Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ask the Araboolies

No Impact Man has a problem:

A neighbor has threatened to have the police remove one of our rickshaws from the sidewalk where we park it. She says it makes the street look untidy, and the implication is that it brings the neighborhood downmarket.

Understandably frustrated, No Impact Man thinks the city needs bike parking. And bike lanes. And a healthy bike culture. But he also thinks his neighbor need a new attitude.

So he asked his readers how to change her mind, how to "get people past the limitations of the old ideas to see the possibility of the new."

I can't help but think of the Araboolies, The Araboolies of Liberty Street. Maybe they can teach us something.

For those of you that don't know the story...

Liberty Street is an extraordinarily orderly place. All the houses are identical. All the kids go to bed on time. Lawns are raked. Shirts are ironed. Shoes are tied.

General Pinch and his doubly militant wife run the show. When they make rules, people obey, for everyone's scared, and they do what they're told.

And there's not a lot of laughter.

But, one day, a new family moves in.

They speak a strange language. Their skin and hair are all different colors. They come with a busload of jungle pets. And toys. And paint. And they splash and spatter and stripe and spot their house all kinds of wild colors. And they sleep on the lawn, every one of them, in one huge bed. The pets sleep inside.

The Pinches are predictably furious. But the Araboolies know no anger. They sleep on and play on and paint on. And they make friends with the children in the neighborhood.

And those children, the orderly children, play too. And they laugh. And run. And fall. And get dirty. And laugh some more.

And the Pinches lose it and call in the army.

And I'll leave it at that. The book is good. Read it.

Sam Swope wrote it for children, but he also wrote it about children. About the influence they have. About their impact. About the fact that, even when their parents are helpless, they can change the world.

New York City and Liberty Street are significantly different places, but kids do love bikes, wherever they live.

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