A DELIVERY OF PRECIOUS CARGO
HEAT! The heat was steamy and suffocating, a humid pall that anticipated the dawn and left everyone a little sluggish, a little vulnerable. It was so hot that the day itself seemed dazed, as though it had got lost from July somehow, made a wrong turn off the calendar, then wandered fitfully in the ether until it stumbled into September. In the suburbs west of Boston that Monday morning, it was not autumn at all; there was no hint or whisper of New England charm to come, nothing of the crisp anticipation of a new school year. It was just a sizzlera white-sky mugging. And in the car-pool lane at the Chaney School, it was Cairo at noontime.
"Car-pool lane" was one of the schools many charming euphemisms, for there wasnt much pooling evident. The fewer the kids, the bigger the vehicle. The SUVs idled in rank, pumping out pizza-oven blasts of superheated exhaust, inching forward toward the alcove, where each would discharge from seventy-eight cubic feet of cargo space its seven cubic feet of Precious Cargo.
At just after eight a.m., behind the wheel of his wifes forest-green 2001 Lincoln Navigator, Fritz Brubaker took his place at the back of the line. In front of the Navigator was a shiny black Chevrolet Yukon XL with a 2500 cc Vortex engine, its powerful air conditioner cooling Precious Cargo by means of an asphalt-melting heat transfer from the tailpipe. In front of the Yukon was a white Mercedes SUV; in front of the Mercedes a Suburban, in front of the Suburban a pearl-gray Range Rover, in front of the Range Rover an Audi A6 all-wheel-drive Quattro feeling smugly and environmentally righteous in this brigade of half-tracks, and in front of the Audi a line of seven-foot SUVs broken only once by a minivan that looked as though it were being held hostage.
They didnt wait impatiently, mind youthey advanced smartly, even eagerly, the moment they could, but not impatiently. No impatience would be expressed as the SUV at the front of the line stopped at the alcove and the driver hopped down from the front seat; none as she (usually but not always, either Mom or the nanny) came around to the passenger side to unbelt the cargo with a cheery wave to the vehicle behind; none as she greeted the welcome teacher (this morning it was Mavis Potemkin, one of the team-teaching second-grade pair); certainly no one would express vehicular urgency as the parent straightened the Patagonia backpack on the childs shoulders (the backpack must be an approved backpack: while the $79.99 JanSport would do in a pinch, a good parent really ought to spring for the $109 Patagonia number); no one in line would be so gauche as to rev a three-hundred-horsepower engine as the parent checked the water bottle (children must be properly hydrated at all times); and then, perhaps most important of all, as the line of idling SUVs pumped remorseless cubic meters of carbon monoxide into the hot morning air, no impatience would be expressed as the parent escorted the Precious Cargo thirty feet across the gravel and through the doorway of Fielding Hall.
Not that the crushed-stone path between the alcove and Fielding was perilous country. Mishap there was about as likely as, say, a holdup in the Oval Office. Still, this daily station of the parenting cross was vitally important. The car-pool-laners were eagerthey wanted to move smartly (but not rudely) and efficiently (but not impatiently) through this process, but no one would rush this event. Because escorting ones children into Fielding Hall at the Chaney School was a Good Parent Ritual. At the turn of the millennium in tony Wellesley, Massachusetts, just west of the city that liked to call itself the Hub, churchgoing was off, but Good Parent Rituals were the new sacraments. Particularly when other hawkeyed good parents were watching with raptorial intent from their sport utility perches.
Excerpted from Present Value by Sabin Willett Copyright© 2003 by Sabin Willett. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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