The Thing in the Car

Each punishment for DUI is its own unique slice of shit and sodomizing; the interlock is wiping your ass with a tender hemorrhoid. A several-times daily pinprick of impassioned annoyance, which mostly faded after 2 months, followed by a long numbness and resignation. On busy days with many errands, it was a stomach bug with nonstop ass-pissing on the tender hemorrhoid. After spending a year in the car with it, you’d think i’d have characterized it or nicknamed it or bonded with it in some Helsinki way. Nope. Fuck no. Never was anything more than an object. Refused to take a picture. Used the same mouthpiece for 12 months, covered it for a year with the same shirt in the floor of the car, which I subsequently will give to Goodwill and erase all memories of it. I refused to waste a single extra calorie on it – my silent protest. Around the 4th month, they upgraded the unit’s firmware and shaved 20 seconds off the startup time. I could not confirm this other than by noting the version on the splash-screen. There are no usenet forums for Intoxalock. This was the closest i allowed myself to get to it; the rest was strictly business.

Every month or so I make a visit to the Interlock SuperStore for recalibration. Calibration = status reporting to the DMV. The employees service you quickly, quietly, doing their jobs as invisibly and sans chit-chat as possible, not wanting to deal with your frustrations or excuses or sob stories. I heard plenty of them waiting in the lobby. A lot of people don’t take the thing seriously enough, or their situation seriously enough, or the thing sneaks up on you with its extremely imperfect accuracy.  I took the interlock very seriously, but i still had a few agonizing brushes with the rules and bullshit fines due to its imperfections.

The interlock’s boundary is .03 – blow over and you can’t start the car, blow over while driving and you get hit with an $85 fine.  Blow over 5 times in a 1-2 month calibration period and you get hit with another year at $80/month. I had about 8 overblows the whole year.  The first was the day after Memorial Day when i woke up and blew .06, then went back to bed and went to work 4 hrs later. Nothing wrong with a good drunken bbq, i didn’t drive, and i learned what buzzed the next morning feels like.  The next 3 overblows came in one 5 minute period of disbelief when I blew .032 15 minutes after starting the car at .029 and having finished my 3rd beer in 3 hrs 30 minutes prior to driving (that cost me $85 in fines).  2 came when the thing was so heated up in June it registered .15 on half a beer and immediately went into its own reboot cycle.  3 minutes later it registered .037, 3 minutes later it registered .018 and let me start the car.  That made me late for daycare and cost $25, and terrified I’d get another year sentence I begged Beckie to believe how little I’d had.

1 overblow came after the Squealer – I had a shot and a beer after the race, rode my bike 10 miles and with .012 bac (half a beer, given my body weight) drove the car to the awards ceremony where i nursed a 20 oz beer for 1.5 hrs and then blew .035.  Even though it was probably a legitimate reading, it really pissed me off . I was following all the rules – out with my friends after a great day, but drinking responsibly, with a plan for getting home legally, safely, having suffered with the interlock for 8 months. i was over .03 by about 2 sips of beer and my bac was coming down, fer crissakes!! I’VE LEARNED MY LESSON, LET ME GO HOME ALREADY! I stood around the bar for another 15 minutes til i got under the line – picking my ass in the parking lot, organizing my trunk, cleaning garbage and cheerios out of the backseat, too embarrassed to go back inside. I wanted to to yank the damn thing out of the car, but that anger lasted about 10 seconds til i forced the numbness back over me. Much better than looking at the calender and chafing.

The final overblow came driving home from the 12 Hrs at Night in Prescott, 10 days before my sentence ended.  I had blown 0.0 for an hour and a half when suddenly it registered .037 on a rolling retest.  I pulled over and restarted it in 5 minutes and it read 0.0 again. This was a physiological impossibility that would cost me another $85, despite it being 100% the machine’s fault! Best i can figure there was a splash of leftover beer in a waterbottle that i drained before refilling it with water a few minutes before the sample, and the thing’s accuracy goes to shit in the heat.  Maybe it was aided by the grapes I’d been eating, the garbage in the trunk, my disgusting teeth having ridden bikes all night, mine and Kila’s b.o… Even though 1 oz of beer could not possibly affect me, even though there were 10 people who knew i drove up and drove home alone, even though i printed my race results and took them to the Interlock Superstore to prove where i was, even though I printed a copy of Beckie’s plane ticket showing she was out of town and took a video showing I was alone in the car, even though the employees knew me by then and looked me in the eye and told me they believed i was telling the truth: there was no leeway.  The policy of the Interlock company is that a violation is your fault, period.  You have no grounds to appeal, guilty without a chance to prove innocence.  The only consolation is a rolling retest failure over .03 but not over .08 does not impact you with the DMV.  I finally just paid the fine and gave up arguing.  It was the final ass-raping, just 1 week before I got the thing removed; the crowning reminder that you are a fuck-up and a criminal if you get a DUI, and your relationship with the car and the law is all uphill for the next 7 years.

An interlock is not really there to keep you under .03, its there to punish you for having anything to drink at all.  If you press them, the employees at the Interlock Superstore acknowledge that the thing is frightfully inaccurate and that any alcohol can register a .03 reading, that your reading can swing wildly over 2 immediately consecutive samples, that food and sports drinks and mouthwash can set it off.  I saw all of this randomness first hand, and it made me seethe with anger and shake with fear.  If .03 is the limit, gawdammit that is what I should be allowed!  A true .03 limit, when tested accurately, I had very little trouble obeying.  Amidst the self-loathing and self-doubt I’ve been struggling with since getting arrested, going a whole year with safe driving and no impairment has been very empowering.  The absolute undeniable benefit of the interlock is teaching me to plan ahead, know how much i’ve had, and make good decisions about having a drink. In that regard, its been an excellent experience. All but one of those overblows were, fundamentally, situations where I had some drinks responsibly before getting back in the car – the fines and inconveniences were the extra negative reinforcement, the catholic nun with a ruler, just to be sure you were listening.  I’m going to buy a breathalyzer for my own usage, its far cheaper than a dui. I’ll say, yet again, that I shouldn’t be 40 with 2 kids and have gotten myself into this situation. I have used this time to reform, I’ve gotten stupid good at knowing my bac at any given time, I’m relaxed and confident that I won’t make this mistake again, and that I can enjoy a social drink and still obey the law.  For all the rest, there is taking turns driving with my wife, or riding my bike.

The hardest part, the most depressing part, is facing the daily reminder of the might of the State and seeing the system stacked against you. Over by .002 – guilty! Interlock misreads your sample – guilty! How can something that has such consequence be so unreliable?  With thousands of them in use every year, how can this wantonness be allowed to continue?  The answer is no one in the legislature gives a shit whatsoever.  Once labeled a criminal, you simply don’t have the same rights as others. This is something most blacks or hispanics have learned at an early age, and it certainly changed my outlook on the patterns of power in our society.  Get into an accident – the cop is gonna be looking for my dirty laundry long before the next guy. Run into AZ’s “Zero Tolerance Per Se” DUID law, i’m going to jail for a month. The corresponding teaching moment is i have become a much calmer driver, more conservative, less confrontational, less obvious, wanting to go 72 and just blend in, like a mexican-american in AZ under the cloud of SB1070.  The car is a big fat probable cause, and alcohol aside, the smartest thing to do is realize you are the cat’s plaything when driving it.

Things can always happen to me, but it won’t be me making it happen. I am reformed, and a much-improved citizen of the road, despite all those evil ex-addicts in Shame Training saying it was impossible. Now I just want to rejoin society, stop over-thinking every time I start the car. I want to drive my F150 on a road trip with my buds, having had it for only a month before my foolishness made it off-limits to me everywhere but Mexico. I want to park the Prius in the hybrid spot at Fresh & Easy. I want to take the Acura for an oil change and a car wash; I’ve avoided both due to the risk of the mechanic missing the rolling retest and screwing me with the DMV. Then I will change the registration to Beckie’s name only, so cops scanning plates won’t profile me.

The last few weeks with the thing are coming when its over 100 degrees outside, but I am placid and numb enough to look past 30 seconds of roasting in the car til it lets me turn on the AC. At least the Acura could roll its windows down via the remote control, a feature none of my other cars have, or the kids would have cooked and I’d be going to Child Services along with Justice Services. The responsible parent alternative — ironic, given how i got into this situation — would be to leave the doors open while I blew my sample. This would have given the world an even better view of my shame: at work, in front of daycare, in my driveway. I don’t think anyone who mattered saw me all year long. Hunching down like doing a one-hit on a ski lift looks almost normal when you are starting a car. You could be checking your messages, finding something for the kids, getting a drink of coffee. By the end of the sentence I just didn’t care anymore. You see me, you don’t, i made a mistake, i’ve learned from it, fuck it, whatever, I’m moving on.

and here’s some backstory. I struggled for months over publishing these or not. There is a downside if any potential employer searches my blog, but other than e-paranoia i found that unconvincing. I desperately need there to be a positive upside to all this, for my friends to learn from this, for my story to be public so I’m reminded never to do it again. Maybe the increased sensitivity i will feel in being outed will keep this experience painfully close to me, and bring me some meaning and some closure.   If nothing positive comes out of this, I am the loser all those miserable motherfuckers in Shame Training and MAAD say I am.  But I’m not.  So here it is…

Fuck it, whatever, I’m moving on.


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