Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The print column

Here's a look at my print column for this week, looking at kids and cars and the trouble that often ensues.

Maybe it’s a guilty conscience.

I often find myself telling my kids to do as I say, not as I did.The feeling came over me again last week as we covered still another fatal crash involving a young driver.

Look, I grew up in Oxford, out in Chester County. Today, it’s still known to some as “the sticks.”

In the ’70s, it might as well have been another world. In some ways, it was. When I am speaking to groups today, I try to give them a feel of what it was like growing up in Oxford. This is one of the stories I use: Remember the warning they gave Columbus when they mocked his intention to sail to the new world, convinced that instead what he was going to do was sail right off the edge of the flat globe?

Well, get yourself out there on Baltimore Pike. Past Route 202. Past Longwood Gardens. When you get to the point where they believed the world ended, you’ve almost made it to Oxford.

Let’s just say there wasn’t a lot to do. So how did teens amuse themselves?

We rode around in cars. Cruising. We drove back and forth along the main drag, waving to the same people, who were doing the same thing. Of course, it helped back then that you could drive around pretty much all night on a Saturday for a buck’s worth of gas.

But that’s not all we did. Sometimes we drove faster than we should have. Sometimes a lot faster.In Oxford, cars were king. The hotter your wheels, the bigger your reputation grew.There were times that had to be proved on the street. I believe they call that drag racing. Doing that on the street is illegal. That didn’t stop us.It also sometimes didn’t stop the consequences. Back then, many a Sunday morning was filled with the news of the latest horrific crash. People would actually drive out to the scene and look around in a macabre practice that became all too familiar.

Not all the crashes were linked to drag racing. Almost all of them were due to kids and cars, and the thrill of driving them. Usually driving them way too fast.I was reminded of those reckless times twice recently. My son just turned 18. He informed me that means he no longer has a junior driver’s license, that he no longer has to be off the road by 11 p.m. His mother and I informed him as long as he lives under our roof, he has to be off the road when we tell him, thank you very much.Actually, he’s a very good driver. Do I know what he does when he’s out on his own? No. My hope is that he does as his father says, not as his father once did.

There is, of course, another reason I was thinking recently about young people and cars.Last weekend, this newspaper covered the latest tragic crash in Springfield. It is the phone call that a lot of parents dread: “There’s been an accident.”

Back in the ’60’s and ’70s, a lot of parents in Oxford got that call.

Every night, I thank God I have not experienced that kind of pain, that my kids — both of them — have for the most part spared me some of the aggravation I caused my parents.

Coincidentally, the very same weekend we learned of the death of Eddie Lancaster. He was in a car full of his Penncrest High buddies when it went out of control on Valley Road out in Edgmont five years ago. One friend was killed. Lancaster was left a paraplegic.Police in Springfield believe the driver of one of the cars, 18-year-old James Blair Heron, had pulled out to pass another car and was in the left-hand lane when he collided with a car driven by James Eden, a grandfather who was just blocks from his home.

Yes, I was taken aback when I saw the name as I checked online early Sunday morning.

To the best of my knowledge, we’re not related. But we have some things in common. I can only imagine what the two families involved in this tragedy are going through.Young people and cars. It’s a volatile concoction.

Like I said, maybe it’s a guilty conscience. I know what I did years ago.Every time we deal with this kind of tragedy, I remember back to all those nights riding around town. And what could have been.Some things you don’t forget so easily.

Philip E. Heron is editor of the Daily Times. Call him at (610) 622-8818. E-mail him at editor@delcotimes.com.

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