Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

Centerline Showdown

“I don’t know, Sharon. Those horns—they’re pretty loud. Some of those guys sound angry, too. Do you hear them yelling?”

“I hear them.” Squaring her shoulders, the young mother forced herself to ignore the agitated words, some of them coarser than any she was accustomed to hearing, from the driver behind her. He sat the wheel of a big tractor-trailer truck whose rumbling engine made her heart hammer. “Hold my hand. Just take my hand and stand still. They’re not going to run us over if we all just stay right here.”

“Are you sure?” Behind thick lenses, Lorette’s eyes were awash with unshed tears. “You’re sure? They won’t just run over us?”

“Of course I’m sure,” Sharon said, reaching out and clasping the other woman’s hand. She gave it a squeeze, then turned to the neighbor who stood on her other side. “Louise, take my hand. Grab Sue’s hand. We’ll make a blockade with our bodies. It’ll be fine. We don’t have to stand here long—just long enough for someone to notice and do something.”

Ten women joined hands, stretching their arms so they formed a chain that blocked both lanes.

“I think people have already noticed.” Louise grit her teeth as the truck behind them gave another deafening blast. “Oh yeah, they’ve noticed all right. I didn’t realize the road was this busy.”

Sharon nodded. Busy? That was putting it lightly. Vehicles, a lot of them enormous Mack trucks like the one behind her, shot through this stretch like it was a speedway and they were going for the checkered flag.

Before the last school board meeting she wouldn’t have considered stopping traffic anywhere, least of all here where it was so dangerous. But now someone had to take a stand. She figured it might as well be her that stood—even if it meant doing it on the yellow line.

“Listen, lady, you’re gonna have to move.” The policeman’s silver badge reflected the chrome grille behind her. Sharon swallowed, forcing herself to meet his gaze. He was older, his face lined in an I’ve-seen-everything sort of way. She wanted to accommodate his request but couldn’t back down. “You’re obstructing traffic. Can’t you see that?” The man’s tone was kind.

“Yeah, you’re obstructin’ traffic, lady! Why don’t ’cha move?” The trucker with the polished chrome and roaring engine called. Thankfully he had stopped honking his horn. “Get outta the way!”

“Listen, pal, let me handle this. You’ll be truckin’ in no time. Just chill out.” The policeman placed his hands on his hips and looked up into the face of the fuming truck driver. When the man nodded, the cop turned back to the problem at hand. “See? You’re putting a dent in the morning rush hour. Don’t you see what a problem you’re causing?”

“I do, and I’m sorry.”

“So you’ll leave.” It wasn’t a question. “You seem like nice ladies. Just go on home and do whatever it is you usually do on Monday morning. No harm done. We’ll all just forget about this little incident.”

“We’re not leaving.” Sharon’s voice was calm and even, although her insides quivered as she spoke. “We’re not going anywhere.”

Furrowing his brows, the policeman asked, “Why not?”

“Because this isn’t a safe intersection.”

“All the more reason you shouldn’t be standing in the middle of it,” the cop said.

A crowd had gathered. Drivers who were stuck too far back to see what was going on had left their vehicles and walked close. Residents, hearing the commotion, clustered on the sidewalk. The police cruiser’s swirling red light had attracted still greater attention.

“I agree with you.” The women had dropped hands with the arrival of the police car. Now Sharon clutched the handle of her baby’s carriage with a sweaty grip. “We shouldn’t be here, but we’re going to stay.”

“Just why are you here, exactly? I’d like to know what could get a group of housewives to stand in the middle of the street like this. There’s got to be a reason—what is it?”

“The district is going to stop using buses to transport the elementary school children.”

“I’d heard that. But what does that have to do with this?” He waved his arm, a sweeping gesture that took in the women, their strollers and the traffic surrounding them.

“There’s no traffic light here. Cars, and trucks—” Sharon paused, turning to glare at the driver hanging from his window behind her. “Trucks like that one—zoom along this road too fast. Crossing here is dangerous but that’s what our kids are going to have to do if the school board takes away our buses.”

The man in blue stuck his thumbs in his belt loops and rocked back and forth on his heels. “Ah, so you live on the opposite side of the street from the school, then?”

Sharon shook her head. “No. My house is on the same side as the school.”

The man’s brows pulled close. “So your kids—you do have kids, don’t you?” He peered into the baby carriage, scowling at the doll beneath the blanket. “Real kids?”

“Two. I have two children, a daughter and a son. This is my son’s carriage.”

“But that’s not your son, is it?” The cop’s tone was still friendly, although his words held a hint of sarcasm.

“No, that’s not my son. It’s my daughter’s doll. I wouldn’t think of bringing my baby into this traffic. No way!”

“That’s good to hear. But let me get this straight…your kids won’t have to cross the street to get to school. These ladies? Will their children be using this intersection?”

The women all shook their heads.

“So none of your children will have to cross this intersection?”

“No, but a lot of others will need to cross. That’s why we’re here.”

“You’re going to tie traffic up until the children show up? Is that the plan? I can’t allow that, you know. I’ll have to take you down to the station if you don’t leave soon.”

“We just want to bring attention to the fact that this is a busy spot.” Sharon turned to her companions. They nodded, silently backing her up. “We want people to realize it’s not safe for anyone’s children to cross here without a light and a crossing guard. We wanted to show everyone how much traffic uses this road. It’s not all right to put our children in jeopardy, leave them to the mercy of truck drivers and delivery vans. Something needs to be done to keep them safe. Don’t you see that?”

“Oh, I see it, all right.” The policeman pulled his uniform cap from his head. He plowed his fingers through his hair, a resigned grin on his face. “I see it, clear as day.”

A voice from the crowd called, “Over here! Smile!”

The flash from the photographer’s camera took Sharon by surprise. The snapshot caught her standing in front of the Mack truck, her hands on her baby carriage and the truck’s grille looking like huge chrome teeth about to swallow her whole. The grinning cop, cap in hand, stood beside her.

The photograph appeared in a Long Island newspaper in 1967 and was enough to draw attention to the situation.

A traffic light was installed and bus service continued uninterrupted. The traffic-stopping mothers taught their children the valuable lessons of standing up for what’s right and not ever backing down—even when faced with huge, horn-honking, chromed opposition.

© 2008 by Sarita Leone


Anonymous said...

Oh my, did this really happen? Did your mother really do this? Wow, I love it! Great story!


Melissa McClone said...

Very cool Mother's Day post! Thanks for sharing it!

Unknown said...

I love this post! You've got a great mother. :^)

Dru said...

what a great post!

Anonymous said...

Amazing post. Thanks for sharing.