the hazel project

on the path…traffic school

November 15th, 2008

L.A. Traffic is a sport. It is a constant source of conversation, inspiration for movies (Crash), (Koyaanisqatsi), a great ice breaker at parties and fallback excuse for everything under the sun. Traffic is to L.A. as dirt is to a farm. People ask me how I deal with it, and the answer is that I’m lucky that I go to work opposite heavy traffic everyday. I work in the suburbs, so while everyone is leaving to come to West Hollywood, or Santa Monica (shudder) or Downtown, I’m headed the opposite direction. Plus there are lots of things to do in the car on my 45 minute trip to Valencia everyday.

Sometimes I make phone calls, I listen to music, I think I might try to pass BMW’s in my VW – (I back down knowing I’d get smoked every time). Sometimes I listen to books on tape. There was an interesting book about personal financial growth at work so I decided I’d give it a try. Being a Dave Ramsey fan – to a degree – I wanted to see if this audio book by Suze Orman was contradictory to anything he said. The more I listened the more it made sense. I wondered if I’d be able to get past the Chicagoan accent, and eventually I did

One day I arrived in Valencia early and decided to stop by Trader Joe’s for some energy bars, and orange juice. On my way I’m engrossed in this Suze Orman book on tape, she’s telling stories, I’m laughing out loud and nodding my head. I’m feeling financially positive – the Dave Ramsey work had been going well; this is the next level, I’m ready! I exit the freeway and pull in behind a truck at the corner of Mcbean and Valencia blvd. I am Oblivious to how many cars are in front of me.

The truck in front of me begins to go, I follow – stimulus response – and then I saw it – the yellow light turn red – and there I was in the middle of the intersection. I speed up trying to clear it, realizing what happened, and then, FLASH, FLASH, FLASH-one more-FLASH goes off. I look around praying that maybe it was for the guy behind me. He was enjoying his morning coffee safe behind the turn lane. It was just me in that huge intersection with my pants down. You can feel it from the other drivers too – a collective, “ohhh…that sucks,” was put out into the space. That’s what I say when I see it happen to others. The flashes were for me. I knew what was coming. A ticket in the mail for about $400!

I was visibly upset. You can see shock on my face in the photo that was sent by the automated traffic light system. I think it’s funny they call this, “The Santa Clarita Red Light Camera Project.” As if it’s an experiment they’re just trying out.

JUST GIVE US THE MONEY.

One thing I’ve learned about L.A. is that everyone wants a cut of the money to be paid. Santa Clarita, the court, the paper-shuffle person who gets an extra $25 just because they have to file my mess up. $2 for the paying with a debit card and a random TicketMaster fee just to prove they own the word “convenience.”

It takes me a few weeks but I eventually pay. It turns out the city of Valencia considers this a serious crime and points will go on my lisense and my insurance will go up (A LOT) unless…(wait for it)…I go to Traffic School.

I dial the number and get talked at by several voices by the ‘Automated Information Labyrinth 9000′ computer mainframe.

I actually get confused shortly after the, “if you speak English press one,” prompt and have to dial again with my paperwork in hand to answer all the questions.

This time I pay all my fees online and I feel my throat close up and my chest get tight. This is my physical reaction when I feel anger, or anxiety.
Also I pay an extra $39 that allows me to receive a list of schools in the mail. I get the list about 5 days later and begin looking at my options close by. A closer look reveals the traffic schools are sponsored by comedy clubs and Pizza Parlors. I bury this sheet in my stack of stuff to do and forget about it for a while. Translation – so I can procrastinate.

As it turns out my friend Lisa who ran the L.A. marathon with me, ALSO got snapped and has to go to Traffic School. It must’ve been, “Aquarians who drive VW’s and Run Go Directly to Traffic School,” day. Fortunately for me, I talk her into both of us attending at the same time. I promise her at the very least, she’ll get a good story out of it, and maybe a photograph.

I call the number for Santa Clarita Traffic School. I think it’s really called, “Easy 123 Comedy & Traffic School” and guy named Mark answers the phone. He talks to me as if he were delivering dead pan Steven Wright jokes. He tells me what to bring and who to ask, for and where to show up.

WHISPERS
“Whispers” is the name of the lounge and meeting room at the Burbank Ramada Inn where my Traffic School is held. You know the album cover for “Hotel California?” This could be a close second if you disregarded an obvious poolside renovation circa 1985. Otherwise it’s perfect for a “Love Boat,” episode, Rod Stewart video or anything 1978. I think it IS the last place in L.A. you can still smoke. Poolside ashtrays are plentiful, and inside décor is replete with brass handrails and mirrors. LOTS of mirrors.

FIRE
As it turns out the fires today prevented Tim the Traffic School instructor from getting to the ‘Whispers’ meeting room.
So Lisa and I talk while I drink a cup of bitter decaf. She’s able to get a couple of pictures of humming birds and we move our chairs every 20 minutes to stay in the shade of the poolside courtyard. The sun is absolutely searing today. I have zero idea what to do with my day now that traffic school has been canceled. She decides to rest up for her marathon tomorrow. The 5 Freeway is shut down so I’m unable to go to work so I head back to Echo Park.

DownBeat Café
There’s a little coffee shop in Echo Park with a Jazz theme. I knew I was in the right place when I saw the 42 DownBeat Magazines hanging on the wall. They play Miles and Trane and Bill Evans along with standards and traditional blues. A new favorite place in other words.
They also make an amazing Americano and so I settled in, read my new book, and wrote this.

The day worked out definitely different than the day I had in mind but it is in keeping with my week, and turned out nice despite the fires and the cancellation of Traffic School. I am, however, ready to get this behind me so I can embark on my next adventure.

Jury Duty.

Now, there’s a tall German woman playing saxophone along with garage band loops. This is my cue to go to El Compadre.

Thanks for Checking in,

Stephen

3 Responses

  1. Linda Says:

    Great post. This made my day. I’m home with a sick child.

  2. Flopster Says:

    Stephen,

    I love reading your posts. IT’s been a while since I check in on you. I hope all is well. I’d like to see you join Facebook. I never thought I would - you know “kids stuff”, but actually I’m able to sort of keep up with lots of folks on there - see photos of thier lives, see what they are working on, etc. It wouldn’t replace this excellent blog. Give it a try.

  3. Jeff Says:

    That reminds me of the King of the Hill episode where Hank has to go to traffic school and ends up in a comedy traffic school taught by Buddha Sack. He talked about how white people have no butts. Then Bobby finds out he’s there and wants him as a mentor. Buddha Sack tells Bobby to be himself, so Bobby goes to a white supremacist website for jokes. Funny ep. Maybe you’ll have a Buddha Sack when you finally get to start.

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