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Guest Writer

Seat belt school
by Ryan Douglas

It was late at night and the streets were wet with rain when I noticed police lights flashing in my rearview mirror.

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 automobiles.

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 death?

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 and alcohol.

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 anymore.

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 the classroom.

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.

See more from Ryan in our archives.

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