Hank

If you don't drink, you don't get it, he thought to himself. The first couple drinks are like life itself: Pleasing, smooth, bubbly and harsh. He knew, as any bone-deep alcoholic does, that the greatest pleasure comes long before you get drunk. After the first couple of drinks, the pleasure goes away, and then it's just addiction.

"I've got to work on this addiction," he said to himself as he stumbled to his truck and cranked it. "I got to quit this smackwater," he said, and heard himself slush the S in "smackwater."

***

As long as Chickasaw -- or anywhere else for that matter -- has one rolling drunk, it’s one too many.

And remember the recorded, certified rolling drunks caught by area law enforcement officers while headed your way are just the tip of the iceberg. For every one caught, many more drive by uncaught.

Each one is a ton-plus catastrophe with a wheel on each corner, headed your way. Have a nice day, if you live long enough.

The drunken driver is a major source of income to many people. Depending on where he's caught, he may provide funding via the courtroom for the city, the county and the state.

No matter how much funding he provides, it's not enough. Ask any cop who's worked an alcohol-related crash if there could ever be enough money paid to make up for the deaths, the injuries, the emotional damage to the victims or the property damage the drunken driver causes.

Ask any insurance agent how much his company has to pay out in alcohol-related crashes. Ask him if drunken drivers are one reason your insurance rates are so high.

The rolling drunk is also a major source of income to the defense attorneys who provide him the best defense he can afford, its goal being to see him acquitted of charges, thereby allowing him to return to his chosen calling: driving while drunk.

This nation was founded on safeguarding individual rights. That means, in effect, the guilty should go free rather than seeing the innocent unjustly convicted.

That's good philosophy, but it degenerates in Russian Roulette when applied to the drunken driver.

The rolling drunk is not only a hazard to himself, he's a threat to other people on the highway. And as long as he's on the road, he's like a loaded revolver, with the firing pin fixing to slam down on a loaded chamber.

And every time he gets to his destination without a wreck, it only means the law of averages is building up.

Catching rolling drunks helps, but it won't cure the problem, any more than a doctor treating symptoms can cure an ailment.

The drunk driver problem is amazingly resistant to cure by fines, public humiliation, jail terms, and forms of help, any concern for any other human being other than himself, or herself, and ultimately to common sense.

Because if he had much of any of that, he wouldn't be on the highway in the first place.

Other countries treat drunken driving far more seriously than we do. There are long mandatory prison terms, and the driver may be forbidden to own a vehicle after he or she gets out of prison. There's none of that here, simply because the public doesn't demand it.

I'm glad the courts have ruled that the drunk’s right to privacy in his vehicle is outweighed by the public's right to safe highways. So it's not an invasion of privacy for an officer to arrest a drunken driver.

Drunken drivers who are brought into court in this country are off the road -- at least, until they can bond out of jail and sneak back behind the wheel. Oftentimes, that's discouragingly quickly.

But maybe, because that drunk is off the road, however briefly, someone, maybe you, maybe your loved ones, will be alive who wouldn't have been alive if that drunk had been on the road to plow into them.

***

Back in his house that night, his reflection in the windowpane looked back at him soberly.

"Got nothing to do with me. Ain't my fault," he told the reflection.

The bravado of it, fueled by the whiskey, made him feel better for a moment, and he smiled.

But even as he did, he knew it was the whiskey, he knew it was bravado, and he knew there was really nothing behind the smile in the empty window.

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