V I E W P O I N T S
One of the patterns of my life has been noticing some weird facet of life that I find insane but that those around me shrug off as normal. Then, as time goes by, others finally admit something’s wrong and I get the satisfaction of being proved right—or sometimes it’s not that satisfying.
The first case in point is sanitary pad belts. Women younger than I am will have no idea what I’m talking about because that changed almost immediately, probably putting a whole manufacturing sector out of business but ask me if I care.
See, back in the Middle Pleistocene when I was first inducted into the magic of womanhood, sanitary pads didn’t have adhesive on the bottom so you could stick them to your panties. They were longer and made to be attached to a special belt. This, like a garter belt, you wore under your clothes, but unlike a garter belt it was small and ugly and had only two of the hangy-down parts, one in front and one in back.
At the bottom, the two hangy-down parts had vicious metal claws that attached to the pad by tearing through it like meat hooks because that’s essentially what they were, so that all through your already unhappy day at junior high school they also tore into you. It was like a punishment for being born female, and it could seriously make a girl wish her Parts South were the hangy-down kind.
My niece Katy famously said, when her mother gave her the magic-of-womanhood talk, “This is a joke, right?” She didn’t know the half of it! Those belts were real thigh-slappers, let me tell you. But they were gone by the time she got the Talk and in fact before I finished high school myself.
Then, when I was in my 20s, I first encountered health insurance. It used to cost me $29 a month at work, and the company made money off me because I didn’t go to the doctor enough to recoup the premiums. When I was 30 a coworker showed me a bill she’d gotten for a minor surgical procedure. I still remember how much it was--$389. Her insurance was supposed to have paid but she was being billed instead and she shrugged, wrote the check and said, “Health coverage—what a joke. It’s all a racket by the insurance companies.”
I agreed, and it has turned out to be manifestly true. Doctors’ offices started charging more as more people had insurance, and insurance premiums began going up in a crazy competition, so that when I was self-employed in my 40s it would have cost $100 more than our mortgage each month to be insured and I said to hell with it. Fast-forward to now when you can’t make an appointment with a doctor at all if you’re not insured, politicians are still fighting about Obamacare and companies hesitate to hire full-timers because their share of the employee’s health insurance is over $10,000 yearly. It’s a mess! People keep trying to blame the poor or the government but I tell myself that sooner or later health insurance companies will surely go the way of the sanitary pad belt.
I was right about those belts and that got better, and I was right about medical insurance and that got worse. Now: Sidewalks.
Trenton needs sidewalks. Probably everywhere that has a road with cars on it needs sidewalks, but Trenton needs them especially on 136 East between town and the high school. Kids walk that way all the time after school. Sooner or later one of them is going to get splatted.
My attention was drawn to this issue a few years ago when a woman brought sidewalks up at a public meeting. She got politely waved away—no money for sidewalks, said the presiding official. But she was right, I realized, because in the afternoons, when I’d drive to my favorite busy-day Blue Hole hike in Sitton’s Gulch, I’d see kids walking from the high school both ways on 136 East, but particularly toward town. There are no sidewalks and in some places no shoulder, so the kids have to walk out in the road itself. And in November and December, visibility gets awful.
I also started collecting instances of splatted kids in neighboring areas—I get obits—and the press releases I’d receive from the Georgia Department of Transportation about roadwork had statistics of pedestrian deaths at the bottom—260 in Georgia in 2017! It didn’t say how many of those were minors and I don’t suppose it matters—I don’t want adults splatted, either—but I am betting it’s a disproportionate number. Kids walk more because they don’t own cars.
Anyway, these days it’s gotten to where I can’t see anybody walking down that road without gritting my teeth and hearing the Jaws theme in my head. I am waiting for—
But of course I don’t want it to happen. I don’t want to be proved right on this one!
Meanwhile I sit at all those local gummint meetings learning about how much money gets poured into roads. Never sidewalks, always roads. And it’s not just your local property taxes but money from the state and the feds, grants and allowances and special purpose local option sales tax. All this makes for millions and billions of dollars every year so that cars can go faster. Am I the only one who wishes they would slow the hell down?
Because even before I got obsessed with the sidewalks one of the facets of life I found insane is how at ease society is with cars killing everybody. People have long been comfortable about cars killing animals. Roadkill provides a grisly calendar for our busy automotive lives—dead skunks in February, dead snakes in summer, dead frogs when it rains, dead armadillos as the climate changes, dead possums always and eternally.
People cry for flattened dogs or cats, but we blame their owners for not restraining them as opposed to the ubiquitous good roads and fast cars that make it all but impossible to keep pets safe. And if we hit a large animal like a cow or a deer usually the big concern is the damage it does the car. I envision a time when animals are gone altogether and people just shrug, not caring as long as they can get where they’re going faster.
But here’s the rub: It’s not just critters that cars kill, it’s us, people. And we shrug about that, too! We routinely accept the 1.3 million car crash deaths in America each year, plus the 20-50 million other people injured, crippled or maimed. A small price to pay for something that has allowed us to create modern wonders like the fast-food drive-thru.
I think eventually the car thing is another ish I’ll be proved right on. People will come to their senses and say, Dang! What were we thinking? These things are dangerous! We had better invent teleportation right away. (Or jetpacks. Or antigravity belts. I have always coveted an antigravity belt!)
Meanwhile, though, whether or not we give a crap about mowing down house pets, wildlife and farm animals, if the human race is not to go extinct we had better do what we can to give the young of the species a fighting chance. In Trenton’s case that means sidewalks around the damn schools.
Pardon my language. I am much exercised. As I said, I’ve been worried about the sidewalk thing for some time, and in fact I had started working on this editorial in the winter or even the fall. It got shoved to the back burner by coverage of courts, cops, county commission—the routine reportorial business of keeping Dade County safe for democracy. Editorials are low-priority at The Planet. What I figure is: Who listens to me anyway?
Then, just last week, the Trenton city government posted a picture of a kid walking on 136, as an argument for implementing TSPLOST, the proposed transportation special purpose local option sales tax, which if passed on May 22 would raise the local sales tax from 7 to 8 cents on the dollar—but would also start funding sidewalks. That tax has some vocal opponents, and OMG, the things they said about the sidewalk pic! Such as:
Kids don’t really walk on 136, said some. That photograph was staged! Propaganda!
If kids do walk on 136, they shouldn’t be allowed to! said others. Why don’t they ride the school buses our taxes pay for?
Because they’re bad kids, said somebody else, who don’t want to obey school bus rules!
That’s not really even a kid, said others. It’s probably just some adult pretending to be a kid!
It was one of those threads that make you want to shake your head and say OK, human race, go ahead and go extinct, ya bother me.
But it inspired me to finish my editorial and I reckon that’s a qualified positive, depending on your point of view. What I want to round it out by saying is:
Kids do, too, walk on 136! I’ve watched ‘em for years. Here’s a pic of one I took for The Planet. I interviewed the kid in it. She was a real kid. And she wasn’t a bad kid! She was walking to Trenton to catch a ride home with her sister who worked in a store. I didn’t have to stage the photo and neither did the damn city.
(There I go again!)
But there’s nothing bad about kids walking. Walking is the way you get around before you’re old enough to drive. And there’s a million reasons to miss the bus. A kid might be staying late to help collect food for Chinese orphans or something.
When I was a fourth-grader at Argyle Elementary School in Smyrna, Ga., I got kept late one afternoon to work on my handwriting. I wasn’t a bad kid. I just had bad handwriting. I still do. My memory is I had written some little story about a mermaid and my writing was so bad nobody could figure out what I was getting at. (Though I had helpfully included a perfectly good drawing of a girl with a fishtail and seashell bra. I couldn’t imagine what all the confusion was about.)
Anyway, I got kept late practicing my Gs and Rs and I had to walk home. It wasn’t a long way and I’d done it before, but the first part was along Spring Road, which was just then beginning its metamorphosis from a two-lane residential road to the monster main-drag parkway it is today. Right then I don’t think the first convenience store had been built yet, but work had started to widen the road itself. There weren’t sidewalks, just mud from the roadwork, and directly across from the school one of my feet sank in all the way to the knee.
I managed to pull my foot out but the mud had sucked my shoe right off and I couldn’t reach in far enough to find it. It was December and not bitter cold but cold enough you didn’t want to walk home barefoot. I had this sudden realization that I was in trouble, that this was no longer a safe place. I saw a car going by with a girl in it I knew, driven by her mother, whom I didn’t, but shy as I was I managed to flag them down and make them take me home.
I mention this story because I think that’s the situation Trenton and 136 are in now—metamorphosis. There are still pastures and cows and you want to think it’s a safe place, but the fact is 136 has become a busy state highway with semi trucks barreling up and down it, and we keep hearing that with the opening of the Inland Port truck traffic will double or triple by the end of the year. It’s just not safe for people to walk in the roadway without sidewalks.
(Which is not, to say, though, that people shouldn’t walk! We’ve gotten so motorized these days that the idea of using our legs and feet to get around is regarded as vaguely subversive, as evidenced by this appalling notion that only outlaw kids would walk. Walking is not bad; it’s the way we were designed to get around and it’s still the healthiest way. A lot of diabetes and childhood obesity could be avoided with more walking.)
The end of the mermaid story is that Spring Road got not just sidewalks but eventually a pedestrian bridge that went up and over the thoroughfare so kids didn’t have to cross that terrible road. It wasn’t put up during my schooldays but I would see it in later life when I drove that way to visit my mother. I found a picture of it for you online on some PDF of plans to refurbish it. Here it is.
I am in no way suggesting that Trenton needs anything like that. I am just using it as an illustration of how, when communities grow and change, they take precautions to protect their young. If it hadn’t been for that pedestrian bridge Smyrna would have seen a lot of splatted kids.
I don’t want Trenton to see any. I want sidewalks! (I wonder if I have made that clear.) It is not really my business how the local gummint is to pay for them, but for my part I would cheerfully part with the extra TSPLOST penny to stop the Jaws theme in my head. And finance-wise, I might point out that the Dade schools just spent a great deal of money to hire police officers after one boy brought an unloaded gun to school, another boy bought it from him, an angry girl wrote a silly threat on a bathroom wall and some kids at a school far, far away were murdered by a crazy person. Maybe the schools might also be induced to cough up money to keep students safe from a more real and immediate danger?
People can scream that Dade doesn’t need TSPLOST all day long, but it sure as hell needs sidewalks. I think one day people are going to look back at arguments against them—only bad kids walk indeed!—the way they now look at sanitary pad belts.
And if your argument against that is that people no longer look at sanitary pad belts at all, I found a picture of one of those for you online, too. Look closely at the hangy-down parts and I am sure you will see I am right.