2008-10-08 / Opinions & Letters

Midwest Memo

To school and back
by Alan Shultz

I read in the paper yesterday that only ten percent of children walk to school each day. I couldn't believe it.

I guess the neighborhood school is a thing of the past. I know here in rural country that school consolidation has been the progressive and economical way for decades. I don't think anyone has proven school consolidation is better - just bigger.

I never took a bus to school - not once. From kindergarten to 8th grade I walked a mile to and from Esmond School each and every school day. We went home for lunch on most days so I logged four miles each day. Frankly nobody thought much about my walk, including me.

My walk to school was part of my education. Because I walked the furthest, it was kind of a pied piper experience. I picked up friends along the way. We walked, we talked, and we compared notes about every part of growing up, on every possible subject. We grew together just by walking together.

I don't want to glamorize my walk to school. But as I think about it, the walk was an extension of my education. We lived in a neighborhood rich with every kind of architecture imaginable. It was on my walk to school that I learned how a city worked, how traffic flowed, how people related. I always thought that when I grew up I would live in a white frame center entrance Colonial. That was my pick from the house styles on my walk to school.

My walk to school included a shortcut through the alley where Hermosa and Prospect streets came together. That shortcut saved a block and a half additional walking. To get to the alley I had to pass the house of a grumpy old man, an immigrant from another country who spoke little English. I remember that his house was more than immaculate; it was spotless, perfect, manicured. The old man did not like folks walking past his house, walking on his sidewalk, or getting near his lawn.

I walked past that grumpy old man's house for a total of nine years. At four passes per day past the house that's about 720 times a year or 6,000-plus passes during elementary school. You get to know a person when you feel their eyes watching you as you pass their house that many times.

The grumpy old man grew less grumpy over the years. He and I even exchanged pleasant greetings somewhere along my grammar school years. I remember that eventually I sensed his absence. Then I sensed the house was no longer so pristine. These changes were subtle, the absence of the watchful eyes, the sweeping of the sidewalk stopped, the perfect blades of closely cropped grass disappeared.

I never knew the name of the grumpy old man. I never knew what country he came from or what it was that brought him to the corner property where the alley met the street. I know, though, that he was somehow part of my education about immigration and property rights and territory and boundaries.

Ninety percent of all our school children take a bus to school. What a hole there is in our education system. The walk to school is full of lessons.

A word about the bailout

The most frustrating real estate deal of my legal career didn't close thanks to the involvement of the Federal government in real estate lending.

It was a little Cape Cod, a modest starter home. The owners got over their head and stopped making payments. Eventually they moved out and the bank started foreclosure proceedings.

But the real estate agent found a buyer and the buyer got a loan and a closing got scheduled. At the closing table the numbers didn't work. And so we squeezed. The buyers gave a little more; the brokers and the lawyers took a little less. And we got within $800 of closing the deal. It was the bank's turn to give. $800 dollars on an $80,000 deal. One percent.

The bank wouldn't budge. The loan was FHA insured. It was more profitable to board that house up and let it go to the sheriff's sale. That way the bank didn't lose their $800 because they had a government insured loan.

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