Once a year my cousin and friend, Lauren, comes to visit for a few days. When she is in town I am required to show her a good time and introduce her to boys, because, although a severe man shortage epidemic plagues DC, it's even worse where she lives.
I'd been told a wine-tasting event held at the National Zoo was THE thing to do in the springtime. The event -- Grapes with the Apes -- was going on the night she got in. The problem was, it was starting an hour before her plane landed. The only way we were going to make it in decent time was for me to drive to the airport to pick her up and then drive to the zoo, which is near Adams Morgan, party central in DC.
The wine tasting was quite crowded, and plenty of tents were scattered across the zoo to satiate us winos. After a certain rose, I was done. I shouldn't have tried it. I hate rose. I looked over at Lauren, who was grimacing.
"Are you okay?" I asked her.
"The fashion here is awful, Mary El. How is it that Super Frump Frizzy Hair over there is with a decently cute guy?" she wondered as she sipped her red table wine from Potomac Point Winery.
"Welcome to my world," I sighed. "And these are the successful ones. Me? The most put together one here and with by far the best hair? I will never make it in this town. I'm simply too good looking."
"Yes, you are. This is the most bizarre thing I've ever seen..." she trailed off as she finished her glass and looked around in bewilderment.
When I moved to DC I noticed right off the bat that there was a lot of bad fashion, but not until I started working with government types did I realize just how dire the situation was. Sitting in a meeting one day with a woman whom I was assisting on a project, my thoughts became lost in her untamed, undyed hair, her tapered pantsuit with cropped jacket, her wrinkled button down with the collar sticking halfway out of the jacket, and -- by far her worst feature -- the unkempt caterpillars above her eyes. While she explained to me her report findings, all I could think was, This is my competition, and I'm losing. I've been told it's because I work on the defense side of government, and the Hill is much better. So far Dana Perino is the only Hill person I've seen that has saved face in fashion.
"This is no fun," Lauren pouted. "I want to meet guys! And all the guys here obviously like ugly girls! Let's go somewhere else."
It may sound like Lauren is a brat, but she's not. I went through all these feelings last year. Much like grief, I started with denial (There's a guy in this city for me! I just know it!) then moved onto anger (I'm moving back to Atlanta!), and my match.com days could be interpreted as negotiation (I know, if I lower my standards then maybe I'll get a date!), and now I'm teetering between negotiation and acceptance. It really is shocking to come from the South where the girls dress up and do their hair and makeup to go to the gym, and the toned, freshly-cut haired (haired? Is that a word?) boys hit on them and ask them out on a proper date, not "Wanna meet up for a drink sometime?"
Unfortunately, we were in Adams Morgan, and we weren't going to meet any upstanding gentlemen there. But I didn't want to burst Lauren's bubble, so we went to a place my friend Jamie suggested. It's not even worth talking about. It was empty, for one. But worse, the bartenders were awful. The guys that were there were hitting on the trashy girls, and Lauren and I were, once again, ignored. Let me just say this, as a word of advice for any bartenders reading:
1) If a girl flirts with you and she's not with a guy, flirt back! You'll probably get a good tip!
2) If a girl obviously in her 20s asks you how old she looks, say 24. 24 is always safe. Do not say 33. No one thinks you're funny.
3) Rum and soda is a terrible, TERRIBLE signature drink. You can do better.
Around 11 I was ready to go since I had to work that night. Lauren wanted to purge herself of the ugly, so we hopped in the car and headed home. As we crossed into Virginia, I realized I'd missed my exit, so I got off at the next exit to turn around. When I got to the end of the ramp a sign read "NO LEFT TURN." But since no one was around and the highway was right there, I broke the law and made the turn. Almost immediately blue lights came on behind me.
"Oh. My. Lord. You're going to get a DUI," Lauren whispered.
"No I'm not! I'm not drunk!" I laughed back.
"Here," Lauren shoved Binaca toward me. "Spray this in your mouth to cover up the alcohol smell."
"That's pure alcohol!" I grinned.
The officer appeared at my window. "I'm so sorry," I said to the officer. "I know I shouldn't have turned there, I'm just...disoriented." Yes, I said disoriented. I was not aware that "disoriented" means "drunk," as I have since been told.
"Have you been drinking tonight?" he accused me while shining a flashlight into my car.
"Yes," I said. "I had a rum and soda about two hours ago."
"Where are you coming from?" he asked, moving his flashlight to shine around in my car.
"Adams Morgan." Then I started laughing, because I always laugh in stressful situations. I did it when I was four and my father disciplined me for the first time. I did it at 18 when I got my first speeding ticket and I was sure to lose my license. I did it during my security clearance interview and the FBI agent asked me if I'd ever done drugs before. (In case you're wondering, my answer was, "If you count sniffing rubber cement! Hahahaha!")
"I'm gonna need you to step out of the car," the officer huffed.
Lauren was about to pass out. "Don't sweat it!" I assured her. "I'm not drunk!"
Now, I know what you're thinking -- I had been drinking all night. But sometime after college I obtained this superhuman tolerance. And putting on 20 pounds didn't hurt. (Fat soaks up alcohol like nobody's business.) Beyond all that, I know my limits and would not have gotten behind the wheel if I felt tipsy, because I'm a responsible citizen! So there!
Of course this explanation was not sufficient for the FOUR COPS (is that really necessary?) who really really really ridiculously wanted me to be drunk. So I was given four tests. On the side of the highway. Like a piece of trash. Because I had to take off my 3-inch heels to do it. And that's my embarrassing moment for the year.
First, one officer shone a flashlight in my eye, yes, blinding me, and told me to follow his finger with my eyes.
"No no, don't move your head," he kept saying. I failed. Onto the next one -- walking the line.
I took nine paces, pivoted, then took nine the other way. Barefoot. On the highway. Like a piece of trash. I passed that one because I WASN'T DRUNK. But that wasn't enough.
I then had to hold one foot in the air 6 inches and count "one one thousand, two one thousand" until the officer told me to stop. He let me get to 20. My thighs were shaking at this point, but I did it! And barefoot! On the highway! Like a piece of trash! With thighs of steel!
Still wasn't convincing -- I had to pass a breathalyzer. Another cop came over and told me to breathe into the tube, just to see if any trace of alcohol was in my system. For the first time since I got pulled over, I stopped laughing. The BAC would tell it all, and maybe I didn't know my limits as well as I thought I did.
The little machine beeped, and the cop shook his head in disgust, ripped off the tube, and threw it into the grass. My first thought was, Oh no, he just littered! But then the doom set in. I'm going to have a DUI on my record. I'm going to jail. I'll have to call my boss from jail and tell him I can't finish the report on time because I got a DUI and I'm in jail.
But no, he was shaking his head BECAUSE I PASSED.
As the first officer handed me a warning for making an illegal turn, I slipped my shoes back on my cut up feet and looked over at Lauren. Her leg was bouncing around like a Mexican jumping bean.
"So, how did you like your first night here?" I chuckled.
"Mary El...Mary El..." she whimpered.
I drove home very slowly, because that's how you drive after getting pulled over.
"Thank You, Lord, for my fat," I exhaled.