We are all one drunk driver away from the big end.

 

Cruising back from Chico on I-80 on a Saturday night and this is what’s going through my head as cars whizz around me. It’s been a wonderful holiday, just left a quick fly-fishing session in Chico Creek after dropping my daughter off at school. Lots to be thankful for, but I can’t stop thinking about Steph.

 

Death after a long life is sad but expected. Death at 27 at the hand of a drunk driver is tragic. Death at 7 at the hand of a drunk driver is unconscionable.

 

The memorial was packed as they usually are at Duggins. I was happy to be posted up outside talking with ex-students, friends and total strangers about a life cut short for no good reason. A woman with a French accent introduced herself and explained that she didn’t know how these services worked and she was not sure what to do.

 

“This is pretty much it,” I explained, “stand around in shock telling stories and feeling sad. Nobody knows what to do but it helps to feel the pain together.”

 

“I can’t believe she’s gone, and her beautiful little girl too.” She said. Steph did her nails at Crush Beauty Bar. We cry together, strangers no longer, united in tragedy.

 

Estephania was a force. Positive, spunky, quick to laugh, strong. She graduated from Creekside in 2008 then put herself through cosmetology school and had since become an esthetician. She also had a miracle of a daughter and had established a good life in Sonoma. I hadn’t seen her in many years but kept up through the Sonoma grapevine. She was one of those people who are blessed with a very strong bullshit detector and she had no problem telling you how she really felt. One of the real people. She was honest, assertive, resilient and an excellent mother.

 

She lived out in Glen Ellen on the property of Old Hill Ranch. I learned this when Will Bucklin walked over and explained how nice it was to get to know Estephania. Will is not the most outwardly emotional fellow but even his voice was cracking as he consoled Steph’s relatives in his broken Spanish.

 

People like Steph make my job easy. They make work fun. Derailed from the regular educational system, they enter my program and soon realize that we are all on the same team. That it’s not about falling down but getting back up. Surround yourself with people who love you, work hard and laugh. The world is gonna miss that laugh.

 

Some drunken guy weaving down highway 12 hit Steph’s car at 7:45 in the morning. Unfortunately, the drunks usually live in these situations, as was the case here. Steph died at the scene and her daughter a few days later. There is no way to rationalize or understand deaths like this. It’s just tragic. But it is also avoidable.

 

This is where I go into the horrible statistics about drunk driving. That someone dies every 51 minutes (6 deaths in Sonoma County in the last few weeks), that it’s a totally solvable problem. All the stuff you already know.

 

What you might not know is that if you drive drunk, you have a drinking problem- period, and you need to deal with it before things go bad. Because things always go bad http://valleytalking.blogs.sonomanews.com/2016/06/14/day-san-quentin/.

 

Also, if you think you drive better when stoned, you are wrong. Booze and pot slow your reaction time because the neurons in your brain are not firing correctly. You need your neurons to fire correctly when you are steering a 2000-pound bullet.

 

Our community’s economy is based on alcohol and in a month if you are over 21 you will be able to walk into a store and buy all the weed in whatever form you want. Will this lead to less impaired driving? Kinda doubt it. Will there be more Stephs? Probably.

 

And since nobody f-ing reads and we’re both just a little of tired of my preaching, I’ll stop there.

 

Getting woke in the wine country is up to you.

 

I pull into my driveway happy to be home but unable to shake the sadness.