By Charles Berg
Our ship, the USS Portland LSD 37, ( see photo) was in port tied up at the pier on Little Creek Amphibious Naval Base in Norfolk, Virginia. This being my 21st birthday, I wanted to go out and celebrate but I was new to the ship. I had not even gone to sea on her before. I had just reported aboard and was also new to the Norfolk area. I had no idea where to go to have fun on my birthday.
I had a car. That was rare among the sailors around there, so three of my new shipmates made me an offer. If they could go with me, I would drive and they would buy the drinks. Remember that this was a time when we did not have or had even heard of a designated driver. Since I was going out anyway and they were willing to buy drinks, this would save me money. As an added bonus, my shipmates enthusiastically agreed to help me celebrate my birthday.
After work, we all went to the berthing area (sleeping quarters), took showers and got dressed to go ashore. Once everyone was ready, we all headed out.
Little Creek Navy base was surrounded by bars that primarily sold beer. Very few bars in the area offered mixed drinks, so initially we hit one of the beer bars. At the first bar, we ordered a pitcher of beer and some glasses. This was followed by an ever-growing number of pitchers until we decided it was time to try another bar. We repeated this process of going from bar after bar until I actually lost count of just how many we hit. I must admit that I was getting a little drunk.
“The next stop is the last stop before I head back to the ship,” I announced.
However, my shipmates decided that since it was my 21st birthday, I needed to have my first legal hard drink and chose a place where we could get one. When we arrived at the bar, I was carded.
“Its your 21st Birthday!” the doorman said enthusiastically as he looked at my ID. Then to my delight he added. “The first double is on the house!”
I ordered a double shot of Jack Daniels but before I could throw it back, I had to use the men’s room. I left the drink on the bar and when I got back, my shipmates had already ordered a double shot of Everclear and a beer. So there I sat with a double shot of Jack.
Naturally, I drank them all down but it was not an easy task. Before I got the last one down, my shipmates had already ordered another shot of Everclear. Drunk as I was, I surprisingly had the sense to say, “That’s it! No more! We need to get back to the ship!”
I managed to get that last 200-proof shot down with no idea how close I was to keeling over from alcohol poisoning. Then we were off!
We were not far down the road before I needed to pull over and puke. My buddies, none of whom were more sober or any more qualified to drive than I, recommended that we keep on going.
“If you stop, the cops will bust you!” They warned.
This seemed to make perfect sense to me, well, because I was smashed. I was well aware that ‘driving under the influence’ was a crime for which many folks get busted. However, I never heard of anyone getting a ticket for ‘parked under the influence.’ I guess I should have known better.
I rolled down the window, had my buddy take the wheel and then power-puked into the warm, humid, Virginia night air. When I pulled my head back in from hanging it out the window, I noticed the two guys in back seat, who were laughing so hard that I thought they would cry.
“What is so damn funny?” I slurred.
At that, they started to roll around in the back seat laughing hysterically. Then one of them said, “The guy behind us is using his windshield wipers and it ain’t even raining!”
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