Early in the morning of April 9, 2008, just hours after pitching six shutout innings, 22-year-old Nick Adenhart was killed when a repeat-offender drunk driver ran a red light and plowed his minivan into the Mitsubishi sports car Adenhart was riding in. He died in emergency surgery a while later. Two other passengers died at the scene.This kind of bullcrap happens all the time, pretty much every weekend, in at least one major city. Usually it doesn’t even merit more than a couple of paragraphs in the newspaper because we’re so used to it. It made national headlines this time because one of the victims happens to be one of the California Angels’ best pitching prospects.
It’s a symptom of a macho culture where the measure of a man is how many six-packs he can put away, and what he can manage to do afterward. I saw this in college all the time, where the role models we were supposed to emulate were the losers who would stay up until 4 or 5 in the morning drinking, then sleep for two hours and get up, shower so they didn’t smell like a brewery, put on a suit, and go to the 7:45 church service.
At least my story doesn’t get any worse. Church was right next door, so they didn’t have to drive and put anyone else in danger. Of course, if they’re still playing the same game today and driving to church two hours later, that’s reprehensible.
But in some circles, driving 45 minutes to get home is part of the culture. Down a case of beer, make a lot of noise, then drive home without killing anyone, and somehow, that makes you a man.
Real men consider the potential consequences of their actions. Real men set out to do as little damage to the people around them as possible. Real men try to make the world around them better, not worse, as a result of their actions. There are even some men who manage to deal with high stress jobs with lots of responsibility, deal with that and with all of their other problems, and manage to deal with it all without ever turning to alcohol.
Now that’s a man.
I don’t care what the myths say. Supposedly if you weigh 400 pounds, you can drink about three times as much alcohol as I can, because you weigh almost three times as much as I do. And indeed, you may be able to drink larger quantities than me without passing out. But a beer or two still affects your judgment, whether you weigh 98 pounds or 400. I once saw a demonstration where a professional race car driver drove an obstacle course. He drove it effortlessly when he was completely sober. Then he drank a beer and got back behind the wheel. He still did fine. After two beers, he still did OK on the course, but he said he could feel a difference. After three beers, he could no longer drive the course.
So after three or four beers, you really don’t have any business behind the wheel. Your ability to react to emergencies is diminished enough that at that point, you’re putting yourself and others in danger.
I don’t know what the answer is. We can lock Adenhart’s killer up in jail, and that’ll keep him away from beer and out from behind the wheel of a car for a while, but eventually he’ll get out. Will he do it again? One thing I learned living with an alcoholic for 18 years is that alcoholics never really learn a lesson from their addiction, regardless of the consequences. At least not until it costs them something that they want more than the bottle, which is rare. I don’t know if he’s an alcoholic or not. If he is, you can make him go to treatment, but once again, if he’s not ready, it won’t take, and he’ll be drinking again shortly.
Taking his driver’s license away didn’t keep him from driving this time. Can you take his car away and prevent him from being able to purchase another one? That sounds good to me, but I don’t know if that’s legal.
Ultimately the solution is cultural, but I don’t know how you get rid of that. For some reason, a sizable portion of the United States is fascinated with people who can put away gutbusting quantities of alcohol. We don’t have the same admiration for people who can smoke a pack of cigarettes in one setting. We’re morbidly curious about people who can eat half their weight in hot dogs, but I’m not sure that we really look up to them.
And I don’t know why that is. Because frankly, all you have to do to be able to drink huge quantities of beer is to sit around and drink on Friday and Saturday nights. Do it long enough, and you get enough weight and tolerance to be able to drink a six pack or two without passing out. Some people see that as an achievement. I see it as someone desperately needing something better to do on Friday and Saturday nights.
Seriously. Get a hobby. It’s no cheaper than beer, but it doesn’t hurt anybody, and on Sunday morning you have something to show for it other than a bunch of empty cans or bottles and a headache.
Or in this case, a bunch of empty cans or bottles, a splitting headache, a wrecked minivan, and three dead victims. Not to mention a much-deserved new address, behind bars.