I was driving to the Chinese consulate this morning, headed along PV Drive North on the way to the 110 Freeway, when I saw a rare sight, something that was awesome and beautiful and amazing and that made me smile the rest of the day.
It was a sunny morning and the traffic was moderately heavy, the peak point in the morning when moms and a few dads drive their children to school in enormous steel cages. Growing up in Houston, in the morning by the time I had to leave for school my mom had already been at work for an hour, and my dad had two policies with regard to getting to school:
- Ride your bike.
- If it rains, wear a raincoat.
There was no steel cage option.
That was junior high, of course. In elementary school, some kids rode, but mostly you walked. Some kids lived a mile away; they walked, too. The only kids who got driven were kindergartners, and most of them walked as well. Walking to school you always met up with your classmates, usually at the 7-11 on Renwick and Pine, where we would play a game of pinball or steal a pack of Now-and-Laters.
Walking was also the best way to stand around and wait for the big after school fight of the week, or to loiter until your favorite girl came by and you could pretend you happened to be leaving the school gate the same time as she. Then you could walk home together which was the best.
But now, at least in our neighborhood, everyone drives their kids to school, K-12 industrialized obesity education, with complex pickup/dropoff regimes, huge lines of cars puking exhaust, and the streets snarled. The main reason everyone drives is because letting a kid walk or, dog forbid ride a bike, is too dangerous. Statistics show that 99.759 out of 100 children are run over or kidnapped if they are not driven to school. I remember growing up that no one who walked or rode to school lived past the age of about twelve. Sometimes twenty or thirty kids would vanish or die each day.
Now that I think about it, there was a kid whose mom drove him to school, Karl Ward. Karl and his younger brother, Kurt, would get driven to school in their mom’s Buick station wagon, along with three or four other kids. The Wards lived at the boundary of the school zone and could have biked but they didn’t. Mrs. Ward would fill the car with her sons and a few other kids and drive them; car pooling. I think about Mrs. Ward and that station wagon absolutely jam packed with kids every time I see a massive Rage Rover able to seat seven but carrying a mere single child and a latte consumption organism.
Normally we would have made fun of anyone in junior high school whose mom drove them to school, but not Karl. He was the kid who, the first day of school, the principal stopped in the hall. “Are you going out for football?” Mr. Thompson asked him.
“No, sir,” said Karl, who was big enough and athletic enough to have formed most of the offensive or defensive line.
Mr. Thompson made a face. “Why do you say that, young man? You’re big and strong and perfect for our team.”
“This school has never won anything in football and never will,” Karl said, and continued on. He was right, of course.
Whereas Karl was huge, his little brother Kurt, or “Kurtie,” was short and small. Kurtie was always looking up to Karl, literally and figuratively. Then a few years later in high school I remember seeing this giant dude, about 6’5″, broad as a dump truck, face covered in stubble so thick you couldn’t have cut it with a diamond saw, lurching down the hallway.
“Hi, Seth!” he said in a voice that was lower than a bathyscaphe, the eager, friendly way that a younger kid from junior high talks on his first day of high school to an upperclassman.
I looked for a second before realizing it was Kurtie. “Hey, Kurt,” I said, making a mental note to never, ever call him “Kurtie” again.
Anyway, there I was, driving to the Chinese consulate, and I saw three little kids, maybe fourth or fifth graders, riding their bikes to school.
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