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On assignment: I was drunk but not driving
The Breathalyzer readout said I was going to jail. At .095 percent, I was legally drunk.
I was glad I wasn't driving, and this was only a test.
My assignment was to impair my own judgment. Have a few drinks on the clock, my editors said.
It was a fantastic assignment.
I started my research early on Thursday. I wanted to examine the difference between taking the field sobriety tests before and after drinking.
The point was to drink myself close to the legal limit without going over. That's where most drivers believe they are when they leave a bar or party after having a few drinks — near the limit. People never believe they're too drunk to drive when they start driving.
I didn't want to get drunk. That would ruin my story.
Marysville police Sgt. Chris Sachs first put me through the field sobriety paces around 10:20 a.m. Thursday.
I walked a straight line. Easy. I touched my nose and I held my foot in the air and counted to 15. No problem. I'm good at counting to small numbers. I stand proficiently when sober. I aced the first round of testing.
I am, I believe, a talented drinker. I practice regularly, about three or four times a week.
The important research started around 11:20 a.m. when Appeal-Democrat Photo Editor Chris Kaufman dropped me off at a local bar.
There was a shot of good whisky and three pints of beer. I spent $12.50. I felt good about it. I wasn't over-served. About 45 minutes later, I was ready for the second set of tests.
I felt a decent buzz, but could drive. No doubt.
Kaufman picked me up so he could snap some photographs of my second perfect score on the drunken-driving tests.
"This is going to be more realistic," he noted.
I knew better. A shot and three beers couldn't get me drunk. I'm strong.
The second time around, I immediately noticed the weather. It was windy and maliciously cold. Fresh air hurt. I had to use the restroom — a lot.
But, I wasn't worried until Sachs told me to close my eyes and tip my head back. My head spinning was mild, but unexpected.
The line I walked wasn't straight enough.
Then Sachs ordered me to touch my nose with my right hand. Impossible. It was too windy for nose touching. I missed and hit my lip. My finger smelled like cigarettes. And failure.
The thing is, however, even now I still believe I could've driven my car — but, I'd have gone to jail if Sachs had really pulled me over.
Sadly, it turns out, I don't have as firm a grasp on my limits as I believed.