Thinking he would be responsible and ensure he was in condition to take us all safely back to Milk River on that long, dark highway home.
We enjoyed the movie and emerged into the cool evening air some two hours later.
One of the boys went into the bar and emerged with our driver.
One of them was not walking very steadily.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you which one.
Our driver had spent his time trying to drink everyone else in the bar ‘under the table’.
Whatever that means.
I think he had won.
“Rrrready t’go?” he slurred at us.
I don’t know about the others, but my little teen-aged heart stopped right there.
My date put his arm around our driver. “Buddy,” he said soothingly, “I’d better drive.”
“Wha’d’ya mean?! I can drive!!! SSS’MY car!!!”
“Bud, you’re drunk. You can’t even see the steering wheel!”
“SSS’MY car!!! Ssstealin’ my car!!!”
“No, Bud, we’re not stealing your car. You can sit right next to me and we’ll all get home safely.”
“Yes, it’s your car, and you can sit next to me . . .”
“No onesdrivin’ MY CAR!!!”
This went on for some time.
I hurried to a nearby phone booth (google it) and called home.
Getting my sleepy father out of bed.
“Daddy! Our driver’s drunk!” I wailed over the phone.
He was awake immediately. “Don’t let him drive!”
“We’re trying not to, but he’s so angry!”
“Don’t let him drive! Do you think you can convince him? Do I need to come and get you?”
I looked over at my friends, grouped around my date, who was still trying to talk to his friend. My date was saying something and the driver was shaking his head forcibly, nearly sending himself tumbling with the simply action.
“I don’t knooow!”
As I stood there, my date propped up his friend and stood back. The friend/driver nearly fell over – saved at the last moment when someone grabbed his arm.
Finally, to everyone’s relief, he nodded.
“I think they’ve convinced him,” I said. “We’re on our way.”
Happily, everyone piled into the car, with my date behind the steering wheel and our would-be driver beside him.
We left the brightly-lighted city and started out along the dark highway.
We didn’t get far.
“I ssshould be drivin’! SSSS’MY car!!!”
My date looked over at his friend. “You’re too drunk, Buddy,” he said. “I’ll get us all home safely.”
He grabbed the wheel.
The car swerved sharply and my date took his foot off the accelerator and finally regained control as the boy sitting on the other side of the ‘driver’ wrestled him back into the middle of the seat.
“SSS’MY CAR! SSSSTEALIN’ MY CAR!!!”
“No we’re not stealing anything!”
“I’m Drivin’!” Again the driver reached for the wheel.
My date pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine, pocketing the key. “Let’s walk this off,” he suggested. He slid out of the car and pulled the ‘driver’ out behind him. “C’mon Buddy, let’s walk this off.”
The two of them went around the car to the ditch and started walking up and down, my date talking quietly and the ‘driver’ shouting more and more incoherently.
Lights appeared behind us.
A pick-up truck.
One we all knew very well.
Another friend and his date pulled over in front of us.
“Trouble?” he asked.
I went over to them. “Our driver’s drunk,” I said.
“Do any of you want to come with us?” he asked.
Relief flooded over me. “Well, I do!” I said. I went back to the other car. My date was till walking up and down with his friend, talking softly and soothingly. “Does anyone want to catch a ride?” I asked.
One other person scrambled out of the car. “I do,” they said.
“I’m going with Dennis!” I called to my date.
He waved. “Do!” he said.
I climbed into the truck and made room for the other person.
For a few seconds, we watched my date continue to walk and talk, trying to convince our agitated ‘driver’ that he really was in no condition to drive.
Then we drove off, the car and my other friends disappearing into the darkness behind us.
I felt like I was abandoning them.
Half an hour later, I was walking through my front door.
My relieved parents met me as I came in.
“What happened?” Dad asked.
I told them.
They shook their heads. “Thank the Lord you had enough sense to keep him from driving,” Mom said.
“Well, they were still trying when I left,” I said. “I don’t know what happened after that.”
Later, one of my other friends called to say that they had all gotten home safely. My date had managed to calm the ‘driver’ enough to get him back into the car. And the rest of them were able to keep him from grabbing the wheel.
We learned two things that night:
1. If there’s any possibility you’re going to be the driver . . .
2. Don’t be stupid.