Thursday, June 23, 2011

Crazy Legs

One Friday night a few months ago, I decided to take a break from the heavy drinking. Even though some of my friends—including TJ, Jay Swag, and others—were supposed to be starting the weekend off with a happy hour on the North Shore, I chose to stay on the sidelines. I went to Rivers instead to play cards and work on inflating my bankroll. The night went well enough that I clocked out early; not long after midnight I found myself at home, lying on my couch and watching Chappelle’s “Killin’ Them Softly” as I slowly drifted asleep.

When my phone rang around twenty after one, I expected it to be one of my drunken friends busting my balls for not being out boozing with the rest of them. That, or Jamie Chung was in town and wanted me to come visit her in her hotel suite.

…so yeah, it was probably the drunk-friend-harassment thing.

The name that appeared on my screen was that of Mitch Canada. Now, understand that Mitch rarely calls me. I could probably count on one hand the number of phone calls I had received from him before that night, and there haven’t been any since. Mitch calling me after 1 a.m. on a Friday night wasn’t just unusual, it was downright alarming. And when I picked up, the tone of his voice didn’t offer any reassurance.

In exasperated, slightly impatient words, Mitch laid out the situation for me: Jay Swag had been arrested on a DUI charge. Yayy… The police had him in a holding cell in the West End; if no one picked him up before 2 a.m., they’d be sending him over to county, where he—and his suddenly vulnerable anal virginity—would have to stay until at least Monday morning. Mitch and “Courtney” (a female friend of theirs that had been out with the boys that night) were, of course, eager to get Swag home before the deadline. But everyone they knew was either out of town, asleep, or too drunk to drive down there. Everyone, that is, but one guy. Yayy…

I got the station address and information from Mitch, and assured him I could be there before 2. A thought came over me, though: It was technically Saturday morning by then, but…that Friday had been April 1st.

Me: “Mitch, if this is some kind of stupid April Fools’ prank, I swear to god…”
Mitch: “I promise you, man, it’s not a prank. This is real. [Swag] is really in jail.”

I arrived at the station around a quarter to 2. I thought about waiting outside for another ten minutes, just to make Swag sweat it out a little more, but my benevolent side prevailed. As I signed the paperwork, I heard his voice from the other side of the secured door, as an officer gave him a final admonishment. When they opened the door, a blinking, still-drunk Swag shuffled out. The officer unlocked his cuffs, and Swag looked at me like a child who knows he’s screwed up but really just wants a hug to be reassured that his dad still loves him.

As we walked to the car, Swag thanked me with every drop of gratitude in him. I told him it was ok; I knew he would’ve done the same for me in a heartbeat. I asked what exactly had happened; he sank into the passenger seat of my car and gave me the entire story from the top…
    He had begun the night with the North Shore happy hour, as planned. When drinks returned to their normal prices, he, Mitch, and Courtney decided to relocate their shit show to Rumshakers in the South Side, Swag’s second home. Shots and drinks were ordered, and shots and drinks were drunk, over and over and over. By around 12, the three of them decided they were sufficiently sloppy, and that they should return to Mitch and Swag’s Mt. Washington home.
    Here’s where it got dicey. Swag had been the driver earlier in the night, chauffeuring the other two around in the shiny ‘08 Mercedes C-Class that he had just purchased only two weeks earlier. Swag doesn’t come from money, and prior to that car he had been driving a 20 year old Pontiac that seemed to be begging to be put out of its misery. Taking chances with such a valuable new possession was not something he was up for. He decided a taxi was the way to go.
    While Mitch and Courtney waited in the bar, Swag walked outside and tried to flag down a passing cab…for all of five minutes. Then, his patience thinned by alcohol much as his blood was, he began reexamining his situation. The drive to their place was short—barely five minutes. Catching a cab on Carson St. some Friday nights is a frustration only understood by Cubs fans and Sarah Palin’s fact-checkers. And there was a chance he might be able to get something going with Courtney that night. And he was driving a Mercedes…
    Swag made his way to his car, several blocks away. He got in, started it up, looked up and down the street, and carefully pulled out of his parking spot. Five seconds later, as he neared a stop sign, police lights began flashing in his rearview. The typical response in this situation is to pull over to the side of the road and resign yourself to beating the rap. But this is Jay Swag; he’s anything but “typical” when he’s drunk. Two thoughts popped into his head:
    1. If charged, this would be his second DUI (he received one while in college), which meant “bye-bye license”;
    2. In high school he was an all-star on the track team.
    Swag gunned it, speeding around the corner and to the next stop sign before the cop could react. He slammed on the brakes, screeching to a stop along the curb. He then hopped out of the car and bolted on foot into a series of townhouse complexes like a white, middle-class reenactment of “Juice”.
    Kids, don’t try this at home.
    In what might arguably be the craziest piece of this tale, though, his plan actually worked. He soon shook the officer chasing him. Eventually, Swag found himself lying on the ground amid the thick shrubbery that adorned one of the townhouses, listening to police as they swarmed the area. Squad cars came and went, the voices of officers and police radios grew nearer and then more distant; but no one knew where he was.
    His impatience, however, was about to once again get the best of him. Swag had been lying in hiding for all of ten minutes when he decided that things had quieted down enough for him to make it to his car again undetected. [Now, obviously, this was a ridiculous idea. Every member of our crew, when hearing the story for the first time, asked why he didn’t think to escape on foot and report the car stolen. The question is an unintentional riddle though; the answer is that he simply wasn’t thinking.] He had gotten less than a block from his hiding spot when police spotted him and converged, drawing their weapons and yelling, “BLUE SWEATSHIRT—FREEZE!!”
    Now, anyone who has ever had a run-in with the Pittsburgh Police will tell you, 75% of them are dickheads. The prototypical cocky, tough-behind-a-badge-but-a-pussy-otherwise jerks that would sooner tase and beat a civilian than acknowledge his civil rights. Despite the misfortune—deserved though it may have been—of getting arrested, Swag was still incredibly lucky, in that he got arrested by one of the 25% of the force who are actually decent human beings. In fact, this officer was so cool that he decided to look the other way on the “Avoiding Apprehension” charge, which is a felony. He also let Swag in on a little detail: He had only tried to pull him over because Swag didn’t have his headlights on. Having only had the Benz for two weeks, Swag was still unfamiliar with some of the controls; when he got into the car, he had only turned on the parking lights, not the full low beams. “If you had just pulled over, I was going to tell you to flip your lights on,” the cop said. “If you’d done that, I would’ve let you go. But then you ran… Why did you run?!”
When I echoed those sentiments, Swag responded, “I knew I could outrun him. No one’s going to catch me in a footrace.” I mentioned he was still drunk at that point, right?

In fact, he was still nearly blacked out. At the station he had blown a .23, almost three times the legal limit. When we got back to his house, he walked straight into his kitchen. I heard the refrigerator open and close, and he returned to the living room, cracking open a can of Four Loko along the way. Then he plopped himself down on a recliner and recounted the tale for Courtney, who had been asleep on the couch when we arrived. And then, even though it was well after 3 a.m., he started calling up a few friends that had gotten DUIs in the past to tell them about his night.

The next morning TJ came by and took him down to the South Side so he could try to locate his car. They found it just where he’d ditched it—with a freshly slashed tire, compliments of the Pittsburgh PD. As he and TJ set about putting on the spare, a voice called out from a few doors down the street.

“[Swag]? What’s up?” It was one of his buddies, standing in front of his home. Swag could have simply run and hid there the night before.

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