It's about life - not "lifestyle"


Among other things I've had to contemplate this month was a return to the East Coast of the United States in the bleeding, freaking, heat of summer. One of the great benefits of California living is our coastal weather. It can drive us all bonkers when the warmth of the sun turns the half-mile of beach zone into a Fog of John Carpenterian dimensions for weeks at a time, but all it takes is a week of 97 degree temperatures accompanied by 90% humidity to make you beg for a job with a/c.

The tropics are a surfer dream of warm ocean water temps, of comfort while wearing little clothing, and of lithe young bodies. I would advise you readers to think of this more like "tropical vacation dreams". If you live it everyday you'll come to understand the concept of rot. There is a reason places like California and the West also have established old/classic car cultures - it's because they don't rust away before you get the car paid for. Much like we humans.

So it's either the July 4 weekend or a couple of days afterwards, and I'm in a Target store. It's convenient to a landscaping job and I need something from the hardware section, too, so I go inside from the garden shop area, and I'm immediately confronted by a huge section of school supplies. I have dim recollection of this back to school ritual: binders, pens, pencils, erasers, and paper. But near the 4th of July? And stranger still, the place was active with parents and kids making purchases. They were filling carts with stuff.

As I walked through I noticed with some relief that some families were looking at luggage. When I think of summer, I think of vacation. I was glad to see that people weren't "9/11ed" out of rest and recreation. Virtually all of the parents were having their young children check out those carry-on bags with handles and wheels. I thought they were doing that to involve their children in responsible air travel realities in this New Age of Travel.

Later on a neighbor, possibly feeling that I was more approachable than my roommates, told me they were going on vacation for a week, and asked if I could keep an eye on their house. I assured her that we would, and then mentioned the school-supply feeding frenzy. That reminded me of watching the children getting fitted out with carry-on luggage, and I asked the neighbor if they were flying or driving.

"Driving," she replied with a laugh. "Can you imagine the mess you'd have trying to fly with three kids? All you would need is for one to wander off to get a drink of water and leave a daypack or Gameboy unattended for two minutes."

I told her about what I'd seen in the Target, and she started laughing again.

"They aren't for travel! Those are for books! Grade School children are hurting their backs carrying all their books, so parents are being told to get them something with handles and rollers. Daypacks are practically signs of slacking off!"

Well, I was stunned. I mumbled something about kids rolling luggage all the way to school, and the neighbor updated me again: kids don't walk to school. It's too dangerous. Too many abductions, molestations, killings. It's a sick world out there.

I countered with the notion that it's also a big world, as well, and the odds of something bad happening in this neighborhood - out of all the neighborhoods of the U.S. - seemed remote. She pointed out that it only had to happen parent wants to risk that. So most children are driven to and picked up at their schools.

The whole interlude left me queasy. This means that the assumption is that there are predatory child molesters and murderers in every neighborhood. It might be true - I used to live in a tract with a Homeowner's Association, and that got to be pretty terrifying.

So here we are in 2002. 30 years ago we used to walk or ride our bikes to school, carrying our books under our arms or bunjied to the bike rack. We had a few minutes of adventure going to and from school, and some of us got to go home for lunch. Now the kids have to haul more crap than the average "Go-Lite" backpacker doing the Pacific Crest Trail, overburdening their bodies, constantly under the pressures of their parental schedules, deadlines, in cars, no walking, no bicycle riding, already competing...all the while fearing for their very lives.  Pardon our progress...

Today is July 22, 2002. A heat wave is forecast. Robinson-May Department stores have a nice sale on winter coats for incredibly thin, halfway attractive young women. It hardly registered.

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