by Kent Sterling
As much as I loathe those who parade around as though the rules of reason don’t apply to them, Justin Bieber’s arrest early this morning near South Beach in Miami served as a reminder that I wasn’t exactly perfect at 19 either.
Society tends to look at young men like Bieber – an enabled dolt surrounded by yes men – with disdain or worse because he allows himself to believe that a modicum of talent excuses him from behaving as though disaster is afraid of showing its face near him.
Being 19 years-old with almost limitless resources would land many of us in the pokey or worse. The problem with a deep, thick, and tall pile of cash is that it allows people to ignore parameters and those who set them.
The bail for Bieber was set at $2,500. That’s the kind of money he runs through every minute in a strip club. It’s nothing. For the rest of us, putting together $2,500 would take a little work, and serve as a minor disincentive. Bieber is accompanied by bobos with many times that amount of cash with them because it won’t fit in Bieber’s 26 X 26 jeans.
Twenty-five hunge is a parking ticket for Bieber, who will smile for the judge, apologize, and accept his minuscule penalty for driving under the influence, resisting arrest nonviolently, and driving with an expired license. The fine will be paid painlessly, and Bieber will continue his moronic rampage the long way around adulthood.
When I was 18, I was lucky enough to have parents who thought very little of the idea of allowing me to drive one of their cars. I was not niblet cute with the voice of an angel, so buying my own set of wheels was far beyond my means. I was self-aware enough to know that driving while socializing was a bad idea, but now and then guilt over never driving got the better of me, and I asked Mom and Dad to allow me to borrow the 1967 Buick LeSabre.
This was a purple beast of a car, big enough to seat six comfortably and as many as 12 if creativity and ambition were exercised. I fancied myself an outstanding driver, capable of flawlessly controlling a car regardless of the speed, conditions, or stupidity of the situation. The car maxed out at 82 miles per hour, as I learned many times. It was a heavy car, and something would usually drag the pavement as the level of the pavement changes. People constantly told me about the sparks coming from underneath the car.
Kim Houston drove a red VW Rabbit, and several times we drag raced on Charleston Road. I never beat her, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. As the road narrowed to two lanes, Kim would force me into the left lane – the lane reserved for oncoming traffic. I never backed off until headlights heading toward us forced me to break to duck in behind her.
The girls who were in her car would excitedly tell me about the stream of sparks exploding from the bottom of the car. Knowing the car was a beater, I claimed it was a clever and expensive add-on – like dual exhaust or fluorescent tubing.
As occasionally dangerous as operating the LeSabre could be, it was my Mom’s next car that brought sanity to my decision making.
The big moment came when I was 19 and my parents allowed my to drive the magnificently powerful used 1974 Pontiac Catalina they had recently purchased. It was creamy yellow and just as roomy as the LeSabre, but with an engine nowhere near to its last legs. The car roared and flew.
At a party woefully short on beer, we decided to head to the liquor store to stock up and set a new speed record for the car on the way. Between the party in New Albany, Indiana, and Cut-Rate Liquors in Jeffersonville was a five mile stretch of interstate that served our purposes well. I rounded up four friends, and off we went.
Within a mile, we were cruising at 95 mph without breaking a sweat. No rattling from this monstrosity, unlike the LeSabre. More gas, more speed, and soon we topped out at 110 mph. We hit some traffic and had to back off, but I wanted to peg the speedometer at 120. The pedal went to the floor as soon as we cleared the last car roughly a mile before our exit.
We got it back to 110 with the exit racing toward us. Funny how the exit charges at a car going 110. I waited until the last possible second before hitting the brakes while swerving onto the exit ramp. The car ignored the brakes, and continued way too fast up the ramp. I stood on the brake pedal with every ounce of my 147 pound frame, and the car sped toward the stop light.
The light at the top of the ramp turned red, and cars were cruising across the intersection. The wheels of the Catalina stopped spinning, but the car kept sliding up the ramp toward the stoplight. Did I mention a light rain started to fall a quarter mile before we got to the exit? Didn’t think so.
Brakes locked, red light, slightly damp pavement, no ability to stop the car more quickly than physics would allow, and four friends trusting I knew what the hell I was doing.
The car halted precisely at the white line marking the beginning of the intersection. Today, those friends would beat me senseless, and I would spend days in a cardiac care unit from the stress of nearly killing them. That day, the 19 year-olds cheered and high fived like we had won the Indianapolis 500. We bought the beer for the party, and returned with me as a much smarter and prudent driver who knew exactly how close he had come to causing total disaster.
It didn’t take a run in with the police, an injury, or a severe penalty from my parents for me to learn my lesson. It took losing control, and putting friends’ lives at risk.
That moment shook me, and I learned my lesson. I don’t exhibit any of the behavior that led to that near catastrophe.
Clearly, Bieber needs to learn that driving a rented yellow Lamborghini 60+ mph in a 30 mph zone after reportedly drinking, smoking pot, and taking prescription anti-depressants is dangerous. Some people, like me, are damn lucky to learn a lesson without mayhem. Others need a more serious consequence.
As little as I think of Bieber, I hope this was enough to get his mind right.