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Book Review: Life in the Slow Lane: Surviving a Tour of Duty in Driver’s Education by Thomas M. Sullivan

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Life in the Slow Lane: Surviving a Tour of Duty in Driver’s Education is Thomas M. Sullivan’s humorous account of a year (more or less) that he spent teaching Drivers’ Ed to teenagers. While it is amusing, and Sullivan is a master of the simile, I found myself getting angry as I was reading.

Sullivan worked for a company that provided Drivers’ Ed to schools, owned by a man who had little regard for students, staff, equipment, or safety. There was only one line, and it was the bottom. It’s not the subject matter or Sullivan’s writing that made me angry, it was his boss, Don.

Don is a clone of a man I once worked for when I held the exalted title of Private Investigator/Office Manager. Not willing to pay for extra parking spaces (clunkers were parked in what should have been employee spaces), the “detective” for whom I worked made the employees park on the street where they would routinely be ticketed. He paid minimum wage, and employees had to front expenses, to be repaid on payday. Payday was also race day. Whoever got to the bank first, got paid. Whoever got there last had a bouncing check. Since I did payroll, I got there last. Always. The fleet of cars the investigators were assigned was a rusting pile of [insert expletive here]. Since morale was low, turnover was high and this guy fired people two weeks before they would qualify for unemployment, knowing they would quit soon anyway. He treated his clients badly, double charging, overcharging, and charging for services not rendered, and he never met an ethic he liked.

Don isn’t quite that bad when we first meet him. He does, however, have a fleet of cars — in which teenagers are learning to drive — that is a rusting pile of [repeat expletive]. Because so many Drivers’ Ed providers in his area were sleazy, he kept getting more customers, but he didn’t add to his fleet of disgusting, decaying vehicles with bald tires. The only benefit he provided his employees was AAA, and he didn’t pay them very well.

Why would Sullivan work for him? Simple. There are two reasons to keep a job like that: 1) you are desperate for the money; 2) the hours are flexible. For Sullivan it was #2 (take that any way you like). However, as he became more and more aware of how bad the company he worked for really was, he became dissatisfied and, following his conscience, quit. Like most good people in bad situations, he stayed longer than he should have (these words come from experience).

Sullivan shares stories about his students and co-workers, and most of them are funny, although he has ironic stories to tell as well. What started out as an enjoyable job (he liked teaching) with limited hours turned into a 9-to-10-hour-a-day, unsafe grind. Sullivan finally realized that no matter how much he could do for his students, it did not equal the bad that his boss was doing.

Despite getting angry at my own memories, I enjoyed Thomas W. Sullivan’s account. It’s worth reading for his colorful similes alone. Sullivan brings his characters to life, and we enjoy meeting most of them (hardly any of the parents, though).

Bottom Line: Would I buy Life in the Slow Lane? Yes, Sullivan is an engaging storyteller. (Note: Life in the Slow Lane would benefit from another round of editing.)

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