49 years of my life had passed without a single traffic ticket of any kind (parking tickets don't count). I got my first driver's license at age 16 and had driven without reportable incident throughout Europe, North America, Saudi Arabia and Japan. So I considered myself a good and safe driver, if not altogether a model citizen in some other respects. Then it happened. Last July, on a Friday, I had spent a healthy afternoon hiking and jogging through the hinterlands of Ibaraki with one of my false friends, let's call him "Peter". We had been scouting a trail for the infamous Hash House Harriers event to be held that Sunday. Having satisfactorily completed our task, we retired to my place for a few beers and a large bag of KFC goodies for dinner.
My band "Smooth", had a scheduled practice that evening at a local Tsukuba gaijin watering hole to which I had access for that purpose. We arrived there at 6 pm in my car and, while Peter enjoyed discounted beers, the band laid down the jams until 9 pm, by which time the bar was officially open and beginning to fill up. Having broken down and stashed the equipment, we proceeded to do what bar patrons do: drink, chat, dance and leer.
By midnight, I had reached my usual modest limit in alcohol consumption when driving and suggested to Peter that we call it a night. After all, we had been there six hours already. He, however, was not prepared to leave yet as he was working hard with measurable success, on picking up a Commonwealth denizen with coy smile and large breasts. So he treated me to a double Wild Turkey coke. I sipped on that for an hour, then made another appeal for departure. But, as Peter felt he was making progress, however slowly, he suggested that I "lighten up" and have another one on him. Reluctant to abandon my buddy without a ride, I consented once again, for the sake of our friendship. And so it went. Although dead tired, I continued to wait and sip until 3 am, when it seemed he was about to score and dismissed his chauffeur. So I had waited there for an extra three hours and four drinks for naught. Irritated and agitated, yet well aware of my inebriated condition, I got behind the wheel. Of course, I should have called a taxi, but I was confident of my good driving record and ability.
I live in the town of Tsuchiura, a distance of about ten kilometers from Tsukuba and a straight shot. I drive that route at least twice a day and could almost do it blindfolded. Concentrating totally on my driving, I stayed within the speed limits and the lane makers and dutifully observed the commands of all traffic signals. Yet, I had an uneasy feeling, as the only other traffic at 3:30 seemed to be trucks and mopeds delivering newspapers. I stood out.
As I was crossing the Sakura River, just eight blocks from home, my rearview mirror lit up brightly with flashing red lights. Uh oh, I thought. I pulled over after the bridge onto a wide shoulder so as not to obstruct other traffic. Instantly, a policeman was at my window. Of course, I had my seatbelt on and did my best to appear alert and sober. He asked to see my license, which was in order, and said I had been stopped because of the license plate light on the rear of the car being out. There's a lesson there - take heed of your lights.
His partner joined him. Then commenced the interrogation. "Have you been drinking?" "Yes, a little." "What were you drinking?" "Whiskey and coke." "How many did you have? " "Three." "Where?" "At a restaurant." "Restaurants close at 10:00." "OK, it was a restaurant/bar." "What was the name of the place?" "I don't know. It was my first time there. It was for a sayonara party for a departing coworker." "Please turn off your engine and come back to the patrol car." They announced they were going to give me a breath test to determine my blood/alcohol level. Sitting in the back seat with the door open, I was handed a cup of brown tea. "Oh. How nice of them to serve tea at a time like this," I thought. Then I was instructed to rinse my mouth out with the ocha and spit it out onto the street, twice. This seemed like a gesture at fair play, which I appreciated and took full advantage of. I was then handed the medical looking testing device and told to blow into it. This being my first experience of the sort, I didn't do it right, blowing just a little. "More, more" they directed. I recalled having heard that the best chance of passing such a test was by blowing strictly from the mouth, not the lungs. I guess there must be something to that, as the authorities read the results and declared me to be just a little bit over the legal limit.
Yet, over I was, so in trouble I was. They pocketed my license and instructed me to sit in the passenger seat of my car. Then one of the cops sat behind the wheel of my car, got the keys from me, and proceeded to drive me the last few blocks to my place while the other followed in the patrol car. There, I was told emphatically that driving without my license was strictly forbidden. I would receive a summons to appear in traffic court within a few days, where I would be instructed as to how to proceed from there. I must state that the police were constantly polite, professional, and almost friendly. They were doing their job and I can't reasonably complain about my treatment at their hands. They left and I made my way to the apartment, dreading the disclosure of this incident to my wife.
To be continued. Next month: The Aftermath
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