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Small Talk: Tales from traffic school

I felt like a break in my regular routine and I needed a good laugh, so I spent Saturday in traffic school.

Well, it wasn’t my first choice, but it was cheaper than the Ritz-Carlton, and this well-meaning motorcycle deputy insisted I try it. I just couldn’t say no. Although the menu and room service lacked a certain something, it was an amusing change of pace. It certainly isn’t that I found anything entertaining about being nabbed at that stop sign. Neither is it funny to pay a triple-digit fine to the county for my poor judgment. Most of the laughs came from listening to my felonious classmates.

I always know exactly what I am being pulled over for and am not interested in trying to rationalize that I didn’t do it or find some technicality that will neutralize the state traffic laws. Not so with my young compatriots that day. A large portion of the time was spent listening to them trying to convince us that they should never have been stopped. Fortunately, once there, we had time to waste and besides, the stories are hilarious.

The excuses are amazing, although the attitudes are a little scary. The young men … the majority of the class … simply wanted to know which speeding tickets can be beaten in court. When the instructor dared to suggest that we might simply want to go the speed limit, one responded quickly, “I’d fall asleep!” No sadder-but-wiser man there.

One friend of mine suggested the state ought to offer traffic school based on age bracket. That might reduce the number of whiners I had to listen to, but it would ill prepare me for what is really out there on the roads. It’s not that I wasn’t arrogant in my youth. I’ve just reached that far distant place where it’s my job to find those young whippersnappers really annoying. If I heard one more, “but everyone else was doing it,” I was going to send somebody to their room.

My all-time favorite “why I got my ticket” story was from a guy who drove his 4-by-4 right over a cement and grass center island to make an illegal U-turn — because he could. I had to thank him for doing something I have always fantasized about.

Anyway, I found it a day well spent. I didn’t have to drive children from one end of town to another, watch any Disney videos, make sandwiches, vacuum my house, do lunch dishes or lace up roller blades. I got to just sit and listen to one person talk at a time. I got to finish a thought uninterrupted. I also learned (or relearned) a thing or two.

I learned that I want to raise the driving age to 35. I learned that the in-house name for the flashing lights on the police vehicle are the “O.S.” lights. This comes from the first thing most of us say when we see them in our rear-view mirror. I learned I’m not the worst driver on the road, but my kids don’t believe me.

As swell as all this was, I learned that next time I want a mini-vacation, I won’t look to the CHP for advice. I’d rather be lunching at the Ritz.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer and still mediocre driver. Contact her at [email protected]