Woog's World: Westporters need to chill out and calm down

As the temperature outside drops, some Westporters get heated.

This is a wonderful time of year. The air is crisp. Days grow shorter, but we pack plenty into them. There are apples to pick, pumpkins to carve. Of course — because this is autumn in New England — there are leaves to peep.

Elections loom too. The biggest contest this local year is for first selectman. CEO of the town is a huge and important job. The vote is less than three weeks away. But many people are not yet paying attention. Besides a couple of debates and small group meetings, the campaign is playing itself out through lawn signs.

What really gets Westporters’ knickers in a knot is a controversy. As noted last week, “Critical Race Theory” is not a thing. Teachers do not indoctrinate students to hate America, hate our history, or hate their white skin. That’s not happening in public schools across the country, and it’s certainly not happening here. Our educators understand their job. It’s to help youngsters learn how to think, not what to think.

Yet a group of anonymous parents — some of whom may actually be from here — flood social media with insinuations. They post yard signs in traffic islands, muscling aside the dozens already there for political candidates. They demand that the Westport Public Schools’ curriculum be “transparent,” even though it is already is. Entire pages on the district’s website are devoted to curricula, at every level.

Still, the Critical Race Theory kerfuffle is nothing compared to what’s happening on Westport roads. It’s a war zone out there, and drivers are taking no prisoners.

At the height of the pandemic, you could roll a bowling ball down the middle of the Post Road and not hit anyone. Interstate 95 looked like Interstate 80 in Wyoming. Now, though COVID is not over, traffic is back. And it’s way worse than ever.

Nearly every day, accidents on 95 and/or the Merritt send traffic off the exits and onto our streets. Thanks (?) to Waze and similar apps, drivers find “alternate routes.” They’re not faster, as anyone crawling through Greens Farms or Saugatuck knows. But they do aggravate anyone trying to do something normal, like pick a child up from school and take him or her to soccer practice, karate lessons or dance class.

It didn’t used to be normal to pick kids up from school. They took the bus; they got home ate snacks and scampered away. Those days are just a gauzy memory. The decision two years ago to move school start times forward by half an hour — primarily, to give high school students more sleep — caused collateral damage at the middle school and (particularly) elementary school levels.

The new end times collide with increased late afternoon traffic. Schedules for after-school activities have not changed, so time to get there is crunched. Add in a shortage of bus drivers (for reasons ranging from fear of COVID to low pay), and the situation is dire. More parents thus pick up more kids, further clogging the roads. Frustration starts as drivers wait in long school lines, then boils over as they race (well, crawl) across town.

So drivers play chicken at intersections. They treat yellow lights as green — and reds as greens too. They blow past stopped school buses (which, hey, a few kids still ride). Driving in town has gone from challenging to frightening. Meanwhile, watching it all from the back seat are our children. We’re modeling exactly the wrong behavior. And unless driverless cars take over a lot sooner than we think, we’re raising a new generation of very rude and truly ruthless drivers.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. We don’t have to get all atwitter over something that is not happening in our schools. We don’t need to drive like maniacs. We can take a deep breath and realize that Westport teachers are doing an outstanding job of preparing our youngsters to live, work and — yes — think in the 21st century. And we can stop (whenever we are, literally, stuck on the road), look around, and admire the beauty and splendor we are so fortunate to be surrounded by every day.

This is an amazing town, filled with remarkable people. The political signs that scream for our attention represent the hopes and dreams of men and women who willingly spend time to run for office, trying to make this a better place. The leaves that are turning magical colors are just an added bonus.

As the temperature outside drops, we all need to do the same. Hey, Westport — chill.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.