Remember when you were taught how to safely cross the street as a kid? Most likely, you were told to look both ways for oncoming cars before stepping off the curb. Then to take a third look just to be sure. Only when you were certain no traffic was coming from either direction did you quickly — as in “hurry, hurry, HURRY!” — cross the street. What a concept.
I’ve thought about this archaic bit of parental advice quite often this school year. Actually, I’m reminded of it almost every morning and afternoon when I drop off or pick up my youngest son at CV High School.
It also reminds me of the many summer nights our family has spent at Irwindale Speedway to watch the figure eight races and demolition derbies with all the accompanying screeching of tires and roaring engines, the thrills and chills, the near-misses, the screams of terror and gnashing of teeth.
But this is worse.
Actually, the cars and drivers around CV aren’t the primary danger — even the privileged princes and princesses in their near new Euro- or Asian-road rockets. No, the real dangers are much more pedestrian in nature. As in, pedestrians.
I’ve lost count of the number of times some fine upstanding young person has stepped right out in front of my truck to cross the street. But not in a crosswalk, of course. That would be too easy. Rather, they step out from random locations, so close to my approaching front bumper that on occasion I’ve had to stand on the brake pedal with both feet to avoid hitting them.
The icing on this particularly frustrating cake is that, not only will the clueless student step out in front of my vehicle without the slightest glance my way, but after the squeal of smoking tires and the scream of one astonished driver — me — fades away, there is almost never so much as an acknowledgment that any disaster has narrowly been avoided. More often than not the young jay-walking scholar is blissfully unaware of how near they’ve come to a close encounter with chrome. There is never so much as a “thank you” wave, or even raised eyebrows that says, “Holy moly, I’m so sorry I stepped in front of you and nearly sent you flying through the windshield!”
Not a chance. If they even have the presence of mind to notice their own near-death experience, more often than not the reward for saving their young and promise-filled life is a raised middle finger salute to my braking prowess.
I can think of three primary causes for this growing problem. The first is a direct result of those ubiquitous thin white cords dangling from so many ears. Whether you call them iPods or mp3 players, they should be called “I-can’t-hear-your-car-comings.” I drive these days with the assumption that plugged in students aspire to be potential hood ornaments.
The second cause is texting. When students’ eyes are locked on a tiny cellphone screen, their thumbs busily tap-tapping away as they step out into the street, it’s understandable they might not be aware of vehicles hurtling toward them. OMG!!
The third and possibly most disturbing cause (in my opinion) is that all the self-esteem programming society has given kids since birth has resulted in a hyper-sense of superiority — or of mind-over-sheet-metal, at least. “Why, that two-ton SUV rolling down Ramsdell won’t dare hit me because, dang it, I deserve to cross this street at any given time or place I choose to. I’m special. My mother tells me so.”
Whatever the reason, I have this vision of a high schooler arriving at the Pearly Gates, staring intently at his or her cellphone and only looking up when their signal is dropped, asking, with bewilderment, “How did I get here?!?”
JIM CHASE is a freelance and lifelong area resident. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.