......finding a new home for lutefisk lovers.

(ok we don't love it. or even like it. but we're supposed to.)

05 April 2011

The Power of Sidewalks


I pull into the grocery store parking lot.........and I see a car with a bumper sticker that says

"Matt's Bar: Home of the Jucy Lucy"

I squint my eyes and stare at it, re-reading it slowly to make sure it's not a mirage. I try to stay calm and rational; is it possible that there are 2 places called Matt's Bar and they are both famous for the cheesy goodness known as the Jucy Lucy?

NO! IT IS NOT!

So when I see the woman get out of the car, I run across the parking lot and tackle her to the ground.

"IS THAT BUMPER STICKER FROM MATT'S BAR ON CEDAR AVENUE IN MINNEAPOLIS???!!!" ...I say calmly.

She gets wide-eyed and says, "Yes! Wait........are you Noonan?"

Creepy, I think. Should I have checked on the population size before moving here? Perhaps.

But I say yes anyway and she says, "I'm the other one from Minnesota!" And then we cheer and hug and jump around in a circle.


Ok, that's a little exaggerated. But that's how I felt.

Then she says, with a sympathetic look, "Do you miss sidewalks?"

When we moved from the city, I knew I would miss a lot of things; Lake Harriet, luxurious grocery stores, independent movies any time I wanted them, Viet Namese food (can't stop talking about Viet Namese food) - but I had no idea how much I would miss sidewalks. Who knew that those squares of cement between your house and the street could impact your life on so many levels? Especially when you're the new girl.

Sidewalks are specifically intended for people. And they carry people right past your house. The power of the sidewalk is in its ability to build relationships amongst people who are just walking by. When you have no sidewalk running in front of your house, you rarely have people walking by. But you do have an awful lot of people driving by - none of whom stop to chat. After 8 months here, I have never met the people who live next door to me. But I know what kind of car they drive.

When you have no sidewalks, children play privately in their own backyards unless they receive a phone call inviting them to someone else's backyard. And you generally only call people you know...........so if you're the new kid, how do you get that call? I'll tell you how; you whore yourself out by boldly knocking on people's doors - uninvited. And sometimes it works and sometimes it goes against everything this yankee culture stands for. You either make friends or you go on the "Yankee Watch List," a list of crackpots and ne'er do wells who have no manners.

If we have no sidewalks, we have only streets with no designated area for people who are not sheathed in steel and fiberglass. Streets that are for cars that go way too fast 100% of the time and are driven by people who are not looking for pedestrians........because streets are for cars. It's lonely without sidewalks - and, if you're the mother of an 8 year old boy, it's really, really dangerous.

The freedom my kid had in the city has been revoked. He can't walk to a friend's house by himself or ride his bike without an adult chaperone and a helmet and shin guards and shoulder pads and a bulletproof vest. And a plastic bubble. If I could put him in a plastic bubble, I would feel so much better. When I'm the adult chaperone, I ruin the whole bike riding experience by screaming "GET OVER TO THE RIGHT! THE RIGHT! THAT'S WEAVING! IF YOU WEAVE, YOU'LL GET KILLED! GET OVER TO THE RIGHT!"

No one else yells for their children here; it feels like I'm disturbing the trees. But I'm saving my child's life, so screw the trees.

I'm tempted to do drills. Seriously. One of us would take Liam out on his bike and the other would drive around the neighborhood to see how he reacts to a car coming. I'll "come out of nowhere" and I'll pretend I don't see him. I keep telling him that this is how it works - cars "come out of nowhere" and they are NOT looking for the little kid on his bike. And he keeps insisting that if a car "comes out of nowhere," he will dive into the ditch head first. Let's work on that weaving first, I say. Diving into the ditch comes later.

On Liam's first visit to his new pediatrician, the doctor asks how we're doing after the move. Is he making friends? Does he like school? Does he get out and ride his bike? "Yes," I say, "but it's been difficult because we don't have sidewalks."

What a ding dong. Does that even make sense? He's going to think I'm neurotic or queen of the non sequiturs. But just when I'm trying to come up with a lie to cover up my nonsense, he says "Don't even get me started on sidewalks."

He's a believer! He's one of us!

Well, duh. He's a doctor. A doctor of children. Who sees all manner of injuries from in and around a child's world. Like biking on the street when you don't have the focus necessary to keep from veering directly into oncoming vehicles.

But his sidewalk statement goes even further. Apparently, his daughter spearheaded a campaign to build a sidewalk along the busy road from our elementary school to our public library - a distance of maybe .2 miles (that's point two, not two). A project that would not only protect the town's children from avoidable harm but also promote wholesome afterschool activities and support town services. In addition to garnering overwhelming support from the town, she also developed a workable plan with the appropriate professionals and even collected enough donations to fund the entire project.

Did I mention she was in 7th grade at the time? Yes, a 7th grader.

And when it came time to vote, the town selectmen looked at that 7th grade girl and her supporters.......and said NO. They said NO to that altruistically minded 7th grader AND the funding that came with her. They said no based on the fact that there had never been a sidewalk there - so why do we need one now? Perhaps children should be more resourceful in defending themselves from highway traffic. Wouldn't a sidewalk just be a form of coddling?

Keep in mind that my only source on this story is the dad of the altruistic 7th grader. So he may be somewhat biased. However, as the town's doctor, he could also stand to gain quite a bit of income from pediatric traffic-related injuries. That's quite a thumb's up! So you be the judge.

So now I know........ next time I go house hunting, I'm going to put sidewalks at the top of my list of must-haves. Before bedrooms and bathrooms and jack and jill sinks (which I really don't need and I'm really only mocking the people on House Hunters).

I realize that there are some people who crave the peace and quiet that comes with a sidewalk-less neighborhood. The yakkity-yak of nosy neighbors like me is an intrusion on their time with their surroundings. I respect that. But they'll miss out on the awesome experience that is knowing me.

And, until Liam's focus improves, they'll have to put up with a few more years of "GET TO THE RIGHT!"





1 comment:

leah d said...

Beautiful.