1995 in D-Town

I had graduated college a little over a year and a half previous and had just been laid off from my temporary dead-end job. So it was with a CU-Boulder liberal arts degree. I was living in the mountains about an hour away from my college friends and had consequently all but given up drinking and going out.

But it was New Year's Eve, and everyone was excited to meet and live it up in Denver. It was going to be just us guys. The girlfriends were out of town visiting their families. I had no girlfriend.

Furthermore, one of the guy's fathers owned a fairly large and successful Cherry Creek bar and actually had reserved the back room for us until 9 p.m. So between 6:30 and 7, the twelve of us filed into the back room, where a full keg of Newcastle Brown awaited us. We invited a handful of women from the main bar to join us, and most of them did. We ordered pub-grub dinners, watched college bowl games and started on the Newcastle. The night was officially on.

We slapped each others on the back, yelling at the TV and each other. The women laughed at us and joined in the revelry. It was a great time, like a hundred times we had and took for granted back in our college days, but all the sweeter now that the vagaries of the real world kept us from this except on the rarest of occasions. One of us, and I don't remember who, came up with the idea that we were going to play a drinking game. I don't remember the rules of the game, either, but it became immediately evident that I was doing a substantial amount of the drinking.

It was a little past 8:30 p.m., and I was completely inebriated. Eric, the son of the bar owner, started to get the whole crew moving, because the back room was rented from 9 p.m. until close for a paying private party that did not include us. Our two designated drivers were fighting illness, on antibiotics and hadn't touched a drop of beer. They spent the next twenty minutes forming the plan, herding us out and into the two largest cars -- no small task at this point in time.

Fritz, Bill, three others and I got into Fritz's mother's brand-new Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Jeep still had temporary tags and about 400 miles on it. His parents were spending New Year's on a beach in Vietnam, entrusting Fritz to the house and car. Bill drove, Fritz rode shotgun and the rest of us were crammed in the back. Off we went, winding our way downtown.

Within a mile, I became nauseous. All of a sudden, I had the T-minus-5 countdown to certain vomiting. I grabbed for the door handle and tried to open the door, but it was locked. I yelled to Bill over the loud music that I was going to puke. He somehow brought the Jeep to a safe, abrupt stop out of traffic and tried to unlock the electronic, childproof locks. I grabbed the door handle, but technology had failed us: It was still locked. I started to vomit. A second later, the door clicked and I opened it, but I'd already splashed some on the inside of the door and the leather seat.

The back-seat passengers uttered a collective "Ooooooh, noooooo."

Fritz, who was nearly as drunk as I was, in the most serious of slurred voices whined/pleaded, "No, you didn't puke in Andi's new Jeep. No, not in Andi's new Jeep."

His tone, inflection and repetition made everyone crack up. As nauseous and sick as I was, it struck even me as funny. Bill left the car parked so I could finish emptying myself of the pub grub and Newcastle. One of the guys did a half-ass job of cleaning up. "No, not in Andi's new Jeep," Fritz chimed in again. Again, everyone laughed.

Within two or three minutes, we were off. Though I was feeling a little better, I still felt terrible and decided I was done drinking. We parked at a central location and hit various bars and clubs. Everyone got drunk and had a good time. Every so often, when there was a lull in the action, someone slurred, "No, not in Andi's new Jeep." And everyone laughed, but I felt terrible about it. The 55-year-old woman who's kind as can be had never had a car this nice, and here I was at 25 puking in it on New Year's Eve.

For some reason, I wasn't prepared for the stroke of midnight and found myself separated from my brethren by five crowded yards in a large club. The countdown hit midnight and I was left in no man's land. I looked over, and every friend I saw was kissing an attractive girl. No kiss for me, just the taste of bile in my mouth and an awful headache exacerbated by the yelling, kazoos and bad pop music. I couldn't wait for the night to be over, but I was in essence a hostage of the group, and they were in no hurry to conclude the night. Happy friggin' New Year to me and all my friends.

At 3:30 a.m. we finally left Duffy's after eating a greasy meal that didn't make me feel any better.

The roads were icy, everyone but the drivers were drunk, belligerent and arguing in good humor. Nearly all of us spent the night at Fritz's parents'. I shared the living room floor with Steve, who snored like a freight train, essentially robbing me of my sleep.

Somewhere during the maelstrom of the evening, I'd lost my coat.

At about 3 p.m. the next day, Fritz, who was so hung over that we didn't leave the house until then, drove me back to my truck at the Cherry Creek bar where the night had begun. I still had a headache, the roads were icy, and a mountain drive lay ahead.

I drove a couple of blocks and came to a slightly skidding stop at a red light. It was slick out.

I'd been stopped for a couple of seconds when I was suddenly rear-ended. I looked into my mirror to see none other than a Denver police car.

The cop approached my car, signaled for me to roll down the window and his first words -- honest to God -- were "Driver's license, registration and proof of insurance, sir."

I was a bit rattled by the whole scenario. Denver's finest had actually hit my car pretty good. I fumbled through the glove compartment and couldn't find a current insurance card, although I did have insurance. Ever so slowly, he walked back to his car and ran my information through the computer. I came up clean, having no outstanding warrants or tickets. Ten minutes later, unable to get me for anything more, he wrote me a ticket for having no proof of insurance.

To further save face, he asked me to step out of the car and began to administer roadside sobriety tests. He quickly realized the futility of his efforts and sent me back to my truck. I was incensed but also afraid, and managed to keep my cool and cooperate because he was a Denver cop, and we all know they have a reputation for shooting people. My bumper was completely mangled, and I was freezing in the five-degree, approaching-sunset chill sans jacket.

It took over an hour before other cops arrived and took photographs of the scene. The report completed, I was issued a court date for no proof of insurance and released. By this time I was visibly on the brink of hypothermia.

"Ever consider investing in a jacket?" one of the cops cracked.

I didn't give him the satisfaction of telling him about my night. Instead, I resolved to never go to Denver on New Year's Eve again.

I got in my truck, drove an hour and a half on icy mountain roads, arrived at my cabin and filled up the bathtub. I sat in it for nearly 45 minutes. Toward the end of my soak, I started to laugh out loud. If I didn't laugh, I'd surely cry.

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John De Lello