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Safety Patrols

June 8, 2010

“Can I borrow your curler?  Mine ran out of juice,” I asked a fellow traveler somewhere in the Carolinas.

We could hardly make out our country passing beside us for the layers of film that had accumulated on our windows. Our bangs were solid poofs constructed by portable curling irons, and they were crusted to our foreheads with Aussie aerosol hairspray, the one in the heavy purple can with the pink kangaroo.  We were ready.

For what, I’m not sure, since we were twelve years old and segregated neatly into boys’ cars and girls’ cars on the DeKalb County safety patrol annual Amtrak trip from Atlanta to Washington, D.C.  Our only means of communication with the objects of our primping: handwritten notes delivered by chaperons who took turns walking back and forth from one end of the train to another.  The whoosh of an open door and dozens of lacquered heads would turn and watch them walk down the lighted corridor between the seats. We’d sigh and groan when they breezed through to the next car.  But sometimes we got lucky.

“Will you go with Tony?” one note read.

“Just where do you think you are going?” my dad would have asked, but he had been on this trip around 1960, not with me in 1989.  Nowhere, I knew was the answer, since all of us – the girls from my school and the ones I’d just met who’d be starting junior high with us the following year – were safely sequestered in our own car.

After lengthy consultations, I checked the no box, not so much because I didn’t like Tony, but because we felt his note lacked originality. Come on, check yes or no? I folded the note into a configuration an origami master would envy, handed it over and waited for a reply.

What he lacked in writing skills, Tony made up for in creativity.  His subsequent response to my rejection? A Polaroid of himself sticking out his tongue.

And so the night passed much like an evening spent on Facebook: inching into adolescence, a trainload of sixth graders exchanging silly questions, crushes, observations, and embarrassing pictures of ourselves making funny faces.

As I reflect on that trip tonight, I’m preparing to moderate a panel for the Social Media Club South Florida on Facebook: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.   Back then 26-year-old Mark Zuckerberg was probably in kindergarten, yet today he is the chief chaperon we trust to shuttle back and forth with our notes and messages – trust not to intercept them, not to pass them along to our parents or teachers, not to sell their contents to the manager of the dining car so he can try and figure out what we might want to buy, and not to dump them out the window and into a passing field.

On that train the safety patrols and chaperons had an agreement. I suppose it was one they could have broken halfway through the trip if they had gotten tired of their role, or found a more profitable one, but they didn’t.  And neither should he.

Each day before school, under familiar watchful eyes, my friends and I would unroll the orange straps and secure our badges across our chests. We’d check our bangs, raise the flag, and walk those kindergarteners in from the bus.  Facebook could use a few safety patrols. You in?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. David F. permalink
    June 8, 2010 7:08 pm

    Good observations.

    Many online forums use moderators in this capacity. I must ask however, would facebook have it’s success if such orange-belted, high-banged, hall-monitors were in place?

    I would certainly feel better about my kids going on hat trip through the web if there were such guardians. As an adult, I think I might resent the “censorship.” (Even if it is sorely needed.)

    • Angie Henderson Moncada permalink
      June 8, 2010 9:52 pm

      Remember, the orange-belted brigade is made up of peers, volunteers even who answer the call of citizenship. With 400 milion plus users, Facebook is not a site, it is a digital nation. As arbiters of democracy, and the elite uberusers, I argue we have a responsibility to patrol and to protest if necessary.

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