Alice was obviously inebriated. She skipped and twirled out of the venue all the way to the car, along the way stroking the toupee of a senior citizen, yelling at a group of tweens for talking too loudly about last week’s “Game of Thrones” episode (which she tragically had not yet seen) and, at one point, trying to trade stale marijuana for a black market concert tee being sold in the parking lot.
Max, though he could walk in a straight line, spent the trek back to the parking lot lost in fantasy. His Budweiser-flavored breath loudly carried the lyrics to “Folsom Prison Blues” through the night, while their deliverer (unsuccessfully) tried to rally a group of unenlightened high schoolers to join in.
Somewhere along that magical mystery tour to the parking lot, the three of us — spread dramatically across the sobriety spectrum — encountered a situational problem that was so not specific to the situation in question. It’s simple math, but stubbornness, drunkenness and uneasiness over material risk inevitably complicate the puzzle, every single time.
Three people, two cars, one designated driver and absolutely zero hope of navigating the situation.
The two under-the-influence car owners absolutely refused to leave their respective vehicles in the lot, lest they risk a parking ticket, towing or, especially as dramatized by the intoxicated mind, impoundment.
The problem encountered this night is reflective of a bigger systemic problem. We’re indirectly seduced into drinking and driving because of an institutionally implemented fear of loss — loss of time, money, energy and control.
The drunken mind overemphasizes the potential damage incurred by abandoning a vehicle somewhere overnight and understates the dangers involved with drunk driving. It’s not just an Uber home — it’s an Uber home and a ticket; it’s a $20 that you never wanted to drop and a four-hour chunk out of your morning that would be better spent with a remote control in one hand and Sriracha in the other. It’s having to deal with the prohibitive punishments that this society slams on us for drinking without a solid, preconceived plan of how to get home.
And so to avoid this punishment, we must choose the greater of two evils — and lo and behold, some of us drink and idiotically drive home.
The prospect of getting a parking ticket, in the moment, seems extraordinarily more daunting and much more likely than the possibility of hitting an old lady, crashing into a tree, flying off the highway, endangering the lives of innocent people on the roads or, God forbid, getting pulled over and facing financial and legal consequences much more colossal than a parking ticket.
The problem can’t be boiled down to pure stupidity. The phrase “don’t drink and drive” has been pounded into our consciousness for years. It’s effective; we get it, and we fundamentally don’t want to put ourselves, or others, at risk. Yet because of the institutionally enforced financial punishments this situation engenders, we’re faced with complicated scenarios that our drunken minds are incapable of intelligently handling.
Have we mentioned that drunk people do really stupid shit?
The problem is that we, as broke college kids, are too scared to lose something valuable, such as our car, the belongings inside it or the money involved in a fine. And we’re overly confident in our ability to navigate ourselves out of the storm without the motor skills, judgment or coherence necessary to understand the magnitude of the situation.
Fundamentally, this is paradoxical because it’s more complicated than the money. We’ve all had those nights when we spend two month’s salary on Postmates, splurge on cabs to San Francisco or decide to be the “Five Dollar Bill Fairy” at People’s Park. Drunk people will throw away cash. Rather, the problem college students tend to encounter has to do with a very poor assessment of the costs and benefits involved, and the plausibility of the risk involved with each decision — to drive or not to drive — actually occurring.
If there was something we could do to simplify the problem so the costs of the situation are reduced to just the money, college students would benefit. We need a system that encourages us to abandon our cars when we are too drunk to drive them. We could put a certain sticker on the windshield, like a FasTrak, that could facilitate an extended parking cost and be scanned and charged to the driver, rather than the car being towed.
We at the Clog know that right now people are kind of focused on removing Aaron Persky from the bench or demanding emergency funding for Zika virus, but finding a way to help college students safely party has got to be up there on the priority list. Someone start a Change.org petition and let’s do this.
Contact Natalie Silver at [email protected].