Confessions of a Designated Driver

Cheers!The following account represents a work of non-fiction; any semblance to fictional characters, unreal or imagined, is purely coincidental. And while the author assures us of the tale’s veracity, some of those involved wish to remain anonymous – lest some stubborn brain cells that survived the flood of alcohol happen to remember any details the author has the decency to forget.

“Party foul!”

“Explain to me why we’re not leaving yet?” I sigh, quickly mopping the spilt fluid from the table. My uncle had suggested some minutes ago after Ryan had dribbled a large quantity of beer onto his shirt that ‘no drop of precious ale shall go to waste,’ to which my brother responded by sucking the errant liquid from his clothing. Thus, I offered to clean any spills before either uncle or brother could lap these escaped droplets from the warped and peeling tabletop. Tongue-splinters I did not need.

“Because . . .” my mother Molly smiles stupidly, her voice st-stuttering with the effects of nearly five hours of sampling stouts, ales and ports. “We are st-still drinking. Look . . . look how much we ‘ave left.”

I watch as she counts the full or partially full glasses around the table: “One, two, three . . . um, three, four, six.”

“Six glasses,” Molly says giggling. “We can’t leave this beer behind. These . . . these are free glasses.”

“You counted wrong, Molly,” my uncle snorts. “There’s six drinks on the table.”

“I said six.”

“You counted five.”

“Did I ever say five?” Molly asks me.

“No,” I sigh, “you definitely did not.”

“See, I told you,” she shoots back, preening a little. “No five.”

“Will you tell her?” my uncle belches in my face. “Oops shooze me.”

“I’ll tell her if you agree to leave now,” I say . “Molly we have a party at 7:30 tonight. Your sons’ birthday party! That you’re hosting!”

“Ah, you worry like your father. We’ve got too much beer to drink to think about leaving now. This . . . Oktuuber-thingy . . .”

“Bless you,” my uncle giggles.

“Thang you. As I was saying, this oktuh. . . whatever doesn’t end until six. We got plenty of time!”

My brother, Ryan, returns from the DuClaw station with three fresh pints to the cheer of my wards, and I abandon all hope of leaving the Oktoberfest before nightfall.

Our collection!

The role of designated driver is much like hosting a tea party in Wonderland: crazy people hurl glassware at your face, riddle you with asinine questions, and incite all manner of awkward – and privately hilarious – embarrassments. Alcohol de-ages drinkers, transforming a grown man into an uncoordinated visually-challenged child, eager to break any and all social taboos. The designated driver – being reasonably sober and thus aware of what ‘taboo’ means – is compelled to apologize to everyone for all these social indiscretions, as if Baby Huey’s fascination with your girlfriend’s cleavage was his babysitter’s fault.

“Sorry sir, she didn’t mean to touch you there. No, she can’t do it again . . .(perv).”

“Ma’am, I promise you he’s just looking for a contact or . . . no, now he’s looking up your skirt . . .”

“A leash? Very funny sir. I’ll try to look into it at his next bachelor party.”

Essentially you become sole guardian and short bus driver for the local psycho ward. So why not join in the fun? Toss away my inhibitions and empty a pint or three? Well, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of a control-freak – a common trait among older siblings in large families, I’m told – and abandoning the better part of my reason frankly scares me. Knowing that my younger siblings were hurt because I relinquished my responsibility . . . well, even after twenty years, it’s a hard habit to break.

Moreover, I get kinda a rush from stories and whatnot, more so than I do with alcohol. Once you sample a truly awesome story (like the traveler who tasted elvish wine) nothing else really satisfies you ever again. You can spend the rest of your life looking for the next great escape fiction. “Gay,” you say? Undoubtedly, but that’s how I’m wired.

The theme of the Oktoberfest.

Autumn mornings here in Maryland open on a whole other world. Over the past few weeks, the dense green forests that surround our house have grown lean, burnt replaced with flame-haired skeletons. On days like these when the air turns chill and bleached sky sends teary showers over the house, only the surrounding woods drenched Martian reds and sulfurous yellows seem to rebel against the gloom. The world changes during this time of year, and like the arrival of a storm, I feel excitement building in my gut. Any moment I feel as if something momentous will occur, an adventure, romance or alien invader (which might be all three). My body propels me outside amid the wind, rain, and crackling leaves.

For this reason alone, I find myself more eager to sign up for any fall festivals during the weekends: wine festival, Ren faire, school bizarre. It never really mattered. This last weekend took Molly, Ryan, Katie, Leo and I to the Maryland Oktoberfest at the local fairgrounds in order to celebrate German culture and alcohol consumption. I was elected to be designated driver, which for reasons stated above is a bit of a drag . . . or FUBR as they say in Germany.

You see, the festival began around noon on Saturday, ending around six o’clock; our group arrived twenty minutes after twelve with the intention of leaving at five to catch evening mass. So far so good.
Now Oktoberfest proved less of a celebration of German culture and more of an exhibition of Maryland brewers. I mean, there was German food (sauerkraut, sausage, pork) and there was a German polka band (Ziga zaga! Ziga zaga! Oi! Oi! Oi!), and certainly there were dozens of beer wenches (barely clad in St. Pauli Girl costumes), but otherwise a German Oktoberfest translates to ‘college kegger’ in Maryland.

At the onset, visitors were given a four-ounce glass and six tokens to sample the various brews. Each token cost a dollar, which you could buy at various booths, if you happen to imbibe your free samples too quickly. After completing his free samples within a half-hour, Ryan bought an additional twenty, which – for those who have difficulty with conversions – is about six and a half pints of beer. Soon after that, Katie and I lost both Molly and Ryan in the rising crowds.

Again, not a problem. Living in a large family, we lose people all the time. Seriously after about twenty years, you stop worrying about it. Inevitably they all return in some way or another, full of stories, free candy or law suits, just as Nature intended:

“Oh hey Ralph, where ya been? Haven’t seen ya since . . . what? Katie’s fifth birthday party? Where’d you . . ?”

“Under the porch. Remember that game of Hide n’ Seek . .?”

“Is that where you were?! Well . . . guess that means you won, eh?”

Anyway, I had complete confidence that we’d meet up again – well, eventually – no doubt half-polluted with some poisonous concoction. I’m optimistic not stupid.

DuClaw put on quite a show.

In the meantime, Kate, Leo and I strode off to find our uncle and aunt, who arrived a few hours later. We showed them around the now packed festival, weaving through lines and a growing mob outside the DuClaw brewery station.

Most of the breweries kept their presentations simple: sign, table, beer. DuClaw came prepared to sell. Three large Samsung plasmas hung from the top of their stand like a small digital pyramid; the two bottom screens displayed the offered brews in crisp 1080p, while the top screen counted down to a sp. When the timer dropped to zero, the crowds cheered and a short video with a long-legged blonde played on the top screen. As the blonde licked her fingers (apparently beer is composed of KFC chicken), an animated claw changed the sample listing on the bottom: Divine Retribution (15.5% alcohol per volume) and Colossus (20% alcohol per volume). The mob of drinkers rushed the booth like fangurls at a Justin Bieber concert.

By the time we found Molly and Ryan they were on their third or fourth pint of Retribution. One sip tasted like licorice-flavored vodka.  Deadly.

My uncle decided to make up for lost time (my aunt was his DD) and grabbed a pint or two of Colossus. From then on, I grabbed a picnic table and waited for the festival to close. I would say that sitting and waiting for drinkers to finish drinking is a kind of Hell to punish teetotalers, but that’s a little unfair; imagine instead a two-hour Spongebob marathon without any video, just dialogue punctuated with sharp nerve-cracking laughter, and you’ll get the idea.

“So what’s the most enjoyable wet-dream, you’ve ever had?”

Oh and Ryan’s mouth gets pretty filthy when he drinks. For his 21st birthday, he finished seven or so pints of Blue Moon lager, and initiated an hour-long discussion on sperm and their epic race for fertilization.

“Mine involved Elisha Cuthbert, Haydn Panettiere, a tub of pancake batter, and a hotel room blanketed in bubble wrap . . . Oh and Sammy Hagar was there too, suckin’ on a saxophone! Seriously, I woke up and thought I was drowning . . .”

“Enough!” Molly shouted, scowling at Brian, Leo and I, who were in tears. “Guys, you should not encourage him!  Around women too.  He needs to learn to . . . to . . . um . . .”

“Behave?” I added helpfully.

“What? I didn’t say it! He did!”  Molly shouted, turning on me.

“No, it wasn’t a criticism! I . . .  Isn’t that what you were going to say?”

“Was it?” Molly said blinking. “What were we talking about again?”

“Wet dreams,” Ryan said, gulping down the last of his Divine Retribution. “Speaking of which . . . who here has dreamed of eating food off a naked chick?  Katie? Molly?  Anyone?”

By this point, my uncle was in hysterics, pounding the table with his fists, propelling four or five pints of beer to leap onto the floor.   As I cleaned the mess, Ryan jumped from the bench in search of fresh supplies, returning to launch a etymological discussion on the usage, meaning and origin of ‘douche-bag.’

Katie’s favorite brew that day. 

Two hours later, I led my party to the gate. All the stands had closed their wares to the public, and with no more alcohol to drown their senses, my herd decided it was best to find a new watering hole.  Or in my case, a padded cell.  Molly and Katie walked arm in arm back to the family van; I cut a path through the parking lot, now littered with the corpses of fallen drinkers. Other DDs had propped their cabbaged comrades against stone walls, wire fencing and even the occasional tire like sleeping war heroes. Some had received medals, no doubt for their tolerance, iron-stomachs and wounded livers: pen-ink tattoos on their cheeks, stickers over their eyes, a paper bag over their heads.

Beside the path, a young man in Bermuda shorts crawled beside a tree to relieve the contents of his stomach.While Katie turned to investigate the noise, Molly whipped around and fell to the ground, colliding skull with asphalt. Blood gushed from the wound; Katie and I rushed to stop the flow.

“It’s fine,” Ryan stammered. “Just a head wound. Lots of blood is normal.”

I must say that this would prove the most exciting moment of the day. Using my shirt as a tourniquet, we wiped away the excess blood and examined the cut. Thankfully, the fall had only scraped Molly’s head.  Carefully I removed my trembling hand from the cell phone in my pocket. While we piled into the car, Ryan continued to recount all past head injuries.

“If I had a nickel for every time I hit my head . . . well, I’d have a million dollars and ten cents. Fact!”

Tried requesting Weird Al like twenty times from these guys.

Determined to keep her patient conscious, Katie continued to talk to Molly, who continued to smile and giggle as if nothing had happened. Leo for his part discussed wedding plans, while Ryan called his girlfriend, who would arrive at the house several hours later to find her beloved passed out on the couch. After a week’s cold silence, I hear that they’re talking again.

For my part, I drove home eager for bed, a good book, and – once everyone’s gone to bed – maybe a beer or two.

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