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I was almost seventeen, and the Valentine’s Day girls-choice dance was to be my first date. I had not yet been on a date, because when it came to dealings with those of the opposite gender, I was extremely timid.
There would be four of us together — my date, her friend, her friend’s date, and me. I was the only one with access to a car, so I would be driving.
The problem was that the car I had access to was getting older and had some problems. The biggest problem was that the transmission was going out. When the car started out from a stopped position, the transmission would jump into second gear, and then drop back to first gear, then to second, then back to first, and so on, until it got up to about thirty miles per hour. At that point, it would finally stay in one gear, and the driving would smooth out. This problem caused the car to lurch and buck like a bronc coming out of the gate at a rodeo.
I had informed the others in our group about this, and they said they were okay with it, especially since it was the only car available.
At school on Friday, the day before the big dance, my date came and checked once more to make sure I would have a car. When I told her I would, she smiled her beautiful smile. “It will be fun. We are going to have a wonderful dinner with sparkling grape juice and everything.”
After she left, I turned to my friend, Lenny, who was with me. “What is sparkling grape juice?” I asked.
“It’s like wine,” he answered.
My naiveté must have shown in the concerned look on my face because he laughed. “Don’t worry—it’s not alcoholic. It just tastes like wine, bites like wine, and smells like wine.”
“Okay,” I said, still not sure.
We did have a lot of fun on the night of the dance. The girls had spent the day preparing the food, and it was very good. The sparkling grape juice was delicious, and we all drank plenty, though all the bubbles in it made us feel a bit queasy. Finally, it was time to go to the dance.
I tried to ease the car out onto the road as carefully as I could, hoping it would go smoothly, but the car was quite rebellious and would have none of it. It bucked, jerked, and chugged. The sloshing, bubbly grape juice in our stomachs made them churn. My date’s friend said, “I think I am going to barf.”
Luckily, she didn’t, and everyone soon felt better as the car smoothed out for the long ride into town. But there was one more place where we had to come to a complete stop. After we stopped there, I once more carefully started forward. But even more than before, the car bucked, jumped, and lurched. I felt sick, but the others were having an even harder time.
Just as the car was settling down, I saw red and blue lights flashing in my rear view mirror. I pulled over, and the police officer came up and shined his flashlight in my face. He then swung it around to look at the others in the car who were swallowing air to keep from losing their dinner. He swung the light back to me and spoke gruffly. “I saw how you drove away from that stop sign. Have you been drinking?”
“No, officer,” I said.
He looked at me suspiciously and then said, “Well, I can see you are all dressed to go to the dance. I won’t make you walk a line. Just let me smell your breath.”
That was when I remembered Lenny’s line about how sparkling grape juice smelled like wine. I quickly tried to explain about the car’s transmission and the sparkling grape juice. When I finished, he was grinning. “All right,” he said. “I think you can go.”
“Thanks for understanding,” I replied.
“Oh, I believe you,” he said, laughing. “No one that was drunk could make up a story half that good. I can’t wait to share this one with the other officers.”
And with that, he let us go, and we headed on our way, with our car staggering its way to the dance.