I am a typical teenager. I enjoy watching television that will rot my brain, eating junk food and avoiding vegetables, and driving fast on the highway. So naturally I balked when my mother announced that she had enrolled me in ''extreme" driver's ed.
Out of the goodness of my heart (and a bribe), I reluctantly agreed to go. ''It will be fun," my mom kept repeating. I rolled my eyes, envisioning droning lectures, cheesy video clips, and multiple-choice tests. Sure enough, as soon as we got to the classroom, we were presented with a true-or-false test; a slide show waited on hold in the background. The youngest person in the class was 14 years older than me. I shot my mom a death stare.
Five minutes later, we were hustled outside and grouped into one of four Nissan Altimas. Our instructor, a race car driver named Ian, turned in his seat to face us. ''The point of this exercise is to see how an antilock brake system really works," he said. We were going to accelerate quickly to 45 miles per hour and then slam on the brakes immediately, no pumping allowed.
Ian drove us through it the first time. As we screeched to an abrupt halt and bucked forward in our seats, my mother let fly a swear as I shrieked with laughter. When it was my turn, I had a great time speeding along, then grinding to a halt. It was a cool adrenaline rush. (Oh yeah, educational too.)
The next exercise was even better: the slalom. A set of seven cones was lined up in front of us, and we had to swerve around them at speeds of 15, 25, and then 35 miles per hour. As one who tends to take the posted speed limit as more of a guideline than the law, I scoffed at such low speeds.
The first time through at 15 m.p.h. was no problem. But swerving so quickly in such short space at 25 m.p.h. was difficult, and at 35 m.p.h. nearly impossible. At this point my mother was switching back and forth between praying to God and uttering one particular swear. My mother normally never swears, at least not in front of us kids.
In our next exercise we got to tailgate one of the instructors (keeping almost up to him, but beside, not behind him). When he hit his brakes, we were to hit ours to avoid rear-ending him. My mother did well at this exercise; she would have merely ended up in an ambulance. As a slightly more aggressive driver, I was told that I would have been sent home in a hearse.
Our last exercise involved high-speed lane changes. This meant negotiating the cone course at highway speeds of 60 or so miles per hour. We learned that most accidents happen when drivers swerve off the road to avoid hitting something (our driver told us to picture Bambi) and then crash into a tree. The exercise was designed to make the swerving back onto the road as instinctual as swerving off. This was great, because it meant that I got to drive through the course six times, and by this point I couldn't get enough of extreme driver's ed.
As a self-admitted speeder, I truly learned a lot more in this class -- in feeling the jolt of the high-speed swerves and the grind of the pedal-to-the-metal brakes -- than I ever did from hearing statistics, reading a manual, and parallel parking on my driver's ed test.
After completing the course, my mother crawled to the car and slumped over the steering wheel, hands visibly shaking. We have this deal where if either of us swears in front of the other, the offender has to spring for ice cream. I have never had to treat her. But after class, my mom owed me a lifetime supply.