Take My Hand, I’m Scared; Let Me Go, I Can Do It

Loose Leaves column, 1st run Sunday 6 May 2001 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 2001 Donrey Media Group

I am paranoid or sensible enough to fasten the seat belt every time I get in an automobile, without caring that most states, including Arkansas, mandate wearing them.

My family rented a boat on Table Rock Lake a few weeks ago. The man checking out the boat to us explained he had stowed enough life jackets for all under some of the seats and that only children are required by Missouri law to wear them.

Did I check which seats and put one on? No. Why seat belts and not life jackets? Why am I trusting my brother not to capsize us?

Without seat-belt laws, too many of us would not bother. Legislation protecting us against many avoidable mishaps may cost a torn-but-blank corner of the Constitution but is a useful sacrifice of freedom.

Arkansas should not have abolished the mandatory motorcycle helmet law. You don’t have to be a police reporter for long to see the results of even a slow-speed motorcycle wreck.

I never fail to wear a bicycle helmet on Fayetteville’s hills on my red BikeE recumbent. No law covers bicycle helmets for young or old, just that bicycles must be operated just like cars, ridden on the right, with turn signals, etc.

I bicycle like I drive and swim — slowly. When I was about 12 I signed up for a two-day bicycle trip. This being before mass-marketed, drop-handlebar 10-speeds, we campers were given black Raleigh three-speed English touring bikes.

The slowest bicyclists had to lead, to keep them from falling behind and getting lost. The other boys so taunted me during the weeks of practice that on the morning of the trip I managed to wake with a fever and got excused.

But I never lost a love of bicycles. I pedaled all over Fort Smith, even after getting my driver’s license.

My honeymoon was a Caribbean cruise. One afternoon, the wind increased quickly, bringing in ominous clouds. My wife, theretofore even more cautious than me, called out, let’s walk to the front, and took off. I weighed waiting inside, then followed.

Yes, it was exhilarating. This was years before the movie “Titanic,” so we did no “king of the world” scene on the bow. We didn’t stay there but a few minutes because, fortunately, she got cold.

By the time we returned, gripping the now-wet rope railing for dear life, the loudspeaker was sounding with a call to clear the decks, that a storm was blowing in.

Yet she hates for me to bicycle. An acquaintance our age, author Ned Shank, died from a collision in Eureka Springs last year. Harry Lewenstein, husband of my favorite journalism professor, was 70 in 1997 when he broke his neck after his bike hit a bump in Portugal; he’s a quadriplegic.

But I continue to pedal out, helmeted and full of lights and reflectors, for all the good that does around here. I would call out to children bicycling illegally or helmetless, but that might scare them into swerving. Should strangers interfere with the offspring of relatively sensible adults?

Children in peril captivate readers and viewers like no other news event. A few years ago a little girl wandered off and fell in a hole, and the nation watched TV news until she was dug up, alive.

This is an old phenomenon. A subplot in the 1987 Woody Allen movie “Radio Days” has the main characters glued to their radios — during the 1940s — for updates about a fictional child who fell into a well.

Accidents almost by definition are all technically preventable. But we can’t think of everything all of the time. Weeks ago, I did leave the cold-water tap on, in the sink with the bad plunger that closes on its own, and it did flood.

At some point we have to acknowledge that life is not a theme park with firm railings and smooth ramps everywhere. The main part of growing up is testing new waters, whether you’re 6 or 16.

Even if you don’t believe in angels, it is difficult not to cite super-natural guardians who serve God with subtle rescues most of the time. The key, because we are mortal, is “most of the time.” Angels watch ships: Goony landlubbers falling overboard are quite rare.

We also must be one another’s angels.

When we hear of a kindergartner taken by adults on a hike along a fast river with cliffs, we hope others who still think this is an appropriate activity will hang a whistle on their child’s neck and ensure their child is in the front or middle of the group, not last where it may take precious moments to notice her disappearance.

The next time we should not boast how the ensuing search-and-rescue was the biggest in Arkansas history.

Angels don’t mind their own business.

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