Sunday, July 21, 2019

"Lesson No. 1: Those Are the Brakes"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Here is today’s safe driving question:

If you are approaching the stop sign in front of my house, do you: (a) stop, (b) slow down to the posted speed limit, look to see if a cop is parked on the corner and breeze past or (c) pretend you are at the finish line in the Indianapolis 500 and blow right through?

If you answered either (b) or (c), you are part of the vast majority of vehicular maniacs who menace my neighborhood and deserve not only to get a ticket but to have the accelerator shoved up your nose.

You also should take an online refresher course so you will be a better driver and, ideally, not obliterate my car as I am backing out of the driveway.

I am proud, happy and really fatigued to say that I recently took a six-hour safe driving course sponsored by AARP, which wants older motorists such as yours truly to be more aware of the rules of the road, to compensate for diminished physical and mental skills and — this is most important — to stop driving 20 miles per hour in the left lane of a highway with their blinkers on.

As a person who always puts safety first, I took the course for a vital and selfless reason: to get a discount on my car insurance.

After logging in to the AARP Smart Driver Online Course and paying the $25 fee, I was introduced to two nice instructors named Joe and Maria, who would be guiding me through the class and giving me quizzes at the end of the half-dozen sections.

It was like taking driver’s ed in high school except that I didn’t actually have to drive and give the teacher a heart attack while accidentally flooring it and jumping the curb as I pulled out of the parking lot.

The first thing I learned is that I probably should let somebody else drive. That’s because I am 65 years old and, according to Joe and Maria, who look to be 45, no longer have the reflexes, dexterity and keen eyesight of 25-year-olds. I must admit that they are far better equipped to speed, weave in and out of traffic, run red lights and give one-finger salutes while texting, playing video games, drinking steaming hot coffee or — and this takes special skill — applying eyeliner.

Maybe they shouldn’t be driving, either.

But I was encouraged because Joe and Maria told me that I could sharpen my skills and continue to be a safe driver if I remembered the valuable lessons taught in the course. They included approaching intersections, merging into traffic, knowing the effects of prescription medication, preparing for trips and checking the tires, though not while the car is moving.

In extreme circumstances, they strongly implied, I should just pull over and get the hell out of the way.

Joe and Maria have never driven with me, but I appreciated their confidence.

It turned out that I still know a lot about safe driving because I aced all the quizzes. And I picked up some important tips, like avoiding drivers who are going either too fast or too slow. Joe and Maria didn’t state the obvious, but that includes everybody else.

Nonetheless, I am glad I took the course, which I did over several evenings. I would encourage all drivers of AARP age to take it, too.

In fact, now that I have graduated, motor cum laude, I am volunteering to join Joe and Maria as an instructor.

If I could only get all those idiots to stop blowing through the stop sign in front of my house, I’d feel a lot safer.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima

Sunday, July 7, 2019

"Field Day Comes Off My Bucket List"

By Jerry Zezima
Hearst Connecticut Media Group
Anyone who knows me and is willing to admit it, which severely narrows the field, knows that I always have a field day with my grandchildren. But I recently had a real one at my granddaughter’s elementary school, where I was a volunteer for — what are the odds? — Field Day.

I signed up for the water relay, one of several events that would give me a heart attack if I competed in them. But it was the only one that proved, as if anyone needed verification, that I am all wet.

My granddaughter Chloe, 6, and her kindergarten classmates were the youngest of the participants, all of whom showed an unbeatable combination of athletic ability and sportsmanship.

I will modestly admit that I was a pretty fair athlete in my day. Unfortunately, that day was June 12, 1960, when I was Chloe’s age. I have been regressing ever since.

My partner in officiating the water relay was Jimmy Smith, with whom I have worked for many years (that’s only half right: he’s worked, I haven’t) and whose daughter, Sarah, 7, a second-grader, also was one of the participants.

The object of the relay was for students to dip a plastic cup into a bucket of water, run to another bucket several yards away, dump the cup of water into the second bucket and run back to the first bucket, where it was the next student’s turn. This was repeated until either time or water ran out and I was splashed so much that I looked like I had just emerged from a deep-sea expedition.

“I’m glad we put this on our bucket list,” I told Jimmy. “I just hope we don’t kick the bucket.”

“Then people could say we were in the bucket brigade,” he replied helpfully.

Jimmy used the watch on his phone (only Dick Tracy has a phone on his watch) to time each relay, which lasted for five minutes.

Two teams — blue and yellow — competed in the various events, which included obstacle course, potato sack race, hippity-hop race, hoop relay and 50-yard sprint.

Unwittingly, which is how I do almost everything, I wore a blue T-shirt. It was perfect because blue is Chloe’s favorite color (along with pink) and she was on the blue team.

But she wasn’t in the first few relays. Instead, she was competing in other events, being cheered on by her little sister, Lilly, who is 2 and a half, and my daughter Lauren, who is their mommy.

My job was to stand by the blue team’s second bucket and exhort the players by saying: “Hurry up!” (if they weren’t hurrying), “That’s OK!” (if they slipped or got more water on my shoes than in the bucket) and “Good job!” (if they did a good job, which all of them did).

One of the best players was Sarah, a sweet and funny girl who is a natural athlete.

Either because of or in spite of my dubious coaching efforts, the blue team won most of the relays.

During one of the breaks, I went back to my car to get a wide-brimmed hat to shield me from the relentless sun.

“Are you going on safari?” Jimmy asked.

“Safari, so good!” I retorted.

“With us,” he suggested, “all that’s missing is the third Stooge.”

Until the last relay, Chloe had been missing, too. But she showed up with her blue team classmates for the final run. I asked her to help demonstrate what to do and she pulled it off flawlessly.

During the relay, all the kids did a great job. That was especially true of Chloe, who ran fast and didn’t spill a drop.

It was a fitting conclusion to a Field Day of Dreams.

Copyright 2019 by Jerry Zezima