My son found a heavy red, steel bar in the trunk the other day and asked what it was.

I smiled. It felt like finding a religious relic, something to which people had once attached great value and significance. Something which came to symbolize a period in history.

“It’s called `The Club’,” I said. “People used to attach that to their steering wheels when they parked.”

He looked at me like I’m crazy. The same way he did when we passed one of the last remaining phone booths in Manhattan and I tried in vain to explain to a kid familiar with the iPhone that the landscape was once dotted with similar structures.


I can see he’s struggling to understand it.

“Why did they need a bar on their steering wheel?”

“So their cars wouldn’t be stolen,” I said.

“Who would steal a car?”

It’s a reasonable question from his point of view. After all, there is a guy who parks in our neighborhood with a kayak strapped to the roof. No one takes the plants on the front stoop.

It’s hard for him to imagine the past. In 1988 I went to a New Year’s Party on the same block where I now live and there was a car on fire in front of the building. Kids from the neighborhood were throwing bricks of firecrackers at the city bus as it rumbled by.

The first day I moved to New York City in 1990 I was robbed. I was carrying in boxes from the car and someone smashed the side window and stole my leather jacket. That was about hundred yards from the entrance to New York Presbyterian Hospital on the Upper East Side.

Crime hasn’t disappeared. Recently my older son heard a loud series of pops and rushed to tell me that he’d heard gun shots. I said that he was being ridiculous. But later that night I walked outside to find the police had cordoned off the corner to collect casings. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

My kids are growing up in a world where The Club is a novelty, where car alarms — once a daily occurrence — are almost never heard. Where they take the bus home alone from school and where people stroll through Central Park after dark. The subway — once covered in graffiti — is clean and fast and typically packed even in the middle of the night.

One of the blessings of children is that by pointing out the obvious they remind you that the world does change.


**Published by Ted Merz May 17, 2015**