In a rare moment of office chit-chat the other day, graphic artist Harold George and I were sharing anecdotes from our past. We shared about things we did as kids that somehow have slowly been crossed off the list of acceptable or legal practices today.
Mind you, Harold is not as old as I am. I'm going to be 53 this summer. Harold is 39 and grew up in New York City where on sweltering hot summer days the kids in the neighborhood would open up fire hydrants for a geyser of instant cooling. As you can imagine, that's just not permitted today. After all, we can't waste water and we live in a sue-happy world.
I had different experiences than Harold. I grew up in rural California that included Milpitas. Crazy as it sounds, the Bay area community was still rural back then. We lived on Temple Drive off of E. Calaveras Boulevard until I was five. I remember being about four or five when my dad put me and my brother on a scooter. I stood on between his legs, and Kevin sat on the seat behind my dad, with a death grip wrap around my dad's belly. We set off and I'm sure I had a wide smile on my face. This would be my last time on a scooter with Dad. We only went a few blocks until he rounded the corner and hit an oil slick. The scooter slid out from underneath us and we were thrown onto the asphalt like dancing dice. Because I was riding between my dad's legs I was protected from serious harm and only had minor abrasions on my arms. Dad may have been hurt slightly, however, Kevin sustained a gash to his forehead near the hair line and blood was streaming down.
Today, in a world where helmets are required for riding horses - I can just picture a sissified Wyatt Earp riding in a saddle with one - a dad would be arrested for child endangerment doing the same thing on a scooter.
In the '60s, the family car included those big clunky 1950s model Chevy sedans that are classics today. With bodies made of thick steel, the occupants took the force in a crash versus today's cars that crumple to cushion riders.
I recall seat belts were optional. I remember standing on the front seat as Mom drove our '57 Chevy when she hit the brakes and I slammed my wrist into the dash board - also not body friendly back then. I also recall sleeping in the floor board on long trips between the Bay Area and Livingston where my grandparents lived.
Today parents must strap their children into federally approved child restraints.
Don't get me wrong. Some laws are good and reasonable because kids have no choices. But noose of government tightens longer and fatter around our necks.
In 1966 we moved to 1608 Golden Gate Drive in Modesto. In summers we swam in the MID canal that ran openly between lanes of Briggsmore west of Tully. Other families swam there too. A short time later I became indoctrinated into the fears of danger when Splasher the Frog coloring books made their way into my Catherine Everett School classroom. Years later Bill Noble would tell me how prevalent swimming in canals at the Bradbury Drop south of Ceres was in the 1930s. Fast forward to 2014 and what kid would dare swim in any canal? No, our kids are safely indoor playing harmless video games until their eyes bug out, right?
We moved to a ranchette smack-dab between Oakdale and Escalon in 1971. We felt stuck in the middle of nowhere but found things to do. We used imagination. We played in barns, dug holes and had stayovers at friends' houses and in our backyard. The Ben Aker Store in Valley Home beckoned us. We knew that two or three miles north of us on Pioneer Avenue was a cornucopia of Mars bars, $100,000 bars, Bubble Gum cigars and candy cigarettes (yes, politically incorrect today), Bubble Yum, Gobstoppers, Zotz, Wacky Packages with a stick of bubble gum, licorice ropes and Pepsi in glass bottles so thick you could use them for weapons. Our parents had no qualms about allowing us taking off on bikes with friends. We weren't idiots so we knew how to safely cross busy Highway 120. I suppose the world wasn't as crazy as it is today so parents weren't as knotted up about security. They felt that a person could go about their lives in relative safety if one just used one's brain. They raised us with common sense, something we relied on instead of laws that didn't exist at the time.
As the years went by, parenting skills seemingly worsened and kids were raised without common sense. It seemed that invariably somebody always did something really dumb and died and so along came another law that spoiled it for everybody else. So every Jan. 1, we face a new slew of state laws - especially with the control freaks in Sacramento who want to go down in history as a champion who saved lives. We may be a safer place but the real casualty is freedom.
Years ago it dawned on me how invasive government had become when the Ceres City Council enacted a ban of alcohol in the parks. Two local champions of freedom, Steve Breckenridge and Leonard Shepherd, protested in the name of freedom. You can debate the wisdom of allowing alcohol in the parks but I have to confess that they presented a good argument: Freedom, duh. They noted how as mature middle-aged couples they might want to pop open a bottle of wine for a romantic picnic and do so in a responsible fashion as they enjoy the cool of a summer eve. But you have the spoilers: the rogue beer-drinking delinquents who use the parks to carouse, over imbibe, cause trouble and smash beers onto the sidewalk. So along comes a ban which takes away the rights of responsible citizens as we can't trust the irresponsible ones.
Another freedom shot down the tubes.
For decades people (me included) enjoyed riding in the back of a pickup. Sure, some people died doing it, but people also die walking down sidewalks too. There was something memorable about the time I rode from Hobbs, N.M. to Carlsbad Caverns in the back of a pickup, the wind whipping my mop of hair drying out my lips. It certainly wasn't the safest thing to do - nor the most dangerous - but we felt like we were living while doing it. We can't do today what we did in 1983. California outlawed pickup bed riding in 1990 after a group of teens died when their pickup slammed into a piece of parked construction equipment in L.A.
Another freedom hits the proverbial fan like you know what.
Don't get me wrong, some laws are good and I think it's only wise that someone wear a helmet on a motorcycle or that all kids are strapped into a car seat or buckled up. But it feels at times that somebody has this design to make us all the same, by channeling us into a narrower and tighter confine of control. It's not just a matter of giving up freedoms for safety. There are pressures that we must think alike, too, for we are being told by society what is correct to think and what is not. (This is where I hear the bleating of sheep as the government turns us into "sheeple" (sheep and people).
With each school shooting - refer back to horrible parenting and debased cultural values - we build tighter fences around campuses. Gee, when I went to Oakdale High School in the 1970s we had no need for fences because people weren't murdering classrooms in classrooms. The knee-jerk reaction is over the top. Our kids are being taught that guns are bad - even being expelled for drawing guns on paper - yet they are the very tool that the citizen relies on to equalize things with the likes of a home invasion robber or an Aurora, Colorado theater madman. So instead of focusing on bad behavior, guns are made out to be very, very bad. The indoctrination is so deep that a waitress in Virginia refused to serve food to eight on-duty police officers because they had guns on their gun belt. How stupid can people be?
Tolerance? Now the meaning of that word has been twisted. There are attempts to ban works like Huckleberry Finn because they contain the "n" word that was used so prevalent generations ago. Ban the works of Mark Twain and you might as well tell creative geniuses they have no place in our world anymore. I'm not saying the "n" word is good but I am saying it is part of our history so get over it.
Forget tolerance for Christians and their views. It doesn't exist.
Tolerance? The state of our culture today is that school officials can forbid an elementary student from flying the U.S. flag on his bike because it might incite some immigrant students to violence. We have really reached the point where our revered American flag, the symbol of freedom, is a racial dividing line?
Then there is the attack on incandescent light bulbs, charcoal barbeques, wood-burning fireplaces and gas mowers launched by California's eco-theocracy. Burn a fire in the Valley and you are threatened with a fine from a bureaucratic agency called the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
I guess it shouldn't surprise me then that a state agency banned a coastal Fourth of July fireworks show in Gualala in Northern California because it frightens seagulls.
I'm not a smoker but I really couldn't give a flip that the American Lung Association gives Ceres for its policies, giving a "D" grade for smoke-free housing, an "F" for reducing sales of tobacco products and an "F" grade overall. It isn't the job of a city or a state to tell free citizens what they can and cannot do when it comes to a cigarette. It's a person's choice if they want to smoke inside their home or not.
There are things worse than a person smoking... and that is a person yearning to breathe freedom as a citizen of the U.S.
I love life and I love my country because it is freest of all. But we are sinking into the quicksand of government restrictions and social engineering that would have Thomas Jefferson doing backflips. Ask yourself why the FCC wants to worm its way into TV news rooms.
I can reasonably expect to be around until 2051 - I trust they won't outlaw running because that's how I keep fit and plan to make it to 90 - but I can't stomach the way things are going. Until we wake up and reject the notion that another law will make us safer, we are manacled with the loss of freedoms that is detestable. No wonder Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death."
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at email@example.com