So, I was at a friend’s barbeque the other day having a discussion with someone who had recently moved up from Austin, TX. We were discussing the pros and cons of life in D.C. For the most part, he was more of a fan of the lifestyle in Austin, except for one thing: public transit. We know by now of my bike obsession, so I rarely drive anywhere in the city, but the Metro was certainly one of the main draws to Washington. The Texan explained that, while the social scene in Austin is extremely lively, there is no easy way to get around. So pretty much everyone is stuck driving home from the bars. In fact, he mentioned casually that people drive drunk all the time. That got me thinking. Ironic timing, as it turns out, in light of the next thing that happened.

Thus far, I’ve tried pretty hard not to talk much about dating on this blog, partly because I don’t want this to turn into some “Sex and the City” rip-off, but mostly because I have more interesting things to write about. But this case bears discussion,  I think.

I had this lunch date last week. It was fun – a beautiful day out, so we took a blanket and some fruit and bread and had ourselves a picnic. We had the usual discussion people have on this sort of outing, about where you’ve been, what you’ve been up to, etc. Then he mentioned something about being on probation. Wait…what? Red flag.

Me: Umm…do you mind me asking what for?
Guy: I killed my best friend in a drunk driving accident.

Wow. I mean, what do you say to that? His story went something like this: the friend was really drunk. He was less drunk, so he took the driver’s seat. An 18 wheeler had illegally pulled off the side of the road without warning lights on, and they slammed right into it. The friend was killed. Had he been sober, he would have won millions in a lawsuit; as he had been drinking, he’s now on his sixth year of probation with four more to go, and lots of hours of community service. It was not clear to me if he’d served any jail time, and I was too taken aback to ask.

Then I got to thinking about the guy from Austin, and all the Texans driving home from the bars. Then I got to thinking about my own friends. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Yeah, and I probably shouldn’t have driven home last night.” In fact, I’ve heard it so many times I don’t think twice about it. The usual response is a shrug followed by a change in topic. That same thing could have happened to any number of people I hang out with, and these are the people who have access to public transit. Instead of walking into their cushy white-collar jobs, they could be sitting in jail right now. Pure luck? Jeez.

I think it’s easy to say “drunk driving is bad.” We all know that. Of course it’s bad. But it’s also widely done. Depending on what source you trust, up to 1 in 5 people admit to drunk driving. I would guess that among 20-somethings, the rate is probably much higher. So can/should I judge someone who did exactly what everyone else was doing, but happened to luck into some dire consequences? That’s a tough one.