What if everyday was like Saturday morning?”
—Drive-By Truckers**

When I walked out of the Widespread Panic concert at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta last NYE (glimpsed below in all its disco-dazzle psychedelic splendor) and into 2020, there’s no way I could have possibly predicted all the death and disruption of the next 12 months.

But I had a plan. Or, at least, a resolution.

I was going to drink more water.

Stay hydrated, y’all. Relieve two over-taxed kidneys. Avoid the scorn of a cheap Peachtree Mall optometrist who peered into my pupils then said straight up, ‘You gotta drink more water.’

Turns out, my resolution was a moot point in the chaos of the next calendar year. And I ain’t talking about all the crazy shit that’s gone down all over the world. I’m talking about my own downward spiral.

John Bell fronts the fun and fury that is Widespread Panic. 12.31.2019

Wide-eyed and wide-awake despite no sleep in 48 hours, I was rolling into the ATL as the sun set on 2019.

Shifting into high gear to make it in time to pre-game the Panic show at the Fox, I was blinded by brilliant beams of the white dead-of-winter sun right as I rounded a curve going 85 MPH into a wall of stopped-dead traffic.

I hit the brakes so fast and furious that I fishtailed out into next lane > spun 360 degrees by a sports car that clipped my tailgate > knocked stupid by the SUV that slammed into me from behind at full-speed. Though shaken up and freaked out, I was coherent and free from bodily harm. Still, I told the EMTs that arrived on the scene that I banged my head against the top of the steel door frame.

Next thing you know, I am strapped to a stretcher that’s rolling across 5 empty lanes of intestate blocked off by police. I said I was fine and didn’t need medical treatment but the EMTs told that telling them I hit my head was a registered complaint, By state law, I had to be examined.

Pushed up and into their ambulance, the EMTs also tell me no way they’re going to release me with my blood pressure that high. In fact, if it didn’t drop, they were going to check me into the Grady ER. No way I was missing the show so I breathed real deep and easy for about 90 seconds and got it lower. That and answering the question of who was the president that proceeded Barak Obama (W!) secured my release.

A tow truck dropped my truck off at a tire shop then drove me to my 1-Star Motel Ratchet. I was too late to meet friends lodged amidst Atlanta’s bustling glitz up the hill catty-corner from the Fox. So I strolled in solo. Show was a blissful blur. I stumbled a scary few blocks back down the hill and on the wrong side of the tracks.

I passed two homeless families living out of a U-Haul truck in the motel parking lot.

R.I.P — My beloved 1984 F-150 on the side of I-85. 12.31.2019

My deep and restful 1-Star slumber was cut short by my boy giving me a lift to my truck, its body battered but with a new tire of bright black rubber replacing the one crushed in the wreck.

Unshaven, stinky and stoned in clothes not changed in daze, I made it south to I-185 before I popped a Budweiser to sip on the final stretch home. Hitting Harris County, a shiny black Dodge Charger sheriff’s car pulled up right on my tail. He followed me for about 5 minutes and I knew it was only a matter time before he flipped on the blue lights and I was fucked.

Officer Doolittle didn’t like the cut of my jib and ordered me out of the truck immediately. He got a whiff of beer and asked if I had any drugs. I replied, ‘No sir,” and watched him root around to find a pipe and a pathetic crumble of marijuana not big enough to pack it.

“WHY’D YOU LIE TO ME AND SAY YOU AIN’T GOT ANY DRUGS?” Officer Doolittle, buff and bald with a booming redneck baritone, shouted as he showed me what he found.

“That’s not drugs, man—that’s weed.”

After the humiliation of a field-sobriety test done with folks I likely knew drove past me trying to toe the line, I blew a 0.0 on the breathalyzer brought in by Georgia State Patrol. Doolittle kept asking me what I was on.

Cuffed and stuffed in his backseat while he dipped tobacco and spit it into a giant Gatorade bottle, I heard the Sugar Bowl broadcast I had been listening to as well.

“What’s the score now?” I asked all buddy-buddy like, having resigned to the fact that I was going to jail.

Clenched jaw and neanderthal neck turning back to me, Officer Doolittle said with firm monotone, “DON’T YOU FUCKIN’ TALK TO ME.”

My bail was $130. But the Dawgs in the Sugar Bowl was coming on and nobody’d come get me. Not Mama, not my cousin, not my buddy, not a friendly fling’s cool mama who lived down the road. It was New Year’s Day and the Dawgs were on in primetime. I get it. It was fine, though—they outfit you only in orange Crocs in Harris County jail holding cell and they serve sweet tea.

I slept 13 hours solid and Mama was there with an affable bondsman to spring me about 10 a.m.

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
– JOHN STEINBECK


“Everybody got a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth. Then they ain’t got no plan.”
– MIKE TYSON

That round-trip to Atlanta cost me.

The truck was totaled. Backwoods judge threw the book at me on two misdemeanors (Open Container, Possession of Marijuana) and sentenced me to $1,300 in fines, 12 months probation ($274 a month), 40- hours community service, $360 Risk-Assessment Course (3-day DUI School basically).

But all that was a mere bump on the road to rock-bottom.

I was deemed too crazy for Mental Health Court (I showed up high as a Georgia pine, sleep deprived and arrogantly assured of everything) so a felony case got kicked back into criminal court. Then I upped the ante by getting charged with a felony and misdemeanor that landed me in state-sponsored rehab in the form of 135 days in the Muscogee County Jail.

The only thing to drink in the jail is water.

So I dang sure did keep my New Year’s resolution in 2020. Couldn’t have planned it better if I tried.

I’ve made New Year’s Resolutions more years than not in the past. Only other ones I remember sticking were a boycott of Wal-Mart (haven’t stepped inside one since 2003) and vow to never wear white socks (brightening my life since 2012).

So how to even approach such lofty and life-altering goals in 2021? How to keep promises to yourself in a world gone mad?

I came to a couple conclusions:

1. The gap that exists between Your Expectations and Your Reality is where Anger lives.

2. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Thus, for 2021 I resolve to nothing specific. To not reach out for something only to push it way.

This year, I resolve to find solace and success in that free-floating displacement found only when gravity’s gone. This year, I resolve to Just Be.

*******************

Much ado about nothing from one man typing high above beautiful downtown Columbus, Georgia, at Electric City HQ of the 4th floor of the Heritage Tower, Scattershot is a weekly feature composed ECL Editor Frank Etheridge. It rambles on while reflecting on the week behind.

Lady Columbus watching over us from Heritage Tower.

**Taken from lyrics in the song, “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife” by the Dive-By Truckers, a band that gives me infinite inspiration.

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