December 11, 2010 was the longest day of my life when I had to attended traffic school for a speeding ticket I got while driving to Los Angeles for the Thanksgiving Holiday. It happened on Highway 5, just south of the Grapevine going from 3200 feet downhill through Angeles’s National Forrest. About 5 seconds within my peripheral view, I spotted the Highway Patrol officer on the side of the road. Within three seconds, I braked noting my speed at about 90 miles which meant it would take me about three seconds to slow down to 70 miles. I was traveling about 135 feet per second. I passed the officer, but five seconds later he pulled from the side of the road after giving some poor sucker speeding home-bound a ticket, he spotted me and with his red flashing lights and summoned me to the side of the road. “Damn it! Another $500 donation to the state,” I swore to myself. The officer walked over and leaned with his arms resting on the side of inside of my window, “You were going 100.” Now, I admit that I was speeding at 90, but what the hell. Who is going to drive all the way to Santa Clarita in the middle of nowhere to dispute 10 extra miles.” No choice for me, traffic school it is. Back in the Bay Area, I go online to pay my fines and I sign up for traffic school. Somehow it feels more civil.
I saw that there were several schools with comedy and cheap in the name; Comedy for Less Traffic school, Great Comedians, Cheap N Fun. The names were endless. So I figured, if I have to suffer for eight hours then I should be able to laugh at my dilemma; so I chose Comedy Traffic School in Berkeley on Saturday. Great idea! I’ll deal with this before the New Year reigns and begin fresh.
Almost a month later on a stormy Saturday morning just before Christmas, I drive through the rain to arrive 8am at the La Quinta Inn on University Avenue, a dreary two-and-a-half-star AAA rated hotel. I go inside and ask the clerk, a twenty-something stringy-haired guy with blank eyes -where do I go for the traffic school. He points to his right towards a staircase covered in dingy red carpeting announcing, “Upstairs in the conference room on the second floor.” When I arrive to the second floor, I walk into a spacious room with a 1970’s popcorn asbestos ceiling dimly lit with chandeliers, carpeted wall-to-wall in a twenty-year old dizzying red paisley design with walls painted the color of baby pooh. The room itself was much too large and too cold for the small group of thirty-forty soon-to-be tortured violators.
The instructor appeared old and weary. He was a white guy who looked 88 years old, a gray-haired Air Force veteran who flew in WWII. Are you kidding me?? My great uncle flew in WWII and he’s been dead now for almost twenty-five years! His name was George Slayton. He was hard of hearing and he spoke painfully slow. George wore a navy blue shirt, dark grey trousers and a Members Only jacket with hearing aids in both ears. For an icebreaker, he told a joke, “An old farmer was stopped by a traffic officer going to town. The officer began to write out a ticket citing the old farmer for running a stop-sign with occasional stops to swat flies from his face. The old farmer said you kno’ those are circle flies. The officer said what’s that? Farmer said, circle flies ‘because they like to circle around a horse’s ass. His punch line was, “Never joke with the officer who is writing you a ticket.” The morning crept along minute by minute. By 11am, I felt lethargic thinking that I was not going to make it through the day. The young girl next to me was hiding behind her notebook and secretly texting her boyfriend. Everyone was struggling to stay awake. Why can’t he just let us go?
It was almost time for lunch. The instructor explained that he was required to keep everyone until a quarter to four and those we must return in time from lunch or we would have to stay to make up the time. Everyone rushed towards the door tearing down the stairs to escape the hotel. I drove around Berkeley, feeling relieved in search for something to eat. I drove down University to 6th Street then North to Gilman and back on to Pablo Avenue to Chipotle while listening to the Santa Claus Congress wars on This American Life. Everywhere the streets were packed with cars and people. My relief turned into a slight panic and my chuckles turned into cursing whispers as the minutes dwindled away and I still had not found food to eat. I circled the block a second time from Gilman and San Pablo and parked. Crossing in the middle of San Pablo, looking right and left hoping that no traffic cop was in sight, I ran across the street into the parking lot in front on Chipotle. It was my un-preferred meal for the day, a black bean veggie burrito with Pico de Gallo and extra guacamole. I sat at the counter and choked down my burrito. Glancing at my watched I calculated that I better get a start considering the rain and the Berkeley traffic to make it back on time for the remaining afternoon torture.
I proceeded down San Pablo and took a right Camelia St and then left on 8th. I arrived 8th and Hearts and saw the Ethiopian church I dropped off Ahmed to attend a funeral. Across the street was open art studio where I managed to run in and purchase a pair of silver earrings with tiny pearls to give to my goddaughter Asia. Six minutes left. I’ve gotta get going if I am to be on time, so back in the car down 8th Street. Just when I get to University, a community bus in front of me and traffic isn’t moving on University. It’s just my luck to get stuck behind a BORP bus (BORP stands for Bay Area Outreach Program). Ugh! Three minutes late, I slam my car into park and BORP my tail in the Quinta Inn and up the stairs into the classroom. Everyone looks at me as though I’ve screwed myself, but George was too self-involved and in the middle of another one of his excruciating stories about the time he purchased a Ford T-Bird Diamond Jubilee, the best car ever built. The torture stories continued for another three hours mostly about WWII; about how the German villages were absent of me who were away fighting. He told us how the German women loves the foreign soldiers and if you were an American soldier you were the most sought after male in most of the European villages. You could see the pride of his past while he cruised down memory lane.
3:30PM-George talked about the corporate bail outs and called President Obama the CEO of Ford, the builder of the most fabulous automobile in the western world. He described how his father owned an eight cylinder Model-T automobile. When he was 11 years old, he learned how to drive sitting on books behind the wheel of a Model –T. Wow! Okay, I’m struggling to stay away and I notice the Indian lady on my right whose chin is resting on her chest. She is asleep. The African American woman in front of me is beginning to look lethargic. I know my excuse is that I was up late drinking Crown Royal, but I wonder what her excuse is. George begins to talk about tire traction and tread calibration, and there is a sudden chorus of deep sighs. The African American lady turns around and says, “Kill me now.”
3:56PM- Four minutes left. Everyone is antsy. The folding chairs began to feel like concrete over an hour ago. You could hear the continuous vibration of cell phones signaling. A young woman in the row behind me whispers into her iPod, “This is killing me. When this over, I am never going to get another ticket again in life.” George announces, “You all can go in two minutes after I go over some important road tips in the case of mechanical failure.” George’s last tip for the road was if your fan belt ever goes out, use a pair of panty hose around the pulley until you can get to the next stop. It is great tips like this that makes traffic school worth every penny raised for the traffic violation and time well spent for California drivers. After all, we Californians need to be punished, right? We need to continue paying exorbitant fines and blood fees. It’s all for the greater good of Comedy Traffic School. To the repeat offenders and the sadomasochists; for your next traffic violation, remember to go and see George. Help keep old humorless chaps like him and other jobless and unemployable comedians working in the exciting field of Comedy Traffic School.