The room was full of 15 year old kids. All the girls were wearing the exact same style of short gym shorts. Most of them had their hair up in a messy bun, but a few had it hanging down in their face where they could flip it over their shoulder every so often.
By contrast—I was wearing—actually, I don’t really remember what I was wearing. It didn’t matter. It was a Saturday. I was across town serving a sentence. It wasn’t as if I was trying to impress the row of boys trying to get their driver’s licenses.
He started by having them go around the room and state their name and what school they are from. “Wando” teen after teen said, naming the local public school.
Then he got to the two whispering, gum cracking girls in the middle. “B-E” They both said.
I figured out B-E stood for Bishop England—a nearby catholic school where the tuition is so astronomical that you pretty much have to be astronaut smart to make it worthwhile. They did not come across as astronaut smart. But here I am, judging.
“I went to B-E.” The 50-something teacher said. “That was back when it was taught by nuns. They used to whack us with rulers if we didn’t behave.”
The wanna be astronauts did not look impressed. They have probably never been whacked with rulers. But here I am, judging again.
“It isn’t so bad…” one girl admitted. “If it wasn’t for the uniforms. And all the rules.” She said with emphasis.
They are not going to be astronauts.
Then he got to me. Instead of stating my school, he had me state my crime. I guess the fact I was not in short gym shorts gave away the fact that I was twice the age of this room full of fresh, new accidents waiting to happen.
I got a ticket for going 67 in a 55.
My first ticket. Ever.
In Wise County, Virginia.
Where they give out tickets like participation ribbons.
And hate passers by.
And don’t care about tourism.
Or the economy.
Or my insurance premiums.
Or my feelings.
Or my bad day.
Of course, I didn’t say all that, just my name and my crime.
For 16 years I could have been the poster child for the ACE driving course. But that all ended in one bad day when I became a victim of the Virginia conspiracy. And here I was—having shelled out attorney’s fees, court fees, driving school fees—spending 8 hours on a sacred Saturday listening to a man who was bitter about being hit by a ruler 40 years ago.
And the teens were looking at me with faces that said—I will never be the old person sitting in the back of the room stating my name and my crime to a room full of cool teenagers.
Okay, well then, my advice to you, O wise ones, is this: stay out of Wise County, Virginia.
A college girl sitting next to me similarly had to confess: believe it or not, she also got her first ticket driving through Wise County, Virginia. Were you listening, astronauts? This is proving to be the most important thing you’ll hear all day.
He handed us each a booklet full of blanks to fill in and started up a power presentation. Vaguely, in the back of my mind, there were faint memories forming. My first few times behind the wheel. A few more gray hairs on my dad’s head.
I remember one driving moment well—
Dad: Danielle, slow down.
Me: But Dad, the speed limit is 45.
Dad: Danielle, the driver in front of you is going 35.
He had a point. Too bad he didn’t also tell me to stay out of Virginia.
It was one of the longest days of my life. I decided that before the lunch break. I decided that before 10:00 am. There is nothing like being in a room full of 15 year olds to make you feel like you need to stop on the way home and get measured for dentures.
When a question starts with “Like, okay…well…like, I mean, like…okay…” You just know it isn’t going to be a question that you need to hear the answer to. I felt sorry for the teacher who, after this exciting day, was going to be doing behind the wheel with these teens. I might rather be hit with a ruler by nuns.
He tried to get their e-mail addresses and some of them looked at him with those looks that say… “What? Do you think this is like 2005 or something?”
I tried to stay awake. I really did. The teacher methodically plodded through the material. How to change lanes. When to change lanes.
Then he started talking about drinking and driving. I suspect that sometimes the old people in the back of the room are serving a more serious sentence than I. I thought perhaps it was for my benefit or the college girl next to me.
But apparently not.
“I know you guys are going to drink.” Mind you, he was a retired cop. “I know you’re going to party. I know you’re going to do what kids do.”
And then he started on the whole “don’t drink and drive: it might kill you” scare.
I was really sad. I was sad because he told those kids that he expected them to break the law. He expected them to get drunk. He expected them to spend their teen years doing stupid, foolish, and even illegal things. Other kids did, so these kids would too. He was just hoping that they would avoid dying in the process. And it would be good if, in addition to not killing themselves, they avoided killing other responsible drivers.
That was his advice to them.
I could hardly keep my mouth shut. I wanted to get up and preach. Don’t set your bar so low. Don’t make it your boundary not to get in a car so drunk that you won’t make it home alive. Don’t treat the law like it is subject to a popularity contest.
Do the right thing. Being a teenager doesn’t give you a pass. Being a teenager doesn’t free you of other consequences of sin. Believe it or not, dying in a car wreck isn’t the only potential hazard of alcohol. And alcohol isn’t really the issue. The issue is the mindset that you can do whatever you want…So we have to try to convince you that you don’t want to drink and drive or undertake other harmful behaviors.
Why can’t we ask teenagers to do right because it right? Why can’t we set the standard a little higher than “don’t kill yourself and others?” Regardless of the dangers, regardless of the consequences, regardless of what everyone else is doing, do the right thing. That’s why God created the concept of authority, so you would know what the right thing is. When you reach a place in life when you wish people would tell you what to do and what not to do, then you are probably mature enough to start making your own decisions.
And for Pete’s sake, if you are the authority, tell a kid to do right.
When the officer pulled me over, he didn’t care that I was driving with the flow of traffic. He held me to the standard of the law. Admittedly, I didn’t like that. But that’s life and teenagers need to understand that just as well as adults. Anything less is chaos.
I suppose the teacher that day meant well. He was probably just afraid of sounding like a crabby nun waiving a ruler. He wanted the teens to feel like he understood them. So he encouraged them toward foolish behavior—as long as they stopped short of wrapping their new cars around the Charleston oak trees.
And I suppose, if I had been given the opportunity to rant from the back of the room, they would have regarded me like a crabby nun waiving a ruler. But I cared about them. Not just that they stayed alive, but that they did right.
So there you have it. I’m preaching to myself again: Do the right thing. Doing right will avoid all the consequences of doing wrong—not only the most severe—and it brings its own rewards.
And in case you make a mistake, stay out of Wise County, Virginia.