Life Lesson #54 – Drive Me Crazy

When I decided to get my New York State Driver’s License, I knew that I would have to endure a 5-hour driving class. I expected it to be boring… but I never expected it to become one of my most insane stories of all time.

For starters, approximately 10 minutes of the 5 hours had any relevance whatsoever to driving. The instructor was clearly on the spectrum. Combine the lack of self-awareness and people skills with a high-strung authoritarian personality and you’re in for a treat.

He starts barking orders at us like dogs the moment we arrive. Nothing is clear and there are arbitrary rules like having to keep your folder open and your pen uncapped at all times.

Each of us was given a different folder with newspaper clippings of random articles. The guy next to me doesn’t get one. The girl next to him is given two. She tries to give one to the guy with none and is abruptly told not to. I try to share mine with him and am barked at too. So he sits there without one.

About 4 hours of it was going through these clippings, which we were expected to have details memorized. He would bark “who has Daniel Boone” and you were expected to know if that was one of one of the people named in your folder of clippings. That was the real name of one of mine, by the way. He’d say “how old is Daniel Boone”, and the person would urgently scan the article to locate the answer. “Where is he from” “What did he do?” “and then he…” etc etc etc. If they had trouble finding it, he would be extremely irritable and moan about how we have to keep moving because we don’t have much time.

For the record, Daniel Boone was (at the time of clipping anyway), an 18 year old who was homeless for a while but ended up getting accepted into Harvard.

Super relevant to defensive driving.

On to the next newspaper clipping.

After about 7 or 8 unrelated inspirational stories, he would say “see, all these people have good attitudes. You’ve got to have a good attitude when you’re driving”.

And that wasn’t the weirdest part. Most of the lessons were far stranger.

He made us read articles all about people who killed family members or sabotaged food with diseased syringes, the dark web, new drugs we’d never heard of, eventually telling us “you never know who you’ll encounter when driving so you have to stay alert”

He made people role play being a woman who smuggled a dog home from Tijuana (Mexico), miming how she bathed with this dog and licked its face, then later discovered it was actually a Mexican Sewer Rat.

And then other people had to role play being a dentist who was found doing awful things to his young patients, and list off all the horrible things he did to them.

The moral of that section was “if you let people do what they gonna do, it’s gonna come back” (still trying to work out what that means).

Three times, while referring to people who were disabled for whatever reason, he scrunched up his face and hands and mimicked physical disabilities.

He told a misogynistic joke where the punchline included a man wanting to smack his wife because she wasn’t cooking for him anymore.

He wrote “N——R” up on the board and said “I don’t want to offend anyone here given there are a lot of races in the room but when you’re feeling road rage and you think angry things about other people that’s bad so if you ever think something terrible about someone try and replace it with something else. Now, everybody: name a word that starts with N and ends with R?”

We all looked horrified, but he forced us to list things in order. “Nicer”, “number”, “navigator” etc. I said “New Yorker” and he fist bumped me.

Side note: he’s black.

He spent a lot of time hitting on one of the girls, who was clearly uncomfortable, and being particularly abrasive to one of the guys.

He would say obscure acronyms like “KIM” and “JIM” and go around the room forcing everybody to guess what they stood for – and jeering at anyone who was too slow.

For the record, it was “keep it moving” and “just in motion”. I’m not sure if those acronyms were meant to teach us something about traffic – he certainly didn’t make any connection.

Eventually he told us that he himself had failed his driving test 17 times and that every tester in the 5 New York boroughs had known who he was by the time he passed.

At one point he started to put on a DVD and I was so relieved. It was a recording of Dr Phil talking about all these people who have died texting while driving. He turned it off after about 2 minutes and said it was boring.

Instead, he pulled out a fake telephone and made people role play – from a script – complaints about the class being 5 hours when it should only be 2. He would then give them an impossibly difficult road rule (one was about the gear system of a bus), and when they got it wrong or couldn’t answer, he would play an audio recording from his phone of someone shouting “NO!” or booing.

And then say that’s why it was 5 hours long. Because he cared so much and didn’t want us to leave without being prepared for all the difficult questions in our tests.

And then we read a story about a girl who had to have all her limbs amputated after contracting a flesh-eating bacteria from a zipline.

At the end, he passed around surveys.

You had to write your name at the top, and give it back to him without folding it. He would read it and get upset if you didn’t write a comment.

Every single person except me gave him top marks out of fear of disqualification. They’d rather say he was a good teacher than risk sitting through it again.

By the time I realized the feedback wasn’t anonymous, I’d already given him the worst possible marks. So, I folded my paper and put it in my pocket. I started to prepare a little speech explaining that I didn’t feel comfortable giving feedback and was opting out.

But I never had to deliver it: just before getting to me, he got distracted, picked up a bag, said “did I give you guys a half hour lunch break?”, and when we said no, he said “goodbye” and walked straight out the front door.

I’m still shellshocked.


Editor’s note: despite the 5-hour class giving me nothing but a good story, I did pass my driving test on the first try. Only 16 fewer attempts than my instructor.