Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Day eight hundred and twenty six ... About time.

I've been saving up for this one.

I mean, this whole thing started 28 months ago when I did the last really dumb thing in a long line of dumb things and it appears to have reached its inevitable end.

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. I say "inevitable," but this point in my life where I am now has arrived by just about every means possible besides inevitability.

Since April 2, 2008, this little black box on a curly cord has been the first thing I see each time I get into my car. It's my gatekeeper to mobility and it was a big part of the process of getting my license back when I royally screwed things up (as my mother would have said) back in December of 2007. But I haven't been focusing on the day to day travails of living under the scrutiny of the Commonwealth over the last few months. Things in my life have become so vastly different in so many ways that this blog has taken on a different function. It's become more of an expressive conduit for my general take on this beautiful world we all inhabit and less of an "I'm so screwed because I'm an alcoholic and I will always have to put that at the forefront of whatever I do and never forget it because I may end up back in the same spot if I'm not careful."

I'm not all better--I'll never be all better--but if I'm going to progress and evolve I can't focus on the past, because I can't change the past. I can, however, prevent it from happening if I change reward structure. That's what got me in this mess in the first place. And though I'm certainly smart enough to know what not to do, I was just too selfish to actually not do it, if that makes any sense.

So, I've had this black box in my car since April 1 of 2008. I have never once felt like I was above having it in there. I have never once felt like I got duped. I have never once felt like I didn't deserve what came to me due to my stupidity. Because I knew that it would eventually be taken out.

And that day came, and that day went, and I still had that little black box on a curly cord staring me down each time I got in my car.

But let's not dwell on the past; let's just make sure it stays there.

See, when I was doing my penance I made a concerted effort to not only do things by the book, but to do what was unexpected of me. There were some rules laid down by the people at Smart Start (the company that leases the interlock devices) and these rules were more or less designed to be undertaken by the lowest common denominator. That is to say, the person who is bitter and unrepentant and feels like they got set up.

That person is a person I used to closely resemble.

But as it stands I realized what I had to do to get where I wanted to go. And having that clarity made it so much easier to arrive at my April 2nd date where I would be given approval to have my interlock device removed.

I went to the RMV in Springfield as scheduled and sat and waited for close to an hour for them to call me into the recesses of the hearings officer's office.

I was called in and I presented my papers.

The lady told me to sit on the bench while they cross-checked their info with the info at the Boston registry.

I sat back down on the bench and nervously waited.

She called me in again and as I was sitting down I said, "Good news?"

To which she replied, "Yup."

Ahh ... a breath of fresh registry air filled my lungs and a sense of completion nearly overtook the whole of my body.

And then she dropped her hands to her lap and said, "Huh ... actually I take that back."

And I almost fainted.

"It says here you missed three service appointments and that's three violations. If you have even one violation it's an immediate denial of removal. You can re-apply in September."

"I can ... I can what?"

"You can re-apply in September."

And I began to stutter and sputter and my face became flush and my body became weak and I could barely stand up to leave. I tried my hardest to comprehend what was happening to me. I told her there was no way that this could be possible ... and she just pointed to the papers she had in her hands. My world went mute. I told her with a hurried breath that I had receipts. She said that if I wanted to bring them back to her I had until 4:30. I looked at the clock; it was three. I grabbed my bag and dodged the people waiting where I had waited just moments before.

I drove home with the aid of my interlock device and rifled through my receipts. I found what I needed and grabbed them and got in my car and drove the backroads to the highway. I had seen on my rampage home that there was at least a mile of bumper-to-bumper traffic going the way I would be going.

I made it back at exactly 4:30. Parking was tight. People were angry. Nobody wants to go to the registry and nobody certainly wants to have to fight for a parking spot before they are made to wait for an hour or more. But I got a spot and hurried in the front door. I raced up to the hearing officer's door and was waved in. The same woman with too much eyeliner on looked at the papers I gave her. Then she told me they wouldn't do me any good--that I had missed my most recent appointment and that was the one they were counting as a major violation.

I was crushed. I could not believe it. I felt my body tense up and saw a flip book of a calendar in my head like they have in the cartoons with the months slowly turing by and the summer bearing down on me with my interlock device helping me get from gig to gig and from dinner date to dinner date. I watched the flowers bloom, the weeds grow, the bugs bite, the bites heal, and the leaves fall to the ground in my very clean and very sober head. And it was then and only then in said head that I could picture my dashboard void of the little black box on a curly cord.

There were worse things for sure. But the depression that came over me as I sat in that uncomfortable registry chair was mammoth.

I was not off the hook.

This previous day's worth of events occurred on a Friday--last Friday. And as I left the RMV at ten until five I realized that I would get nothing accomplished in this fight until Monday. I had a big weekend planned, so I did have plenty to take my mind off of this issue. But each thing I did entailed my car, and each time I used my car I was forced to use my interlock device which shouldn't be there anymore.

I made a few phone calls over the weekend to the place where I had been bringing my car for its monthly appointments. The guys there gave me hope by reassuring me that I didn't have any violations on my record as far as they could see. But sometimes just because you do something right doesn't mean you did it the way it needed to be done. The RMV, after all, truly does have the last say. And so, I spent the weekend on an emotional roller coaster whizzing around curves of "what if's" and "maybes" and careening down hills of "oh well's" and "it could be worse's."

Monday, I got to work.

I made some important phone calls. I spoke to some real, live people at Smart Start and was told that they would try their best to sort things out. They saw where the glitch was on my record. They could see where I was coming from.

They believed me.

I actually had somebody on my side.

On Tuesday, April 6th, I got a phone call from a man at the Boston RMV.

His name was Daniel.

Daniel told me that he had some good news.

I sat on the edge of my bed--the springtime morning air streaming in with the sounds of the leaf blowers cleaning up for the beginning of a long, hot summer. I sat there as Daniel slowly and carefully told me that I was "all set." He told me he was going to fax the paperwork over to the "registry of my choice."

I sat there and I almost started to cry.

He told me to go to the RMV and they would be waiting for me with the proper documents and that I would then be "free to go."

I told him he had used a funny choice of words.

I was in play mode.

I was out of the woods.

I had beat the registry and by not giving up and giving in I had won this massively important game.

I smiled a grand smile over the phone and told Daniel that he had made somebody extremely happy. He said he was glad to do it and he wished me good luck.

Then I got back in my car and blew into the little black box with the curly cord and turned the key and headed for the RMV and, almost like I had moved to a different part of the world, things were immediately different.

The same parking lot that I had to fight for a spot all the way around back greeted me with open arms.

That's my blue car there.

And the same waiting room where I had to wait for over an hour just a few days before was empty.

And the same lady with too much eyeliner on was waiting to see me. She called me in and told me that Daniel had coyly said to expect a man in tears to be stopping by soon.

It was a much different kind of meeting this time around.

She gave me the paperwork as we chatted about her necklace which I had mentioned was nice.

"Thanks," she said. "It was cheap."

"That makes it even nicer," said her co-worker who I had not even noticed on the prior two trips there on Friday.

She told me I would need to get my license renewed and that it would cost $25. She gave me the paperwork and told me to go out there, take a number, and wait in the waiting room.

And I just stood up and smiled and said, "Thank you."

I took a number expecting to have another hour to wait. But I had waited 28 months for this moment to come so an extra hour wasn't really going to spoil my day.

But the waiting room was empty.

And before I could even sit down and completely fill out the form they called number 1167.

I hadn't even had a chance to comb my hair but I sat down, filled in some pertinent info, and gave my paperwork to the girl.

She ran my debit card and I made a joke about whether or not they gave cash back.

I will never change.

She joked about how that would be nice if they could do that someday, and I had to break it to her that it was a joke. No harm done, though. Not this time. Not today.

She asked me to look at the blue dot and then she took my picture.

I didn't like it so much.

I asked if she could do it again and she said yes. Then I stared at the blue dot and thought about all the work I'd put into this moment. I thought about all the hours spent driving that car with the little black box with the curly cord checking in with me to make sure I wasn't doing something that the courts would be upset with. I thought about all the time spent writing in this blog, all the time spent at AA meetings, all the money spent on fees, lawyers, probation, my two week inpatient program in Tewksbury, and, of course, the monthly payments to Smart Start.

I thought about all of that and I thought about where I am right now in my life.

And then the lens opened and this is what it saw.

I took this little, rectangular piece of paper from the registry girl and slipped it in my bag with the multitude of receipts, forms, and letters and headed for the door. I got back on the highway and drove to Hadley. I pulled into to the place where I had been required to pull into once a month for the past 24 months. I parked in their ample and convenient parking lot for what I was hoping would be the last time. They took the approval letters from me and ran my card again like they had so many times before.

He said that they'd take it from here and to just hang out and wait--it would be about fifteen minutes.

And he gave me the keys back without ceremony. He just handed them to me and said, "You're all set."

I don't know what I was expecting. Did I think a bag of balloons was supposed to drop from the ceiling? Did I think I was to get a call from the mayor saying, "Good job. You've done Northampton proud." I really can't say what I was expecting. Regardless, I took the keys from the guy and walked to my car and opened the door.

The seat was pushed back to allow for a taller man than I to drive it. That's always a strange feeling. But I pulled the seat forward and looked down at the dashboard and took it all in. I just sat there for a few minutes and stared at the dusty molded plastic.

It was just a dashboard.

In millions of cars all around the world at any given moment any number of people are getting in their cars and staring at the same square foot of space. It's just a dashboard.

But none of them appreciated that mundane little part of such a common machine as F. Alex Johnson did on Tuesday, April 6.

And the picture of the spring flowers that Jodi had given me last year was now unobstructed. The speedometer and the gas gauge, the tachometer and the engine temperature were all in plain sight. I could see that it was 59 degrees Fahrenheit outside without moving anything. I could instantly view any warning lights that may have been on without lifting any devices.

And most importantly, I could see how far I had travelled as clear as day.

I put my key in the ignition, released the clutch, and turned the key and my car jumped to attention with a jolt. There was no more waiting in the driver seat for the device to warm up. It would not beep and ask me so discretely to "blow." There was no more uncertainty that I had eaten something that contained alcohol that it might mistake as a drink. And there were to be no more random retests while driving making sure I didn't have a bottle under my seat that it didn't know about.


I was now on my own.

I had cast off the final chain that had kept me held tight to my incident.

It was finally all over.

I had made it to the end of this maze.

And I pulled out onto Rt. 9 and headed towards Florence. I stopped at the traffic light and put on my blinker. And as I filtered into the stream of cars all going to their own various destinations, taking for granted that they could drive for hours with the only care being that they might run out of fuel I just smiled and smiled and smiled.

I turned up the radio, rolled down the window, hit the gas and dove headfirst into a whole different kind of maze--one that I'm perfectly content to get lost in forever.

Thanks for reading,



Jamie Quinn said...

Congrats. Love the new license picture. Damn you look happy (and thinner) than your old version.

Anonymous said...

Hey Alex -- David Mintz here. Congratulations on securing your freedom from the "little black box". A milestone, to be sure. And the picture looks great!

F. Alex Johnson said...

Thank you, David.

Couldn't have done it the way I did without you.

Many thanks,