God protects drunks and children. Have you ever heard this saying? I have. Though I am not sure where. It’s lodged in the recesses of my childhood memory. Stated perhaps by an adult standing at a bar with me and adolescent peers scampering about in the bar room sawdust. I was for all intents and purposes raised in the social atmosphere of a pub. I understand the vernaculars. There are few I have not heard. We were Irish. Mix a clever culture with a proclivity to imbibe in ‘spirits’ and you’ll learn some doozies in 50 years of bar room observation. Growing up, our friends and family gathered either in a church or in a bar. Suffice it to say I’ve heard a lot of clever, and some not so, remarks stated in both places in my life. I am not sure if the …drunks and babies… adage is true, but I have heard it asserted many times. Usually in the context of urban legend-ish bar room talk. Example: “B’gosh, ‘ol Flynn was 3 sheets night fore last. He left the pub and clipped a rail at a hopping speed. He’s fine, couple bruises, though the car, a gonner. Drunk as a skunk was he don’t ya know, – God protects drunks and babies Thank the Lord.” Or something like that and in a thick Brogue of course. Some internet chats tell me it stems from a belief that drunk drivers are relaxed (drunk) upon impact and don’t tense up exacerbating injury. I don’t know. I will say that the last drunk I encountered in a wreck lucked out, but for the Grace of God (as mother would often say). Last drunk? Yes, true. Just this past Daytona bike week. Chris Carr and I as well as Zach (a member of my staff) enjoyed a short vacation at Bike Week 2014. We left dinner with JB Walker and his ‘Cheap Whisky Band’ at the Daytona Beach Outback Steakhouse on our bikes and were headed back to the Daytona Holiday Inn about 10:00 pm. One final pass down Main Street to stare at the shenanigans and off to bed was the plan. We sat at a red light with me on the left up front and Chris to my right. I was on a ’58 Panhead and Chris on a ’76 Bonneville. Behind us was Zach on an old FLH I lent him for the trip. A big touring rig, it well held the camera equipment and gear we were using to shoot some video and take pics for my American Biker Lawyer business. Zach, a relatively new rider, was admonished by us to wear a helmet despite us being in a ‘choice’ state. He did. We all specifically refrained from drinking any alcohol. We collectively agreed no drinking out at night on the bikes as even a simple beer could slow reaction time on the packed streets. Chris and I also thought it a good idea to set an example to Zach, who was 2 weeks into his class “M” license and surely learning from our example. It turns out it wasn’t one of our own that we had to worry about. The crowds were pretty rowdy and even at 10:00 p.m., the streets were packed with bikers and the occasional car or truck. We stopped at a light and were waiting for the green, when Chris and I heard a loud crunch with some breaking glass coming from behind us. I spun around in my seat to see poor Zach off balance struggling to keep the bike upright as it pitched to the right side. It wasn’t immediately clear to me what had happened. With eyes big as pie plates, Zach yelled “He hit me!” ….. “The dude behind me just hit me!”. I could see a black pickup truck VERY close to Zach’s rear bumper. I thought to myself, ‘did that guy just drive into the back of Zach?’ It wasn’t the kind of hit that separates bike from rider and gushes blood, but kind of an idle, foot slipped off the brake hit. Although I did hear breaking glass… My glass! People on the sidewalk started to walk over and Zach righted the bike back up, although he was very upset. I dismounted and cautiously approached the driver of the truck to see what was up and immediately noticed several things. My impression of him is as clear in my head now as it was then and there. He was short statured especially behind the wheel of a full sized pickup. He had a long beard, salt and pepper. He wore thick glasses and had a baseball style hat with a Navy designation on it, some type of ship embroidered in gold. He looked just like Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty, his left arm rested upon the open window of the truck and was tattooed with a faded “U.S. NAVY” emblem. He had a male passenger who sat in darkness silently. I inquired of him about the little accident and he responded unintelligibly. I quickly surmised he was drunk. The alcohol so strong from his breath, I could smell it emanate from the driver’s window. There was nothing unpleasant about our exchange. No one yelled or got upset (except Zach). I could see people in the corner of my eye on cell phones surrounding us. I knew they were calling the police. I asked the old coot where he was going and he pointed to the left as if his destination was nearby. He seemed nervous and sorry. By now, Zach was standing behind me and I was able to check on him and he assured me he was fine (although the bike needed a little TLC). There was something about the old guy’s appearance that made me feel bad for him. A veteran, a senior, an old biker, resemblance to an old friend, I don’t know. His appearance tugged my heart. I’d wished we met somewhere else. But we didn’t. I’m sure he had an interesting life behind him. I stood at his window on a crowded street with a decision to make and make fast. His truck boxed in by all our bikes and an ever curious crowd.
Here is where one of those life decisions needs be made that alters the course of affairs for everyone present. As a former Assistant District Attorney, I understood immediately the consequences to the old guy of his actions. Automatically. Arrested, impounded truck, jailed, lost license, legal fees, not to mention no way home, pissed off wife, stranded pal, etc…etc…etc… I pondered our position quickly and decided what to do for the good or for the bad. It may not have been the decision I would make after some more reflection or even the right decision or even the decision I’d make right now. But here is what I decided to do in the haste of the exchange with the old inebriated veteran: I quickly asked “are you staying within a mile?” He responded “yes”, through liquored breath. I told him we would not call the police if he left quickly. I told him sternly that he HAD to go back to his hotel “NOW” and that we would follow to ensure it. He nodded a yes seemingly comprehending his transgressions. The light had cycled green to red several times the impatient people behind us honked and yelled. We re-mounted the bikes and quickly rode off, he ominously behind us. We observed him drive a short distance to a cheap motor court and quickly pull in. We proceeded home shaking our heads considering what “could have” happened. I trust the cops were called by some of the hundreds of onlookers and they appeared soon after our departure only to scratch their heads and perhaps examine the shards of glass that once were my Harley’s tail lights. In retrospect, we should have simply taken his keys, driven him home, forgotten about the whole thing, but I do not believe there was even time for that. AND that was not what I did. The timing was not right. That’s not the decision I made, like I said, for the good or for the bad. He just looked like the kind of rough old biker who needed a break. Maybe I’m just remembering it like that to make myself feel better. He could have killed all of us. He could have left the scene with us and killed others. He could have ‘not’ learned a lesson and killed someone the next night! What the hell? Thank God no one was hurt. The story could have a different ending. But he didn’t and it doesn’t. We parked outside our hotel 2 miles up the beach and all shook our heads. Drinking and driving! By noon the next day, brother Kevro, wrenching at a local dealer for bike week, simply screwed new lens covers onto the back of the old FLH. A couple of turn signals and a brake light. “No harm no foul.” Another saying the origin of which I am not sure. Did I do the right thing? I don’t know. The debate of “Does God protect Drunks and Children?” He did this time. Maybe I’ll get to ask him someday. God. Not the drunk! If you have an opinion on this story one way or the other post it my Facebook at AmericanBikerLawyer, or simply email me your thoughts. [email protected]. I’m curious. Right or wrong, opinions are strong in this arena. Yours? –Irish