A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


A friend of mine we'll call him Joel had to go to traffic school last week.

For the second time.

In two months.

Joel isn't the worst driver in the world, although his wife we'll call her Annette might argue that point. She has pretty much worn a "sympathy brake" hole into the passenger's side floorboard in the family van. During nearly 26 years of driving with Joel her life has flashed before her eyes so many times she's beginning to think she should collect acting residuals.

Watching him negotiate rush hour traffic recently she mentally made out her will so many times her brain got writer's cramp.

Which is why she sent him off to traffic school with simple instructions: "Pay attention."

Joel is a little hurt by all the fuss his family makes about his driving.

He has been driving for more than 30 years and has only been involved in one minor accident, which was the fault of the other driver. Aside from a few speeding tickets, his driving record is spotless.

"You may not have been involved in many accidents," his eldest son we'll call him Joel Jr. is quick to point out, "but there's no telling how many accidents you've caused."

So Joel went to traffic school to satisfy his family and his insurance company (which has never actually driven with Joel but has recently raised his insurance rates as a consequence of those tickets). He wasn't expecting to learn anything until Officer Holland began talking.

Officer Holland is a veteran police officer who obviously knows what he is talking about. He is in superb physical condition, with forearms like Popeye's, only without the anchor tattoos. He had just completed a tiring graveyard shift, so his eyes looked bloodshot and just a little ornery. And he was about to leave on a long car trip with his wife and children.

Clearly this was not a man to be trifled with.

For 90 minutes Joel and about 45 other traffic school attendees received a rapid-fire education in driving do's and don'ts from Officer Holland (not counting the 20 minutes or so they spent watching a 40-year-old Disney cartoon, with Goofy illustrating three different kinds of bad drivers: Timidicus, Figitus and Neglecturus). He talked about how attitude determines how people drive, and how a bad attitude plus years of driving experience was often the worst combination with which he had to deal.

Joel squirmed a little bit on that one. He knew he sometimes had a bad driving attitude. But what are you supposed to do when everyone else on the road is such an idiot?

Joel also squirmed when others in the class started talking about their driving pet peeves: people who drive while talking on a cell phone (guilty!); people who drive while eating (guilty!); people who drive while shaving (guilty!); people who tailgate slower drivers in an attempt to force them to move over (guilty!).

Of course, Joel also shared a few pet peeves. When he mentioned those who drive with a child on their laps, Officer Holland shook his head angrily.

"That's something I just won't tolerate," he said. "If I catch someone doing that . . . there's just no excuse. That's like using your child for an air bag."

By the end of traffic school Joel felt like a born-again driver. Today he is driving a little slower, concentrating a little more and trying to be more courteous and patient even with . . . you know . . . idiots.

Like Officer Holland said, it's never too late to change your attitude. It will make the road safer for everyone not to mention the peace it will bring to Anita and I.

Er . . . I mean, Annette and Joel.

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--- Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through