• a line of cars waiting in line

      Long line of cars (Photo – pxhere.com)

      Recently while driving around town doing some errands, I began to notice a strange phenomenon.

      By Christopher Nyerges

      I was behind a line of cars in the right lane, waiting for the red light to change to green.  The light changed and the cars ahead of me did not move.  I didn’t know why, but I didn’t honk. I just got out of that lane, and drove around the curious line of waiting cars.  As I drove by, I noticed that all the drivers were just sitting there, parked, waiting.

      I began to notice this on numerous other occasions, and soon realized that this line of waiting cars was always by a school.  The time was always around two or three pm.  I noticed this often enough, and always around schools.  I suppose I am a slow learner, but everyone else I asked about this already knew what this was all about.  Parents are lining up to give their school children a safe ride home from school. Oh! Simple!

      How different the world has become

      Now, each time that I see this line of waiting parents in cars, usually with the motors still running, I cannot help but think how different the world has become in the several decades since I was a school child.

      When I was about to begin my very first adventure out of the womb and home at age five, my father drove me several times from our home to Longfellow school, over on Washington Avenue east of Lake. He instructed me in the path that I was to walk each and every day, to school and back home again. He instructed me which side of the street to walk on, and where to cross, and a few pointers for emergencies.  (I believe I kept our phone number written on a piece of paper in my shoe.). I had a least one in-person guided walk so that it was absolutely clear how and where I was to walk every day. Every day I walked along the path my father instructed for me to get to school, and at noon, when kindergarten was over, I walked directly home along the same path.  I never deviated from that path because I thought I would get lost.

      Then, the following year, I began first grade at Saint Elizabeth school, which was a lot closer to our home. My mother walked with me to the new school, about five blocks away.  Now that I was “grown up,” I walked by myself, sometimes with my brother, up Highland Avenue to school.  There were no twists or turns to get home, so when school got out, I walked back down the residential area to my home.

      By second grade, I was riding my own bicycle the few blocks to school every day, and riding home afterwards.  I noted that a handful of parents actually did come to the school and drive their children home.  There was also a small bus that came to our school and drove maybe 20 of the students to their homes.  Once, I was invited to the home of a fellow classmate and I curiously rode the bus with the other students.  My friend lived up the hill at a remote home at the base of the mountains, at least a mile from the school.  That visit made me realize the reality of the economic differences of the members of my school and community. My friend’s home was very upscale, and their furniture was splendid, and even the food we were served at dinner was quite exceptional by my usual standards.

      a person walks by an cadillac

      Walking to school (Photo – Raffael Herrmann)

      My real world

      Back home, in my “real world,” my brother explained to me that our family lived in “lower middle class” standards, and that my friend’s family, and neighborhood, was either “upper middle class” or “lower upper class.”  I remember telling my brother that I was glad we lived so close to the school, because I could not imagine bicycling all the way up the hill to my friend’s home.

      “Yeah, but your friend would never bicycle to school,” my brother told me in a condescending voice, attempting to pierce through my naiveté.  “Your friend’s parents have money!  Why would he bicycle?”  It was an interesting comment, since before that time, I had never thought about myself or my family in comparative economic terms.

      This is no longer the 1960s

      More recently, I asked a friend what he thought about the long line of cars that now await daily in front of nearly all grammar schools.

      “The world has changed,” he told me. “This is no longer the 1960s.”

      “Yes, but why do you think that parents do this today?” I asked.

      “Things are not safe today,” my friend quickly replied.

      “Really? Is that the reason?” I wondered aloud. Hasn’t the slow gentrification of our cities reduced much of the suburban crimes? I remember when I was growing up in Pasadena that there were children everywhere after school, in yards, walking, playing ball in the street, everywhere.  When I lived with my father while he was dying, in our same family home, I observed a very quiet section of Pasadena that had previously been bustling with youthful activity.

      Are you sure that’s the reason?

      “Are you sure that’s the reason?” I asked my friend. He speculated that perhaps computers had something to do with this phenomenon, where youngsters spent way too much time behind the computer, playing games and chatting with friends.

      We didn’t know all the causes, but I did speculate that laziness was another factor. Plus, I can recall talking to friends my age who had children, telling me how they didn’t want their children to endure all the “hardships” they had to endure. Though it was a sincere comment, and a sincere concern, I realized that it was life’s childhood hardships that made me who I am, and formed my character. I had to get out in the world, and I had to bicycle and work to get anywhere. Threats were very real, and I could not fight dangers by hiding behind a computer screen. The few times when we really did have to get physical with another boy taught each of us that sometimes our greatest seeming-enemy could (eventually) be a friend and ally, and that the rewards of negotiation can be quite profound.

      Missed experiences

      Maybe it’s just me and getting older, but when I see the long lines of cars in front of schools, though I realize the concerns for safety, I cannot help but think about all the experiences that these children are no longer getting.

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      1. Matt says:

        “When I lived with my father while he was dying, in our same family home, I observed a very quiet section of Pasadena that had previously been bustling with youthful activity.”

        Why? Could it be because very few millennials with children can afford neighborhoods like that in Pasadena? It’s not screens. Kids still love playing outside. The pandemic made that plainly clear.

        That being said I don’t understand parents that are willing to sit in car lines. We live a block from our school (in an apartment where there is no yard for our kids to play outside – the reality of young parents in the 2020s) and only walk to school.

      2. Bruce Arnold says:

        Having had a similar experience, albeit with Jefferson Elementary, then Marshall Junior High, then PHS, I too have felt the loss for the kids that don’t play outside, don’t walk/bike to school, who may not know the joy of not walking on ‘monkey squares…’ Screens are great, but ‘outside’ is pretty cool too….

      3. Robert Anderson says:

        Turn off your ignition if you’re waiting more than 10 seconds. Save money, breathe cleaner air and save the planet. Better yet, get an all-electric or hybrid car.

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