Walter Pierce

RE:Rethinking Uncle Dudley

by Walter Pierce

What role does our permissive attitude toward alcohol play in the case of a drunk-driving school bus driver? We are aghast that a Lafayette Parish school bus driver has been arrested multiple times for allegedly driving — in his private vehicle, away from work — while intoxicated, particularly because in the most recent instance he was behind the wheel of his bus within hours of his arrest. But we certainly don’t have the right to be surprised. Obviously the story presses the button of our collective outrage — the man is charged with ferrying our most precious cargo to and fro —  as does the fact that the Lafayette Parish School Board heretofore didn’t have much of a policy for addressing the issue of bus drivers and their drinking habits. That The Daily Advertiser exposed this issue two years ago makes it the more egregious.

But beneath the surface and behind the school system’s apparent co-dependency is the woozy elephant in the room: south Louisiana’s laissez-faire attitude toward alcohol. Plainly and simply, booze is a cultural integer here — a whole number in the complex equation of life. Look no further for proof than drive-thru daiquiri stands. My out-of-town friends are astounded by them, and by the loophole big enough to drunk-drive an 18-wheeler through that keeps them in business: an inch-long strip of transparent adhesive tape over the straw hole on the lid and — voila! — it’s not an open container. It is, once you peel the tape off and stick a straw in it, shift into drive and go. But can we quibble over such technicalities?

How many among us can say we’ve never driven away from a party after a bit too much 80-proof conviviality, or bid our tipsy friends adieu as they motored away from our own soirees? I knew kids when I was in high school in the 1980s who were going to the McKinley Street Strip when they were 16 years old, and it occasioned little surprise and even less disapproval. Truth be told, it was grounds for boasting.

This story about a man operating a school bus hours after a drinking-and-driving arrest achieves a level of outrage it probably wouldn’t have 20 years ago. Our attitudes are changing. This is borne out by the closure a few months ago of Catahoula’s, a great restaurant in Grand Coteau. Its clientele were mostly Lafayette people who, the former owner/chef speculated, grew increasingly wary of driving the 12 miles back to Lafayette after a meal and the obligatory and usually almost-too-much alcohol that went with it.

What astounds me in all of this is the school system’s failure to recognize the most glaring warning sign that this driver was in trouble: The man has a skullet, for crying out loud! Sporting a mullet is bad, bad form. But a mullet when you’re also going bald? Clearly a cry for help.

Louisiana has long ranked in the upper tier nationwide for alcoholism rates, drunk driving fatalities, teen binge drinking and white people dancing — all indicators of a permissive attitude toward spirits. It’s in our folklore and in our music. There is such a surplus of drinking songs in Cajun and Creole cultures that Valcour Records two years ago released an entire album of them, and could probably release one every year for a decade and never exhaust the supply. We don’t like our livers very much.

Our grandparents were children who, at the hint of an ailment, received from mother a loving, intoxicating spoonful — or two, or three — of Hadacol, which was 12 percent alcohol. Thank you, Uncle Dudley, I’m feeling much better now.