Wednesday, December 29, 2010

True Confessions of the Designated Driver!

In case you haven’t heard, there are advantages to being the designated driver. There are also disadvantages, of course, most notably the risk of one of your intoxicated charges heaving his or her guts all over the pristine upholstery of your car, but the benefits well outweigh the downsides. First and foremost, you are the one who remembers everything the next morning. This includes the fun stuff, such as the drunk, giggling girl who used her incredible cleavage to distract you during beer pong (provided your partner does the drinking), the coworker who enthusiastically sloshed beer on you when she ran into you unexpectedly, and the spirited chorus of Elton John’s “Hold Me Closer, Tiny Dancer” that took place well after midnight. Unfortunately, this also includes the not-so-fun stuff, like the horrific smell from when some jackass brought pot to the party or the quirky incident on the drive back when your roommate barfs, not in your car, per se, but into his T-shirt, which he subsequently chucks out the window into traffic. But acting as the much-lauded and esteemed DD also serves to give you a sense of pride for doing a civic duty for your inebriated peers, and occasionally helps you monetarily as well. Consider, if you will, the example of the upstanding young man who imbibeth not the fine alcoholic beverage (imagine the last syllable of “beverage” with a strong French accent). In layman’s terms, he is completely whitebread; he does not drink, nor does he smoke or engage in premarital tomfoolery. He is solitary by nature, not by choice, and his shyness has served him well in that despite his social awkwardness, the select companions he does keep are true, not simply caught up in a show of charisma that keeps some popular through high school and beyond. His role in the after-work kegger is to cart his three roommates around, keep them (mostly) out of trouble, and at least attempt to have a good time in the grossly-overcrowded apartment in which the party takes place. This latter point is the most difficult, as he has never really been comfortable in parties or crowds. Most of his coworkers, including his roommates, are present, but they only make up a small fraction of the huddled masses crammed together in the boiling-hot apartment; therefore, he feels awkward and lonely. He doesn’t drink, and as such, he remains socially unlubricated, satiated only by the cold comfort of the 12-pack of cranberry-flavored Sierra Mist he has stashed outside, tucked behind the beer kegs (near which he will later look on in astonishment as he finally beholds a keg stand, performed to geometric perfection by one of his work supervisors). Early on, he runs into a guy from work who asks why he doesn’t have a beer and insists he get one; the non-drinker respectfully declines, reasoning that he doesn’t like the smell of beer, and, when prodded further, that his roommates are counting on him to get them back home safely. The coworker scoffs, making known his goal to get our hero drunk by the end of the night; after all, the poor guy is a bit of an oddball already, which therefore leads to the implication that he would be all the more entertaining drunk. Naturally, we shall never know.
The party rolls along farther into the night, and our boy is tired. He weaves back and forth throughout the crowd, desperately searching for someone—anyone—to talk to, until he sees a pretty girl he works with. She’s talking to one of his roommates, and normally he’d respect that and move on, but he needs to talk to somebody. Soda in hand, he barks out a greeting, trying to be heard over the random chatter and booming music, but he lacks the preparedness to properly contribute to the conversation, and ends up standing awkwardly nearby and sipping at his drink instead. The roommate cordially departs, leaving our beer-less hero alone to turn on the charm. He tries, and apparently he fails, as within ten seconds, the girl has mumbled an excuse and vamoosed, searching for greener pastures and more stimulating conversation elsewhere. *Sigh* Back to the drawing board . . . and, less figuratively, back outside for another Sierra Mist.
            Back in the proverbial saddle, he’s inside again to watch the current round of beer pong, as his turn is drawing near (there’s a list). An attractive girl is sitting on the edge of a nearby table, watching the game with some measure of half-interest. She’s there to cheer on her friends, but she’s clearly bored and looking for some kind of distraction. She occasionally glances at the soda drinker in the Green Lantern T-shirt and leather jacket, and despite his stocky build and obvious nerdiness, she seems to like what she sees, as far as he can tell from the few times they make fleeting eye contact and she smiles slightly, gently. Give it a few minutes—Gotham City wasn’t built in a day, and as such, he needs to formulate a because his roommate has just swooped in and done just that. Oh, great—they’ve hit it off very nicely, and now they’re signed up to play beer pong. This is the second time in one night this very roommate has effectively blocked our Casa-never’s attempt at striking up a conversation with a pretty girl, and there’s a twinge of bitterness. He sits back, dumbfounded, as they laugh it up and subsequently get their butts handed to them in beer pong (he tries to maintain his presence in the room—and hopefully on her radar—by snatching up the ball every time it bounces off the table and handing it back to her; it works only to the extent that she says “thank you” every time), until suddenly, as the game ends, she decides to leave the party (she does, at least, acknowledge his presence before she exits, by commenting, “Oh, you’re his roommate? Cool . . .”). This is a bit surprising, as she and the roommate had been so close earlier, but the roommate will later, sadly, relate the sad details of what had happened (she left after his comments about how nice she was and how well they were “clicking” together led her to say, “Oh, you’re just drunk” and leave). This makes our champion of clean living feel a little better, but he’s still a bit bummed out that he lost his own chance to get her attention—after all, she couldn’t accuse him of being too drunk.
            At two in the morning, the party should be winding down, right? Well, sort of, but there is still a veritable crap-ton of people there. And who should come slinking over, but the coworker who was bound and determined to get our upstanding citizen drunk? And guess what? HE WANTS A RIDE HOME! Doesn’t it just figure? Is this not poetic justice, that he would want a service from the very person he wanted to render incapable of performing said service? Our stalwart crusader for sobriety is uncertain—after all, the coworker lives on the other side of town, is kind of a douchebag at times, and would be taking him away from his first responsibility to his roommates, albeit only for a little while. When he is offered six bucks for his chauffeur services, however, that proves to be the difference maker. Over the course of the trip across town, he has a chance to get to know the guy a little better, and he’s really not that bad. If anything, his occasional douchebaggery is just the result of personal insecurity and a desire to seem more important—very relatable traits, actually. However, he’s just about to get a healthy shot of humility, as our proactive professor of propriety’s weathered Camry pulls into the parking lot of the coworker’s apartment complex, where there are two police cars parked outside with their lights flashing. The coworker’s face blanches and his mouth forms an “o” of shock and relief as he turns to face our faithful friend and says, “I am so glad you didn’t drink.” Our protagonist smiles quietly, responding with a simple “Yup, ya think?” before wishing him well and returning to the party, feeling vindicated in his decision to eschew the pull of his peers to indulge in alcoholic revelry.
            His faith in his own principles reaffirmed, the not-so-hearty partier arrives just as the party itself is on its last legs (or kegs, as it were), but still has sufficient strength to rock as the remaining partygoers huddle together in the center of the room to belt out a certain Elton John classic that is currently emanating from the speakers that are strewn around the room. Yes, it has been a long night, and he should probably round up the roommates and begone, but not now . . . not yet. Not “while it feels so real, lying here, with no one near—only you, and you can hear me . . . when I say softly . . . slowly . . .” The moment is pure, full of life and vigor and the joy of friends and fun and all that is good in the world. In this moment, the culmination of all the events of this long night, his soul pours out everything—the joy, the hope, the rage, the insecurity—everything that has raced through his mind, every little thought or emotion, everything that has given him pause or thrown him off track, and as the music fades out his soul still sings, with everything it’s got, because he feels good. That, and he knows he’s not going to throw up in the morning, which is also a plus.
            At long last, he gathers his jacket, his soda, his roommates, and heads out into the cold night. He has resisted the impulse to engage in vice and drunken debauchery once again, and has remained a steady, stalwart champion for the cause of Designated Driving. We salute you, good sir, for your service, and shall only mock you but a little for your whitebreadedness. Indeed, somebody has to do it, and even though he may never be a true party animal, wild and carefree, he has at least realized why he does it—not just because he is afraid of losing control (although that is a pretty big part of it), nor because of some sense of guilt-related responsibility, but simply because it’s just part of who he is. He’s the guy who is there to pull the emergency brake when everything goes out of control. He’s the guy who doesn’t trust anybody but himself to manage the weight of the world. He’s the guy who makes responsible decisions even when it really hurts. He’s the guy who’s willing to inconvenience himself and “take one for the team” even when it’s no freaking fun. He is the Designated Driver, and that will never change—without him, we’re all just driving around aimlessly, headed for disaster.

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