several years of driving with a clean record, most of it while I
was awake, the unthinkable happened. On a recent drive, after turning
up the radio while singing along with the high parts of Boston's
"More than a Feeling," I looked into my rearview mirror and saw
something we all dread. No, it wasn't one of my daughters and her
boyfriend in the back seat fondling each other's iPhones, but the
ominous flashing of lights. Yes, I was being pulled over by the
Like most drivers in this situation, my heart started pounding,
and I broke out in a cold sweat-as if my wife had just asked me
to take my three daughters to shop for swimwear. As I pulled to
the shoulder, anxious and somewhat irrational thoughts raced through
my mind: "Is my driver's license expired? Has the Nyquil worn off?
Am I currently wearing pants?"
When the officer came to my window, dressed and equipped like he
was about to take down an entire drug cartel, he asked for my license
and registration, and informed me that I had been speeding in a
twenty-mile-per-hour school zone. Although I wasn't sure that my
vehicle could actually travel that slowly unless I was pushing it,
I thought it best not to argue (or mention the Boston). Instead,
I simply told him I didn't realize that I was in a school zone-and
that my water just broke. No, really, I just admitted that I wasn't
paying attention and the next time one of those police officer foundations
called, I would donate my children's entire college savings.
Unfortunately, the officer said he couldn't just give me a warning
since I was in a school zone, even though I said "Sir" a lot. As
he walked back to his patrol car to prepare the citation while countless
drivers passed by and gawked, I did the embarrassed doofus-slump
as far down in my seat as I could get, until my nose got hung on
the bottom of the steering wheel. When the officer finally came
back to my window, I took my ticket, thanked him for the important
work he did, saw him roll his eyes, and pushed my car the rest of
the way to the high school to pick up my eldest daughter. Naturally,
I blamed her for the ticket.
When I went to City Hall to pay my fine later that week, the clerk
suggested that I take a defensive driving course so that the violation
could be removed from my record and I could brush up on my safe
driving skills-like how to avoid road rage when the driver in front
of me sits there updating his Facebook status on his cell phone
after the light turns green, instead of updating it once he gets
going again-like a normal person.
Rather than taking a face-to-face defensive driving course, which
inflicts the added punishment of having to get up before noon on
a Saturday, I opted for the reading-intensive online version. With
my crack English major skills, I figured I could breeze through
the course in no time. I soon realized, though, that the course
is programed to require you to spend enough time on each screen
to translate the entire text into Mandarin Chinese.
In addition to the reading, there were also occasional videos that
appeared to have been produced by film school students in the early
1980's. My favorite video focused on tire safety. It featured an
attractive couple (complete with shoulder pads and feathered bangs)
standing beside a stack of steel-belted radials while making flirtatious
banter amid segments dealing with proper inflation, premature tread
wear, and optimum performance. (I'm pretty sure that one was rated
I did eventually finish the course, and I actually learned a few
things, like how to read about air bags while ordering hamster food
on Amazon.com-all from the comfort of my wife's bathrobe. Most importantly,
I learned that while driving, you should be vigilant regarding school
zones, especially when your favorite jam is on the radio.
"I closed my eyeeees, and she slipped awaaaaaaaaay!"