Safety First

by Mark Blackwell

Well, it looks like Fall has fallen in Brown County and purty soon folks’ll be comin’ from all over to look at the foliages. I can’t think of a better thing than to jest take off on a sunny afternoon and cruise the backroads, admirin’ the scenery, in one them topless sporty cars—unless I was to do it on a motorcycle.

It appears that I have arrived at an age where ridin’ a motorcycle would be a fine pastime, a good way to save gasoline and maybe generate some waning testosterone—but try tellin’ that to my wife—she considers ‘em murder-cycles. I started getting’ the itch for a bike a couple of years ago, when my brother-in-law got himself one and he’s a year or two older than I am. Well, I started out arguin’ all the merits of motorcycle ownership, they’re good on gas, easy to park, and you get a lot of fresh air and protein (from the bugs ya swaller). It didn’t do a lick of good; my wife said I would just get myself killed.

But I haven’t been killed yet and I owned a motorcycle back 35 years ago. That was before I had kids and had to have a way to get to work, even if it was rainin’ or snowin’. I could sort of understand havin’ to exercise a little caution back then, I didn’t want my kids to grow up like Oliver Twist or Orphant Annie. But the kids are adults now and it’s too late fer ’em to grow up orphaned. And I got my ol’ trusty, rusty pickup to get me to work in bad weather. Besides, I am a lot more mature now than I was when I got married. It’s still no go, though. It’s all about safety.

I suppose that safety is a good thing but like all good things it should be taken in moderation. As a culture, I think we’ve gone overboard on the safety issue. Take fer instance yer basic ladder. A ladder is a simple tool to get you from the ground up to where you need to be to do a job you probably don’t want to do. They used to be made out of two wooden rails about 18 inches apart goin’ vertical tied together with enough wooden rungs, goin’ up horizontally, to get you where you need to be. Now-a-days, you can get ’em in aluminum or fiberglass or even some space-age composite materials as well as plain ol’ wood but mainly they’re held together with safety decals.

Warning! Failure to read all 42 decals and stickers may result in injuries or DEATH!

Well, two years ago I read all the warnings, it took the better part of the day and I wound up scorching the decals with the magnifin’ glass I was usin’ to get a fix on all the fine print. Didn’t do any good, I still fell off, broke three ribs, and walked funny for two weeks. But that’s the way it goes sometimes. Ladders get you up and gravity pulls you down. How come there’s no safety warning about gravity? Would people still climb mountains and go skydiving if there was? I expect so, because life without a little risk to spice it up wouldn’t be worth spit. And now I hear there’s a move afoot to ban playground games like Tag and Red Rover.

Folks are even redesigning playgrounds to take all the danger out of ’em—no monkey bars, no teeter-totters, and they’re puttin’ in swing sets with safety belts. When I was a kid, if I’d of seen a playground like that I would have high-tailed it to the nearest alley, construction site, or vacant lot. Mainly, though, I spent a lot of time in woods, with my friends, shooting B B guns, starting fires, and thinking up new ways to make explosions. My motto was “No risk—No fun.”

Kids seem to be born with a genetic imperative to court extinction. I believe this may be related in some way to evolution. Left to their own devices, kids (boys, mostly) find the idea of jumping off of stuff (swings, roofs, trees, bridges), blowing things up, and seeing how fast and how high they can go, irresistible. We don’t seem to develop the ability of deduction until much later in life. For the first 25 years or so it’s all “Hey, let’s see what happens if…” And if you happen to survive all the falls, crashes, and explosions that you subject yourself to then maybe you’ve earned the right to procreate.

All in all, life is a risk. There are no guarantees and you can only protect yourself so much. Anything more than reasonable preparation and precaution is tedious. No matter what we do, we’re gonna die. The important thing is to have some genuine experiences and fun while we’re alive. But just when I want to blame all this safety craziness on modern times, Abe Martin comes up with his report from 100 years ago to remind us that just about every generation wrestles with the notion of how safe is safe enough. And there will always be somebody tryin’ shut down anything that might be even a little risky “…’till all the brutal features er eliminated”.