As I drove to work, the first thing I noticed was the flashing yellow lights in the school zones weren’t blinking.
Official notification that summer is here.
As a kid in Ashdown, Arkansas, we didn’t have flashing yellow lights. We had one flashing light. It was red.
Located at the main intersection at Highways 71 and 32, that flashing red light was a symbol of who we were. Not every town qualified for a flashing red light, so when we stopped there, we stopped with pride.
Oh, sure, some of those city folk had full blown traffic lights that, through some sort of magic, turned red, yellow, and green.
But in Ashdown, we were independent thinkers. We didn’t need that level of sophistication. No, a flashing red light was plenty good for us.
We had a flashing red light, but it didn’t slow us down much. There wasn’t anywhere we couldn’t be in town within five to seven minutes.
Some of the suburbs of Ashdown, such as Ben Lomond, Winthrop, Frog Level, and Tollette, didn’t have a flashing red light. They weren’t big enough.
A flashing red light was something that had to be earned.
One of the most challenging puzzles on planet earth seems to be an intersection with four stop signs or a flashing red light. In a small town, you always knew who did and didn’t know how to navigate either one. They typically had tall, blue hair and drove a Mercury or Lincoln that had to be taken to an airport to turn it around.
If they happened to drive up on an intersection with four stop signs or a flashing red light, they became paralyzed. Matter of fact, the last time I visited Ashdown, an unnamed person in a 1973 Mercury Montego was still sitting at a stop sign near Burke Street Elementary and the old phone company office building.
It’s a good thing that no one in Ashdown was ever in a hurry. We didn’t have to be. We didn’t have cell phones back then, and even if they’d been available, no one would have used one. If you said you were on your way, folks just waited.
If it took longer than normal, folks knew that you either got stopped by a train, or you were behind a 1973 Mercury Montego and had to reroute your travel plans.
Now, Texarkana had traffic lights with three colors. We had heard about these mystical beacons of driving assistance, but those of us who didn’t get out much hadn’t actually had the chance to use one.
So, when I moved to Texarkana at age 18, I must’ve looked like one of those kids in Willy Wonka when they were sailing down the chocolate river. All of those flashing yellow lights in the school zones and three-color lights that operated all by themselves were a moment to savor for this country boy.
The closest thing I’d ever seen to a light that changed colors all by itself was an Ashdown policeman directing traffic when the flashing red light went out.
Folks get spoiled with a flashing red light, and if it doesn’t work, we have to have a little help. But, even having a traffic cop doesn’t always go smoothly if someone with blue hair in a 1973 Mercury Montego shows up.
Exiting the school zone on my way to work, I thought about how far I’d come. I’d been raised in a flashing red light town, and now folks trusted me with three-colored lights at almost every intersection.
I was so grateful that I decided to give thanks for each and every light.
In the nine mile trek to work, I counted 18. Of course, none of them are synchronized, so you have to stop at virtually every single one.
Throw in 50,000 of your closet friends who are also on their way to work and those 18 non-synchronized traffic lights, plus the 45 minutes it takes to get there, and you have a completely different driving experience from what I grew up with.
Add a blue-haired driver in a 1973 Mercury Montego who’s on their way to iHop for a three-hour breakfast, plus 20 different guys hauling a trailer full of mowers, weed eaters, and leaf blowers, and you now have a one-hour commute.
A total of just nine miles traveled in an hour.
I guess that’s progress. In the words of the theme song from, The Jefferson’s, I was moving on up.
No longer would I just have one flashing red light. I now had lots of lights with three different colors.
I’m now part of something much bigger. Something that includes 18 traffic lights, blue hair, iHop, grass cutters, and an hour to get to work.
I’m headed home to Ashdown soon to visit family. I want to tell them that they don’t have to keep living in the past. They can zip ahead light years. Literally, light years.
I can show them how to change that small town and make it something that others will recognize.
Yes, the flashing yellow lights are now dimmed, and summer vacation is here.
Enjoy your time off, kids.
I know I will. As soon as I can find a way around this 1973 Mercury Montego.
©2021 John Moore
Photo credit: Wikipedia.org
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