Everything I Needed to Know (I Learned in the Parking Lot)

The school I work at has a Fall Break after the first quarter. It’s great. I get a random week off that nobody else  gets off. Including my daughter, who is now in kindergarten.

So this week, I’ve actually still been in the house when she wakes up. I’ve let Wife go into work early since she’s usually on “get the kid ready” duty.

And I’ve now entered the very strange world of “child drop off and pick up” at elementary school.

Seriously people, how the fuck hard can this be?

I had dropped off once before, when I took her first day of kindergarten off work. She’s Late Start, so only half of the kindergartners were showing up at that time, about thirty kids total. The othergrades, as well as the other forty kindergartners, were already inside their respective classrooms, so I didn’t get to see too much of the crazy. My lasting impression was that there was WAY too much athleisure wear amongst the mothers. But whatever, I live in suburbia hell, so it shouldn’t be surprising to see all the stay-at-homers jonesing to get rid of the anchor that’s been weighing down their social lives for the last five years.  Now they can finally get back to the  Pilates that allowed them to entice their hedge-fund husbands in the first place.

Pick up on the first day of school was also a bit subdued, so it wasn’t until this past week that I truly saw the insanity that is drop-off and pick-up at a suburban elementary school.

And really, let me just say before I get too much further, that Late Start Kindergarten is a fucking weird-ass time warp. Three days a week, Daughter starts school at 10:05 am. On Mondays and Fridays, she starts at the regular school time of 8:50 am. What a great introduction to her next thirteen years of institutional indoctrination.

“Hey kids, don’t get too used to any one way of doing things! Routines are for suckers! And, oh hey, did we mention there’s a rally this Friday? What’s that? You’re having a test this Friday. Just put it off till Monday. I’m sure the students will do fine.”

Sorry, that might’ve been a little more teacher bitching than student.

Of course, the early starts don’t show up late twice a week to be equal opportunity annoying. Because early start equals early release, and then they get to have a margarita meeting. Uh huh. I’m sure you’re doing a ton of cooperative planning after school on Friday, kindergarten teacher. Wink, wink.

But that late start, on the days that she has to do it, are fucking brutal. What the heck kind of school starts at 10:05? That’s just early enough to not be able to do something substantive or make plans beforehand. We can’t go to a movie or mini golf. We can’t start an art project or teach the kiddo how to write a blog post.

But it’s late enough where I can’t just let her get ready for school at a leisurely pace. Seriously, I can have the kid ready to go by 8:00. 7:30 if she’s going to daycare in time to ride the bus. But even if I let the kid dawdle and get distracted, even without gentle nudging or voice-of-God “How freaking hard is it for you to brush your freaking teeth?”, she’s still going to be ready to go by 9:00. Then what the fuck am I supposed to do for an hour?

Naturally, I just plop her in front of the TV. What better way to get that brain geared up for a focused day of learning than two episodes of “Vampirina”?

Then it’s into the car for delivery time.

It occurs to me that, when I was Daughter’s age, I walked to school. I lived about as far from my elementary school as we currently live from Daughter’s. Given the rules I grew up under, she’d be a walker. Hell, everybody would be a walker, because elementary schools don’t do buses anymore.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to go all old man on you. No hiking my pants up to my nipples and saying that back in my day we hiked a hundred miles up a mountain just to find some snow to walk through. Uphill in both directions.

Quite the opposite. Like, holy shit, I have a five-year old now. Who in the fuck would think she can be responsible for getting herself to school? She can barely remember to go to the bathroom before heading to her state-mandated, hermetically-sealed, black-box-constructed car seat. Hell, I get worried when she wants to go to the mailbox by herself. What if some Formula 1 driver is driving two hundred miles per hour down the sidewalk of our six-house cul-de-sac? No fucking way I’d let her walk to school unless it was right next door. And even then, I’d put a GPS tracker on her.

Shoot, I wouldn’t even feel safe with her walking to the corner to get on a school bus to take her the rest of the way. Maybe that’s why schools stopped putting fifty kids in a huge death contraption driven by a loadie.

But back in 1979, my mom said, “See ya later,” and I hoofed it five blocks down one hill, then took a left and went up over another hill. Or sometimes I took the short-cut, a trail that went near bee hives and shit. And that was before California changed the birthday cutoff, so I was still four when kindergarten started. I was six months younger than my daughter was on her first day of school. What the fuck were you thinking, Baby Boomers?

Look, I know y’all were (and still are) the Me generation, and my generation became the Latchkey Kids and y’all are the reason we now have strict laws about when and where children must be supervised and that they need to be in a car seat when they get dropped off at high school graduation. I know all your hippie asses just needed to get back to smoking your weed after your five-year sabbatical, but really? You thought a bunch of four-year-olds should be responsible for getting their own asses to school? Put down the bong.

In my own mother’s defense, she said she freaked out and watched me walk to school from the back porch for the majority of my kindergarten year. She knew that I was a little spaz that was prone to simple distraction. One time in preschool, we were walking to the beach and I walked into a parked car. Oops.

Good thing I’m older now and am not likely to distraction and/or tangents, right?

Sorry, what was I writing about?

Oh, right. Student drop-off.

Morning drop-off is pretty simple. Kindergarten parents are supposed to stay with our children outside the gates until the teacher comes to pick them up. The rest of the students can go through the gates to wander around the school. Supervised, of course. What do you think this is, 1979?

So the drop-off line of cars moves pretty quickly. A car (or daycare bus) drives up to the curb, the back door opens, the student unbuckles himself from the seventeen-point harness car seat, and walks toward the school. Then the parent drives off for some Pilates and weed.

And truthfully, I don’t know all the nuances and protocols of the drop-off line since it’s only for non-kindergartners. For now, we have to park a half-block away and stand there with my kid until the teacher deigns to finish her morning constitutional.

Then there’s that really awkward moment after the teacher’s taken our children from us. Do I leave as soon as my child’s made it past the gate? Should I watch her make it all the way into the classroom? What happens when my kid’s first in line but the parent next to me’s kid is last? Do I shout out, “Peace out, motherfucker! You snooze, you lose!” and then run for my car? Technically, he’s handed his kid off, too. Are we both free to leave?

Am I supposed to talk to those other parents? I’ve come to know some of them because our kids have gone to birthday parties together and such. But it’s not like we have much to talk about. Should I ask the athleisure-wear lady where I can get some dank yoga? Or should I inquire if the unemployed father has found a job in the last 24 hours? Or would it be more appropriate to ask him about the best porn sites are these days?

Evidently none of us know how to act. Because we just put hands in pockets and shuffle away, trying not to make eye contact with each other. Like that awkward “both people leaving from the two sides of the glory hole at the same time” moment. Because now we’re just a bunch of grown-ups standing around outside an elementary school. And I didn’t even bring my trenchcoat!

So I just shield my face from prying eyes and high-tail it back to my car, past the long line of cars still dropping their kids off at the curb. Tardy much?

Then comes pick-up time. And this is where I’m fortunate that I have to pick up my kid at the gate. Because that long line of cars is now stretching to infinity. That whole “slow down long enough to kick the kid out” of drop-off is no longer present. Now they have to sit and wait for school to end. And wait. And wait. And wait.

The curb fits maybe ten cars at a time. So the first ten cars to get there can just chill and wait for school to get out. Presumably, they can turn off their car, because I can only assume they got there a half-hour after school started. Maybe they just dropped their kid off and never moved. Squatter’s rights.

Again, I don’t know what the protocol is for the non-kindergartners. I assume the kids get out and have to walk up and down the curb to see if their parent happened to get one of the sweet spots today. And if not, do they just hang out? And I assume that once one car leaves, it is immediately snatched up. Kinda like pick-up at the airport. And we all know how much of a shitshow that is. Now replace all the exhausted travelers with squirrely five- to eleven-year olds and, I’m sure you’ll agree, NOTHING bad could happen.

The rest of the cars are behind those go-getters stretching far into the street in both directions. Fortunately for both the children’s safety and the merging cars, this well-oiled machine is moving along at a glacial rate. And of course, all the cars remain turned on and idling. Huzzah for the environment!

One time at pick-up, I unintentionally tracked it. I pulled up and parked my car on the main street, about fifty yards from the intersection with the chock-full-in-both-directions street that Daughter’s school is on the corner of. As I was getting out of my car, Daughter’s daycare bus rolled up.

Wife and I have been curious about how the bus pickup process worked. So I figured this was a good chance to see how the daycare bus picks up the other kids. How they line up, how they board, what kind of Quaaludes the driver is on to have to sit through this idle hell each day. You know, the stuff that’ll make me feel better on the days I can’t be there.

I crossed the street right behind the bus, which had come to a stop six or seven cars away from the merge. I walked into the school, headed to the kindergarten pick-up space outside the gate, double-checked back on the process of the bus. It hadn’t moved. Of course it hadn’t moved! No students had been released from school yet. None of these cars would be moving for another ten minutes. It’s like the old “Camping out at Ticketmaster” days. .Not sure why all the cars are still running, but whatever. Maybe they are hoping that this is the day all the kids get out early.

The only thing that had changed was the line behind the daycare bus, which now stretched past where my car was parked. Seriously, how long have those first few cars been here?

After checking a few times, I got distracted. I don’t remember why. Maybe I ran into the glory hole parent from earlier. We shuffled our feet and looked at the ground and asked how lunch was and if either of us got anything done after the entire morning was screwed up by a 10:05 drop-off.

Kid was let out. Huzzah!

As I’m walking her away from the school I look at the curb. No sign of the bus yet. Bus is still out in the street. Cool, cool. Maybe I can still see how this whole thing works.

“What are you looking at, Daddy?”

“Oh, I was just curious where you get picked up by they day care bus.”

“Want me to show you?”


Daughter walks me all the way down to the far end of the curb. There’s a little awning there with some students gathering underneath. Daughter says hi to a couple of kids.

The curb is still filled with idling cars, but not very many children are getting into them. Most of the children are tromping up and down the byway like we are. There seems to be a logjam. The earliest parents seem to be correlated with the latest children. Do go-getters beget lollygaggers?

We head back toward Daughter’s classroom. Still no bus. I can’t really delay her much longer without an explanation, and she’s way too young to comprehend glory holes, so we just head back to my car.

We pass the bus. Daughter waves to the driver. We cross the street just behind the bus. It’s idling, maybe six or seven cars away from the merge point.

Yep, you got it. It hasn’t fucking moved at all. I want to ask Daughter how fucking late the bus usually picks her up. Unfortunately she little concept of time.

But I should be able to extrapolate it or l out on my own. Let’s see, it’s been fifteen minutes and the bus has moved about five feet. By my calculation, they should be picking her up about a half-hour past next June.

But I’ll never know for sure, because after a super illegal u-turn to teach Daughter to respect the power of moving automobiles, I was off like Donkey Kong. At least, to help foster Daughter’s respect for the dangers of driving, I waited until I was at LEAST a quarter of the way through the illegal u-turn amongst children and parents before checking my phone for the latest porn site. Also, I had to wait until I had popped the bus driver’s qualuudes.

In all seriousness, I’m pretty sure I was home before the bus made it to the curb. Which means that all those other cars of all those other parents were still sitting in that line, too.

And the daycare bus has an excuse. It’s their fucking job. What the hell are all of those parents doing? Many of them were there before me, presumably because they don’t want to waste time. Except they don’t really care about the wasted time once they’re there. Or else they’d park and walk their athleisure-wear asses the half-block to and from school. It’s kinda like pilates. Then they’d be home by now, smoking their weed.

Then maybe the daycare bus could pick my kid up before midnight.

New math, indeed.

Amber Alert Abuse

I missed a week. Oh, well. Life happens. Can’t make it two misses in a row or else I’ll be missing a whole lot more.  Time to get back on that whore.

Wait, it’s horse? Really? Well that just doesn’t sound nearly as… alright, fine.

But nothing like a little vitriol to get me back in the game. And boy, there’s a guy I’m really pissed at these days.

At least I assume it’s just one guy. In truth it’s probably a committee or some other buck-passing groupthink anomaly. But I like to think of it as one guy, sitting behind a Wizard-of-Oz curtain inside the deep reaches of the Department of Transportation Safety or the Highway Patrol, feverishly rubbing his hands, plotting the next move in his Faustian gambit for bureaucracy domination, right before his SEIU-mandated 64-minute lunch break

It is Faustian, right? Maybe Machiavellian is what I meant. Pavlovian? Lovecraftian? Whatever, the dude’s a dick.

In California we have signs on the side of the freeway that are ostensibly used for Amber Alert. Most of the time they are blank, but when a child is abducted, the name and description of the child and/or abductor and/or car immediately go up around the state. Makes sense, especially when the license plate of the car is given. A hell of a lot less intrusive than the time every electronic device in the house went off at 3:00 in the morning for an Amber Alert.  That only happened once. I think I wasn’t the only one to complain about it.

There are a few other times the Amber Alert signs spring to life that I don’t have a problem with. If there is an accident ahead or some other hazard that I should be on the lookout for, it’s nice to know ahead of time.  In some of the more congested areas of the state, they can be used to tell you what traffic is like on alternate routes. And if there are no alternate routes, well then at least they can tell you just how fucked your commute is going to be.

Then Baron von Lunch Break gets involved.

“Gosh,” he says to himself, “there haven’t been nearly enough child abductions lately. What good is my job if I can’t call mommy and ask if she saw my message on her way to bingo?”

So he busts out his old VHS copy of L.A. Story, because BetaMax is SO last century, and is inspired by the traffic sign that saves Steve Martin’s life. Maybe he can use his power for good and save people’s lives. Or at the very least he can touch Sarah Jessica Parker’s boob.

The first non-emergency messages I remember seeing on the Amber Alert signs were about drinking and driving. Things like “Don’t drink and drive” or “Report drunk drivers” or “Buzzed driving is drunk driving.” And even if, legally speaking, that last one might not be accurate, who can really fault the guy for trying to cut down on the DUI problem?

Just not after noon on a Friday because, you know, that’s effectively the weekend.

Evidently he got an extra special “good job” stamp in his personnel file at his annual review. I doubt he was actually commended for his abuse of the Amber Alert system. Instead, I assume he brought it up and his political appointee boss waved her hand and said, “yeah, yeah, that sounds great,” before signing off on his 2.375% Cost of Living Adjustment, about which he enjoys dropping the COLA acronym into casual conversation as if he’s on the inside of some secret club that you just can’t be a part of.

But something must have happened, because over the past year, he’s gone into overdrive. Now scarcely a week goes by without a pithy new warning or admonishment emanating from the electronic billboards.

“It’s safe teen driving week.”

“Watch out for motorcyclists.”

“One text or call could wreck it all.”

Of course, the irony of all three of those statements is that they are berating us for not paying attention while we drive. And what better way to make people be aware of how important it is to keep their eyes on the road than by distracting them with a flashing electronic sign off to the side? Particularly a sign that we’ve been indoctrinated to check for missing children. Because distracted driving while checking your phone is bad, but distracted driving to read some Cubicle Casanova justifying his job in light of cutbacks is perfectly acceptable.

Last week, he topped himself.

The Central Valley of California gets some pretty dense fog. It’s called Tule fog for some reason that I could probably google.  I grew up in Southern California, and what I called fog in my youth would be mocked and bullied by this Tule shit. Even San Francisco, which is world famous for fog, is scoffed at by the Central Valley. San Francisco fog still billows and has the fluffy white appearance of a high school drama department’s fog machine.

The Central Valley fog, on the other hand, just sits. It’s as heavy as an above-ground bog. It clings to the ground like napalm. Dare I go for the simile threesome? It’s as thick as… as… fog! Nailed it! Boo-yah!

Over the past couple weeks, that Tule fog has hit the region with a vengeance.  I’ve heard it referenced as quarter-mile visibility, but even that is stretching the word visible rather thin. What visibility usually means is that you can see the faint glimmer of the taillights of the car in front of you, and you hope that they can see the taillights of the car in front of them. If you lose sight of that, you’re in an ethereal, suffocating, moonlike landscape. Seriously, go do a google image search for Tule fog. It’s otherworldly.

So here I was, hands locked in a death-grip upon the steering wheel at the proper ten-and-two positions, leaning forward as if that might help, when out of the corner of my eye, I see it. A faint auburn glow coming through the fog a half-mile ahead. Oh shit, the Amber Alert sign is on. It looks like multiple lines of text. I don’t know how much good I’ll do in find a late-model white Celica in these conditions, but I’m trying to be a good citizen.

So I take my eyes off the ten yards of visibility to look toward the sign. Still just the faint indication of light. Back to the road, some taillights, then back up. Definitely some words there, but way too blurry to read. Three more cycles and the blurs finally coalesce into words. There are three of them, one per line.




Wow, really? Thanks for that. I’m sure we wouldn’t have been able to figure that out without the sign telling us. What better use of my tax dollars than to take my eyes off of the extremely dangerous driving conditions to tell me that the driving conditions are, indeed, dangerous.

Oh, and ignore the crashing metal and glass sounds underneath said sign. I’m sure those are just coincidental.