Sergio asked me early last week if I would be willing to drive him and a few of his co-workers to Salem so that they could undergo a wet lab. In case you don't know, a wet lab is when you volunteer to get drunk and take breathalizers and Field Sobriety Tests (FST's) at the State Police headquarters. Now, the image I conjured in my head of this event was utterly boring, but since I am out of school for a couple of weeks I had nothing better to do. On the way to Salem we all discussed what we thought it would be like. Though the images varied slightly, the general idea was about the same. A windowless boardroom, shots of alcohol provided by stern police officers to be followed by a series of tests. My part would be even worse as I was expected to hang around watching this for four hours while sober. Fun!
When all eight of us arrived (two drivers, six DA clerks), we found an impressive police academy. We were taken on a tour at first by a jovial guy who showed us the driving course, the dorms, and all of the real-life scenario buildings. Among these buildings were hospitals, schools, houses, and a main street. On the main street was a stocked grocery store, and a full bar that had pool, cards, and casino games. This is where they took us to spend the next few hours. It was already shaping up to be different than we expected, but when we walked into the bar and they set out about 10 different liquor options, followed by any mixer we could think of, I knew it was going to be a good day. They ran the group (minus us drivers) through some questions and medical tests in order to determine how many drinks it would take to get each person to 0.1 blood alcohol level. Sergio learned not only that he needed 7 drinks in two hours in order to reach the 0.1 goal, but that he has really incredible blood pressure. The smallest person was supposed to have 3. The drinks started flowing. Sergio had rum and cokes, others had margaritas, gin and tonics, you name it. Each hour they took breathalizers to determine how they were doing. The girls got cut off, but Sergio and one other guy were given doubles. By this time there was an audience of friendly cops yelling, "drink faster, boys" and various other encouragement. While we waited they provided games and food.
Finally it was time to enter the enclosed main street through the door. At this point we learned that the other driver and I would be going in as "placebos." We were all given gum, told to say, "I've had two beers, sir/ma'am" and sent into the room. This is where about thirty trainees from all departments rotated in groups of four around the room and put us through three FST's. First, Follow the Pen (with your eyes not your head), which took forever and as they learned proper technique, had to be repeated often. Second, Walk and Turn. Stand with your left foot on an imaginary line, touch your right heel to your left toe on the line and stand with your hands at your sides while I explain the directions. Do you understand these instructions? Good, now take nine heel to toe steps while looking at your toes, counting out loud, turn and take nine steps back. Do not raise your arms. Do you understand these directions? Begin. Third, One Leg Stand. Keep your hands at your sides, raise either foot six inches off the ground, point your toe, look at your foot, and count one thousand one, one thousand two until I say stop. Do you understand these instructions? Good.
I will skip any details of the actual eight times we each went through this process, except to say that about two groups into the tests the instructors came over to me and did the Follow the Pen, and then again later. I knew something must be up. Anyway, and hour and a half later, it was over and they brought us into the room with the thirty cops, where they had our results as the trainees had determined them on the board. We each went through the drinks we had and then our blood alcohol levels before and after. Sergio had gone in at a 0.9 and came out at a 0.6. Out of the eight groups he was determined impaired and "arrested" twice. Some of the others were arrested each time. I had one coke, 0.0 going in, and 0.0 coming out. I was arrested THREE times. I was then pulled up in front of the whole room to show them how to properly administer Follow the Pen because I have a catch in my left eye and a drop in my right. If the test is done incorrectly I am considered drunk (but the stumbling didn't help either). The eye test is supposed to be the foolproof test. Not only that, but during the test one of the instructors told the trainees that he would check me in a real-life scenario for smoking pot because my pupils are so large.
The lessons of this experience:
1. Sergio is deemed more fit to drive above the legal limit than I am anytime.
2. Wet labs are a great way to spend an afternoon and everyone should do it.
3. FST's are a terrible way to determine drunkenness
4. Cops can be fun