Tales of the Safety Patrol

Every morning I drive past the corner of Pine Street and wave to my sixth-grade daughter Marie. She's a Safety Patrol. I'm proud to see her there, wearing her badge of authority and a yellow web belt that goes around her waist and crosses her chest in a neat diagonal.

My own days as a Safety Patrol were grim. I was paired with Seth Baxter whose sense of humor made him someone whom the other kids would cross the street to avoid. Because my duties prevented this, I was the object of his delighted attention.

He was endlessly blabbering reciting TV commercials, talking with a British accent, telling me I'd been "born in a test-tube marked 'failure'," etc. I could've ignored him if he weren't always mixing in pesty physical stuff, like stepping on my feet, grabbing my textbooks, and trying to poke my eyes with various two-finger combinations.

One of his stunts was to remove the batteries from my bike's light and horn, and roll them into the busy street. He was not an imposing physical specimen, but he was powerful enough to grab me around the middle and hold me back until my costly batteries had been squashed flat. Buying new batteries only encouraged him to do it again.

No one would trade partners with me. My only way out would be to quit, but that would cost me the coveted Safety Patrol certificate with a gold foil seal that I longed to receive at the year-end awards assembly. So I went the distance.

Marie's main complaint about her post is its lack of clientele. "Only four kids go by every day. Heather (a seventh-grader) won't let us cross her, Tommy (a second-grader) is always with his mom, and that just leaves Sally and Jennifer and they don't listen."

With little activity, Marie and her seventh-grade partner Randy give undue attention to the main features of that street-corner: a big tree, a squirrel and Marie's bike.

I've met Randy and he seems like a nice kid. Marie has no brothers and doesn't know much about boys which causes her to mistake Randy's total normality for eccentricity. She offers these conversations as proof:

One morning: "If I had a bow and arrow, I could shoot that squirrel," Randy said, eyeing the creature in a calculating way.

"I wish I could pet it," said Marie.

"Just try! It'd bite your fingers right down to the bone!"

Another morning: "I could climb that tree," Randy told her.

"Randy, the lowest branches are five feet above your head," Marie said.

"Well, I could," he said. "But it'd pull on my stitches and rip the flesh." Marie had already heard every detail of Randy's leg injury and the suturing procedure, and had been shown the stitches twice and had turned down three offers to see them again.

One afternoon: "Your kick-stand is no good," said Randy, leaning on Marie's bike. "Look how it sinks right into the ground. Your bike'll fall right over."

"Randy, you're pushing it into the ground," she said. On other days Randy, apparently fascinated by anything wheeled, had also found the bike's brakes inadequate, and its lock and chain no deterrent at all to any thief with bolt-cutters.

I have a feeling that my responsible firstborn might be wasting her time. Checking my knowledge of the basic principles of law enforcement against Marie's situation, I had already established that: a) Marie has no powers of arrest; b) she doesn't get to carry a gun (although Randy has suggested that if they had whips, he and Marie could make Sally and Jennifer obey); and c) if criminals killed her partner, Marie would feel no obligation to hunt them to the ends of the earth.

"Why do they even have you there?" I asked her.

"They just need someone on Pine Street," she said.

Maybe the forces of law and order think it's wise to patrol the hinterlands so no one gets any bad ideas.

"We're not just there to cross people," Marie said. "If someone is doing something bad, like throwing rocks, we're supposed to tell them to stop it or we'll report them." But the troublemakers neither pass that way nor feel like making a special trip to lonesome Pine Street to test the mettle of Marie and Randy.

Maybe Marie is being groomed for a busier corner someday. And what of Randy, a seasoned veteran of more than one year on the force? Did he do something terrible last year to get himself busted down to rookie-level and banished to Pine Street. I'd give a quarter for a peek into his personnel file.

It makes for an odd situation, yoking together two kids with nothing in common and giving them nothing to do for two long 20-minute shifts per day. If nothing else, it's educational. Although Marie never gives Randy a higher appraisal than "kind of OK," the desolation of their outpost could draw them together the way it did with Sgt. Preston of the Mounties and his dog, Yukon King.

But in the meantime, don't bother asking Marie who she'd rather be marooned with on a desert island.

Because she'd say, "The squirrel."

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