One thing about Montana I genuinely get fed up with

I hate to come like the Church Lady.

But, Jesus, this made me angry. Really angry.

To get to school, my kid walks down a little country lane and crosses a pasture along a trail. The trail ends at a busy country road that feeds a couple of rural neighbourhoods. She crosses at a school crossing.

Yesterday, some asshole was driving along that country road and drove right through that school crossing, ignoring a flashing yellow light, even though kids were in the crossing. Kids scattered and ran to avoid getting hit.

Fortunately, a sheriff was parked by the school and pulled the douchebag over. He was a 20-year-old kid and he had an open Bud Light in the car. He also blew a .223 on his breath test. He was going 37 mph in a 25-mph zone.

This was at 8:15 in the morning. It was snowy and icy out. About two inches of snow had fallen overnight.

That was my kid’s school and a crosswalk my kid crosses two or three days a week.

Montana is notorious, literally notorious, nationally for its lax attitudes about drunken driving. Montana is No. 1 — and has been for some time — in the nation for drunken driving fatalities per capita. Roughly a year ago, three teen girls walking down a road in our town were mowed down by a drunken driver. Two of them were killed. One of those girl’s moms was just arrested recently for a DUI.

A couple of years ago, some guy left a bar in Bigfork drunk, drifted across the centreline and killed a state trooper. His defence attorney, the prosecuting attorney and the judge hearing his case all had drunken driving arrests on their records.

A few years ago, it was still legal in Montana to have an open container in your vehicle. The state finally changed this law because the feds were threatening to withhold highway money over it, and I was blown away at the hue and cry. “Oh, drinking beer in a car is a Montana tradition. They’re taking away all our traditions. Damned Nanny State, etc., etc.” (Ironically, almost no one around here beefed about a statewide smoking ban that was passed about the same time.). Never mind that Montana was No. 1 in the country for DUI fatality rate. It was “tradition.”

I know drunken driving is a problem everywhere, but the biggest culture shock when we moved to Montana in 2006 was the attitude about drinking and driving. It’s like nowhere else I’ve ever lived. I literally feel if you’re driving after 11 p.m., you’re taking your life in your hands. I grew up in a bar as a kid, so I know a thing or two about overservice and the liability it entails. I was shocked at how often I saw people stumbling out of bars and heading straight for a car. I had never seen so much overservice. I came to realize it was all part of the state’s culture. I make fun of Montana a lot, make fun of its quirks and weird laissez-faire culture, but the one thing I am sincerely fed up with about Montana is the “aw, to hell with it” attitude toward drinking and driving.

Well, that DUI fatality that killed the cop in Bigfork resulted in a bartender and a bar manager getting jail time. Another bar in town was shut down because they were forced to settle a lawsuit over overservice. That seemed to wake some bar owners up.

There’s some bills in the state Legislature to toughen up the laws for multiple DUIs. As it stands now, a DUI is not a felony until your fourth DUI in Montana, and even then, it’s up to the local district attorney.

They can’t crack down hard enough or fast enough for me. I hate to come off like a prude, I hate to be the Church Lady.

But, this was my kid’s school, and a crosswalk she crosses every week.

You expect the drunks to be out after midnight.

You do not expect them to be out at 8:15 in the morning in your neighbourhood.

  1. That is amazing that the judge and the prosecuting attorney both have DUI convictions.
    Why are they allowed to still practice after breaking the law?
    In both cases do they have to take an oath to uphold the law?

  2. I hate drunk drivers. I hate the hypocrisy with alcohol in this country.

    Where’s the Bud Light commercial that starts with a one sided fistfight, moves to an attempted rape, and ends with a 3 car pile up and multiple fatalities? You know, “Here We Go!”

    You are led to believe that people only drink in social settings and rarely to excess. They mention “please drink responsibly” as an after thought. More of a suggestion than anything. You know, try to drink responsibly but either way, keep drinking.

    I admit this is totally out of character for me as I tend to have a “who gives a fuck” attitude but, everything surrounding this issue just combines to make me extremely hateful. Killing is really the only great taboo for me.

    And I don’t mean just physical death but emotional and spiritual too. Any act that results in this,is a kind of murder. When you kill someone’s teenage child because you just had to get behind the fucking wheel you also kill that person’s family. You destroy something inside them that will never come back and that is unacceptable. That is beyond unacceptable.

    I come from a small town where drinking and driving was also a sport. I should be dead. There is really no good reason for me to be here right now typing this other than obscene luck or a gift from Satan. It’s not funny. It’s not cool. It’s one of the most selfish things you could possibly do.

    If we’re gonna have rules. If we’re gonna have a polite society. Then this shit has to stop. If not, then why do we bother at all?

    • I think people who drink and drive (even if it’s a couple of drinks) don’t see any difference in their driving ability compared to driving without having any drinks. I convinced my husband (many years ago) that he did in fact drive differently after a couple of drinks. He drove faster. Since I rarely if ever drink I was acutely aware of those differences. People who drink and drive think they are driving normally, IMO.

    • Adonai, the phrase, “Please drink responsibly,” has always caused me to say WTF? Many people can drink responsibly, but there are just as many, if not more, who cannot drink responsibly. Not only alcoholics, but people, usually young people that get caught up in the, “let’s part till we drop,” mentality.
      Among nearly every university, that mentality exists to one extent or another. It’s seen as a form of rebellion. It’s been glamorized and romanticized within our culture. And you are correct, it’s not cool.
      Another problem is that for alcoholics, many people don’t even consider themselves to be alcoholic. They have to have some personal tragedy in their lives, or they have to, “hit bottom,” before they can begin to think of themselves as having a real problem with alcohol. Unfortunately, more often than not, there is great damage done between the, “let’s party,” attitude and the realization that something is seriously wrong.

      • Indeed KT. It’s a tough issue for me though on that point,though. If people want to drink themselves to death, I have very little problem with that. Suicide is not a big issue with me. If your family and friends desert you, I have little sympathy for you. I’ve never been a fan of AA or the thought that alcoholism was a “disease”. Whatever happened to shaming people for the stupid fuckups that they are?

        But I can’t rationalize drinking and driving no matter how hard I try. I know that as long as we have drinking there will be drinking and driving. I mean, until those crazy cars that drive themselves are out but that’s decades away. Until then,I don’t believe you can invent a harsh enough penalty for drunk drivers.

        • In most of the suicides I’ve seen, there were still plenty of family and friends around. You seem to imply that the suicides killed themselves because they were deserted — that’s probably true sometimes but generally not.

          Both suicide and alcoholism are mental illnesses — they are diseases that center in the brain. I know a lot of people disagree with this. It’s much easier to just call the person a “stupid fuckup” instead of making the effort to understand what it’s about. I am one of those “stupid fuckups” who managed to escape the death spiral of booze over two decades ago. It was the hardest thing I ever did and it took years to re-learn how to live normally. I consider it a huge achievement. I now can’t stand to be around drunks — but I still understand what a debilitating mental prison it is and that there is always hope.

          • Thank you e’cat. Non-alcoholics can’t really understand it. Even those trained in the field of substance abuse treatment don’t really understand it, unless they are recovering addicts themselves.
            You are absolutely correct, it’s one of the hardest things in life to recover from.
            There is no cure, because alcoholism is a chronic illness. It can only be managed on a day to day basis.
            I too know from experience.

            • e’cat, I was wondering if your books had arrived.
              The Tao Te Ching IS mysterious in nature. I think it is supposed to be. I had to read it over and over again before I started to even grasp what those 81 ideograms mean. It’s sort of like osmosis. It slowly permeates the forms of western thought that we’ve been raised on and taught in school.
              I still read it. It is a guide to living and can always be referred to when we encounter life situations we don’t fully comprehend. Stay with it, it is well worth the effort.
              Read just one idiogram at a time, and just ruminate on it and it’s possible meaning, for a day or two. Then move on to the next, and then the next.
              There is much correlation between Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching and Emerson’s essays. Emerson was hard to digest, at first. But my interest was so great, that I forced myself to understand his writings. As with you, I had to go back and reread paragraphs I had just read. But it sinks in and the realization of how far this man saw and understood, just blew my mind. And still does.

            • And thanks back to you too, Kilgore. I agree — it’s impossible to understand unless you’ve been in it. And the behavior of most alcoholics is so atrocious it’s hard to motivate regular people to make an effort to understand. By the way, I bought two books you recommended a week or two ago — Emerson and Lao Tsu. I have to admit, the Lao Tsu was inexplicable to me. I felt like my brain was wired incorrectly to understand it! Very strange experience. However, the Emerson, as dense as it as and as often as I have to read the same sentence over and over — I’m loving it. He’s a person I would love to have met. His world view is quite comforting.

        • Adonai, I have struggled trying to decide if Alcoholism is a disease or not. But there is no doubt that it is a symptom of some underlying mental illness.
          Drinking is a form of self medicating. Medicating depression, anxiety (not normal anxiety that everyone experiences)mania and PTSD.
          So, in that sense alcoholism IS a disease, but more symptomatic of deeper mental health issues.

          • Kilgore, I’ve known quite a few alcoholics and I tend to agree. I think most are self medicating, and it many times is hiding something deeper.

            I had a boyfriend once who was a severe alcoholic, in and out of rehab. I took him to rehab 3 x and tried working with him, for quite a few years…I finally gave up…he had to deal with his issues which were many and he WAS self medicating.

            He contacted me last year, to let me know he’s been clean for the last 2 years…and getting his life together, a big part of his finally cleaning up was getting to those underlying issues.

            He’s not cured…but he is better and getting the help he needed.

            The sad part, is that alcohol is so readily available and makes masking the bigger issues easier.

            • abby, your compassion for this man is noteworthy, but ultimately it is the alcoholic himself that has to initiate and maintain his recovery. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
              Sadly, for many, alcoholism leads to an early grave. It leads others to prison, divorce, loss of contact with children, family….etc. There is over an 80% recidivism rate among alcoholics and addicts.
              It is most definitely an illness, long recognized by the AMA and is even in the DSM IV list of mental illnesses.
              AA is not the cure all, but I feel it is essential in the immediate months after detox. Recovery requires a total change in the way a person views himself/herself and the world they live in.
              Alcoholism is a chronic illness, meaning it can never be cured. The best to hope for is a continued maintenance.

  3. Well said Pepe. The big problem with drunks and self control is that drunks have little or no self control. Once they get 2 or 3 drinks in them, all self control goes out the window.
    I think what is needed in Montana is the device installed in an automobile that has to be blown into before the vehicle will start. If a driver is over a set limit, the car will not start.
    I know this would never be 100% effective, because a driver could have a sober person blow into the device. But such devices would drastically cut down the number of drunk drivers.
    After a person’s first DUI, the device should be installed, by order of the court.
    Sadly, after reading your piece, it doesn’t seem very likely in Montana.

  4. Pepe = since I AM the “churchlady” (MUCH better hair and shoes, of course) I don’t think you’re doing that at ALL. The Montana attitude about drunk driving (a “tradition”?????) is precisely the same as the attitude toward gun deaths -- oh, boo hoo for the victim, crybaby for caring and talkin’ about taking away my guns.

    NO! These are the same idiots who tout “personal responsibility” as long as it’s about YOU. No abortion rights. No same sex love. But about them? Hands off. A real churchlady I know, an Evangelical, calls this the “low sacrifice” attitude. It’s all about you, never about me.

    The ONLY voices that will count are yours and the families of drunk driving victims. I see no place in MT for much difference in law just yet, since you’re GOP dominated (notoriously hard on or at least indifferent to victims, they soothe the perpetrators of these sorts of crimes mewling that THEY, the drunks, are the “real” victims.)

    I do see the need for chapters of MADD and victims of crime groups to come together along with the faith community. I see a need to bond with law enforcement reminding them of the trooper’s death. And every single person who’s had even a close call needs to write letters and make this PUBLIC. Over and over and over and over.

    And when somebody whines about “Nanny state” remind them -- “Nanny 911″ comes in when life is a total mess and leaves things better than she found them. If people can’t exercise self control and personal responsibility, then yeah. Nanny. And a few real church ladies to boot.

    You’re only looking after the innocent, Pepe. That’s what responsible people DO. I’m sorry this terrible incident happened to your daughter and the other kids. I hope you can kick butt over it and make a change.

    • So very well said, CL! “You’re only looking after the innocent, Pepe. That’s what responsible people DO.”

      That should be the motto of us all.

      I cannot pretend that -- growing up as a rough and tumble Texas gal -- I have never been party to the sin of “drink and drive”. But God spared me the ultimate punishment, of knowing I had hurt someone. And now I am much older and a little wiser. I actually quit drinking some years ago; now I have about 3 beers a year, and a few “staff meetings”. I find nothing wrong with it; I just prefer to be the designated sober one.

      I tell all my kids -- non-Afghan this time, to whom I am “Auntie” -- that they can call me anytime day or night, and I will lovingly come get them, drive them to my home, let them sleep it off, and then take them for a crudo cure the next AM. Fortunately, my kiddos seem to understand the concept of designated driver. The Afghans, of course, don’t drink (much).

      • Alpha -- if only more parents did that for their kids! I know several who say that, then ground the kid anyway making it totally unrealistic for the kid to call. “My parents will KILL me” is the theme heard again and again. Fear of parental retribution shoves as many kids into cars with drunks as almost anything. It puts drinking and being responsible enough to ask for help getting home into the class of “impossible”. Thank you for BEING THERE. Kids do dumb things. They should not have to die because of them. You’re assuring your kids will live. That’s HUGE.

  5. When it comes to the people we love, Pepe, we’re all church ladies.

    There’s nothing prudish about caring for the life of your family over the “right” of drunks to get behind the wheel of a deadly weapon and “have fun honoring a tradition.”

    There will always be eye-rolling middle schoolers in the room when anyone suggests moderation and/or maturity. There might also be a grateful kiddo or two there as well.