Sunday, August 5, 2012

Trifling With Traffic School

Trifling with Traffic School
Elizabeth Willis Barrett..........July 14, 2012
My grandkids just finished watching Toy Story I.  While making puzzles with 6 year old Claire, I kept my eye on the movie and praised its cleverness.  Then I saw something that sounded very familiar.  Woody and Buzz Light Year are desperately trying to catch up with Andy and the moving van.  Woody takes a match--his last--attempting to strike it to light up a rocket that is sure to propel the two macho toys straight to Andy.  When the match goes out before the mission is accomplished, Woody loses it.  He falls to his knees and beats his head against the pavement, all the time moaning, “No, no, no, no, no!”  
A nearly identical scene of grief was acted out by myself recently.  I had finally made it to traffic school to work off my unfortunate yellow-light-sneaking ticket.  I say finally because I had at first paid the unconscionable $360 fine only to find that that admission of guilt bumped me into the Motor Vehicle Department’s disciplinary program that insisted that I then take a Traffic Survival class that would cost another $200.  Because of a kind Mesa City Court Clerk and a kinder judge, I was allowed to retract my guilty plea and instead sign up for a four and a half hour regular Traffic School class.  Upon completion, most of my $360 fine would be refunded.
So, once again saved from my own ignorance, I almost enthusiastically signed up for a class held on a Wednesday from 7:00 to 11:30 am.  I had everything ready the night before so I wouldn’t be late and arrived at a huge bank building on Boston and Arizona Avenue in good time, especially for me.  Too bad I hadn’t paid attention to where to go once I got to the building.  It could have taken me in several directions, but I even had the Traffic School phone number and the answerer of that number directed me.  
I was ready.  “Everyone needs to take this class once in a while,” I thought as I waited for my turn to walk up to the teacher with my $205 money order and my ticket.  My ticket?  Oh, oh.  I had shredded my first ticket hoping another one wouldn’t find me.  And the ticket that had been very sneakily hand-delivered at my front door was thrown away because I had paid the fine.  Why would I want to hold on to that?  I had other papers, though, with my docket number, my infraction number, my name, etc. Surely that would be acceptable.  No?  They needed a copy of my ticket and would take nothing less?  Seriously?!  (I could almost hear the instructor say my grandson Barrett’s favorite line, “I’m seriously!”)
So......with a crimsoned face I took my leave of that early morning class that I had worked so hard to get to on time. My old self would have started crying which would have been even more embarrassing.  But I am trying to take life more casually now, philosophically believing that everything happens for a reason.  I got in my recalcitrant yellow-light-running mini SUV and drove up Arizona Avenue--past Williams Field, past Guadalupe, past Southern, clear to First Avenue in Mesa.  I got to the Mesa City Court and promptly got a copy of my traffic ticket.  I had never taken time to look at that ticket during my last two opportunities.  Yep, that was me in the picture, no doubt about it--sun-glassed and hell-bent for the Institute Building to pick up Kyle. 
When I finally got home after a much deserved and enjoyed visit to the Mesa Library for a stack of books on CD, I immediately signed up for another traffic school class, painstakingly refilling out every *required field.   It isn’t easy to sign up for a class.  They are usually far away and at times that don’t coincide with one’s schedule.  
Luckily, there was a class on the next Saturday.  I would have to come home from the mountains early but at least it was the same Traffic School company that I had already made my money order out to and in the same building so I would know where I was going.
This was a very full class of law-breakers.  I didn’t want to stand in the long line, so waited until the end to take up my check and my retrieved ticket.  Should I have the “chance” again, I won’t be the last to pay.  “The first shall be last and the last shall be first” doesn’t apply in traffic school.  If you pay last, your name is the last one read to receive your certificate.  And you can’t leave the room and get on with life until you get it.
Our instructor was a very genial and informed man.  He had an interesting stomach that hung over his belt with astonishing hugeness, but after I got over its interest, I tried hard to concentrate on his words and learn what I came there to learn.  I even took notes.  Did you know that the “gore area” is that spot before a freeway exit that is marked by two solid lines that come to a point?  Don’t ever enter it.  Did you know that if you get high centered on a railroad track and have to leave your car because a train is coming that you should run toward the train?  Not on the track, of course.  
Things were going along well until the teacher gave us a one and only break.  He warned us that if we weren’t back in exactly 18 minutes, the doors would be locked.  Our class was held on the 3rd floor of the bank building and because it was Saturday, the doors were locked and had to be opened from the inside.  He would leave a “student” at the door to open it for us until exactly 18 minutes later.  If we weren’t back on time, we would be shut out from the class and would have to take it again.  The threat hit its mark.  “Please don’t make me retake this time-eating, money-eating class!”  
Because it was lunch time and I was starving and had forgotten to put granola bars in my purse as I had remembered for the Wednesday class, I got in the car and drove to Jack in the Box, as did several of my classmates.  I don’t know what possessed me--some Ghost of Minutes Long, or something.  Because when I drove the two minutes to Jack in the Box, I actually chose to go to the bathroom before ordering.  What a stupid thing to do!  The instructor had already given us full permission to leave the class for bathroom purposes.  Why take even a moment of the valuable 18 minute break time to go to the bathroom?  Then I ordered.  Not a full meal.  Not a greasy, calorie infested hamburger with fries and a shake.  No, just three cheese sticks.  That’s all I wanted.  Three fat-oozing cheese sticks that could hold me over ‘til the end of class.  It took forever!  I stood there trying to determine exactly when my 18 minutes would be up while my stomach rolled at the thought of getting locked out.  I should have just left the place cheese stick-less, but $3.00 is $3.00.  Time and money always seem to be an issue.  
I was definitely tempting fate.  Since fate hadn’t been helping me out much lately, that was a very chancy thing to do.  After snatching the finally offered bag of repast, I hurdled into my car and lurched it into submission.  But I quickly realized that I couldn’t drive directly back the way I had come. Arizona Avenue has an island that can’t be crossed in certain places--certain places that were very important to me at that moment.  I couldn’t turn left, so I had to turn right, stop at a light that was, of course, red and then make a U-turn back again.  I was near to sobbing.  If it would have helped, I would have rolled down the window, shaken a fist at the heavens and screamed, “Eighteen minutes for a lunch break is ridiculous!”  
I couldn’t speed back to class.  Another ticket wouldn’t have helped my cause.  So I prayed.  “Please, please help me get back to class on time.  Please, please let there be someone there to unlock the door!  Please say that the instructor was just joking when he said he would lock us out.  Please, please, please don’t make me have to take the class again!”
I slammed into a parking space and ran to the door with my unopened bag of  cheese sticks.  The door was locked.  Just like Mr. What’s It said it would be.  Locked!  I crumpled.  My hands slid down the glass with my nose sliding above them.  “No, no, no, no, no!”  Thus my similarity to Woody.  And all for three cheese sticks that would probably never get eaten.  
I picked myself up with great effort and was just about to slither back to the car when three other students came dashing around the corner of the building.  I wasn’t alone!  I had someone to commiserate with.  Someone with whom to bellyache about the unfairness of it all.  
“We got back on time!” the blond careless looking young man claimed.  “The clock must be wrong in there.”
“I can’t take this class again,” the hard diminutive woman voiced.  She looked like cigarettes had painfully smoked the life out of her.  “I’ve got eight kids.  I’m a single mom and I’m the only one who works.  There’s no way I can pay another $200!”
My life looked pretty good after that declaration.  
The third delinquent looked stunned into silence.
We all tried both doors again.  We all peered through the glass with our faces smashed and distorted trying to conjure up a soul who would unlock the door.  We all cursed the dutiful do-gooder of a door keeper who had carried out his duties so precisely.  We all looked in our phones to see if somehow we could find the Traffic School phone number even if it was a Saturday.  Nothing.  Our lateness had belted us in our tender stomachs making hope whoosh out.
And then came the miracle. 
“The instructor told me to come down and let you guys in,” said the assigned and accursed door keeper as he pushed the door open from the inside.  We’d been saved!
Up the elevator to the third floor, I assume we each said our own silent prayer of thanks.  I said mine anyway.  Then we entered the stuffy instruction room  and sat in our chairs nonchalantly as though we hadn’t just been a howling, sniveling mess of humanity. 
Relief blanketed me.  Once again I had been rescued.  “Oh ye of little faith,” I seemed to hear in a far corner of my mind. I felt like Woody must have felt when he miraculously landed “kerplunk” in the box right next to Andy. 
I finished the class.  I got my certificate--the last person in the room to do so.
I drove home with care and a feeling of liberation, stopping obediently at any hint of yellow.  Non-obediently--since we were taught in class not to eat while driving--I reached inside the offending bag of cheese sticks, brought one out and took a bite.  Cold and rubbery.  Definitely not worth the consternation they had caused.  But I had made it through another of life’s crises.  All was well!