Chanticleer #20

Chanticleer
I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up. 

Henry David Thoreau

October 8, 2000


Restriping North Central

From the Sep 17th Dallas Morning News (DMN) … The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced a restriping project that will add an additional exit lane from north-bound Woodall Rogers freeway to north-bound North Central Expressway on the west side of downtown Dallas. As I take this exit every day to my current place of employment, this is good news on a personal level. During rush hours, the line of cars waiting to exit creates an unsafe backup onto the Woodall Rogers freeway.

Terry Sams, director of operations for the local TxDOT office: “We realized it would work much better if we got two lanes back.” Carol Walters, senior research engineer for the Texas Transportation Institute: “There’s way too much traffic for one lane… We love getting the chance to look at these problems and seeing what can be done with existing pavement.”

The project, which includes restriping about one mile of lanes and changing the exit signage, will take about six weeks, at a cost of $134,000.

At the risk of looking a “gift lane” in the mouth, as it were … I feel it worth noting that the reconstructed widening of North Central Expressway only opened within the past year. The exit from Woodall Rogers to North Central was constructed for two lanes, but – for some reason – was striped for only one during initial construction. The article noted that the restriping project was delayed for a year “partly because the project had to compete for vital road maintenance funds”. But that still begs the question … given that the initial construction allowed enough room for two lanes, why didn’t the initial striping and signage? I mean, we’re only talking about a stretch of the most heavily trafficked area around downtown Dallas. Was there not an opportunity to save $134K by incorporating the two lanes in the initial striping and signage costs?


Rah-Rah, Sis-Boom Beer

At the risk of inflaming parental passions, I would like to comment on two local incidents regarding high schoolers, beer, parents and authorities. Interestingly, both schools represent (arguably) the most affluent districts in Tarrant and Dallas counties. One wonders (okay, I wonder) if such ‘news’ would emanate from more pedestrian locales.

As always (usually), I’m limited to the information that has been made public via the news outlets.

Last summer, the cheerleaders from Colleyville Heritage High School (in Tarrant county) attended a local cheerleading camp. To celebrate its completion, the girls and their parents scheduled a dinner party at a local hotel. Sometime prior to the dinner, some of the girls (about half of the twenty or so members of the squad) got together and drank some beer. (Zima, I’ve heard, if that makes a difference.) One of the parents or sponsors noticed some out-of-the-normal behavior from one of the girls, pulled her aside and questioned her. The girl admitted that some of the girls drank some beer, and all of the girls involved eventually admitted their involvement.

Clearly, this constituted an infraction of a pledge each of the girls had to sign as a condition of their participation on the cheerleading squad. This pledge dictated a punishment for such an infraction of three weeks suspension from all extracurricular activities, plus drug/alcohol abuse counseling. The girls, and their parents, anticipated this punishment.

However, the assistant principal, and eventually the principal, interpreted that this infraction also violated a Texas state education prohibition regarding alcohol use at any “school sponsored or related” activity. The state education committee policy mandates a six-week suspension from extracurricular activities, PLUS a six-week reassignment to the district’s “alternative school” – typically reserved for students with fairly severe disciplinary problems. And that’s the punishment the Colleyville Heritage High School administration meted out to these girls for drinking a beer. Oh … and they were kicked off the cheerleading squad.

The girls’ parents have retained attorneys and, last I heard, were preparing lawsuits.

Moving east about twenty miles to exclusive Highland Park High School in Dallas … A few weeks ago, police were called to a private residence in Highland Park after reports of underage drinking and rowdy behavior. As police cars pulled up to the residence, the high school partiers, numbering about 40 as I recall, reportedly either scattered or retreated into the house and called their parents on their cell phones. The news reports reported that most of the parents responded by either instructing their children to NOT take breathalyzer tests and cooperate with the police, or, in some cases, they assisted the children in eluding the police.

The kids who were caught, including some athletes and others involved in extracurricular activities, were to be punished in accordance with the three weeks suspension from their extracurricular activities. So far as I know, none of the parents was subject to any punishment.

Some of my reactions: More than anything having to do with alcohol, perhaps the gravest offense committed by the Colleyville cheerleaders was to not live up to the expectations of their parents – and specifically the school authorities – as “role models”, or “symbols” representing the “best” of what the school and community “stand for”.

Yes, they did sign a “pledge” not to engage in behavior that included drinking. They screwed up. They let themselves, their parents, and the school authorities down. They committed two offenses – they drank beer, and they failed to act as proper “symbols” of the school. However, it seems arguable to me whether the punishment fits the deed here.

It seems to me that, especially when non-parental authorities are handing out punishment to kids, there ought to be balanced considerations: are the consequences of the act commensurate with the consequences of the punishment? Realistically, what are the consequences on a 17- or 18-year old high school girl having a beer with a group of other girls at a hotel a few hours before having dinner with their parents? Realistically, what are the consequences of a high school honors student having to drop her curriculum for six weeks while attending alternative school for “disciplinary problems”, the corresponding impact on her college applications, and the memories she will carry into adulthood of her senior year in high school?

It seems to me that special considerations ought to be made in situations in which adults pass judgment and assess punishment on kids for behavior that is perfectly acceptable for the adults. (the Cider House Rules come to mind) Sure, it’s easy enough to assume the moral high ground and counter my comments with indignant outrage about drug and alcohol abuse and how beer and cigarettes lead to marijuana and cocaine and heroin and life on the street as an AIDS-infected addict. And how “ZERO TOLERANCE” is the only message that kids ought to hear.

But from a practical perspective, these kids (and all high school seniors, including my daughter) are just months away from being away from home, and away from most of the controls they’ve grown up under. And they’re just three years from formal and legal “adulthood” and all the behaviors that distinction affords. Where, and when, and from whom, are they supposed to learn about responsible use (vs. abuse) of alcohol? Are we leaving that to the Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors public service announcements? I suggest that with respect to rules, kids learn as much from observing the way their parents and other adults react to their breaking the rules, as from the rules themselves. What will the Highland Park kids ‘learn’ from their parents? What will the Colleyville cheerleaders ‘learn’ from the principles of their principals?


What’s a Hug Mean? Same word, same meaning?

A few weeks ago at the Cedar Rapids (IA) airport I observed two ‘hug.’ The first occurred to my left in the concourse area near the departure/arrival gate. A young woman I assumed of college age embraced a man in his fifties in a prolonged hug, with the man repeatedly patting the young woman on the back in a reassuring way. As they broke for just a few seconds, I could see that she was crying. Then they embraced again, with her head turned against his chest, her arms clutched around his shoulders tightly. I wondered about the story behind this hug.

A few minutes later, the flight from Dallas arrived. A mother with two young boys emerged from the airplane into the waiting arms of her mother and sister. As they turned to walk toward the baggage claim area, the aunt reached down to give the older boy – about ten or eleven – another big hug. The boy allowed her the embrace, loosely placing his arms around her waist and turning his head toward me with a look that all but said, “Auntie, PLEASE! Not here!”

This hug clearly did not ‘mean’ what that hug ‘meant.’


Rain

Fortunately, there are some things that are absolutely, unequivocally unambiguous. Like, for instance, whether it rains or not. It either rains, or it doesn’t. And unfortunately for the North Texas area, beginning in mid-June we experienced a rainless drought that approached three months duration. Until, that is, September 12 when a thunderstorm broke the rainless streak.

Or did it?

The front page of the September 13th DMN displayed a five-column photo of lightning, clouds and rain over downtown Dallas. The headline said it all:

FINALLY, RAIN!*
*But officially, dry spell goes on as storms skip D/FW gauge

Well, I guess the headline didn’t quite say it all. Seems the storm bypassed D/FW airport where the ‘official’ rain gauge sits. So ‘officially,’ the drought continued.

Oh, come on, you say – make it simple! Did it rain, or did it not rain?

Like so many things we wish were otherwise, the most appropriate answer is, “It depends.


AND FINALLY – Lines

Police in South Bend, Indiana, had to physically restrain and arrest a 74-year old man after he created a disturbance with his neighbor over a flagpole the neighbor had erected on their joint property line. The dispute has been going on for six years.

Violence has again found an excuse in old Jerusalem. As September ended, and as the Hebrew holy days approached, “right wing” Israeli leader Ariel Sharon visited the Israeli-controlled Temple Mount, a sacred and holy place for both Jews and Muslims. As reported by the Associated Press, the motivation for Sharon’s visit was to “demonstrate that Israel is in control” of the area, a contentious point of Middle East peace negotiations. Stated Sharon, “The state of Israel cannot afford that an Israeli citizen will not be able to visit part of his country, not to speak about the holiest place for the Jewish people all around the world.”

Youssef Barakat, a 47-year old Muslim stained in blood from the rioting after Sharon’s visit, stated, “We will give our souls and our everything to protect this mosque. To die for this would be heaven for us. If they keep trying to do these things, it will be a revolution everywhere in the Middle East.”. Battle lines seem clearly drawn around the Mount, the West bank of the Jordan River, and the Gaza Strip, with more than 80 people killed so far.

It’s going to cost $134,000 and six weeks of labor to re-paint the lines on North Central Expressway.

The cheerleaders at Colleyville Heritage High School and the kids at Highland Park High School crossed the lines of behavior, and expectations, that had been drawn by their parents and school authorities.

The two scenes at the Cedar Rapids airport blur the lines that define what one “hug” is and means, versus another.

Because we make distinctions such as official, we create lines where they do, or do not, rain.

I suggest that we become more conscious of some of these lines we draw, particularly those that serve as metaphorical “lines in the sand” that determine:

  • what we do, or don’t, tolerate;
  • what we will, or will not, compromise on;
  • what we can, or can’t, control;
  • what we will fight, or will not fight, to defend.

And I suggest that we also consider how many of these lines are arbitrary, and many times demarcate that which otherwise would remain fuzzily – yet naturally – undivided.