I went to see Foghat at The Canyon recently and wow what a concert. The lead singer commanded the audience with such showmanship, and the band was incredible. It was crowded, and very nice to see a sense of normalcy here in our Santa Clarita Valley lives once again. I met my dear friends there, made some new ones, we had the greatest view, the food was delicious, drinks abounded; in fact, I kind of felt like I was back to ’80s Jen. I didn’t drive, so for those thinking I’m not setting a good example, please know I had a one-and-done DUI arrest in the middle-’80s and that scared me straight like that TV show.
It happened when I was in my early twenties. You know it’s the time of your life when you believe you are impervious to any wrongdoing, and I had been at Reubens Steakhouse in Universal City, a tad too far from my house in Northridge. I made the mistake of ordering Summer Hummers. For those of you who aren’t familiar with that drink basically it’s white wine in a goblet with peach schnapps. I didn’t really feel out of sorts when it was time to leave. It was around 11, my friend Debi had met me there after work and we each had our own car. She pulled out, I followed her, and we were on the way home. Right around the Woodman exit on the 101 freeway going west, I reached down to get my eight-track cassette that I wanted to listen to. I looked up and saw in the rearview mirror flashing red lights.
I pulled on to the shoulder and two California Highway Patrol officers came to my window and said I was being pulled over for tailgating. Yes, tailgating my friend Debi, who by now had exited the freeway and got back on and to see what was going on. I’ll never forget her face as she drove by. The officers asked me if had I been drinking. I was honest and told them the truth. I gave them my license and they told me to exit the vehicle. Picture this: Eighties Jennifer has big hair, as in really big hair held beautifully with the Sebastian Spritz hair spray. Eighties Jennifer wore bangle bracelets up her entire arm. Eighties Jennifer wore mini-skirts and stockings and mini white boots with heels. Eighties Jennifer and probably 2022 Jennifer couldn’t walk with ease and finesse and put one foot in front of the other while sober. Don’t even get me started with saying the alphabet backwards, as if.
Now that you have this full backdrop in your mind of what I looked like, and the situation I had gotten myself into, you can only imagine what I did next. I asked one of the officers if he could help me take my boots off. If I was going to try and walk the straight line, then I needed to not be wearing heels. He obliged, and after a few tries and the Z T R H Y W V A B C F H Q recital, they told me I was under arrest. Back then the legal limit was a little higher than it is today, but I was too darn close. I even tried to say I had lied about my weight on my driver’s license, hoping the weight would come into play and give me a pass. But it was obvious I was at my perfect figure rock star Jennifer, even if it was a little bit self-perceived.
What happened next was very kind. One of the officers told me I was too beautiful to die in a car accident and then he said, “I’m going to move your car to the residential street, and park it, and when you are released, you can come get it.” I was in the back of the patrol car. The other officer followed the officer in my car. And as he exited my car he grabbed my purse, and held it up. Luckily, he didn’t pull a muscle in his shoulder, Eighties Jennifer’s purse was as big as my hair. He asked me if I needed anything in it. I said, “I don’t know, I’ve never been to jail before.” He grabbed my wallet and handed it to me. He then locked my purse in the car and gave me the keys.
I was booked into Van Nuys jail and put in a holding cell. I didn’t know what to do. I was crying, and I was afraid. One of the girls in the cell with me was sleeping on the cot and after a couple hours of me whimpering she yelled at me, “B-word shut the eff up, I’m trying to sleep!” I was so frightened. No one had ever talked to me like that before. I told her I didn’t know what to do, I just wanted to go home, and she looked at me and pointed to the pay phone in the cell. I had no idea I could call someone.
I called my house phone. My boyfriend, now husband, answered, and I was hysterical. It was nearly 4 in the morning. He said, “Where are you?”
Through my tears, I said, “Jah Jah Jah JAIL!!!!”
He came and got me. I was so embarrassed. All of my makeup was washed away from crying and smeared all over my face and cheeks. We went home. He said nothing. He realized I had been “scared straight” and I called my mom and told her. Later that morning, we went and got my car. I drove to my father’s house and told him and my stepmother what I had done. In the end, I pleaded no contest, paid the hefty fee, drove only to and from work for 90 days, attended AA meetings and narcotics meetings, a requirement to do both and have your paperwork signed off to show that you did in fact attend. And I made a promise to myself to never drink and drive again.
But, back in the mid-2000s I took my kids to the Shabbat service one Friday evening. This was when St. Stephens Church shared its auditorium with Temple Or Emet, for their Friday night services. I had always thought how profound that was that two different faiths could coexist among each other with respect and caring. It was something I would remind my children of regularly. If you aren’t familiar with Shabbat, it is the beginning of the Sabbath in the Jewish faith. At the end of the services, the wine is blessed, the bread called challah is blessed and prayers are said. The culmination of the service is the adults can have wine, children have grape juice and together break the bread and enjoy. On the wine tray, there were servings of Manischewitz grape wine, each serving about the size of a dose of cough syrup, and I grabbed one and drank it.
After the services, we got in the car and I turned right on Lyons Avenue. I drove a couple of blocks and lo and behold there was a DUI checkpoint. I stared at the lights, the cars ahead of me, and looked in the rearview mirror at my children. I thought, “Oh my goodness, what am I going to do?” I told the kids that mommy’s minivan might be stopped ahead, and I would maybe have to talk to the police officer. In my head I was going to the darkest place, because of my past experience and because I had broken a promise that I had made to myself from years earlier. Even though that serving of wine was minuscule, maybe two tablespoons, I was wrong to drink it. As I got closer, the officer had a flashlight, he looked at me and waved me through. I was relieved. I knew in my heart I didn’t do anything awful, but I had broken the promise I had made to myself, and sometimes in life that is where the true learning experience occurs.
Jennifer Danny is a Santa Clarita resident.