I like to bike down to our neighborhood park. The wind sings along
with the spinning bike wheels; an easy, five-minute downhill ride. On
the way down, you coast like a hockey puck on buttered ice. Of
course, going home is a chore that would daunt Sysiphus. As they say,
there ain’t no free lunch.
But the destination is worthwhile because Willow Park boasts grass-
bordered, tree-shaded bike paths as well as soccer and football
fields, two baseball diamonds, and tennis courts.
Strangely enough, this band box of a park doesn’t attract many kids or
customers of any age. If it was owned and operated by Walt Disney
Enterprises, it would have closed decades ago. But the mayor, who
manages my city without benefit of shareholders or owners, never
fixates on the bottom line. He loves taxpayers with unzippered
wallets who swoon with compassion every time he mentions "our kids".
And parks are for kids, aren't they? Everybody says so.
So, even though bereft of youthful laughter the city keeps Willow Park
open, which is great if you’re one of the few users, like me. I love
those free tennis courts and the green space to bike in. I commend
and appreciate the generosity of my fellow municipal taxpayers who
provide me this absolutely free entertainment complex. It’s almost my
It is small and natural. Sometimes, the spring beside the football
field bubbles over and muddies its banks. Sometimes a tree falls
over. It lays there for months reminding us that trees fall and new
plants spring up around their splintered stumps. This is not
Disneyland. Nobody is picking up trash except the blackbirds who
confiscate shredded paper or small sticks - construction materials for
their Spring nest building.
But there’s something eerie about Willow Park. Except for the
blackbird chatter, it's too quiet. No kids. No treble voices
exulting over touchdowns or homers, or an ace on the tennis court.
Soccer field, baseball diamonds, and a pond where you can snag a
careless crawfish - but no young sportsmen? Where have all the
children gone? Has some tax-crazed Pied Piper led them all into the
Tennessee River? This park, built for the molding of young bodies and
spirits, is childless. Barren as a pond without tadpoles.
The few kids I see are - like me - riding bikes. Probably on their
way to visit a lucky friend with a wall-size TV lovingly provided by
misguided parents. And you wouldn’t believe the headgear on the few
young bikers. THEY ARE WEARING HELMETS; like a fullback, like an
infantryman, like an M-60 tank commander, like a construction worker
beneath a scaffolding of hot rivets and steel girders. And the
helmets are only plastic. A falling tree limb could still dent the
Now don’t get me wrong, I love kids and I would rain salty tears over
a head-damaged child, but life is full of cautions, each bearing a
price tag. Remember that old chestnut, "There's no free lunch"
applies to helmets as well as lunchrooms. A glass of beer at the Free
Lunch Saloon (with spicy pastrami, roast beef, bologna, and pickles)
costs a dime. Across the street at the saloon with no sandwich
fixings, a schooner of their best was a nickel. Or maybe the bar with
the free lunch was also a nickel, but was only near beer (half tap
water). One way or another, you are going to pay for that lunch.
Obviously, as we've learned since, the concept applies universally
even to bicycle helmets. So, consider the price of that plastic helmet:
A) The chances of damage to the child’s frame on the trip to the
helmet emporium is as real as the tumble off the bike. The longer the
trip the better the odds you’ll be rammed by a large, smelly garbage
truck. (Of course, you could leave him at home where he'd be
perfectly safe - unless a mischievous ceiling came down on his head.)
B) Even worse than the above is the wordless statement you make to the
kid when you insist on the cranial armor. The world’s an abattoir,
you implicitly say. You could get killed out there; better protect
yourself. He or she growing up will face many trials of courage with
you at her side spouting reassuring speeches dispelling fear. But the
helmeted apple of your eye will forget your inspiring words and
remember your fearfulness when you strapped that plastic hat on her.
They do as you do, not as you say.
C) Significant head injuries to nonprofessional, youthful bike riders
are so rare that I never encountered such an injury among
acquaintances, family, or friends. I cannot recall one incident in
many decades of observation. Unscientific, anecdotal, I know, but
remember that's the only kind of data that is totally unslanted. The
well-meaning, but expansive CDC (our government's keeper of statistics
on bike injuries) sometimes just can't brake for large, but
meaningless numbers. And don't you wonder how bike helmets fall under
the heading of "communicable diseases"?.
D) And let’s not forget the dollar cost; 40 to 120 bucks depending how
insecure you feel at the moment of purchase. That kind of money will
buy at least three annual subscriptions to personal safety and health
magazines. A great crutch for the caring parent.
But the best of the anti-helmet arguments is the wondrous feel of the
wind massaging head and scalp; and the incentive it provides for
hoisting the youthful rump off the couch and mounting up.
Our old friend, Fred Bastiat would say; Aha, the tangible positive
“seen” is that protective helmet. The “unseen” price is a) 120
American dollars, the world’s finest, b) the joy of the wind tousling
your hair, and c) the sense of security necessary to a healthy child.
One more consideration on the scales of judgment. If you believe your
child needs a helmet to pedal his bike at 10 mph in a neighborhood
park - you ought to have nervous palpitations over any car trip longer
than the length of your driveway. Just guess where most injuries
occur? Maybe, better yet, you should be checking out the price of
full body armor.