Once upon a time, that’s how you are supposed to begin a tale, right? I am pretty sure so many stories start with that one sentence because just staring at the black page is one of the hardest parts of writing. The getting started is daunting. In some ways it is even worse in the computer age, instead of a patient piece of paper waiting for ink, you have a little cursor winking on and off, sort of tapping its imaginary foot as you try to figure out how to begin. It reminds me of the old side scroller game “Captain Goodnight” whose title character would take out a yo-you and stand there in all his 8-bit glory playing if you weren’t giving input. I want to talk about a terrifying evening in college but it is really more than we should get into tin the intro and I have already taken up a good bit of space talking about how it is hard to start, which means, we have in effect, already started, so I’ll get to the opening catchphrase and pick up the storytelling after the break. That is, if you will please join me as we stand and make, the Red Light.

It was freshman year, fairly early on. I did not really know anyone on campus. Seriously, I knew the names of maybe ten people and had not found a social group, yet. I was basically doing a hermit thing, hanging out in my dorm room, cooking all my meals on a hot plate. Frankly, a little nervous about going out, trying to give off that lone wolf vibe to keep out of trouble. I was not used to being somewhere without a big family of friends and I am not good at making new friends. Never have been. I had met a couple of the guys who lived on my hall who seemed decent, maybe a little wild, even by my standards, but good guys. I did not know them, but we’d bum smokes and nod as we passed in the halls. To be fair, the Kid was pretty outgoing and seemed fun, but the spider man was a seriously scary dude, on so many levels. One night I was walking on campus, probably on my way back from a late class or something when the spider man came screeching up with the Kid in the passenger seat of a primer gray ’70 Chevelle or maybe it was a Cutlass or a 442 or a GTO, they are, functionally, all the same. They were running out to the county line to get beers, I think, I don’t really remember, but they asked if I wanted to go along. Being starved for company, I hopped in the back and we took off. Things were mostly uneventful, we drove out to a market with a friendly working, bought a case of beer and headed back toward the dorm.

I am not sure what happened next. I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, since he is no longer with us, but I will speak the truth, as I understand it. One minute we were hanging out, laughing, driving back toward the dorm, being cool since none of us were old enough to have those beers. In the next moment, with no warning, the spider man got a grim look on his face and promptly lost his damned mind, or perhaps had it altered by something that kicked in along the way. Suddenly, the radio was blaring and he was angrily racing back to town, pushing the tach to the redline and the speedometer well into the triple digits. I distinctly remember the cluster of wires underneath the radio glowing bright red as we entered town and began bouncing through intersections, sliding around corners and not stopping for any signs or red lights. I remember circling the town square twice, running every light, the car mostly sideways with that big engine screaming louder than the tires. When we got back to campus, I literally climbed out the window as soon as the car slowed to something close to a stop. I was legit terrified. Our driver took off with the case, laughing maniacally and daring most of the baseball team hanging out in the common room to fight him. So, if you ever wondered why I always offer to drive first, blame the spider man.

There were times during that wild ride when I was sure we were going to have a wreck. I wasn’t that worried about that part, it was a ’70 GM coupe, we had a lot of metal around us, but I was worried that we were going to get caught and I was going to get in trouble, just for being there. I did not even drink beer at the time, so going down as an accessory to wilding felt extra stupid. Luckily, the fates protected me, yet again and we made it home, little worse for wear. Well, mostly. That lack of control, got to me. My fate being in the hands of someone else, who was not only not looking out for me, but not even looking out for himself, bugged me. See again, my continuing control issues. I did not make any big decisions that evening to never again be in that position, but I did learn a little about unearned trust and being needy for companionship. To be fair, I eventually became good friends with them both and trusted them with my life on more than one occasion, but it took a while and that journey was no smoother. So what the hell does any of that have to do with the drink? Well, let’s make it and find out.

This one was created by Jessica Gonzalez at New York’s, The NoMad Bar. It’s got a cool hook in the presentation, which brought it to my attention and I think it may be one of the rare occasions where you get a layered drink that you don’t have to stir to enjoy. This is served in a rocks glass, so grab one and pour in 1/2 an ounce of that devil bitch Campari and then add a big king cube of ice. Set to the side, grab your tins and pop in 1 ounce of lightly aged rum, I went with Appleton Estate; 1 ounce of aquavit, I chose Linie because it is well traveled; 3/4 of an ounce of fresh squeezed ruby red grapefruit juice, 1/2 an ounce of fresh squeezed lime juice, 1/2 an ounce of vanilla simple syrup, 1/4 ounce of John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum and 1 stab of Peychaud’s bitters unless you have wormwood bitters, in which case use them. Add ice and shake hard to the beat of the obvious red light song “Roxanne”, only go with that wonderfully weird tango-esque version from Moulin Rouge “El Tango de Roxanne”, to keep ’em on their toes and to capture the absolute madness of being flung around the backseat of that primer gray beast watching the glowing wires under the dash cast sparks every time they contacted the transmission tunnel. When well mixed and chilled, slowly double strain over the ice cube in your rocks glass so it does not disturb the Campari. Garnish with a dehydrated Cara Cara orange wheel and a cinnamon stick, but set it on fire and let it smolder, for the intriguing aroma and the nod to the Chevelle’s wiring. 

That is surprisingly nice. It works on its own without the stir. Sure, the Campari is going to ruin those final sips, but maybe the apprehension will make it last longer. A perfect sipper and isn’t it pretty? It lives up to its promise of an “ombre drink that changes from a pale pink blush to deeper ruby at the bottom.” Way better than sliding around on a vinyl bench seat alone, your head only occasionally bouncing off the roof, even with the Campari. Which actually really works here, even when you get to those last few diluted sips, it really balances the sweet beginning in this one. Very, very nice. I was concerned but it all worked out, in the end. 

I teased resolution above and I am going for it. Of all the crazy things that happened on that ride back to the dorm what bothered me most was running red lights. Not the 100 miles an hour past the Taco Bell, not jumping the hill by the Subway or passing the Dixie Maid completely sideways, but the running through the intersections without slowing down, looking either way or anything. I get that it is weird to focus on one small thing in a sea of wrongness, but blowing through those lights was not only dangerous, it was unfair. Luckily, we did not hit anyone or even come close as I recall, but we owed it to the other folks on the road to not endanger them. Here is the thing, society has certain rules that we all agree to. We don’t respect the color of the light because of some inherent power of red, we don’t really fear the fine if we get caught running that light, but we all know that we have to, almost always, stop for the red lights. If we don’t play by the rules, it all breaks down and someone gets hurt. Sure, we know you have to watch to make sure someone else isn’t going to run the light and it happens, but blatant disregard for the lights is more rare, because we all understand that for the system to work, we have to all play by the same set of rules. If we had crashed into a church, yeah that almost happened, it would have been terrible and totally on us, but if we had t-boned someone in one of those intersections, it would have been worse. Bad enough to hurt yourself with careless actions, but when your disregard for the ways things must be done hurts someone else, well, that’s a sin far greater than killing a mockingbird.

That has been on my mind the last few days. The responsibility to do what is right and look out for others. Doing things that are tough, because we must for the good of the rest of the tribe. I’m not much interested in arguing about the upcoming impeachment. I see both sides of the thing and honestly, I am not sure how I feel about using this particular tool to correct the problem. While you could make some nebulous constitutional arguments on how things could go, the precedents are fairly clear, so the procedures and outcomes will be left to those beyond our pay grades. I am ok with that. I will still second guess their actions, but it is what it is, as someone recently said. What bugs me is the number of folks in the Senate, on both sides, who have said they don’t want or need to hear evidence, since nothing could change their minds. I don’t like that level of certainty or earnestness, in anyone. Keeping an open mind to the fact that there might be things you don’t know or that you could even be wrong about things is a hallmark of intelligence. Any fool can hold on to that hobgoblin of foolish consistency. But, let’s say I am wrong and that they are right, which is gonna be tough since they don’t agree with each other, but just for the sake of argument, let’s say they are. What harm is there in hearing things out? Even if they have to hear a truth that they don’t like and still don’t change their beliefs, wouldn’t it be smart to at least pretend to be going in with an open mind? The sad truth is, it is probably not. Many of these folks are being rewarded for their obstinacy, so they are going to keep it up. You ever wonder why nothing ever seems to get done in Congress anymore? It is because so many seats are safe. The great majority of these officials aren’t worried about having to fight for their districts, gerrymandering has guaranteed that there are very few seats that are really in contention. So, they may do a thing you don’t agree with, but they know you aren’t going to cross party lines to vote for someone with a different letter after their name. What if I D gets on the school board and institutes socialism? Or an R wins the county clerkship and cuts taxes on the wealthy? 

We built this system. We have created the logjam of legislation we have been living with for much too long. This loyalty to parties instead of policies has rewarded obstinacy and punished bipartisanship and the spirit of compromise that was the basis for the very Congress we now see failed by its members. It is a lot like that time I was trapped in the backseat, flying through the darkness in a death trap piloted by a madman who did not care what happened to me or the Kid or anyone on the streets. It was dangerous then. It is dangerous now. Demand better and if they won’t give it to you, then don’t give them your support. Instead of primary-ing them with someone even more extreme, put your support behind more centrist candidates who understand that this cannot continue and that the only way to get back on an even keel, is if we all move more toward the middle, prepared to give as much as we take.

After our wild introduction, the spider man and I became close friends, but it wasn’t till I established boundaries. There are a lot of folks like that in positions of power, they don’t see you until you stand up and let them know that if they want something from you, they are going to have to earn it. If we don’t hold them responsible for their transgressions, who will? These folks work for us, and I don’t much care for an employee that announces they aren’t going to do their job before it even starts, no matter which jersey they have on or who’s butt they are kissing. Extreme partisanship is kind of like this shout into the dark, it didn’t start easily, but once it did, well, it will just go on and on until someone says enough. We have got to start respecting the rules of the road again and stopping at the red lights. I can’t do much about our politics, but I can put an end to the words. So, stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.