Sometime in the Sixties, Ralph Nader became famous for "Unsafe at Any Speed," which trashed the Chevy Corvair. The Corvair was a compact car with its engine in the rear, aimed at taking on the Volkswagen Beetle.
If the Corvair was unsafe at any speed, the Beetle was a rolling death trap. At $1,995, it was a bargain. But as soon as you drove it off the lot, it began devolving before your very eyes. First the cheesy plastic door handles fell off. Then the heater rusted out and stopped working. Soon, you could watch the road go by beneath your feet through the rust holes in the floor. Finally, the bumpers rusted and dropped off, leaving only your ten-gallon gas tank between you and a front-end collision.
In this German version of a kiddy car, you faced the great finned beasts for which Detroit was rightly famous, the Corvair not withstanding. But even these brutes - the Caddies, and Lincolns and the like - were ill equipped from a safety standpoint. "No seatbelts" reluctantly gave way to lap belts, while these steel bruins merrily went out of control at their first contact with ice.
If they hit a Beetle, well, as the saying goes, whether the rock hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the rock… I knew one guy who wouldn't go out in his "bug" unless he had on his crash helmet.
That's more than you could d say for us kids. No self-respecting guy would be caught dead wearing a bike helmet. No, I assure you, if we were found dead by our bikes, we were bareheaded. And we took those bikes everywhere. A favorite summer pastime was to walk our bikes up the highway that leads from Jim Thorpe "out the mountain" toward the Poconos. When we got to the spot where the road finally leveled off, we turned around and soared down the couple of miles up which we had just come.
When we weren't in "Evel Knievel" mode, we took to the woods. In the morning, mom's only admonition was, "Remember, your dad will be home at four and he'll want to eat at five." Where we went was pretty much up to us. A favorite locale was the woods behind the last street in town, where we built rival clubhouses out of scrap lumber and logs. The fun wasn't in the building. It was in the raiding of the other guys' shanties. Weapons of choice included BB guns and homemade bows and arrows. It's a wonder that Jim Thorpe isn't in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most one-eyed males.
Last, but hardly least, among summer's splendors was a swim in the Lehigh River. Today's Lehigh Gorge hikers can see the bridge from which the braver among us leaped into the mighty Lehigh. If you dodged the rocks and concrete pilings, the acid run-off from the mines dyed you slightly orange at times.
All in all, it's hard to believe any of us made it through our youths to risk our lives once again as teens. But we did… with only a modest number of casualties.
Just the same, when my kids were born, I set about seeing to it that their days were filled with organized activities. Do as I say, not as I did, was my secret motto.
I think many parents today would be happy if they only had to worry about their children losing an eye. Okay… maybe not, but roll with my logic here. There's just a lot more for parents to worry about nowadays, and the quest for safety at every age has created a kind of snowball effect.
You've got the usual kidnappers and crazies. They've always been around, but as the population grows, so do the number of nut jobs (it only makes sense, right?). So rather than send little Judy and Timmy outside for a romp alone in the nearby woods - woods that are surely full of all sorts of shady characters - Mom keeps the kids inside to watch TV and play videogames. After all, it's for their safety… if not their health.
Then there are the schools, striving for that same, overly-intense level of protection. The results are mixed. Take for example the two schools in Houston, Texas, that spent $150,000 to buy tracking devices to pin on all of their students. Never mind the fact that students could simply take the badges off and leave them wherever they wanted ("Say, Alvin has been in the bathroom all day long!"). And forget that the tracking devices only worked within 100 feet of the school, so if a student did leave the school grounds or was, say, kidnapped, the devices were useless anyway. I assume the schools got the inspiration for treating students like criminals from the TSA.
Other recent brilliant school rules - designed for maximum safety, of course - include: not allowing students to touch one another, ever, in order to avoid fistfights; not allowing students to bring their own lunches or other "outside food" to school (perhaps this rule was also designed to curb the U.S. obesity rate through starvation, because I for one refused to eat the cardboard cafeteria food as a child); hiding surveillance cameras in school laptops (because that's not a lawsuit waiting to happen); and, finally, drug-testing administered by the school nurse. And all of these measures cost money - money that should be spent on, I don't know, books? And actual education? Rather than half-baked security plans.
All of this, ostensibly, is in the name of protecting our children, and while I understand the intent, the execution is simply bad. Instead of creating a safe haven for children, I think we're merely creating overweight, mal-adjusted, uneducated adults who are afraid to go outside.
Personally, I'd prefer to live in a land of one-eyed adventurers.