By Dan Haley
As finals week wraps up at Oak Park and River Forest High School, I have come to the end of year two of dropping our daughter off at the high school. This is a situation I never thought to have found myself in. After all we live less than a mile from the school and when I was a boy, etc., etc.
But I do drop her off most every morning and I have these observations to offer:
There is a geographic zone surrounding the high school within which our kids believe themselves to be impervious. Roughly it stretches from South Boulevard to Chicago Avenue, from Ridgeland to whatever that street is to the west of the school. Once in the zone — and it becomes more pronounced the closer to the school they get — the students walk without regard to stop signs or right-of-ways. They just walk. Singletons, small clusters and endless streams of youth move toward the school as if toward a beacon.
I don't see this as obnoxious teenager behavior, and I know something about obnoxious teenagers, having raised a couple. The students aren't thumbing their noses at drivers, or using any other digit to send a message. It is not an "I dare you to hit me" sort of thing. It is more like having reached a comfort zone where they happily rule. Ultra-confident pedestrians — and skateboarders and bicyclists — at loose in their world.
The parents, though, are another story. They are fighting the magnetic attraction of the beacon, trying to break loose from the tangle and head off to their jobs, their coffee, their sphere. So you have three-point turns in the most inappropriate places, alley zooming and prodigious stare-downs as drivers seek their moments in the oddly timed ebb within the flow of student walkers.
Now, blessed summer. The kids sleep in. The grown-ups steer clear of the high school for a few weeks until, at least, the whole town converges at Lake and Scoville for glorious fireworks.
Blessed summer is also marked by the arrival of block parties. We had our first over on 300 S. Humphrey Saturday, and it was rather spectacularly unregulated. There was not a schedule disseminated marking the passage of every hour. There was not the expectation that we would be purposeful — touring each other's gardens, taking composting tutorials, planning shared escape routes in the event of an earthquake. No ribbons were awarded to small people performing curious feats of relay racing or egg tossing. Kids just rode their bikes back and forth, up and down. Once in a while they fell off and cried for a minute. Alcohol arrived quite early and there was no shame in bringing forth a bucket of KFC for the shared meal.
And the evening ended with a hootenanny — what else to call a bunch of boomers sitting around a bonfire singing James Taylor songs and recreating the soundtrack to The Sound of Music. In a nod to modernity, a few folks in the circle used their smart phones to call up lyrics. Who knew the village president, my neighbor David Pope, had an affinity for singing harmony?
Those of us who mumbled and sort of moved our lips during grade school chorale events were pulling the same nonsense Saturday night.
Much discussion at the block party of the 5-foot wide stump in front of our house where the village last week removed an elderly tree. Sensitive subject. People approach you not knowing how you've taken it. Will you rail against the village for destroying nature? Will you offer a soliloquy about angles of the sun and reshaped vistas in the treeless landscape? Or will you, like me, just be grateful the damned thing didn't fall on my porch.
Summer is here. Finals are over. The first block party is in the win column. The Sox are in first place. The Cubs are in last. All is right with the world.
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