NORMAN — When the Norman police sergeant insisted on taking me home after a night of binge drinking this week, my first thought was what would the neighbors think when the patrol car creeped into my driveway and my exit was from the back seat? Would my family be embarrassed? Would we have to move?
Thankfully, my designated driver, Sgt. Raymond Goins, was driving his own truck and the delivery was less-than-noticeable Tuesday night.
The experience for me, however, was just as monumental.
After two happy hours at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds, Oklahoma Highway Patrol cadets took their turn at assessing my ability to follow a moving pen with my eyes, walk a straight line heel to toe and lift and hold a foot six inches off the ground for 20 seconds or so.
It was all a test scenario for the state’s 40-plus cadets. They are halfway through their academy in Oklahoma City. Veteran troopers from around the state are brought in as instructors. The “designated drinkers” were members of the Citizens Police Academy alumni and others who volunteered for the task and were willing to sign a lengthy waiver.
Some other volunteers, many of them teachers, returned a day later for a scenario involving drinkers planted in cars but not actually driving. The cadets had to assess them as if they were pulled over on a highway shoulder.
On my Tuesday evening, we drank liquor that had been confiscated and ate cheap potato chips and pretzels, all the while getting to know strangers. Officers were posted at the doors to keep us from leaving on our own. By the end of the evening, several of the younger, amateur drinkers were swapping telephone numbers and addresses like they were in some kind of Cheers bar.
One tried to hug a young cadet and was pushed away.
“What can I say. I’m just a happy drunk,” he said.
For the cadets, it was all business. Officers had us blow into a breathalyzer when we arrived to make sure no one had started the party early. We were tested again after two hours of drinking and again at the end of the exercise. That score was hidden from the cadets. Working in teams of three, they tested each of us. They ranked our abilities and made notes about our statements.
“How much have you had to drink?” they said to me. “How old are you? What’s your date of birth? What did you have to drink? When was the last time you had anything to drink? When did you have your first drink?” That one threw me. “Today, or when I was a teenager in 1973 and Steve Creger showed up at my house with a six-pack of Budweiser and a box of crackers?” I said. They didn’t laugh.
For the record, my breathalyzer registered .088 two hours into the experiment. Two hours after my partying ended, it dropped to .052. (State law says .08 is prima fascia evidence for a driving under the influence charge and .06 for a driving while impaired). All five teams that tested me opted to make the arrest. Fortunately, for me, it was all just a test.