Missing opportunities


They drove past importantly, one after the other, driving too fast for our quiet dead-end neighborhood with their lights flashing but sirens silent.

I wouldn’t nave noticed except that they blared their horns at the four-way stop.

And I was home on a late afternoon but I put aside everything, grabbed purse and press pass, and started up the street.

Two police cruisers were followed by two pick-up trucks with flashing lights, then fire engines, and small boys dancing in excitement gathered on front porches.

Neighbors I haven’t met were all standing out in their lawns, clumping on sidewalks, trying to see what all the commotion was about. Dogs barked and children strayed too far and guesses were exchanged.

I haven’t seen that many people outside at one time even once in the year we’ve lived there.

By the time I could see the house involved, it was pretty clear that the problem wasn’t such a big deal. I saw a firefighter with a gas monitor walking back behind a house, and others standing around, not really doing much. An official in a gray pickup truck wouldn’t look at me when he answered my question, a sardonic smile that bordered on a sneer on his face.

Nothing more exciting than a gas leak. The fact that power went out 10 minutes ago was completely unrelated.

His face said much more than his words. “Look at all these people,” his face said. “So worked up over nothing. Yokels, looking for a little excitement in their day.”

Heading back down the street I stopped to chat with  my next-door neighbor, on his bicycle, and an elderly man named John up the street. John’s wife stood in the front door, her voice high-pitched and anxious when she called his name.

I gave them the news from the sneering man, and we all shook our heads. Why we needed two fire engines, two police cruisers, and two fire pick-up trucks for a gas leak that appears to be fixed already is not exactly clear.

The one, he says there must be donuts somewhere nearby. He’ll tell me why we had two police cruisers; they had nothing else to do.

He goes on, wishing they’d just “leave those IUP kids alone,” telling how he’s been warned not to so much as walk down the main street of town after a couple beers, in case they stop him and smell the alcohol and slap him with a public drunkenness citation.

John, though, used to live a bit closer to campus. They have to be strict on little infractions, before they grow and get out of hand, he says. And that means natives suffer the closer scrutiny too.

My neighbor is not convinced, but now the fire engine sirens are blaring and first they, then the cruisers, take off down the street.

We guess there’s a real emergency somewhere else, so our excitement is over.

I pass the word down the line as I walk back home, to the bread that needs punched down but that cannot be baked until the power comes back on. Nobody knows what’s up with the power.

And yes, it was a lot of excitement about absolutely nothing and my neighbors are still talking, heads poking out doors and clumps still formed on sidewalks.

But really, it was their reaction that sparked ours. It’s not very often that six different emergency vehicles drive too fast up our tree-lined street.

And they squandered an opportunity. I wish I could tell them that. Driving so quickly so that one neighbor shouted “slow down!” at their disappearing bumpers, leaving windows rolled up and not making eye contact, they opened themselves up to irritation and scorn.

They never need to come through our neighborhood so once they were here, they should have taken a moment to chat with John and waive to the dancing boys and at least make eye contact with me when, press pass in hand in case I needed it, I approached them.

Instead they puffed themselves up with importance, and made their own selves look foolish.

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