Blue lights exploded into my car.
"Fuck. Fuck. FUCK!"
My whole body clenched. I somehow managed to ease to the side of the road as my mind whirled into hyper drive. Should I say I was drinking? Do I do the Breathalyzer? What do I do with my cigarette? Is my seatbelt on? Do I smell like I'm drunk? I know I look like shit. Where's my gum?!?
Is there any way out, is there anyway out, isthereanywayout, isthereANYWAYOUT!?!?
The police cruiser spotlight shot into my rearview mirror, pretty much blinding me. But I heard the officer's door open and close. That was it. In that moment, I knew my whole life was about to change. I would be fired from my job as a reporter at WKRN. The news will get out, and the media and country music worlds will know.
A wave of surrender flowed over me as my mind decelerated. I'm going to start all over again, I told myself. A complete do-over. It could've been the vodka and Jager, but one thought took over: Tonight, whatever happens is gonna happen, so don't fight it.
"License and registration?"
Before my window was all the way down, another question: "Have you been drinking tonight, sir?"
"One or two."
So much for not fighting it.
"Do you know why I stopped you?"
As a matter of fact, I didn't. After drinking downtown, I was heading over a bridge to catch Ellington Parkway to get back to my house near Opry Mills. That's when I discovered I was out of smokes, so I veered onto Dickerson Road — where awesome things always happen — to stop at a gas station. I left and took a right onto Douglas to get onto Ellington Parkway. That's when the blue lights arrived.
"Your headlights are off," the officer said.
While I was still in the bar, I had called Zingo, the company that sends out a driver and drives you home in your own car. But the company had sent me a text message saying they were backed up, that it would be an hour or more. And I was the kind of guy who wanted what he wanted right now — a sack of burgers, a chat with that cute girl, cigarettes, or to get home.
What I was about to get instead, that February night little more than a year ago, was the end of everything I'd worked for. I would lose my job, my standing and the spotlight I thought I wanted. And it would take me months to realize it probably saved my life.
But it didn't feel that way at the time. I'm the kind of guy who loves attention, loves laughter, loves women, loves to be the big man. And I'll go pretty far to get there — even if that means making jokes at your expense, sober or drunk. I never needed a drink to be a jerk. Huge ego, but wildly insecure at the same time.
Maybe the worst thing to do is to give a guy like that his own newspaper column.
I didn't start out as "Brad About You," the sarcastic, bombastic celebrity news columnist who was sometimes loved, often hated and once "voted off the island" by the readers of the Scene. I put in five years as police reporter for The Tennessean, covering the hardest of hard news stories: fires, murders, police corruption, the "Fantasy Man" rapist, all of which culminated in a 30-day series about living undercover next to projects in East Nashville.
To blow off steam, I'd often have a few drinks with Banner police reporter Glenn Henderson. We eventually formed a group of drinking buddies to play poker, go boating, take road trips and, well, drink. Inexplicably, The Tennessean's editor asked me in 1996 to start writing a daily celebrity news column. At first, I resisted. I never listened to country music. I didn't even watch TV or go to the movies. And yes, I love to joke around and laugh, but I'm a serious reporter, you know. The police beat and all.
But my ego kicked in (sometime after a dozen or so colleagues told me not to let my ego kick in). I mulled over the possibilities and eventually — well, you know. My face on Page 3A every day, an expense account, a billboard, radio interviews, invitations to parties and restaurant openings. It was heaven. On top of that, I eventually landed a second job as morning-show sidekick on pop station 102.5-FM The Party, and I was off to the races.
Alcohol was everywhere — the Music Row events I covered, the fundraisers I hosted, the radio station-sponsored nights at the club. Other folks would have a couple of drinks. More and more often, I found myself doing a couple of shots after a couple of drinks.
I can't lie; I had a lot of fun, often kept things in control, lived something of the frat-boy dream. But once in a while, my drinking got out of hand. And that started happening more frequently.
I had started out as a weekend warrior, binge drinking on Friday and Saturday, recovering Sunday, then it was back to work on Monday. Then we added guys' night on Wednesdays. And what about football games on Sundays? Eventually, Thursday was the new Friday, right? Remember Dancing in the District? Cheers!
But I would rarely drink on Mondays or Tuesdays — unless someone asked me to.
After a Sounds game one night, some friends and I headed over to the Tin Roof on Demonbreun. I slugged down a couple of my favorites — double-tall-vodka-soda, lime.
I normally was a friendly, people-pleasing drinker, so when some of the guys from the visiting Tacoma Rainiers came in, I told the bartender to put the first round on my tab. A few rounds later — my blood-alcohol level approaching an MVP's batting average — I got a large round of shots on a tray and started passing them out like a watery-eyed Santa.
"Shots for all my friends!"
Yeah, I actually said that.
The first baseball player I approached was a guy known as "Baby Bull" (because he was not small). He declined, saying the team had a day game the next day. I moved onto the next player, Jermaine Clark, who spent some time playing for the Detroit Tigers.
"Hey, you gonna take a drink or be a pussy like your teammate?"
Clark squinted and started to get up from his bar stool.
"Are you calling me a pussy?"
My buddy Peter quickly interceded: "Hey, my friend's had a bit much to drink, and we enjoyed the game, and he definitely didn't mean it like that."
OK, fine. Defused. My penance came later, when word spread through the bar that the drunk bald guy was paying for drinks. The bill was $310.
"It's $310!" I shouted. Screw it. We had fun. That's how I thought I had to get friends. The more I drank, the more I began to believe it was appropriate to tell them about my undying devotion to them.
After some pretty heavy drinking one night, my core group headed to Bar Nashville (now Fuel) to dance. I noticed a sign above the bar declaring that So-and-So held the record for most Bar Bombs, grain alcohol-infused "bug juice" served in plastic fish bowls.
"He only drank 12? That's nothing!" I roared. "I'm breaking the record tonight."
No one thought this was a good idea.
Undeterred, I drank about seven-and-a-half before getting dizzy and sitting down in a big puddle of beer. This, of course, is the moment I decided to engage in some sloppy sentimentality. Looking around at my friends laughing at me, I concluded with misty eyes that no one had a finer group of pals.
"Hey," I slurred, "I love you guys. Even if I were sober and my butt was dry, I'd say the same thing. I love you guys!"
These were not isolated incidents, of course.
The invitation was for the opening of a dueling-pianos bar on Demonbreun, called Chi-Town, I believe, and it was on a Wednesday night. Perfect. That was guys' night, when the fellers and I — and any woman who wanted to drink for free — would meet up for beers, shots of Jager and Tuaca and Fireball and whatever else. Here I could meet the guys for a few and then head on down to the open-bar festivities!
An open bar is as good as an all-you-can-eat buffet: bottomless consumption of an endless variety of treats. I think if I'd ever encountered an all-you-can-eat buffet that had an open bar, I'd probably be dead. But I digress.
Rookie mistake: We showed up drunk to the open bar. It wasn't long before I ended up locked in a Chi-Town bathroom with a young lady acquaintance. We were in there for about 10 minutes. This did not sit well with the 15 people lined up outside. When we emerged, there was some shouting and finger-pointing.
"Oh, Christ, it's that 'Brad About You' asshole. Asshole!"
That shiv to the ego sliced through my booze fog, and I decided to head out. That's when I ran into a High Powered Talent Booker who invited me to ride along in his brand-new Mercedes with his brand-new hot young driver to see a brand-new band at the Exit/In.
I grabbed my then-wobbly buddy Bobby to join. As soon as Bobby sat down in the back of the brand-new Mercedes, he started emitting loud wet burps.
About 10 seconds later, he filled the back seat with a stream of vomit. He drowned the hot young driver's small designer bag. I ran into the bar, got as many towels as I could, and gave the hot young driver $60 cash for the bag. I wrote a check to the High Powered Talent Booker, who could only slowly shake his head.
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