By John Toth / The Bulletin
22 years of entertainment, while preaching safe driving
The Bulletin was four years old in 1998, and it was time to try something different, although somewhat related. I bought Stand-Up Defensive Driving from an acquaintance of mine. At the time, the business had a storefront at Brazos Mall in Lake Jackson.
It was a chance to explore the talking part of the communications business. I had some experience in that. I had given several speeches about my past to groups and classrooms. But I never had to talk for several hours and follow a curriculum.
I learned the curriculum from cover to cover and became state certified. But to teach the classes, I hired stand-up comedians who were really very good. There is just so much room at the top. Many of those who chased their dreams in area clubs also became licensed to teach defensive driving. I think I had some of the best.
It was a lot of fun. The comedians took care of the class, and I handled the finances and the paperwork required by state law. I seldom had to substitute for them. They needed the extra income and showed up like clockwork.
But when I substituted, I realized that I could also do this quite well. All I needed was a bag of driving jokes and to learn how to weave them into the curriculum. The comedians did it seamlessly. I was not all that polished yet.
But practice makes perfect (or perfect enough), as I took over more and more classes. Maybe I missed my calling. Instead of publishing a weekly, maybe I should have tried my hand at stand-up comedy.
Then I bought two more schools from retiring school owners in two different counties. Business was good. Even weeknight classes were well attended. We were rolling.
Then wi-fi happened. Schools were losing business to the Internet courses. We were no exception. Our attendance started to decline. I wound up closing the schools in the other counties. No regrets, though. They paid for themselves many times over.
I kept the school at Brazos Mall, even though business declined. The comedians found greener pastures. One got a Class A license and became a dump truck driver. Another got a masters degree in philosophy and started teaching at San Jacinto Junior College. I bet his classes were a blast. I stole a lot of his jokes and used them for many years.
I found myself teaching most of the classes, which was quite an overload. So, I decided to get my wife, Sharon, licensed to teach, and that opened up a whole new world for her.
Standing in front of crowds and talking was not her strong point, but it quickly became one, and most students enjoyed her classes. I saw her grow into an excellent instructor. Between us, we had this - we made a great team again.
The mall then got new owners who decided to increase the rent to a level that we could not afford. So, after being 19 years in the mall, we moved the class to Ryan's Steakhouse across the highway. That didn’t work out. Ryan’s closed three months later.
Then we moved to a hotel in Lake Jackson, where we stayed for two years. Then we moved to LaQuinta Hotel in Angleton, our final destination.
That was a perfect fit for the hotel, and for us. We enjoyed working with the management and staff there. We booked smaller classes and left some of our weekends free. We realized that we were actually providing a service for ticketed drivers who were not that Internet- or computer-savvy and those who had limited knowledge of the English language. Everybody passed, learned and had a good time.
This was going to be our forever home for the defensive driving classes - until Covid hit.
The reason I wrote all this in past tense is because Sharon and I decided to let Covid have the last word. With a heavy heart and sad face, we decided against reopening the school.
I hope the thousands of students who took our classes enjoyed them as much as we enjoyed teaching them. We survived the advent of wi-fi, we changed when the business environment changed, and we probably could have survived Covid.
But Covid made us realize that we enjoyed having more free time. It was time to start slowing down a little. It was a good decision.
Thank you to all speeders who kept coming back, some annually. It was a privilege to tell you to slow down - again, and again and again.
(John looks forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send comments to email@example.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)