Drunken driving and the air around it

Published 8:14 pm Thursday, January 20, 2011

I don’t think there’s a better day in a teenage boy’s life than when he finally gets his driver’s license. I still remember the day when my mother and I went down to the courthouse to get my Virginia driver’s license.

It was a small group of us new drivers and our parents. And we were told that there would be a tour before we would receive our licenses. It was a very short but memorable tour, memorable not so much for the sights but for the smells, because we only visited two places.

The first stop was the judge’s chambers. It was one of the most immaculate and nicest-smelling rooms I had ever been in. There were comfortable chairs and the delightful aroma of chocolate chip cookies in the air. Everything looked like it had come from a museum.

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The judge told us that he met with lawyers, politicians and all sorts of high society in his chambers. And he capped it all off with the fact that he got to be where he was, because he was a good driver his whole life.

Then, for the second portion of the tour, the judge escorted us to the holding cells. They were empty at the time but marred by evidence that they had been filled with some unsavory characters.

First of all, there were metal toilets right in the middle of each cell, with no curtains or sheets for privacy. There were shoddy old benches covered with etchings of varying levels of decency. And let’s just say it certainly didn’t smell like cookies in that place.

For me, the judges’ point had been made once the smell of a dingy old jail cell on a hot summer day slapped me across the face. But he decided to really drive the point home by mentioning that a lot of the people who ended up in those cells were drunk drivers.

After the most pungent tour I had ever taken, the judge finally gave our licenses to our parents and left it up to them to give them to us.

As we were all leaving, my mother and I were noticing that many parents were waiting to give their kids their licenses. But my mother, always able to read me better than anyone, handed me my license and told me to drive her home.

“I’m not so sure I want my license now. Are you sure?” I asked.

“I think you got the point of what the judge was saying,” she said. “Besides I’ve been needing a driver for months now.” She laughed as she tossed me the keys.

She was right. I got it. I’d much rather enjoy the smell of cookies than what was going on in that jail cell.

Take it from someone who’s been on the tour. In those two places, the air is very different.