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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   January 2009

Last Call

Our reporter takes alcohol servers' training to learn what it takes to be on the front lines of the battle against drunken driving.

Story and photos by Donna Clayton



Today I join the army.

Alcohol server
The author with her temporary server's license
and some of the tools of the trade.
(Photo by Lisa D. Fryxell)

Readers of my work here in Desert Exposure have told me they like my "experiential pieces" — stuff like my humorous attempt to learn belly dancing, my one-year "walker's journal," the time I tagged along with our local search-and-rescue team, my geocaching adventure. Heck! Even that onerous jury duty piece!

And for me, it's a fun way to meet people, learn new things and make a living, all at the same time.

But before folks get the wrong idea about my joining the army, let me reassure the reading public that I'm not talking about a "GI Jane" experience. No, the "army" I am joining is that force of people who try like heck to keep us safe on the roads by keeping drunk drivers off those roads.

While it does not come with a cool camouflage wardrobe and rifle, serving alcohol in New Mexico is nonetheless a "front lines" type of experience. Our state is infamous for its DWI problems. The television ads featuring Gov. Bill Richardson proclaiming, "You drink, you drive, you lose!" are the stuff of popular culture here. Attorney General Gary King recently proposed to ban the sale of caffeinated alcoholic beverages statewide in an effort to help prevent and reduce underage drinking.

And a proposal was put forth just last month that would change DWI rules, allowing state police in Bernalillo and San Juan counties — eventually expanding throughout the state — to file signed affidavits at license revocation hearings in hopes of decreasing the number of procedures that are dismissed. In New Mexico's last fiscal year, ending June 30, nearly 19,000 DWI arrests were made, and 6,056 drivers charged with DWI subsequently requested hearings to avoid having their driver's licenses automatically revoked. Of those, 2,341 cases were dismissed when the police officers could not appear at the hearings due to schedule conflicts.

Getting back to that jury-duty piece I wrote (May 2007), while omitting names to protect the, pardon me, guilty, I'm proud to say that my service helped to convict a drunk driver. Many on that panel of citizen volunteers sympathized with the gentleman — "Hey, who hasn't driven a little tipsy?" more than a couple of jurors asked each other.

For the record, back in my college days, I did drive what I consider "impaired" exactly once. Truly. Once. Knowing myself to be a lightweight when it comes to alcohol, I always made sure I had a safe ride home — and those were the days before "designated driver" was a household term. One scary night, my ride fell through and I decided I was "good enough" to drive myself home. The morning after, I was horrified to see my car parked askew in the driveway, evidence that I was more inebriated than I'd thought when I got behind the wheel. I could have killed someone! Never again, I resolved.

Now, I was just a rowdy young fool. In that case for which I sat on a jury, our defendant was a sweet-looking gray-haired gentleman obviously over the age of 60. It was hard for a couple of my fellow jurors to say the word "guilty," knowing it most probably meant jail time for the old man.

But at the end of our deliberations, the fact remained that this person had imbibed more than a dozen beers, gotten behind the wheel and seriously injured one person and nearly killed the other in the car he slammed into that fateful day. After our verdict was rendered and my civic duty done, someone inside the court system told me that, prior to this arrest, our kindly looking "gentleman" had been stopped for DWI more than a dozen times.

How does something like that happen? My mind, I confess, boggled.



And so, right in time for the notoriously alcohol-sodden holidays, I am taking the state's Alcohol Server Training, to see what's taught to those on the front lines of the DWI battle. There are several neat things about this for me. If the economic climate in our country gets any worse, I'll be able to walk right into a server's job and supplement my income with bartending or waiting tables. If one of our community groups needs a volunteer who can legally pour wine at their events, I'm their woman! And since I am taking this class to write a story, I get to write off the $40 registration fee.

But what of my classmates?, I wonder. People who are getting this certification just so they can nail down a job that pretty much pays them in tips or minimum wage at a cash register — can they really afford to front these two double-sawbucks? Do their employers or potential employers foot the bill?

As I sign in at the Pro Force Training Center in Silver City where this afternoon's five-hour class is being offered, I decide I will ask some of my classmates. Unfortunately, that will be impossible, as I am this session's only student. My instructor, Butch Cassidy — I kid you not — says attendance depends on timing.

"There's usually eight to 10 people," Cassidy says. "It used to be that they sometimes had to wait a full month to get into a class. Now that the classes are offered more frequently, people say, 'Oh, I'll just catch the next one.'"

In the state of New Mexico, anyone serving or selling liquor — from bartenders and waiters who pour at your table to cashiers in grocery stores where the stuff is sold — must get a server's license within 30 days of starting a job where he or she will handle alcohol. New Mexico has required licensing for alcohol handlers for about four years now, and Cassidy says many other states are falling in line.

"It's definitely the trend," he says. "With fines and penalties, your liquor license on the line? Everybody wants to know they are protected."

As for footing the $40 class fee, Cassidy says sometimes an employer will help an employee out and pay for the required training class. But this isn't a good idea legally, he adds.

"The license belongs to you, the server," he says. "If something bad comes down, like you serve somebody and they get into a wreck, the establishment doesn't want that coming back to them, no way, no how. And if they paid for your class, it could be seen that they're involved with your license, and believe me, they don't want any part of that."



While we wait to see if any other people are showing up to take this class, Cassidy and I discuss Pro Force's various training offerings. A retired police officer with more than 20 years of service, he is one of the company's founders. Pro Force, he says, has other facilities throughout the state, and offers alcohol server certification classes in Las Cruces as well as here in Silver City, where Pro Force is housed in the old Turner Airport on Hwy. 90.

There's also a shooting range, and the company offers a variety of classes in gun handling, including Concealed Carry certification. There are classes in Basic First Aid and CPR, Basic Security, Miner Safety, Safe Food Handling and Crime Scene Investigation — a booming area, Cassidy notes, joking that the TV program, "CSI:," has put that career in the spotlight and given it, well, a sort of cachet.

Turns out my "army" analogy isn't far off. Pro Force provides training for members of the military, the US government and even special-ops forces. Cassidy describes some of the special training missions in Playas — the former mining town now run by New Mexico Tech for security training — in which he has had a leading teaching role.

"We turn the whole place into a living, breathing Iraqi village," he says, describing in frighteningly colorful detail the life-or-death role-playing that goes on in the special exercises: people hidden in closets, soldiers breaking down doors and entering unknown situations, attempts to draw combatants' fire. Cassidy describes scenes of adrenaline-provoking mayhem.

"You know what's the absolute scariest thing we teach, though?" he asks, then pauses for effect. "Driver's ed!" he says with an explosive laugh.

Okay, I put aside my fears that this class is going to be a dry recitation of stats and laws.



Giving up on any more students showing up and buckling us down to the task at hand, Cassidy outlines what I can expect from our session today. I am given a workbook for our open-book test at the end of class and the paperwork I'll need to fill out to get my permanent license from the state. I'll be given a temporary server's license today — provided I pass the 50-question, multiple-choice test — and will receive my permanent photo ID from the state in the near future.

It's like a driver's license, Cassidy says, and it will have that same photo of me that's on file with the motor-vehicle department. Thank goodness I had that updated! Cassidy laughs when I tell him how I'd recently gotten a new driver's license made, since my old photo — me with an unflattering haircut and weighing nearly 20 pounds more — was increasingly rejected by bank clerks and airport check-in personnel as not looking enough like me to provide convincing proof of my identity. I show him my license, now with a photo I am proud to present to anyone demanding ID.



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