Saturday, August 6, 2016

Unsafe at Any Speed

If I have to be trapped in a room with 14 millennials for 8 hours, I want to pick the millennials.

It's not like I have a categorical disdain for that generation, because I have plenty of friends who fall into the age group. If you look at some of the best music, books and art ever created, it was done by people in their 20s, so I'd never make a gross generalization about an entire generation.

Never, except after spending an entire day at traffic school with only three other adults and the rest of the participants millennials.

As my father would put it: ye gods!

My heart began to sink when I walked in the classroom at the Hampton Inn to find not one, but two screens on to entertain the room through registration and waiting for the tardy until class began. One was showing the testosterone-fueled '80s gem "Top Gun" and the other the Olympics.

Arriving when I did was young Emily whose Mom dropped her off with an over-protective look and wave, as if she were abandoning her baby at a lion's den.

So imagine my surprise when we had to go around the room and share why we were there and young Em admitted that she'd been caught in New Hampshire driving 103 miles an hour. Her excuse? She was driving a friend's "really old Cadillac and the speedometer was broken so I didn't know how fast I was going."

Which was all well and even pitiable until the instructor, an overly tolerant former New Yorker, informed us that the main problem with new cars is that, unlike older vehicles, they're so quiet and smooth that you get no real sense of what speed you're going without looking.

Sorry, Em, but you probably did know you were speeding. Teacher's response? "You've got a lawyer, right?"

The class was primarily made up of speeders - 72 in a 35, 58 in a 40 - all of whom claimed that they'd had no idea they were going so fast when they were stopped and apparently none of whom had the sense to look at the speedometer to find out at any point.

Teacher said the record, at least for the classes he's taught, was a group of five motorcyclists caught doing 160 mph on Route 288. In a show of solidarity, all five came to class together.

Needless to say, much of the eight hours was devoted to the hazards of distracted driving, no doubt because people like young Melissa (69 in a 50 in Botetourt County) said things like, "I forget to pay attention when I'm driving. I just get so distracted!"

There was a great deal of commiseration going on among the millennials, mainly about being caught and inconvenienced by having to waste a Saturday at school. Unbelievably, three of them had two tickets in less than a month.

To no avail, I'm sure, Teacher spent a huge amount of time on the dangers of cell phone usage, whether talking or texting, suggesting that people put their phones in the glove box or trunk before getting behind the wheel.

Yea, as if.

The class voted to take only a 20-minute lunch so that we could hopefully finish earlier than scheduled, a plan I was fine with.

As I left the overly-cold meeting room to seek warmth outside while eating my lunch, young Em pulled out a Ziplock bag of Cheerios, much like a Mom might bring along for a toddler. I didn't ask because it's better if I don't know why she's eating dry cereal for lunch.

Odd eating habits and obliviousness aside, what drove me craziest was the traffic school behavior of the under 30 set.

The two guys in the back row talked to each other almost constantly, whether we were watching an instructional video or the teacher was going over salient points. I was grateful when he told them to keep it down and downright amazed when a woman later said the same thing less politely.

But they were far from the only talkers. A group of about seven of them made comments, shared personal anecdotes, cracked jokes and generally just did not stop talking the entire day. Even when we were doing a group exercise - a quiz, sort of - involving watching a screen showing traffic incidents so we could then identify the mistakes, they blathered on.

Everything is a group discussion for these people.

Ignoring them as much as I could, I did learn all kinds of new things today. Like how side mirrors are supposed to be positioned, which is nothing like what I was taught back in the dark ages. That American horns beep in the key of "F." That drivers kill more deer than hunters.

But easily the most depressing fact shared today is one that seemed to register not at all with the class. The average American spends 8 hours and 20 minutes a day on their cell phone. That's also, by the way, more time than the average American sleeps.

So, at zero cell phone time and nine hours sleep daily, I can't help but qualify for the odd American out.

The good news is, we finished class an hour early (Teacher and his wife were having an engagement party for their son tonight so he was highly motivated), were awarded the certificates that will expunge our driving records and I could escape confinement with the clueless.

Aware of my old lady driving habits, when I told friends I'd gotten a traffic ticket, two of them had the identical incredulous response. "Surely not for speeding?"

Surely not. I haven't had a ticket of any kind in at least three decades.

No, it was all because a VCU cop had nothing better to do on a rainy Thursday night at an empty intersection than ticket me when the yellow light turned to red as I passed under it. There's a reason people mock VCU cops.

My debt to society paid with the cruelest of sentences - an excruciating confinement with millennials - I can go forward again with an unsullied record, my head held high and only one lingering question.

How the hell can you not know you're going 103?

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