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I haven’t thought about Danny Lopez in decades. Who knows why I dreamt about him that night? A random memory? An attempt to make sense of today’s world?
A mundane dream mirroring our regular visits: From the vantage point in my sandbox, the kind that did not have a bottom and thus allowed for vigorous digging and a belief that one day I’d arrive somewhere else, I caught Danny’s arrival in the great outdoors. The Lopez door opening, Danny clambering awkwardly down porch steps on short legs, then doing his version of a sprint over to me. I desist from my fervent attempt to reach China long enough to snuggle him in my arms, and chat. He then takes up a position on my right, keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.
Danny Lopez was a Chihuahua, a tiny dog with a wonderful life. Consider the 60s and 70s in blue-collar, working-class, Canadian neighbourhoods such as mine, predominantly white but with a smattering of folks such as my Lebanese family, along with a few Asian-Canadians and Latinx folks. How many dogs? Hardly any. Which meant non-existent leash laws and non-existent pick-up-after-your-dog laws: there were so few canines it didn’t matter. And small friendly dogs were guaranteed to do well on any child-abundant street.
As Danny did. Visits to my house, to the VanderSands, to the Espositos. Receiving pats and hugs from many children, enthusiastically joining a game of tag, scrutinizing Omar’s latest Lego extravaganza. Lounging in his front yard when the afternoon sun was its hottest: once shade started creeping across the terrain, he rose, stretched vigorously, languidly crossed the street to Mrs. O’Reilly’s. Claiming his spot in the sun, for the last hours of afternoon heat.
Some of us are blessed to be born into a time when daily life aligns beautifully. Danny was such a one. Living with friendly neighbours, who knew each other and had an open policy about yard use. No fences. A good number of young children who took full advantage of the open policy, with no pets of their own. And something that may not immediately come to mind: driving protocols. Without a particular kind of driving protocol, Danny Lopez would not have led his charmed life.
Within this protocol, Danny could count on drivers doing certain things and not doing other things. He could count on drivers drifting down residential streets at speeds that allowed for easy stops, should a dog or ungainly pregnant woman or group of children playing tag suddenly appear. He could count on drivers stopping at stop signs. Even if said driver had braked at that exact stop sign countless times and never seen a motorized vehicle bearing down from the cross-street. No: a stop sign meant stop. Even if there was a singular lack of cars at that corner. Even if you planned to make a right-hand turn from one empty residential street onto another empty residential street. Said driver came to a complete stop, used turn signal, looked both ways, made the turn.
When I consider that time, I recall a certain expansiveness, a certain big-picture kind of thinking, on the part of drivers. This expansiveness did not come courtesy of drivers’ ed because it had only arrived a few years before I got my license, and no blue-collar families had money for lessons that could be had for free. My first driving experience, with my spanking new learner’s permit, involved my uncle relaxedly stretched out on the passenger side of the large Chevy Impala, rolling a cigarette with great concentration, saying little as I jerked and bounced around the large parking lot. Attempting to gain control of the large steering wheel with its non-power-steering. Attempting to apply the right amount of pressure on gas pedal and non-power-brakes. My uncle and I moving backwards and forwards, without seatbelts, him contentedly blowing smoke out the window.
With time and practice, my driving skill increased – along with the same kind of big-picture thinking that my uncle, my parents, and other aunts and uncles and neighbours espoused: they continually pointed out the reality of children, dogs, cats, elderly people, slow walkers. And they drove in such a way that it was clear they were doing what they were telling me to do. And so I learned to drive in that way, to pay attention to what was going on, as well as what might happen in a flash of a second. I learned to drive in a way that assumes the unexpected.
Danny flourished in this era, with its particular driving protocol. He visited. He lounged in sunny front yards. He curled up in various laps. He crossed the street multiple times a day, secure in the knowledge that drivers were not moving quickly: in fact, they routinely drove under the speed limit. This may be hard to fathom in today’s world.
Getting older allows for detailed views of positive change, and getting older allows for detailed views of negative change. Which become normalized. Take shifts in driving protocol. I am sadly well-versed in these, as a lifelong walker and cyclist who has lived in many urban and rural areas, and now Calgary. These days my dog and I have twice-daily walks in my SE Calgary residential neighbourhood. I cannot rely on drivers to drift slowly through these streets, stop at stop signs, or look to the right before turning right. Why? Because they don’t. Routinely, many drivers move at unsafe speeds on these streets: they’d never be able to stop if a child suddenly ran in front of them. Routinely, many drivers roll through stop signs. Routinely, many drivers slow down as they approach a stop sign, glance left, and turn right without looking right: they assume the way is clear. Even when my dog and I are standing at said corner, waiting to cross, with the right of way. I know the routine: it’s likely the driver will not look to the right but will actually hit my dog or I if I were to step into the street. And become the one pedestrian hit on that particular day in Calgary. At least, one per day is the number we know about. Evidently it’s an under-reported crime.
Current driving protocol. I could also talk about crosswalks (shudder), or texting while driving. But I will leave those for another time, and simply talk about one aspect of driving that impacted Danny Lopez as he trotted through his happy days. In which Mr. Lopez would exit the front door and plop himself down on the porch, foul-smelling cigar alight, half-heartedly calling for his dog to come home. In which Danny had multiple adventures with multiple friends. In which Danny could not have identified a dog leash if his life depended on it. Which it did not.
Perhaps you, dear reader, may wonder if I am opposed to current leash laws, or poop-and-scoop laws. No, I am not. Perhaps you, dear reader, may wonder if I am expressing nostalgia for everything that happened during this time period. No I am not. Although I may be expressing nostalgia for how people drove: I freely admit to yearning for the driving protocols I grew up with. Protocols laced with the understanding that situations change in a fraction of a second and a drive had best be prepared to stop on a dime. To hit the brakes – and successfully stay in place – before tragedy ensues.
Driving protocols. Such a small thing, someone might argue. Are they even worth talking about, in light of the weighty issues clamouring for attention in today’s world? Yes, driving protocols can be classified as small. As can the issue of who washes the dishes. As can the question: But where are you really from? As can the addition of a handrail in the bathroom.
We all know the heft of small issues.
It is a sad truth that my dog and I would have been hit by a car if I did not understand today’s driving protocols and adjust my walking accordingly. It is a sad truth driving protocols have changed in ways that negatively shifts urban life, especially for pedestrians and cyclists and our canine friends. It is a sad truth that today’s canines are unlikely to experience the same charmed life my first canine friend did. Because for me, a charmed life signifies a life involving positive communal involvement, however small or large. Which is not a given for today’s dogs. Or today’s humans.
Joe Kadi teaches in the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at the University of Calgary, and he lives within the traditional territories of the Blackfoot and the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta, which includes the Siksika, the Piikuni, the Kainai, the Tsuut’ina and the Stoney Nakoda First Nations.
Copyright 2022 Joe Kadi.