When I was a wee thing, my parents moved out the the Highly dubious condo in East Palo Alto and into a relatively nice suburban neighborhood, into a house immediately across the street from my new elementary school. Immediate, as in, less than 40 feet from the traffic circle. Mom would wave at me from the driveway sometimes while I was in class. This should have made getting me to and from school easy, but there was an issue:
I still had to cross the street, and because I was living in the over-caffeinated heart of silicon valley at the time, that meant dodging the local commuters barreling through the school zone at upwards of 40 miles per hour with no regard for the stop signs.
The flashing “School Zone” signs were ignored. The city refused to put in speed bumps or devote extra patrol cars. One of my classmates grandmother’s volunteered as crossing guard, and some jackass in a BMW ran over her foot on the first day.
Now, mom declared as we drove Mrs. Manchez to the hospital her foot in a beer cooler full of ice, Would be a good time to take the law into my own hands.
So after dropping Mrs. Manchez off at the hospital, we drove to the thrift store, where my mom found a navy blazer, aviator sunglasses, a pilot’s cap and an old, clunky-looking hair dryer.
The next morning, mom went out to the sidewalk in her new “uniform”, with the hair dryer and a legal pad so she could write down the grocery list. Every time a car would come roaring down the road, Mom would look up, point the hairdryer at them, and, and write something down.
I remember listening to brakes squeal all day the first time she tried it, Mercedes and BMWs screeching to a crawl as they passed the school, glaring at her. By that afternoon, cars were creeping along at an over-cautious 10mph, and I was able to get home without taking my life into my hands.
After that, Mom went out “in uniform” every couple of days, because intermittent re-enforcement is what REALLY gets a change in behavior going, and point the hair dryer at anyone speeding through the school zone, usually while writing down grocery lists or short stories, or drawing unflattering caricatures of the other PTA moms.
Eventually, however, one of the cars that came through was a patrol car, and he slowly pulled to a halt in front of mom, glaring at her though his own reflective glasses.
She smiled an waved the hair dryer. “Good afternoon!”
“…What’re you doing?” he groaned, 3 in the afternoon entirely too early for this shit.
“Writin’ a grocery list.” She beamed, and when that failed to satisfy him, she explained about the speeding problem and that if they couldn’t send a partol car out here to ticket people regularly, she figured that a hair dryer would be the next best thing. Working like a charm so far. They didn’t even notice the little airplanes on the Pilot’s hat.
The officer stared at her for a moment longer before his face broke out into a slow grin. “Y’know, when we’re out of a car, we usually wear visibility vests. So more people see you and your… Phaser.”
And that’s the story of how Mom and Officer Brown met and started the neighborhood watch program.