Sunday, December 06, 2009

Lazy Sunday #96: It’s Been A Long Night

I did a little bit of community service last night.

Across the country, various police organizations, insurance bureaus and local businesses come together this time of year to sponsor a program to keep impaired drivers off our streets called “Operation Red Nose”.

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Notices are placed in bars and party locations letting people know that if they’ve been drinking, they only need to call a local number and somebody will arrive within minutes to ferry them and their vehicle back home free of charge. In my part of the world, this has meant that fatalities caused by drunk drivers have dropped to zero on the nights the program is in operation.

As a volunteer, you turn up at the local headquarters in the early evening and are issued a red vest with your name on it and get your choice of Santa hat, antlers, flashing red nose (or all three) to identify you as somebody enjoying the spirit of the season, but who hasn’t been drinking. You’re then organized in teams of three, one to drive the partiers, one to drive their car and a third who navigates and takes radio calls for your next assignment.

A tag is even placed on the passengers’ returned car keys so they can prove to friends, co-workers or a spouse that they acted responsibly and had a good time without putting themselves or anybody else at risk.

Last night’s event was sponsored by my local MP, who lost her mother to a drunk driver. Others there had also lost family members in similar accidents and a few had been on the other side of the ledger and knew just as well what the costs of drinking and driving can be.

Our night began by escorting our Reindeer Mascot “Rudy” to several company parties and nearby watering holes to make sure people knew we were available. And I gotta tell you, there is nothing like turning up in a crowded bar with a reindeer on your arm to make you the center of attention. We passed out cards while the Mascot boogied on the dance floor, had his picture taken by a thousand phone cameras and received hundreds of Christmas hugs.

In fact, the hardest job of the night was peeling off the female admirers who just didn’t want to let him go.

What’s great about this program is it doesn’t preach or come with the RIDE Program penalties of losing your car for a few days or your license forever. It says “We know you want to party. Go ahead. We’re just here to make sure nobody gets hurt.”

As the night wore on, we ferried everybody from couples who’d had an extra glass at dinner to guys you had to help find the back seat. We picked up designated drivers who’d allowed the night to get the better of them and made unscheduled stops at MacDonald’s when the last call munchies struck for our patrons. And we got to drive everything from tricked out Hummers to a Lexus hybrid that was two days old.

But the best moment for me was stopping back at HQ during the tiny lull before last call, warming up with coffee and cookies as somebody started to sing Christmas carols. Pretty soon the whole room was singing. People who mostly hadn’t known each other before this night. People who had often been robbed of the spirit of the season by tragedies caused by the problem we were there to help prevent.

As we moved out on our next call and those carols echoed into the street, I realized how tough this year has been for a lot of people, how deep the need to relieve some of that pressure is – and how important it remains to have somebody there to catch you when you fall.

And that reminded me of a new song I’d heard earlier in the day. A song by a band I’ve never liked that said the same things and struck the same chord.

Sometimes a song just says it all. And sometimes realizing people just need a break is better than making more rules for them to obey.

After all, we’re only human. Enjoy your Sunday. 

1 comment:

JA Goneaux said...

Good stuff, Jim.

However, some cops just don't get into the spirit. On the weekend the Sun had an article on folks in Durham Region being busted for public intoxication while waiting for their designated driver...while the DD was actually (literally) pulling into the parking lot to pick them up.

Bad cops, no donuts!