Memories are interesting in that they're generally unreliable and can be triggered after laying dormant for decades with the tiniest bit of stimulus. This happened to me this afternoon while out walking with the family and the topic of alcohol came up. My mind used this question to go all the way back to a time just before the millennium when some friends and I went bowling in Hamilton. Five of us piled into my friend's 1984 Chevrolet Camaro for a night of fun and games. Twenty minutes into our evening, the driver — one of my best friends in high school — asked if I would be the designated driver that night because he wanted to have a couple of beers. Me being me, I agreed. He gave me his keys then went off to the bar to get a round of Molson for everyone … and a Pepsi for me.

1984 Chevy Camaro

The details are a little fuzzy, as memories are incomplete at the best of times, but I recall the bowling alley was incredibly busy that evening with a lot of loud music and people dancing. The place closed for the night at 1 o'clock and we had an incredibly crowded parking lot full of vehicles all vying to get into the road first for the trip to "the next place" or, in our case, home. My task was relatively straightforward: bring three people to their homes in Hamilton and Grimsby, then drive my friend home and sleep at his place.

All in all, it amounted to about 40km of driving, most of it on a series of highways and otherwise empty rural roads. As we clambered into his low vehicle, my friend got in the passenger seat and asked: "Umm … this isn't your first time driving standard, is it?"

"The first time?" I asked back. "No. But this will be the first time I've driven standard on a highway. Should be alright, though. No red lights!"

"Umm … okay." My friend was unconvinced with my unjustified confidence. "Just remember that this car has a little trick to get it into third gear. Otherwise you'll go first, second, fifth."

"No problem."

We got out of the parking lot just fine. We made it through a R.I.D.E.1 checkpoint and onto the open road when, just as my friend warned, I shifted from second gear into fifth. The car wasn't happy. I tried to fix the mistake, looking for third to no avail. Stupidly, I looked down at the black stick shift despite the interior of the car being the same colour for the lack of light of any kind, and the car started to hit the gravel shoulder. Try as I might, third gear was nowhere to be found!

"Okay, that's enough. Pull over. I'll take it from here." My friend had had enough. "Your driving has sobered me up pretty good. Now get out of that seat."

We all knew that he was still inebriated after having a couple of beers2, but it was either him behind the wheel or me. Nobody was confident in my ability to handle a stick shift after the abysmal performance they just witnessed, so I pulled over to the side and switched seats. He slapped himself on his face a couple of times, asked if everyone was buckled in, then brought everyone home safely that night.

Since then I've been asked to be the designated driver only twice in twenty years. While I have learned how to properly use a manual transmission, I've not met many people with them in their cars.

Memory is a funny thing sometimes. The details of that night remain fuzzy, but I'll likely never forget the failure to properly take care of the people I was asked to be responsible for.

  1. a police checkpoint where drivers are checked for driving drunk. My friends were plastered, but I just had a sugar rush from all the soda.

  2. I have no idea how much he drank, as we weren't together the entire night.