SCHOOLS AND TRAFFIC


If you were out and about early on Wednesday of last week, the chances are you were stuck in a major traffic jam. Yes, friends, schools opened in Knox County on that day, and for the next year most of us must acclimate ourselves to the travel woes that go with education. Plenty of things contribute to the inability to easily travel from Point A to Point B.
I’m all for growth and progress. Knoxville and Knox County are sprawling more each year. A drive in any area of the county will reveal how many subdivisions and apartment complexes are sprouting up. The problem with those developments is that they all dump traffic onto the roads. A recent survey indicates that the average household has 2.28 cars. So, even if a small development has 40 units, it unloads about 90 more vehicles on road surfaces.
Taking into consideration that most new developments are built on side roads, the problem grows even stickier. For instance, I live in the Ball Camp area. Every morning, a line of traffic backs up from the railroad track below the house and snakes its way up Ball Road in one direction and across another set of tracks on Ball Camp Pike. When a train comes each morning, the back-up makes sure that students are tardy to work, parents are late to work, and drivers lose their patience and tempers.
I attended a hearing on allowing a nearby development to proceed. One individual who would determine its fate answered a concern about inadequate roads by saying, “There are a lot of narrow roads i
n the county. That’s just something people have to deal with.” Really? Wouldn’t it make sense to develop the infrastructure before allowing hoards of new developments to begin?
Another factor causing traffic problems is parents. For some reason, moms and dads insist upon driving their children to school. They load up the kids and hit the roads. School zones are clogged like sink drains. Other vehicles trying to maneuver through the quagmire to reach other places are unable to move at all.
I passed the Cedar Bluff school zone just before students got out at noon on the first day. Even though schools wouldn’t end for about forty minutes, cars were lined up going both directions on Cedar Bluff Road. Even worse, some jerks had zipped down the line of waiting cars and then tried to cut
line. That blocked another lane of traffic. Don’t these people have better things to do than to sit in cars for long periods of time and snarl traffic?
Buses run throughout the county every morning of school. They stop to pick up students, and such frequent stops can back up traffic for a mile. The sad thing is that many of these big yellow limousines carry too few students. Parents won’t allow their children to ride buses. They believe that buses aren’t safe in so much traffic. Hey, if these folks would put their children on school transportation, the number of vehicles swamping roads and school zones would significantly decrease. Folks, tax dollars are paying the contracts for these buses. Not using them is a waste of money. Think about that the next time you have a conniption fit about how your tax dollars are spent.
Yes, school is back in session, and the traffic will be crazy. My suggestion is that any of you parents who can should put your children on buses that drive right to the schools. Of course, I know that’s not going to happen, so my best advice is that you all drive carefully, obey the traffic laws in school zones, and be patient. Summer will return a few months. 


THE LAST GENERATION TO ...


While I was sitting poolside the other day and pondering life in general, I was struck by the fact that my generation, the Baby Boomers, are unique. Oh, I know we’re old now and should be given patronizing smiles and then be ignored. Those of us in this generation, however, are the last generation to have experienced so many things. Here’s just a short list of them.
We’re the last generation to have experienced the early years of television. During that time, many of
our families didn’t even own a tv, and when we finally got one, it was a black and white set that weighed as much as the kitchen stove. Those old sets received three stations; around here, they were 6, 10, and 26. Rabbit ears on top of the set could bring in two of the stations, but an outside antenna mounted on the roof was necessary to pick up the ABC affiliate Channel 26.
We are also the last generation to have to rise from the couch, walk across the room, and change the channel. No remote control was available. In fact, we often declared that our parents had us so that we could serve as human remote controls.
Our age group is the last consumers to enjoy the sounds from an 8-track tape player. I f we were lucky, one of the machines was wired into our old cars, and we popped in tapes to play music by Chicago, Iron Butterfly, or Three Dog Night. Holes were cut into door panels to insert speakers that worked until a wire shorted or a solder gave out.

Another thing that’s gone by the wayside is the cassette tape player. It proved to be more compact and allowed us to have a Walkman player to listen to music anywhere we wanted to go.
No other group will ever have to deal with rotary phones or party lines. Folks won’t have to listen to a ring to know if a call is for them or their neighbors. Nor will teenagers be embarrassed as
they talk to boyfriends or girlfriends while standing in front of parents or younger brothers or sisters. Today, some of us don’t mind leaving the house without a phone stuck in our pockets to be in touch with contacts or to connect to the Internet.
Just recently, I heard that car makers will phase out straight shift cars. If that’s so, we’ll be that least generation to learn to drive a vehicle with a stick shift. Sure, changing gears might hang around for a while, but Baby Boomers are the last folks to have cars with gear shifts as standard equipment. We had to pay extra for an automatic transmission. Those who learned to drive a car with a clutch and shifter were always able to drive any car that might be
available. Today, young people are limited to vehicles that have automatic transmissions, and they miss out on some of the fun of driving other types vehicles.
Baby Boomers are today’s senior citizens, and we will take with us many marvelous creations and inventions…for our time. Younger generations have developed their own items that are considered second nature—cell phones, video games, laptop computers, and Bluetooth devices. They will never know the joy of banging out a letter or term paper on a typewriter or spending hours in a library while they search for information on a topic. In a blink of an eye, however, these youngsters will be oldsters, and their toys that they hold so dear will be relics. I just hope those things are as important in their memories.
I’ve only scratched the surface of the out-of-date things we Baby Boomers used. Let me know if you think of others. I’d appreciate the memories that they bring back.


A GOOD LAUGH


Mildred Simcox, my wife’s aunt, passed away recently. She’d suffered the cruel effects of dementia for several years and finally found relief and release from a life trapped in a mind that faded away. What hurt so much was the fact that this woman loved to laugh. She taught all of us in her life that
laughter is one of the best things that we can experience.
During the celebration of Mildred’s life, her nieces and nephews shared stories about her levity. A particular time that brought on ripples of laughter from family occurred at someone else’s funeral. One account recalls that shouting began as the spirit moved mourners. Another declares that Mildred broke out in a smile and then a guffaw after an individual tripped and fell.
Mildred was like at least one person in every family. She was prim and proper most of the time, but on occasion, she let down her guard and allowed her true being to shine. She’d been a school teacher, so God had granted her “the look,” the one that seared the very soul of the person at whom it was directed. When something amused Mildred, the teacher fa├žade evaporated, and a smile, devilish grin and cackle replaced it.
We all could use a bit more laughter in our lives. I don’t ever laugh at folks who fall because my first concern is whether or not they are hurt. I’ve also experienced those times when I found myself sprawled on the ground or at the bottom of a set of steps and never found the situation particularly funny. I find humor in the things that people say. Expressions can set me off, and when a person spews ridiculous lies that are beyond belief, I lose it. Some comedians and a small number of goofy movies can bring on belly laughs. Those times always help me to realize that life truly is good.
We need to stop taking our lives and our situations so seriously. Sure, times arise when our attention to events requires our full concentration, but for the most part, life is just a casual thing. In a few hours or days or years, the things over which we stress so much will be the stuff of funny stories or won’t be important enough to remember. When we laugh, even for a minute, our bodies produce endorphins that relaxes us and allow us to simply breathe.
Right now, our country is fractured. Folks are divided into polarized camps and refuse to budge an inch from their beliefs. Our lives are “hard” because every event becomes another battleground for sides. No one smiles; instead, we squawk against the stupidity of our opponents. A much more effective act in those instances would be to consider the absurd contentions and then laugh loudly at them.
I’ve missed Mildred and her laughter since that vile disease struck. She became one of the persons whom I most liked in this world. Her silence will leave me sadder. What this former school teacher, aunt, and friend leaves behind is the image of a smiling face that reveled in moments of life and expressed that joy through a hearty laugh. That’s a legacy we could all wish to leave behind.

NANU-NANU


HBO aired a documentary about Robin Williams last week. Anyone who knows me well can quickly assure folks that I watched it. Since the beginning of his career, I followed him and lauded his creative and comedic abilities.
Williams hooked me with the first episode of “Mork and Mindy.” I’d never seen anyone who could
fly through jokes, change personalities, and keep his audience laughing hysterically. The Orkian handshake and catchphrase “Nanu-Nanu” spread throughout the nation’s population. I remember using both during my teaching days at the time. Some students thought I’d lost my mind, but others who’d viewed the show smiled politely or laughed aloud as they recalled a skit from the show.
Other comedians became favorites of mine over the years. Tim Allen and his shtick had me rolling in the floor with laughter. I loved the way he grunted like a pig in his imitations of men. The irreverent comedy of the Punk Magician shocked everyone, but his warped sense of humor kept viewers laughing. Lewis Grizzard transformed his newspaper columns and books into stand-up acts that sold out as soon as they were announced. Yes, I was a fan of Bill Cosby and his “Cosby Himself” routine. His spot-on comments on parenthood had those of us with little ones realizing that we were normal.
Still, Robin Williams remained my comedy hero. When his “Live at the Met” video came out, I
watched it and copied it to watch time and time again. Sure, Robin Williams was sometimes vulgar; at other times, he was crude; and on occasion, he bordered on disgusting. Even so, I always understood where he was going, which might say volumes about my own moral compass, but more than likely, it says that I could see that his intent was the humor, not the offense. In it all, he managed to keep fans laughing during his 2-hour long concerts.
I always wanted to see Williams, and in 2002 he scheduled a concert in Nashville. My older brother Dallas called and asked if I would like to see the show. I responded “yes” but that I couldn’t afford the ticket. He told me to be in Nashville the weekend of the event and that he’d get two tickets for us.
I made the trip on that weekend and spent some of Friday night sitting with Dallas on his screened porch. We talked for a bit about the concert, but then he uncharacteristically said he was going to bed. The next day he didn’t feel much better; his head was spinning, and he felt nauseated. The show was on Sunday evening, and Dallas rose that morning but didn’t stay up long. He stayed in bed all day, and when he was up for any reason, he apologized for not keeping me company. Closer to the concert time, he told me that he just didn’t feel well enough to go. I told him that was okay and that I could go by myself.
I saw my long-time favorite celebrity that August night, and he left the crowd at the grand Ole Opry House screaming for more, I saved the ticket stub and put it in a frame. It was a wonderful night.
That weekend also turned out to be the first inkling that my brother was seriously ill. On Labor Day, his wife Brenda called to tell me he was in the hospital. Dallas had developed lung cancer that had metastasized to his brain. By January 2003, he was gone. I placed a photo of the Dallas in the frame that held the ticket stub to remember the entire circle of events.
I miss Dallas and thought about the concert and his illness as I watched the Williams’ documentary. My heart broke when I learned the comedian had committed suicide. The one hope I have is that these two men have had the chance to meet in heaven so that my brother can laugh as I did all those years ago.