Center of the Universe (36)
Stop Breaking Down
This has nothing to do with the unfunny topic of peace, love and understanding that Nick Lowe, via Elvis Costello, so aptly limned lo these many years and in which the citizenry has been so heatedly engaged of late. It’s not about hugging a foreigner or non-Christian or even one of those nasty Republican types. Not about multiculturalism — American feijoada — or who’s fringe and who’s center. None of the hippie Fairfax nonsense that has colored so much of this blather.
It’s about some other hippie Fairfax nonsense.
A long time ago when George Lucas was still getting his haircuts at Bev’s on Broadway in downtown Fairfax, my wife Roni — who’d sometimes be seated next to him getting hers — confronted her fears. Around the corner from Broadway, on Bolinas, the other main street in town, just up the block from where Sorellas would soon rule the cosmos, a kid had been hit by a car. Not killed, but hurt. Not hurt badly, but could’ve been. When I say they were Roni’s fears, I’m being funny (speaking of unfunny). They were mine, too, and the fears of every mom and pop in town.
Roni, an artist given to impractically enchanting flights of imagination, in gouache, watercolor and pencil, is also an eminently practical sort. And seeing as how our kids crossed Bolinas at the intersection of Park Road, between the 7–11 and police station, every school day, twice, Roni got practical. And the most practical thing she did was not involve me, which, with all the waiting and cajoling and bickering, would have only meant prolonging the danger. (And I’m not saying that because it makes me look cool.) Anyway, she thought she wouldn’t really need help.
It was a slam-dunk.
Whether you’re an expert or amateur, with a problem large, small or gnarly, when you imagine the solution’s a slam-dunk — which is how, for instance, the CIA director, speaking to the second worst president ever, described the proposed invasion of Iraq — you can be sure it won’t be. But this intersection, Bolinas and Park, a block west of Dominga and the 62 children living there, had been a source of concern forever. Some parents made sure to escort their kids across in the morning, before turning them loose for the rest of the relatively placid back-roads route (and, for various reasons, the journey home). And a few years earlier, their concern had led, first, to the installation of a diamond-shaped yellow sign, warning of children afoot, and later to the painting of an official crosswalk.
Which is exactly where the fourth-grader was when the car struck him.
Bolinas, the main east-west artery in Fairfax, offers many seductions. You can cruise a traffic-free 45 minutes — through gorgeous watershed forests, past pristine reservoirs and up and over the spectacular ocean-view ridge (where they shoot car commercials), all the way to Highway 1, just short of the town of Bolinas (Fairfax’s even hippier cousin) — before you encounter a stop sign, never mind a signal or cop. On the way back, you will be sorely tempted — especially when the winding road finally straightens out, up by the Meadow Club — to gun it.
The perils of Bolinas Road have long been well-known. Mitigating those should have been, to invoke another uncharacteristic sports cliché, a gimme.
Our friend and neighbor Cynthia — one of the local activists who’d helped sucker me into running for school board — had ascended to the Fairfax mayoralty and was happy to coach Roni in the basics of making the legislative case for a stop sign and then, night of the meeting, keep her case on track.
More or less.
My school board experience had taught me that, in the tandoori oven of town politics — where it’s pretty much all personal, no policy — meetings are dominated by four types: lonelyhearts, whiners, blowhards, and nutjobs, some who are also drunk and/or stoned. On occasion, in a turnabout for this free-speechifying peace-and-lovenik, we had to call the sheriff to eject a murkily motivated detractor who wouldn’t shut up. And one time the local anti-tax group — two implacably spiteful blowhards, the original trolls — freaked out even more ferociously when the school district announced a surplus, after years of freaking out when we announced a deficit.
Roni came home from the town council meeting past midnight, shaking her head as she reported. There were speakers who’d argued the sign would jam traffic throughout the town. Speakers who’d argued it would jam traffic on Dominga, where the cars would detour to avoid stopping. Speakers who’d argued it would deny local kids the priceless opportunity to practice crossing the street. There were speakers — loud, breathless ones, with grizzled faces, gray ponytails, bloody eyes — who’d argued it was infringing on their liberties as taxpaying, law-abiding, god-fearing registered voters — even if most (all?) were militantly none of the above. And there were speakers who’d proclaimed it wouldn’t protect the kids anyway, not one bit — so why are you infringing our precious liberties, denying our inalienable right to drive fast and lying in our faces?!?
A whiff of violence, like a tofu fart, permeated the chamber.
There were citizens who shouted dark insinuations about how the item had reached the agenda in the first place. There were calls to impeach the mayor and/or recall the council, as well as calls to run the gentrifying, capitalist exploiter, Roni, from the room — even though my sweet, earnest wife and I had lived in the town for a decade and were barely scraping by. And there were several enactments, delivered by one or another local Wiccan, of a patchouli-oiled nostalgia for a Fairfax of yore — even though the difference between the town’s undefined then and unappealing now went unexplained in the speaker’s misty rhetoric.
A kid was almost killed in the crosswalk and, after fours hours of public comment as twisted as Bolinas-Fairfax Road (but nowhere near as scenic), the mayor moved that they table the motion to gather additional “facts.” If the kid had survived his encounter with the speeding car, I wasn’t sure Roni was going to survive hers with the council.
But a week later, with attention spans drifted on to more pressing issues — like whether or not to have mosaics on the recycling dumpsters or the true definition of a chain store — Her Honor slid the motion through, smooth as a hot buck knife in organic tempeh, and Bolinas Road got its red octagon: the stop sign that, in our house, we proudly call mom’s.
And as I thought about this political landmark in our family history, it occurred to me that Fairfax may not be so different as I like to fantasize, that the lonelyhearts, whiners, blowhards and nutjobs in our determinedly deep-blue burg are not so far removed from the chronic red-state malcontents and their blue-state partners-in-pique who voted to Make America Great Again by nuking the whole damn thing. And that, for these neglected folks — in Fairfax, no less than Fargo — broke, hopeless, addled and, to the more fortunate rest of us, terribly annoying, it’s not so much about the Stop, as the Look and Listen.