Sometimes Your Instincts Are Wrong

My birthday falls on St. Patrick’s Day. This would be fantastic if I were the sort of person who enjoys the many drunken activities that police officers file under the category of “disorderly conduct.” Maybe I’m just getting old, but St. Patrick’s Day seems to get less fun each year as more and more people have taken it as an excuse for binge drinking. It feels like one big frat party now. Ordinarily I’m insulated from the holiday by my annual trips to South by Southwest, where everyone is too busy listening to bands to get mercilessly hammered, or even notice that March 17th is a holiday.

So it was with some reluctance that I went downtown to Little Rock’s River Market (epicenter of public drinking) on St. Patrick’s Day to see my old college chum Hayes Carll play a show at Rev Room. It was a good show as usual, but I was really tired after a long day (friend’s wedding at which I was an usher/golf cart driver and then cousin’s BBQ afterward) so I left a little early. Walking back toward the Clinton Library where I had parked my rental car, I came up behind a girl having some trouble walking. She would veer into the wall of the Courtyard Hotel and rebound. I passed her, and I was about to round the last corner to the Clinton Library when I looked back and saw her attempting to get into her car. Fortunately she had become temporarily trapped in the game of drop keys-pick up-keys-drop-phone-pick-up-phone-drop keys, which gave me the time to ask myself if I was going to let this happen. Was I going to walk away? My instincts said to let her fate play itself out by her actions, but after 36 years on this Earth, I’ve discovered that my first instincts are generally wrong.

So I talked to her. I asked her if she needed help or if she had anyone she could call for a ride. She said she had tried to call people but no one was picking up, and her brother had abandoned her about an hour before; she had no idea where he was and it was likely that he was even further gone than she was. Neither of us knew any cab phone numbers or anything, so I offered her a ride home.

Naturally, she lived in Conway (a half-hour drive for you non-Arkansans). To make her feel better about being driven home by a total stranger, I told her I was staying with my sister in Vilonia, so it wouldn’t be too far out of my way (my sister lives Jacksonville). I also said not to worry about the degree of the favor – I told her about my birthday and how I was accustomed to the services that St. Patrick’s Day often requires. So I helped her to my car and off we went.

I’ll leave out her name, but she was a 27-year-old single mother of a 5-year-old with a “douchebag” ex living in Mayflower. She had been working at a local healthcare facility but couldn’t continue there because she’d have had to work some night shifts. This would be impossible for her, as her uncooperative ex would not take his child for any longer than the agreed-upon two weekends per month (he was at least, it should be noted, a dutiful payer of child support). She was considering going back to school for nursing, but the single-parent-with-douchey-ex lifestyle made that tricky. She couldn’t rely on her parents’ assistance, as both of them had died within the last two years (father from alcoholism, mother from a heart attack). Also making her employment difficult was her 6-year probation sentence for “possession of an instrument of crime” (specifically, rolling papers – one of the most egregiously nebulous charges available to law enforcement). So at this point I realized that not only did I prevent the disastrous consequences of her having an accident, but I also prevented her from getting a DUI which would have further complicated her already unnecessarily complex life. Perhaps the most likely outcome for her situation, though, would have been her sitting alone, in the dark parking lot, underneath the freeway – also a scenario best avoided.

She insisted she had not been this drunk in a very long time, as she only drank “once in a blue moon.” She seemed quite shamed by the situation. Her brother, a legitimate criminal miscreant on probation for terroristic threatening, had vanished during the evening’s festivities and eventually did call her; we were already as far as Morgan by then so he was SOL on getting home. Lesson learned: don’t go drinking in Little Rock if you live in Conway and haven’t planned for someone reasonably sober to get you home.

Additional important tip for this sort of thing: get your passenger’s address into your smart phone and map to it beforehand, just in case your passenger passes out. My fear early on was that I would be saddled with a sleeper. But she stayed coherent all the way back to her apartment in Conway, conveniently located close to the Hendrix campus so I didn’t have to worry about navigating any unfamiliar streets at night. I helped her to the door and she gave me a hug. She was probably as bewildered as I was that somebody would lend such a big hand to a total stranger.

Another St. Patrick’s Day, another year older, but for once I feel like I’ve actually grown a little. I’m generally a “no” person, so overcoming my instinct to leave things alone was a big step for me. I’m fairly certain I helped someone avoid a terrible fate, and an hourlong drive at 12 a.m. after a long day is a small price to pay for doing The Right Thing. Thanks, Saint Patrick, wherever you are.

2 Responses to “Sometimes Your Instincts Are Wrong”

  1. Kristin Says:

    Colter – You are amazing. That was a big birthday present to the world, and karma of course.

  2. SW Says:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/the-righteous-mind-by-jonathan-haidt.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1