When I was in college, I went out with friends one night to a pizza restaurant that doubled as a place that sold beer to underage kids. While we were at the restaurant, I ran into a long lost friend and she invited me to sit with her at her table for a while and catch up. The girls I came with wanted to go somewhere else, so my friend promised she would give me a ride home.
As the night wore on, my friend and I gradually turned our attention to the rest of the table. Her friends wound up being a bunch of frat boys and their (very attractive) groupies. Their fraternity always turned my sorority down for socials, so I was kind of interested in seeing what made these guys so great.
For more than an hour, I sat there and listened as the guys laughed boisterously and talked loudly about a lot of things, but mainly their girlfriends – who might as well have been blow up dolls. I learned what these poor girls would and wouldn’t do in bed, what embarrassing things the boys knew about these women’s bodies, every deficiency I could have imagined a man thinking about a woman, and then some. I also learned some other things . . . like how many times the boys had paid off the cops for this thing or that thing, how they flaunted their money, and how completely different their world was from mine.
Finally, it was time to go, and these boy-men got up in mass, all swaggery and beer-sweaty in wrinkled polo shirts and backwards hats. I turned to my friend to ask where her car was and she said, “Oh – we’re catching a ride with him.”
“Him” turned out to be one of the boys who I’d watched drink beer after beer all night long.
“Ummm . . . “ I said nervously, “Are you sure? I can drive. I don’t mind.”
The guy wouldn’t hear of it. He was cocky and untouchable and he. was. driving. This was the pre-cell phone world, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I guess I could have asked the restaurant for a phone and called someone, but I wasn’t sure who was home on a Friday night that would come and get me. I had heard stories about friends being compromised when they were alone in cabs, so that didn’t seem like a good option either.
So this is how I found myself, along with about six other people, climbing into this boy’s huge pickup truck. We drove several places before he took me to my sorority house . . . lunging all over the yellow line and sometimes taking up the whole road in his truck. Everyone laughed every time he made a mistake. More ridiculous stories regarding conquests and cop-schmoozing ensued.
Meanwhile, I sat in the back and sweated. With visions of a memorable Mothers Against Drunk Driving presentation I heard in sixth grade in my head, I prayed and prayed and prayed. And I made the kind of deal that frightened, desperate people make . . . bargaining that if God would keep us all alive that I would never get in the truck with someone behind the wheel as cocky and drunk and as hateful to women as this kid ever again.
That was roughly 14 years ago. I have no idea what happened to the frumpy frat boys. I don’t know if they got married or stayed married or went to work at their daddy’s businesses or what. I hope they grew up. I hope they found God or a good woman or something that made them feel ashamed to talk they way they did that night. I hope they learned to value life enough not to flagrantly drink and drive, and I hope they learned that daddy’s money can’t solve all of life’s problems. I’m guessing this probably happened to at least some of them because there is a world of difference between 21 and 35 and the reality of life can be a great equalizer.
But I know they didn’t all grow up. I know this because I’ve encountered some of them in my work as an adult. I’ve met them at parties. I’ve seen them on the internet. Their names are different. Their associations are different. But I’ve watched them call me to their office to look down my shirt and I’ve heard them boast about breaking rules that other people have to follow and I’ve seen how they whip out a check book whenever trouble appears on the horizon. And, as is always true of this type of man-child, they always seem to be surrounded by a crowd of groupies: well-dressed, attractive women and men who are enticed by the perception of power that this type seems to radiate.
Even though I’ve shared social and professional spaces with this kind of overgrown fraternity boy my entire life, I can at least say that I have never gotten in the car with him again. I’m an adult now and I’ve learned to have a backup plan. I’ve learned to politely remove myself from his company. I’ve learned to respect myself and the people I care about enough to know the red flags for this kind of egotist. I’ve learned not to get caught up in his party group. After all, I made a desperate promise in the back of that truck 14 years ago that I’d do what I could to stay out of that situation, and so far – I’ve been able to do it.
But a month before we elect the next president of the United States, I have the slightly sick feeling that I’m about to be in that truck in college all over again. There are some differences of course . . . this proud, swaggering frat boy is 70, not 21, and his “tan” is from make-up instead of too many beer parties on the beach. But the big things – the red flags – are the same. The way he talks about women, the way he uses his money as a shield and a sword, the way he believes the rules don’t apply to him, the way he is surrounded by beautiful people claiming his mistakes are excusable because he’s just a “boy being a boy”: these markers could have applied equally to any of those boys around the table that night in Athens.
I could write a more educated article about why I can’t vote for Donald Trump. I could fill it with policy concerns and pointed examples. I have drastic differences of opinion from Mr. Trump that I would gladly point out. But at the end of the day, those things pale in comparison to my gut feeling that electing him to president would be the equivalent of getting in a drunk, over-confident, womanizing college boy’s truck and praying for four years that I and all those in the cab are going to come out of a supremely stupid decision unscathed.
The options may not be palatable, but they make more sense to me than that.