These days, when I ride my bike past the rec center, I don't think "rec center." I think "strike school." It was in that little building that a few of my colleagues hosted between eight and twenty of our kids during February's teacher strike. More politely named "Solidarity School," this was the place where those families who honored the picket line but needed a safe place for their children to be during the day dropped their progeny. Before the strike I had never set foot inside the building. I had ridden past and even waved at times to students who yelled at me from just outside or in the fields or on the courts adjacent. Now it is officially on the map.
A place with which I am completely familiar is the retaining wall in front of our school. That is where I spend most weekday afternoons, keeping an eye on those kids whose parents are delayed in picking them up. What begins as a crowd of dozens tends to dwindle to one or two, and then there are none. Another day is done. During the strike, this wall became a place for those of us walking the picket line to stop and catch our collective breath. All that chanting and pacing can wear on a teacher. It was also outside the school so we were not crossing our own line. We were simply awaiting an outcome. On a few days during that stretch, I stayed behind to maintain a technical presence while my fellow workers went off to a rally or a march or some other work action. I knew that wall, and I would defend it with my backside.
Just after lunch on one of those days, I heard a voice: "Hey Mister Caven!"
I looked up.
I sat and watched as one of our third graders proceeded to attempt and mostly perform a series of wheelies on his bike. For an audience of one: me.
"Can you do this?"
"Well," I said in my old-timer's voice, "I used to."
For half an hour, he rode up and down the street in front of the school perfecting his technique. And seeking approval. I knew that he was not one of those kids who would be dropped off at the Solidarity School. This was one of those free range kids who had been left alone for the day with admonitions to stay safe. And aside from practicing bike tricks on a city street without a helmet he was doing a pretty good job. At least he had someone to watch him.
Which, as it turns out, is my job.