It was late at night and the streets were wet
with rain when I noticed police lights flashing in my rearview
The abrupt and unnerving flicker of a police light
invariably triggers a typhoon of nostalgia in my brain. I quickly
re-examined the last three minutes of my life. Had I been weaving?
Driving like a madman? Was this car stolen? I cautiously veered
off the road and brought my vehicle to a stop.
The police car stopped behind my car and a stern-looking
man got out.
I told the officer I couldn't possibly have been
speeding, that I was a firm believer in the notion that a safe
journey is better than a rapid one. The officer waved off my comments
with an annoyed swish of his hand and asked me why I wasn't wearing
my seat belt. He complained that he was more concerned about my
safety than I was, and to show me how much he cared about me,
he gave me a seat belt ticket.
If you're looking for some free training in how
to live your life, try not wearing your seat belt for awhile.
Eventually you too will be visited by one of Portland's Finest.
And, if you're like me, you'll get a seat belt ticket.
The seat belt ticket is a unique opportunity to
advance your career and to meet many new and exciting people.
What I like most about the seat belt ticket is that it gives you
options. And options are what living in America is all about.
Your first option is to pay the fine. You can forget
about that $76 you were going to blow on liquor and cigarettes
for the next week and give it to the City of Portland. Write the
check and drop it in a mailbox. The infraction will probably show
up on your insurance and you can send your insurance agent whatever
money you have left.
If you are not rich and famous there is a more rewarding
answer to the problem. You can turn your seat belt ticket into
an invitation to attend one of many free training classes offered
by the City of Portland.
This is the training program that virtually pays
you to participate.
At Seat Belt School, seat belt and health professionals
from the Portland area give you a stern lecture on how foolish
you are for not wearing your seat belt. The class is enhanced
by a full-color slide show, featuring actual photographs of lifeless
corpses, bloodstained highways, disfigured bodies and mangled
You'll hear heartwarming tales of automobile accident
victims and their shattered families. Did you know that a car
with more than three passengers or a cell phone is a recipe for
The class not only educates you on seat belts and
their subtle nuances, it also preaches the virtues of vigilance
and informs students about some hidden dangers of the road --
such as reckless speeding and driving under the influence of drugs
My class was an assemblage of 50 of Portland's meanest
rouges, deviants and intolerable scofflaws.
Week after week, similar miscreants are rounded
up and herded like livestock into similar facilities for seat
belt re-education. All of us shared the common notion that putting
on a seat belt is a lot of work. We needed to learn that everyone
would suffer for our selfish acts of defiance. By not wearing
our seat belts, we were ruining the roads.
The nurse who taught the class told us terrible
stories about accidents and showed us slides of gruesome accident
scenes. We saw a young girl, whom the nurse referred to as Cathy,
dead in a car. Her body was covered with a tarp, but her limp
and inanimate hand lay exposed carelessly on the steering wheel.
We saw another woman, Lisa, who had been in a serious accident;
the photo showed her lying in a hospital bed. She had been pumped
so full of blood to keep her alive that she was bloated and blue.
Perhaps she was drowning in blood. She had suffered
a terrible and sad accident and her life
would be irreparably changed. After that, I didn't want to watch
I decided that I would wear my seat belt on the
ride home, just for fun. I looked about the room and saw the dispirited
faces of my classmates. Their attitudes, once carefree and defiant,
had swung to grim acceptance and deflated obedience. There were
strange-looking men in the back of the room who appeared to be
scientists. Perhaps they were monitoring our progress, or perhaps
they were the second wave of attack.
Their pockets likely were filled with eye drops
and dozens of eyelid machines like the ones Kubrick used in "A
Clockwork Orange." But the eyelid-propping machines didn't
appear to be necessary this week as somber silence whitewashed
Everyone who didn't storm out of the building halfway
through the presentation passed the class.
There was a brief commencement ceremony and we received
diplomas. The nurse informed us we'd need to bring our diplomas
to the courthouse to receive absolution from our infractions.
After our release, some of the lucky graduates met
at a local bar to celebrate our seat belt diplomas with a couple
of stiff drinks.
Then we put on our seat belts and drove home.