Thursday, October 16, 2008

Morning in the suburbs

The morning drive to school is always an adventure. I'm not talking about the usual suspects: The deranged  SUV moms who threaten the lives of others as they get their offspring to school; The parents who drop their kids in the middle of the street because waiting your turn in the valet line takes too much of their valuable time; Or the ones who honk at you and yell because you are in the way -- even though there are dozens of cars in front of you and you are all waiting in the same line to drop off the kids.

I'm talking about what I've discovered since Jack decided to be part of the valet line at his school. (The valet line is made up of kids who either wave you in  (4th graders) or actually get to open the doors to help kids out (5th and 6th graders). At its best, it is very civilized. At its worse ... that would be every morning, but that's another post.)

Jack has to be at school earlier to be part of the valet line so we leave the house at 7:10 -7:15 a.m. The streets are a little clearer (you should see it at 7:40 a.m. when everyone is late for school) and you can actually look around.

With gas prices as high as they are, there are lots of drivers with "big car attitude, but I commute so I need the little car gas mileage." They tend to drive down the middle of the street in their new, much smaller efficiency vehicles, but they haven't gotten over the SUV mentality that requires them to whomp down the road taking up most of the available space. Maybe they don't realize how small their car is now and they don't need that much clearance to avoid hitting parked cars. Or maybe they are just pissed off about driving a matchbox and they are going to take it out on the next oncoming car.

There is the guy in very old, very tight "hey honey they still fit" dolphin shorts who lives around a blind corner so just as you turn, you are -- well -- blinded. I try to prepare myself, but he is a surprise every morning.

There's the man down our street who is usually retrieving his newspaper as I head home. He's not usually wearing pants. Today, it was red and black striped boxers. Too much color, too early in the morning. It draws the eye. Note to self: when sneaking out to get the paper in your pajamas or underwear wear muted colors.

There is the nice woman who waves as she walks every morning. I consider her a friend even though we have never spoken. Watching her walk, it's easy to tell the days that she is feeling on top of the world and the days she is not. The same is probably true for me. Am I hunkered down on the steering wheel grumbling at the kids? Have a I had time to fill a mug of coffee and I'm sitting up a little straighter? Am I blinded by the sunlight and the lack of a clean windshield and she's just hoping she doesn't die?

There is the basset hound who is walked every day. The poor thing labors along, his belly barely clearing the ground his legs are so short. Thank God for the handicap cutouts on curbs when crossing the street. I'm with you canine brother.

There are the teenagers making out before getting into the car to go to school. The first day I thought they were saying goodbye as they went to different schools and I resisted the urge to drive up quickly and pound on the horn (that's my father-in-law's job). But then they got in the same car. Really? I'm hoping they are not brother and sister (it's not THAT kind of suburb) because they did come out of the same house.

And I love the brief views you get of garages. There's the cluttered ones (that would be us) and the completely immaculate ones (it's unsettling). There's the one with all the old movie memorabilia -- giant-sized posters, cutouts, etc. There's the family that set up a table, barrel chairs and the flat screen. There's the one with tables and mannequins. I'm assuming someone designs or makes clothing.

There's the handyman who works out of his garage or the lady who makes scarves all year long and sells them this time of year through Christmas. She sells hundreds and hundreds of them.

I walk these same streets in the afternoon or evening, but it's not the same. The morning seems unguarded. Everyone is heading out for the day so they don't have time to shut the garage door, slip on a pair of pants yet, or put their guard up. It's just all out there.

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