Saturday, March 15, 2008

Here’s a bit of personal advice. Look for oncoming traffic when making a left turn out of your neighborhood. Obviously to prevent your car from being destroyed and to prevent anyone from being injured, but also to keep you out of a 7-hour Defensive Driving course on a Saturday almost five months after the accident. It was not a fun experience. Here’s what happened.

8:45 a.m.: My dad and I arrive in the parking lot after searching for the building for ten minutes. We locate it as a large, grey concrete establishment hidden behind a line of stores and completely free of identification. There are three unmarked doors. One of them has a metal 7 hanging from it, I assume to alert deliverymen where to drop off the firearms, because this place looks like the set of a snuff film. The inside isn’t much more promising. It’s one dirty room with a computer, TV, long plastic table, and some folding chairs. Surprisingly the floor is not sticky with blood. The sole employee, sitting at the computer, is textbook old man. You can tell this man spends a lot of time looking at stamps through a magnifying glass. He asks for my information and needs clarification several times. The last thing this man heard clearly was probably Ronald Regan’s Inaugural Address. I tell him my street name: Greatwood Court. After three rounds of: “Great-what?” “Wood. W-O-O-D,” he writes down “Greatward.” A guy has to be a frequent customer at the hospital to misinterpret wood as ward. Finally he tells me, “All you can do is have a seat and make yourself at home.” I’m the second person in there so I hear him repeat that exact message to the next 6 people.

9:00 a.m.: Time for class to begin. The teacher hobbles to a desk in front of the TV and puts in a DVD. He handles it like an artifact from another galaxy. The DVD contains a PowerPoint presentation, which he reads to us for 45 minutes. It includes pointers along the lines of “It is illegal to not wear a seatbelt.” When he finishes I’m exhausted from the excitement and caught off guard when he throws a pop quiz on road signs at us. I shift to pop quiz mode and begin reviewing in my head. Have I ever driven a car before? Do I know what road signs mean? And, most importantly, just in case there’s an emergency, does the obese man sitting next to me look knowledgeable? I feel confident and whiz through the exam. Of course I peek at my neighbor’s answers. I’m not risking taking this class again because I was too proud to be sure that the triangle means yield. Our answers look similar and I score a 90. It’s easy to calculate my score in my head because there are 20 questions and I missed 2. The guy next to me also missed 2, but he multiplies 18 by 5 manually on his paper to determine his score. Maybe he’s not the genius I was hoping for. Things are going well. It’s time for the first 10-minute break.

9:50 a.m.: A few of my peers go outside for the break. I don’t know what they’re doing out there. Smoking? Sitting in their cars? Robbing local shops? I spend the time clearing out the old text messages from my phone and staring at the poster near me featuring spirited students at a Milton High School football game. Wow, I think. Their douche bags look just like our douche bags. I wisely brought the new Entertainment Weekly with me. I flip through it for a few minutes and decide to ration it off. I need to save the good stuff for later in the day.

10a.m.: The break is over and class begins again. This hour is more of that superb PowerPoint I got to enjoy some of earlier. The teacher reads it out of a binder with a the kind of slow southern drawl that makes me think he is likely the direct descendant of a plantation owner. His rolled-up jeans support my theory. The PowerPoint is more of the same. I notice time has begun to move more slowly, like a wounded pirate hobbling along in the Boston Marathon.

10:50a.m.: The second break. I bust out my magazine and browse through it, taking my time. It’s a decent issue. I notice a sign on the wall that reads: Crackers 50¢ Candy 60¢ Soda $1.00. It looks like it was hung during the Coolidge administration. I don’t know who would want to put anything from this room in their mouth, although I am tempted to find out how candy from the Great Depression tastes. And the soda was likely made with cocaine.

11:00a.m.: Surprisingly enough, class begins again. But this time something’s new. There’s no PowerPoint. Instead the teacher puts in a DVD called Extreme Driving Quiz, and boy is it a treat. It recommends fighting back against kidnappers if they try to shove you in the trunk of your car. Excellent tip, I think. I’ll be sure to sue the makers of this video when I’m shot in the kneecaps for doing that. I also learn that someone’s car breaks down on active railroad tracks every 2 hours in the U.S. I spend the remainder of the movie trying to comprehend how slim the chances of that are and how badly that statistic is exaggerated. While I’m doing this the teacher is filling out forms on a typewriter. Not surprising, considering the nature of this man, but a little odd considering there is a computer less than a foot from his typewriter. I suppose this man isn’t a big supporter of electricity.

11:50a.m.: It’s lunch time. We’ve got until 1p.m. to be back in the dungeon of a classroom. I walk to Nantucket Sandwich Shop and am suddenly put in an odd situation. I’ve never been in this restaurant before. There is one table of people there: three teenagers who aren’t eating anything, which means some type of exchange is going down there, either baseball cards or drugs. I don’t get close enough to find out. There are two people behind the counter watching my every move. I approach them and have no idea what I want. The only intel I have is that this establishment makes sandwiches, which could mean a lot of things. Sub sandwiches? Hot sandwiches? Knuckle sandwiches? There’s a menu posted on the counter but it would take at least 10 minutes to go through it, so I have to take a risk. “Can I just get a turkey and cheese sandwich?”

“Yeah,” responds the teenage clerk. I’m in luck.

I request it on wheat bread, pay the $7.25, and take a seat. While I wait I realize I haven’t specified anything more about the order. What if it’s with Swiss cheese? I’m strictly anti-Swiss when it comes to cheese and textiles. What if it comes with some odd sauce or other crap on it?

The sandwich arrives and it looks good. I see nothing strange on or around it, although the cheese remains a mystery. I take a bite and find it to be delicious. Nantucket Sandwich Shop hereby receives an official recommendation.

12:15p.m.: I’m done with my lunch. What am I supposed to do for the next 45 minutes? I take out my EW and read most of it, even the stuff I usually wouldn’t touch. The restaurant is filling up and I feel a little odd to be sitting alone reading about Cashmere Mafia being picked up for another season, but whatever. If it means not having my license suspended I’d publicly read about anything. (Unless it’s in Oprah’s Book Club. I have to draw the line somewhere.) I leave $2 in the tip jar and head for the bathroom. There’s a sign saying 10¢ Pay Bathroom. I can’t tell if it’s just part of the restaurant’s beach d├ęcor or real, but I take the risk even though I don’t have any dimes. If the sign is true, there’s got to at least be a garbage can back there. I find the door and I’m good to enter unpaid. My pee is free. I leave Nantucket and head back to HQ. Three hours to go. I can’t wait.

1:00p.m.: I go back inside the door marked 7 and wait in my seat. The other people file into the room. I have no idea where any of them went for lunch, but I do hear the man sitting next to me tell the teacher that he spent his hour purchasing a sweatshirt at Walgreen’s. I also find out he has a Scottish accent. After the chitchat class starts again. The instructor gives us a sheet featuring some gas-saving tips including: “Driving with the windows down increases drag and wastes gas.” A hot tip that very well may save me half a cent over the course of my life. Once we’re done with the sheet there’s more PowerPoint goodness. How they managed to fill this many hours with a slideshow of text about changing lanes and seatbelts I don’t know. My attention is waning and I look around the room. There are shelves full of items like compressed air, blank CDs, and napkins. It looks like the stash of a criminal who steals from Office Depots and keeps to a $5 per item limit.

1:50p.m.: Another break, more Entertainment Weekly. I also text message a friend who had to endure this class one week ago to ask about the final exam. I’m worried because a) I don’t want to screw up and have to take this class again, and b) I’ve had bad luck when it comes to driving exams. It took two tries to get a Learner’s Permit and three for a license. I swear half those tests are trick questions. But those things are in the past. This upcoming exam is soon. My friend assures me it’s all common sense, but I’m still a little worried. That’s what they said about the other tests.

2:00p.m.: More PowerPoint. I’m trying to pay attention to be absolutely sure I don’t fail the upcoming exam, but it’s difficult. The instructor has the charisma of a roll of toilet paper. Single ply. I zone out and stop listening. I know he’s talking, but I don’t hear it anymore. I feel like a deaf person at a symphony. I glance up at the TV every now and then to read what he’s talking about, which is currently speed limits. A peer asks about speed limits on Georgia highways and tells us a funny story about being pulled over for going 80 in a 55 in Ohio. He’s an entertaining guy, about 25 and wearing a large coat with the hood up. He seems like he does crystal meth. When his story ends the class again becomes the time-warp of boredom it has been for several hours. Hopefully something exciting will happen soon.

2:30p.m.: The TV suddenly turns off! Right in the middle of the slideshow! A mystery is afoot. The teacher investigates as quickly as his horribly slow legs allow while the students look around at one another confused. Was this planned? Is it part of the show, like a haunted house? Will a man dressed as a zombie bust out of the bathroom and terrify us while roller skating? Sadly none of those things happen. One of the phones is dead and something near the computer beeps every minute. Being the trooper that he his, the teacher soldiers on without the assistance of the television. Paying attention is now much more difficult without the visual. Two of the older guys in the class try to get to the source of the beeping at the computer but neither is successful, not even the hotshot Starbucks drinker who’s been on his BlackBerry since class began. He seemed eager to please us with his computer skills, but he comes up short. He is visibly disappointed with himself. The instructor continues reading the slides out of his binder.

3:00p.m.: The teacher tells us we’re supposed to watch another movie now, but we can’t since the TV is out. I thank whoever the kind worker is who chainsawed through the power cable. Or maybe someone is being tortured next door and ripped out some wires in a desperate escape attempt. We’ll never find out because we get to take the final exam now, instead of at 4 as was planned. This is an excellent surprise. The exam is fairly easy but of course I make sure my answers look similar to the guy’s next to me. It never hurts to be sure, even if the questions are to the tune of “When is it illegal to back up on an expressway?” We grade the tests together, so really I could have just waited to hear the answers and marked them down. But it doesn’t matter because I got a 95. Truly an impressive performance. I’m good to go; the class is over. Or is it?

3:05p.m.: The teacher hands out surveys for us to grade him and the location in 6 categories on a 1-5 scale. I score random numbers from 2 to 5. When it comes to surveys I find confusion is the best strategy.

3:15p.m.: My dad picks me up and I’m home free. What a terrible way to spend a Saturday, I think. But thankfully it’s over and my record at the courthouse will be wiped clean. I’m looking forward to next Saturday, which will hopefully be free of PowerPoints and old southern men.