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January 14, 2021

While running errands in East Los Angeles the other day, I yelled out to Louie, “There’s Robert Hill Lane School!” as we passed the small elementary school across the street from East Los Angeles College on Avenida Cesar Chavez (formerly Brooklyn Avenue). I attended kindergarten at Robert Hill Lane because the school in my brand-new neighborhood of Monterey Hills above the college had not yet been built. Robert Hill Lane looked exactly the way I remembered it.

At five years old, I walked the half-mile route down the hill to school each day with my classmate, Calvin. I vaguely recall my big brother and Calvin’s big brother seeing us off at the top of the hill. We walked four blocks before crossing Floral Drive, then walked through the college’s large open parking lot, and passed the playing field before reaching the front of the college on Brooklyn Avenue, a busy thoroughfare that we had to cross. I also remember the day I had walked well ahead of Calvin in the parking lot. Suddenly I was met eye-to-eye with a German Shepherd dog that appeared out of nowhere. I was startled but didn’t feel threatened. I did, however, yell at the top of my lungs, “CALVIN!”

Those were the days when children wandered the streets freely roaming the neighborhood going to friends’ homes, playing at the park for hours, then returning home in time for dinner. Adult supervision was never a thought.

Then Louie recalled when he went to camp for the first time. He was eight years old when he signed himself up for overnight camp at Cabrillo Beach. He went to the corner where a bus would pick up kids going to the camp. Alone with his suitcase, Louie thought he was at the wrong place because no one else was at the bus stop. As he looked for his paperwork to make sure he had the date right, a yellow school bus rolled up. “Cabrillo Beach?” the bus driver yelled out as he opened the doors. Louie nodded yes and the bus driver told him to hop in.

No one was on the bus. There he was all by himself. Louie wondered where all the kids were. Slowly, as the bus moved through the East Los Angeles “barrios,” groups of kids were picked up one stop at a time, and the bus filled up.

Fast forward to the era of Covid-19, I see masked kindergartners each morning arriving at the elementary school across the street. One at a time, each student, accompanied by an adult, is checked in by an attendant with a protective face shield and mask underneath who takes the children’s temperatures before they can proceed to their classrooms.

We had grown up in an innocent time of total independence and fending for ourselves. But those days are gone. When today’s kids grow up, I wonder how they will remember their childhoods during the time of the novel coronavirus.

And I wonder what ever became of Calvin.

This is your country, and it’s up to you to save it.” – English translation of a saying in Taiwan

Washing Hands + Wearing a Mask + Social Distancing = Saving Lives

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