With my wife, Heather, pursuing her nurse practitioner degree, parts of our house sometimes look like a really lame dorm room—all the textbooks and notes, none of the bongs. What? No, that’s a vase, Mom. That thing sticking off the side is for adding water for the flowers.
Anyway, with Heather getting all smart about medicine and learning how to do prostate exams (turns out there’s a cooperative fella who volunteers as a test subject, to the tune of 12 in one afternoon), I figured I should pursue some continuing education myself. Problem is, I’m a writer, and where that area’s concerned I’m pretty much set. Listen, son, I’ve forgotten more about writing than you’ll ever know about the reproductive habits of salamanders. That’s called a metaphor. Or maybe an analogy? I told you, I’ve forgotten a lot about writing.
So I went in a different educational direction and signed up for a two-day Super-Secret Spy School. When you’re in my line of work, it behooves you to know how to handle yourself when you’re in a choke point at an orange readiness level. Don’t know what I’m talking about? That’s OK. It’s just spy stuff. No big deal. Not everyone has my level of training.
The formal name of the S.S. Spy School is the BSR Evasive Driving Course, held in Summit Point, West Virginia. They actually don’t make any claims about spy skills, but essentially you’re learning how to be Jason Bourne. You’ll have bad guys chasing you, and when you make a wrong decision your instructor might say, “Hey, can you write a note to my family? Because we’re all dead.” That’s something I never heard during the previous toughest course I ever took, “English 318: Dating and Relationships in 18th-Century British Literature.”
My classmates had somewhat different backgrounds. A woman from the ATF asked me what I was doing there, and I confessed to being the only non-badass in the group. “You’re the only one here who’d admit that,” she replied, like a total badass. Then we went outside and learned about car bombs. Spy Tip No. 1: If your car has a six-cylinder engine and you look under the hood and count seven spark plug wires, that might be a good time to call Avis and book a different car.
The running theme at BSR is that you should be extremely skeptical of basically everybody. Is it paranoid to think that a woman with a baby stroller crossing your path might actually be wheeling around a shotgun? That trick was used during an attack in Europe in the ’70s. Is it paranoid to think that a guy flashing his headlights is signaling someone else to initiate an ambush? Not in Iraq, it’s not. Entering the BSR mindset makes me happy to live in a land where baby strollers are just baby strollers and flashing headlights are just gang initiation procedures, according to an email I got from my cousin.
While some of the course focused on situational awareness, that wasn’t really the fun part. The fun part was fighting back. Specifically: car ramming. Our whole lives, we’re taught not to crash into anything. Which, in the context of your Jason Bourne mission, is exactly why you do it. The bad guy with his car blocking the road thinks you’ll respect his Mazda Millenia. So he’ll be real surprised when you roll within 15 feet and then suddenly floor it.
It turns out that if you hit a car near its trunk, it pivots out of the way pretty easily, at least when you’ve got a beefy old Buick LeSabre for a battering ram. Also, you can spin a moving car by nudging its rear fender, steering into it and hitting the gas. This is great entertainment when you’re the aggressor; it’s less fun when you’re riding in the back seat of a beater Volvo and you’re suddenly twirling a 180 with a malicious Oldsmobile coming at you. In any case, the problem with acquiring these skills is that the next time you see someone dawdling in the left lane of I-93 or parked across two spaces at Home Depot, you’ll think, “I have a great solution for this!”
Ramming cars is probably not something you need to do on a daily basis—no more than once or twice a month, tops. Then again, how often does my daily routine require a reference to 18th- century British literature? Twice so far today! See, you never know when you’ll need to call upon your education, whatever it is. So if you’re my neighbor and you see me back out of my driveway at 30 mph, then suddenly spin the car in a J-turn and speed off in a cloud of vaporized rubber, please understand that I’m not goofing around, terrorizing the neighborhood or unleashing my inner juvenile delinquent. I’m studying.