Slow Down!

January 2, 2005

The township I live in is made up of several kinds of neighborhoods. The oldest ones were originally extensions of the city in the first half of the twentieth century. They were followed by those that sprang up in the twenty-five years after the war as the need for housing pushed people outward. Families bought building lots and arranged their modest homes along tree-lined streets with shallow frontage and deeper back yards. Access to these areas is open and free-flowing, and one can move between them and the city and back again hardly aware that one is doing so. In city planning terms, these are called “inner suburbs.”

Tract developments carved out of what was once a family farm began in the early 1970s. The houses tend are similar but not identical, erected by a contractor with a limited number of designs that can be manipulated with differing roof lines and placement of elements such as the garage and the front porch or side patio. (Something hanging off the back is always called a deck.) The township also has some areas of large, custom-designed houses and not a few condominium or “cluster” developments. These neighborhoods tend to be self-contained, with access limited to one street off a main artery. The other streets then form a maze of winding and interconnecting roadways that ultimately feed back to the central street. That is, there is only one way in and one way out, and the streets are less thoroughfares than they are driveways for the people who live there and those who visit them. I live in one of these “outer suburbs.”

As development continues, however, the neighborhood I live in, once a closed loop of one main road and several side circles, is becoming attached to other neighborhoods. My street now provides access to three other neighborhoods. Although the posted speed limit is 25 mph and there are stop signs at each intersection, Bradley Drive is wide and many motorists get up to 40 mph or even faster without seeming to be aware of it. (It is worth noting here that the most careful drivers I have observed in my many walks around Woodridge, the ones who stay under about 30 and stop fully at the stop signs, are the teenagers. The worst ones are the apparently single guys in their SUVs who live in the condos up the hill.)

Last fall the township police started a “Please Slow Down!” campaign. Residents could get a sign, about the size of a political sign and mounted on a wire frame, to plant on their property between the sidewalk and the street. I liked the idea and like seeing the signs here and there on my travels. They were never as plentiful as the political signs, but there seemed to be just the right number, neither so many that they became an overstatement, nor so few that they seemed odd. I waited until the election was over and the political signs had been (mostly) removed. I picked up my Slow Down sign the day near Thanksgiving that I went to the post office for my party invitation and year-end letter postage.

The Wednesday before Christmas, when I went out for the mail, I noticed that although the wire frame was still stuck in the ground, the sign part was gone. The information sheet that came with it (that emphasized that the sign was the property of the police department) suggested that the homeowner move the sign from time to time. For several days it had been close to the spot where we place our trash, and since Wednesday is trash day, I thought perhaps the trash collectors had inadvertently picked it up.

Then I remembered that I’d heard something of a commotion the night before. It was after 11:00, and I was in my study working at the computer. I looked out (I use a second-floor bedroom that faces the street) and saw two cars parked in front of the house. The noise was apparently coming from some teenagers, friends of the girl who lives next door.

And it seems worth mentioning here that this is a very quiet neighborhood, and that there seems no way to describe this noise from a band of teenagers that does not make me sound like a crotchety old lady who can’t accommodate youthful energy. There was such a woman who lived in the city neighborhood I grew up in, and she was the bane of the summer existence of the twenty-odd youngsters who occupied the two double houses on either side of hers.

I wondered if the commotion and the disappearance of the sign might be related. I was annoyed that my sign had disappeared, but for some reason I left the wire frame stuck in the ground.

Last night, about 10:30, while Ron and I were watching The Human Stain on rented DVD, another commotion, somewhat louder and longer in duration than the one last week, erupted in front of the house. It was time for a break anyway, so when I went out to the kitchen I opened the door to the garage to have a look. (Our garage door was up because Lynn was out.)

Our driveway is at the side of the house and faces the neighbors’ driveway. Several kids as well as the resident girl next door (a high school senior) were milling around. I put the garage light on, and that seemed to have the same effect on them that my entrance into an unsupervised classroom used to have back in my days as an overseer of teenagers. The laughter stopped, and one kid, distracted by the change in the atmosphere, lost control of the soccer ball he was using as a basketball. It bounced off the neighbors’ driveway and then down the embankment between our properties and came to rest just under the back bumper of my car.

I got to the ball before the kid did. I heard another kid call out something like, “is that sign still in your car?” When I walked out into the driveway to hand the ball to the kid who had chased it, I noticed that two of the youngsters were busily trying to reattach a Please Slow Down! sign to the wire frame still stuck in the ground. This required more in the way of fine motor skills than these kids seemed to have at that moment, especially in the dark with the homeowner whose sign it was bearing down on them.

“I’ll take that,” I said, trying to sound pleasant. One kid scurried away but the other (I think it was a girl) handed the sign to me. I pulled the wire frame out of the ground and walked back up my driveway and into my garage.

There was some more milling about in the driveway and the garage next door, opening and closing of the refrigerator the neighbors keep there. Although the car the mother drives was in the garage, it was unclear if she was at home. The car the daughters share was not in its spot, and I assumed the older girl was not at home.

This morning when I went out for the paper I noticed the soccer ball under a tree on my side of the property line. I heard a lot of coming and going over there as I made my breakfast and got ready for church, but I didn’t investigate.

We’ve been neighbors with this family for almost eighteen years, since the girl now a high school senior was an infant. We’ve been friends though a miscarriage and the birth of another daughter, through the separation and divorce that resulted in the girls and their mother remaining in the house, through the times after that when the mother had to go out of town on business and we supervised the kids and got them to school and horseback riding lessons and sports practices.

I don’t know what to say to the girl when I see her again. I am pretty accommodating of teenage high jinx, but this really bothered me.

Just call me crotchety.

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