32 Points to Freedom

In April of 1998, the two things I was most passionate about—whiskey and my motorcycle—produced an unfortunate, if predictable, collision.

I had just left a concert at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado, after a long day of partying—drinks and barbecue at my friend Todd’s before the show, several more drinks at the show.  I decided a feast of Taco Bell would be the perfect ending on this long, bourbon-soaked day.

I got on my bike and rode a block up 13th Street (the main drag for Boulder’s “Hill” section).  I took a left on College avenue and stopped at the light at Broadway, before taking a right onto Broadway and riding south toward Taco Bell.

I guess I only thought I came to a stop at the light, because a few seconds after turning onto Broadway, bright, unmistakable, blue-and-red lights lit up my backside.

In that moment, I saw two options:

  1. Pay the consequences.  Pull over and get a DUI.  In Boulder this meant plea-bargaining down to a DWAI (driving while ability impaired) because it was my first offense, taking alcohol education classes, doing 24 hours of community service and shelling out around $1500.  I knew these consequences because I was the last of my peers to get one.
  2. Escape.  Grab the clutch, downshift and get the hell away from Johnny Law.  No cops, no court, no money, no classes, no community service, no consequences.

With roughly a mile of straight and clear road in front of me, a motorcycle that could hit 60 in under 4 seconds and ample whiskey coursing through my blood, the decision seemed clear.

I zoomed down Broadway unabated.  The cops were soon nowhere to be seen.  For reasons still not entirely clear, when I got to the first major intersection at Baseline Road, I stopped for the red light.  The cops caught back up to me.  Rather than breaking the law (again), I took a right-hand turn at the intersection, went up Baseline for a few feet, did a U-turn, took a right turn on Broadway, where I continued my flight south. 

I would later learn that the cops had stopped chasing me at this point, a procedural thing if the chase becomes a threat to other drivers on the road (though there were few at 1AM when it happened).

I sped down Broadway for another mile before I came upon a swooping turn right before the next major intersection.  Going into the turn something happened.  Drunk bike handling, a slip because of the slightly rain-slicked road, I’m not sure.  My bike stopped.  I continued down Broadway.

After rolling twenty feet or so, I quickly got up to take stock, having been thrust into instant sobriety.  Because I was wearing a helmet and jacket, I noticed that I wasn’t unconscious or dead.  I saw that my khaki pants were shredded and black from the slick road surface.  My bike was sleeping in the distance behind me.

I developed a plan:  get the hell off the road and out of view.  I went to my bike.  It didn’t look so well.  Hoses were disconnected and I would later find out that I had ground off the crankcase in the crash.  Nonetheless, I put it in neutral and repeatedly tried the start the bike, while attempting to get it upright with my battle-scarred body.

A minute later the police approached me in their squad-car.  Their lights were off.  They just happened to be going the same way after they stopped the chase.

I put down the bike.  I made no struggle.  I didn’t and couldn’t get away.  I was arrested and charged with 32 points of driving offenses as well as possession of marijuana.  I couldn’t walk for three months having ripped open my knee, an injury that has set the benchmark for greatest physical pain before or since.

While it’d take a few years for the lessons to settle, there were many great things I learned fleeing the cops that night beside not drinking and driving.  Here are a few:

  1. There are consequences to all actions.  I had been drinking and riding for six months by the time this happened.  I thought I could go on indefinitely like this, avoiding the statistics about motorcycles and drinking.  I didn’t.  Nor have I have found any subsequent behaviors to consequence-free.  Every time I’ve lied, I’ve had to clean it up or lie some more to maintain first lie.  Every time I’ve quit something, I’ve let someone down (even if was just me).  Every time I’ve stolen, I’ve had to watch my back for fear of getting caught.  I have found no such thing as a consequence-free action.
  2. We cannot escape the consequences of our actions.  This is similar to point #1, but takes care of a hazard:  just because there are consequences to our actions, it doesn’t necessarily mean we have to deal with them.  Perhaps if we run fast and far enough away from them, if we dull shit out with enough booze, drugs, food, TV, movies, sex, travel, shopping, whatever, we can escape consequences.  It makes me think of the VH1 show “Behind the Music” about Motley Crew.  The first part, the part where the band’s life was an orgiastic buffet, was awesome.  The band was banging chicks, doing drugs, drinking, never sleeping and applying hairspray while making millions of dollars.  But then consequences set in.  Vince Neal crashed his Ferrari and killed the passenger.  Nicky Sixx became a crackhead.  Most of us, self-included, want to be Vince Neal without the crash, the bad hair or his drunken, latter-day reality TV show appearances.  We want to create a formula for consequence-free living.  I used to think that I was special, that I would prevail where Neal and Sixx failed.  I didn’t.  All subsequent flights from consequences of my behavior—from relationships, careers, myself—have been similarly unsuccessful.
  3. It is not desirable to escape consequences.  Many of us think it’d be great to eat like a pig and never get fat, never do anything and still be recognized for our greatness, sleep around and never get an STD.  But is that true?  Are consequences something to avoid?  Let’s look at Michael Jackson for guidance. For millions, Michael could do no wrong.  While he clearly had consequences for his behavior, not least among them disfigurement and legal entanglements, it was surely offset by adoring fans saying, “It’s okay Michael, we love you regardless.”  So Michael went through life never seeming to have learned anything about himself through the consequences of his actions.  Do you want to be like Michael Jackson?  I have never had adoring fans.  Few outside my family have cared enough about me to shield me from the consequences of my behavior.  Thank God.  Everything I’ve learned, anything resembling character, has been through developing an awareness of my behavior and its consequences.

When I stop fantasizing about finding the consequence-free route, when I stop idealizing a consequence-free life, I become more efficient.  I stop wasting my time running and crashing, fleeing consequences, because I know they all catch up with us eventually.  Might as well pull over sooner than later to deal with them.

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