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Sensible Cars for Santa Ynez, beamed his best snake oil
grin and spoke to her in a low, gravelly voice, barely
moving his lips. “Smile for the cameras, Sandy.”
Despite herself, Sandy almost laughed, and for a
moment her grin felt genuine. But it gave way to something
more wooden when she recognized the first photographer
to approach, a greasy, disheveled man from the local
weekly paper whose developer owner would love nothing
Sensible Cars for Santa Ynez more than to plaster the front page with full-color photos of
the two founders of SCSY – the rag referred to it as
by Bronwyn Mauldin “Scuzzy” – cheeks streaked with tears or lips and chins
distended with rage. She and Eddie wouldn’t give them the
satisfaction. As cameras flashed, Sandy peered around the
room looking for any of the L.A. Times reporters she knew.
At least they’d covered the story fairly and objectively,
which is all she had ever wanted.
“Councilman Hargrove, how do you vote?” “Sushi?” she asked Eddie through clenched, smiling
“No.” teeth, but her eyes were suddenly blinded by the light from
And with that the Santa Ynez City Council pounded a KTLA cameraman.
the final nail into the coffin containing the past three years “How do you feel about the vote?” the cameraman
of Sandy Weaver’s life. Three years of meetings, petitions, shouted. “Were you surprised at how it came out?” As she
letters to the editor, fundraisers and public hearings. Three always did, Sandy instinctively took a half step back to let
years of analyzing, explaining, debating, downright Eddie take the question. She’d never been comfortable with
cajoling and wheedling when the situation called for it. And being on the front lines – she’d rather be in back getting the
for what? Four to three against when the final votes were work done. And the fact was, Sandy had known how the
tallied. vote would go, if she’d just been honest with herself. A
Someone behind her patted Sandy’s shoulder as she week ago, everything had been different. The count had
stood up and murmured consoling words about next year. been four to three in favor and the City of Santa Ynez was
Next year? No, Sandy heard a voice inside her head say. about to ban itself from buying sports utility vehicles for
No more years. Not like this one. Not like the last three. On the city fleet. But a week is a long time in the world of
her left, Eddie Contreras, immediate past president of local politics.
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Sandy was a forty-something algebra and calculus ordinance. An hour later, they had a name for the group:
teacher at Santa Ynez High school, hailing originally from Sensible Cars for Santa Ynez.
conservative Orange County. Eddie was a nearly-retired In the first year, Eddie organized a formidable
social sciences teacher who’d gotten his start organizing group of some hundred and fifty hard core SCSY members,
support in East L.A. for Cesar Chavez’s grape boycott. plus a couple thousand who signed their petition in support
Sandy and Eddie had been nod-and-smile colleagues until a of the ordinance. Two of the seven city council members –
faculty meeting almost four years ago where teachers were Democrats who were also involved in the local Green Party
discussing what to do about the recent rash of SUV-related – signed on in support immediately. Three Republican
incidents on campus. Three collisions in a single month in council members were definite no votes – the aging trust
the student lot suggested that high school students with fund baby of a fabulously wealthy family who kept two
fresh drivers’ licenses did not have the skills to handle the Cadillac Escalades and a Ford Excursion at his Santa Ynez
enormous vehicles. Then the parent of a student whose home; the owner of a local GMC dealership; and an
Hummer had been towed for taking up more than one space Iranian-American attorney rumored to have ties to the
in the overcrowded student lot called, threatening a lawsuit. family of the deposed Shah.
The faculty discussion devolved into a politico- In year two SCSY modified its proposed ordinance,
environmental argument about SUVs, and Sandy and Eddie allowing the city to buy electric or gas-electric hybrid
were among the most vocal on the anti-SUV side. SUVs, and the third vote had been secured from a
The two of them continued their conversation over conservative Democrat on the council. The score was tied.
the next several weeks, long after the faculty decided that Then, earlier this year, with strong support from SCSY,
the safest course of action was none at all. During one of Eddie had run for the council seat held by the moderate
their more spirited discussions Sandy heard herself say, Republican Hargrove.
“Well, at the very least, the City of Santa Ynez shouldn’t Less than one month from election day, with Eddie
be buying those things. They’re bad for the environment, polling neck and neck with Hargrove, the councilman made
and they’re dangerous for both the drivers on the city a surprise announcement, changing his position to support
payroll and for other drivers on the streets. I mean, Santa the SCSY proposal. Then he made a quiet call late one
Ynez might just be a little suburb of L.A., but these streets night, and Eddie dropped out of the race. Sandy thought
belong to us, the citizens.” Eddie’s decision imprudent, but she kept her mouth shut.
“You’re right!” Eddie had answered, growing He had years of political experience on her, and he insisted
excited. “That’s our tax dollars in their tanks.” Then he Hargrove could be trusted to keep his word.
suggested establishing a community group to push for an As the day approached when the council would vote
on their proposal, SCSY could “count to four,” as Sandy
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had learned to say. Only a thin majority, but it was as good dollars on SUVs that generate so much smog and are such a
as the count would get. Citizen groups in half a dozen other danger on the road.”
towns and cities across the country were beginning to The reporter thanked Eddie perfunctorily and turned
introduce similar ordinances of their own, from Berkeley to to the victors from the Chamber of Commerce who were
Cambridge to Raleigh, North Carolina. With sentiment slapping each others’ backs and flicking imaginary motes
running high, Sandy booked a room for the victory party a of dust from their suits. Sandy looked down. She was in a
week ago at Taiko’s, her favorite Japanese restaurant. suit too. Off the rack, though, its gray wool shiny at the
She wasn’t sure now whether it was sunny elbows and a little too long in the sleeves. She’d learned
optimism, or a dogged unwillingness to face the truth that over the past three years that elected officials preferred
prevented her from canceling the reservation two days ago their business interests to appear in tailored opulence and
when she heard the news about Hargrove. A used car their ordinary citizens in just a hint of hardship. Perhaps for
dealership had offered Hargrove’s son Trevor a summer job ease of identification in the harried halls of power, she
shooting and cataloguing photos for the company website. thought.
Sandy had taught Trevor a few years ago when he’d The overflow crowd that had filled the hearing
repeated Algebra I. The kid wasn’t bright. When Eddie room was thinning rapidly. As she and Eddie made their
called her to tell her about Trevor’s new job, they’d both way to the doors, shaking hands and sharing condolences
seen the writing on the wall. Hargrove would switch his with SCSY supporters, Sandy thought of the platters of
vote, and the SCSY ordinance would fail. sushi and bowls of edamame awaiting them at Taiko’s. At
“Mr. Contreras, what are you going to do now?” least they’d had the sense to go with a no-host bar, she
The question came in a clipped British accent that Sandy thought ruefully. The crowd tonight would be smaller than
recognized. The L.A. correspondent for The Guardian in expected – the finger-to-the-wind types would be
London. The international press had taken special interest celebrating at the Chamber party – but they would be
in the SCSY ordinance. It seemed to symbolize something looking to drown the sorrow of their failure.
about America or California for them. Sandy had lost count “Sushi?” she said to Eddie once more.
of the times she’d heard Eddie patiently explain to “Sushi,” he affirmed, and took her arm
reporters, “No, not Santa Eye-nez. It’s pronounced Santa companionably.
Eee-nez.” As much as anything, Sandy loved Santa Ynez
“We still want sensible cars for Santa Ynez,” Eddie because it was one of those rare places in southern
answered. “The facts have not changed. We still insist that California where a person could walk from city hall to her
the City of Santa Ynez has no business wasting our tax favorite sushi bar. Or her favorite Thai restaurant, pizza
joint, coffee shop or bookstore. A suburb of the great Los
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Angeles megalopolis, Santa Ynez stretched north from the Sandy suddenly felt a pang of guilt to realize she
glow of the Aliso Canyon Oil Field. It was old enough to was directing her mental daggers at SCSY members. These
have genuine early 1900s faux Spanish architecture and tile were her people. She told herself to put the anger and
trimmings on public buildings, but with all the amenities disappointment aside for now. She would deal with them
required to meet the needs of modern urban life in the later.
twenty-first century, all within a five mile radius. When the applause died down, Eddie raised his
Sandy and Eddie walked the six blocks in silence. right hand in acknowledgement and straightened his body,
Anything they might say to each other right now would be making himself a little taller. Sandy took the opportunity to
either empty sloganeering or maudlin self-pity. lead Peter into a far corner of the room.
Sandy’s husband, Peter, an anesthesiologist at Santa “Thank you, everyone,” Eddie began. “I want to
Ynez Hospital, was standing under the blue cotton noren thank you so very much for your long hours, for your
hanging in the restaurant doorway when they arrived. donations, for putting your heart and soul into this work.
Standing next to him was Juana, Eddie’s wife. Peter You make me proud to live in Santa Ynez. Thanks to you, I
enveloped Sandy in a warm, tender embrace. Then he know there is a brighter future for all of us and for the next
shook Eddie’s hand while Juana said sharply, “Folks have generation. We started out three years ago to make our little
already started arriving.” It was a warning. If you’re going corner of California a better place, and we have set an
to break down, do it out here, not inside, in front of the example that other cities across the country have taken up.
people who are depending on you. Sandy thought, not for We have much to be proud of tonight. All of us, working
the first time, that Juana must have been a formidable together.” Thank God they had Eddie, Sandy thought as he
organizer in the dry, dusty vineyards of central California paused dramatically. He sounded like a victor, even in
where she and Eddie first met. defeat.
Sandy and Eddie walked through the restaurant, Eddie continued. “It would be easy, tonight, after
Peter and Juana trailing just behind them. They entered the what we have seen, to harden our hearts and grow cynical
back room to as much cheering and applause as the small about the democratic process. But tonight is just one night,
crowd of SCSY supporters could muster. It was mostly a and this vote is only one vote. For three years I have
younger crowd that didn’t have children to put to bed. worked alongside the people of Santa Ynez and I have
Students from the community college who had put in long learned that we live in a world filled with people of good
hours canvassing door to door and now wanted a free meal will, and working together we will create a brighter day. If
in return. A few of their wealthier supporters who, she not tonight, then on a future night. If not this cause, then on
supposed, wanted to see how their donated money was another cause. Please, un aplauso for all the people in this
being spent. Nannies would see to their little angels tonight. room and for those who are not with us tonight, a great
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round of applause for everything you have done. You have When she did, a tall Asian woman with short
earned it!” The cheers that followed sounded heartfelt. cropped hair approached. “Taiko!” Sandy said, “everything
Sandy saw more than a few pairs of moist eyes in the room. looks great, as always. Thanks.” Taiko’s didn’t offer the
Eddie was already working the crowd, shaking classiest sushi in Santa Ynez, but the place had a homey,
hands and thanking people. Sandy dug up a few nuggets of comfortable feeling about it, and the owners were big
hope from the pit of her stomach and turned on the smile SCSY supporters. It would have been a great place to run a
she used when explaining the quadratic equation to her less victory lap.
talented students for the third and fourth time. The first Taiko gave Sandy a quick hug and said, “Oh,
person who moved into her line of sight was Reverend Sandy. So sorry about the vote. In fact, we’ve decided to
Barbara Donner of Santa Ynez United Church of Christ, give you a fifteen percent discount for tonight.”
whose basement Fellowship Hall had been home to “No! We can’t accept.”
countless SCSY meetings, once the group had outgrown Taiko smiled. “Sure you can. This way we make
Sandy’s living room. sure you come back to us when it’s time for the real victory
“Barbara!” Sandy said and held out her hand. party. This is just the warm-up. Anyway, the discount is
Reverend Donner took her hand and shook it. “We only on the food. Everyone still has to pay full price for
did what we could.” drinks.”
“Yes, we did,” Sandy answered. “I really have to Not that there would be any more SCSY victory
thank you for all your support for SCSY over the past three parties, Sandy thought. At least not any organized by her.
years. We couldn’t have done it without you.” But she wasn’t going to put up much of an argument with
“I still care about this issue deeply,” the minister Taiko. SCSY had passed the hat at the last meeting to pay
said, “and I am mad as a hornet about Hargrove’s vote. If for this celebration and came up short, so Sandy had
I’d known he’d come so cheap, I would have gone to my decided to quietly pay the difference. This little discount
ATM and put the cash in a brown paper sack!” The two would go a long way. “Thanks, Taiko,” she said.
women chuckled, eyes shining with feigned shock. As Taiko returned to the kitchen, Sandy surveyed
Peter approached with a glass of beer in each hand. the room. Knots of people clustered like barnacles at the
“Plotting the next stage of the revolution, ladies? First stop, sides of tables holding intent conversations, plates in one
Santa Ynez, next stop, the world?” he said, offering the hand, glasses in the other. She recognized most of the
drinks. Sandy looked at him sharply, but he just smiled faces, and could probably put names to at least half of
back amiably. She took one of the beers. Reverend Donner them. The reporter from the L.A. Times had finally shown
declined the other, explaining that she had an early start the up, she saw, and was talking to Eddie in the opposite
next morning. Then she left.
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corner. Good. He would say all the right things, as he “My goddamned home sweet home,” Sandy said,
always had for three years. laughing.
Suddenly the sound in the room suddenly dropped a “Shhh,” Peter said. “It’s late. The neighbors.” He
decibel or two. When it did, the sound of a young man’s guided her onto Cielo Avenue where they lived. As they
voice boomed out over the rest. “…take that Hargrove and turned the corner, Sandy froze.
slow roast him like the pig he is in a blanket of hot coals!” “Hey, Pete. What does that sign say?” Sandy
Sandy couldn’t identify the voice, but she sympathized pointed up to a series of municipal street signs bolted to a
with it. She turned to her husband, eyes bright with an telephone pole.
emotion she couldn’t quite name. “It’s a no parking sign. C’mon, honey. Let’s go
“Hey, Peter,” she said, “could you get me another home.”
beer?” “No, Pete. The one above it. With the picture of a
“Whoops!” Sandy said as she tripped against a truck behind a big red circle with a slash through it? It says
misaligned chunk of sidewalk. Peter caught her by the arm ‘Over three tons.’ I can do the math in my head because I
to keep her from falling. She’d had one beer too many am a certified math teacher. That means no trucks over
tonight, then Taiko had insisted on a few shots of sake at 6,000 pounds.”
the bar after everyone was gone, while Sandy and Peter “Okay. Sure.”
were settling up the bill. “Well?” she asked impatiently.
“I think I may be drunk,” Sandy said, her voice loud “Well what?” Peter asked.
on the quiet residential streets. They had caught the city bus “Well, the IRS gives tax breaks to people who buy
from downtown to their neighborhood and were walking SUVs that weigh more than 6,000 pounds.”
home from the last stop. The night sky was clear and the “Maybe we should get one,” Peter said.
moon hadn’t risen yet. Here on the cusp between the urban Sandy laughed. Then she hiccupped once. Then
sprawl of Los Angeles and the southern California desert, again. “I don’t think so,” she said. “Anyway, it’s time for
stars were visible above the black silhouette of the nearby bed.”
Santa Susana mountains. The next day at school was rather less painful than
“Yes, I think you are.” Sandy expected. A few of the other teachers had a friendly
“Well, if a fine upstanding American citizen like me word for her, a few others were more pitying. Only a
can’t get a little loaded on a night like tonight, what is this couple of them looked at her with their chins turned up at
democracy of ours coming to anyway?” jaunty, self-righteous angles. Even the thrum of her
Peter took her hand and squeezed it. “That’s right, hangover eased off after she fed it potato chips and a bowl
sweetie. God bless America.” of tomato soup at lunch time.
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Eddie reported a few dirty looks from some of their cities. She and Eddie were still getting calls about it. He’d
more libertarian colleagues over the next few weeks, but give the big picture, the conceptual view, then send them
the attention died out quickly. The Santa Ynez High School on to her for the details. Sandy was just inserting an
basketball team was doing unexpectedly well this season electronic copy of one of their better flyers into the
and interest on campus quickly moved from vote counts to document when she heard the squeal of brakes and the
free throw averages. sound of metal crashing into glass. Sandy jumped up from
As basketball season wore on, Sandy found time to the sofa and ran to the front door.
clean out the closets in their two story pink stucco house. A tow-headed boy lay splay-legged, face down in
She could grade homework and tests in the evenings and the middle of the street beside a dark blue child-sized
still have time to catch the latest hit series on HBO, even mountain bike flat on its side. Several feet behind that was
see an episode twice if it was especially good. One week in a shiny silver SUV. A Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Sandy saw,
March, for the first time in three years, Sandy cooked its front end pressed up hard against the crumpled trunk of
dinner five nights in a row. When she received the her next door neighbor George Fleming’s brand new
occasional call or e-mail from a SCSY member at loose yellow Honda Civic. Sandy could hear the doors of other
ends she would tell them that no, there were no meetings or houses flying open. Up the street a woman screamed and
actions planned, but she’d let them know if anything began running toward the accident. As Sandy stared at the
changed. scene, the boy stood up slowly and turned his elbows
Life for Sandy, in other words, calmed down. upward to inspect the bloody scrapes. The running woman
Cooled off. Normalized. Finally, after three years. fell to her knees in front of the boy. His mother.
The only thing that nagged at her now and then was Finally unfrozen, Sandy called out, “Do you need
that sign three blocks away announcing that trucks over an ambulance?”
6,000 pounds were prohibited on her street. Did it also “Yes, for God’s sake!” the woman cried out.
apply to SUVs? Like the ones she saw driving up and down “Mommy, I’m okay!” the boy answered, his voice
her street every day? She began keeping a list on the last pitched with almost equal terror. “He didn’t hit me. I fell
page of her grade book, marking down the brands and down.”
models of SUVs she saw on Cielo Avenue. She researched Sandy heard sirens approaching before could find
and recorded the gross vehicle weight rating of each one. her telephone handset, so she abandoned her search. She
On a gray, gloomy Sunday afternoon in April, picked up her grade book and looked up the Porsche SUV
Sandy found herself sitting on their living room sofa, on her list. Then she went back outside to see how she
notebook computer in her lap, typing out a “how-to” guide could help. By now a crowd had formed. Several neighbors
for activists initiating SUV purchasing bans in their own and a police officer were gathered around the boy and his
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sobbing mother. George Fleming was engaged in an angry tell her anything about the sign posted at the end of Cielo
exchange with another police officer and Trevor Hargrove, Avenue and suggested she call the L.A. County Department
would-be photographer son of the city councilman. And of Public Works. When she finally got through to a live
driver of the SUV, apparently. human in the Road Maintenance Division, he turned out to
She couldn’t stop herself. Sandy marched up to be a low level clerk who had the authority only to take her
Trevor without shutting the front door behind her. “Do you name and number and promise that “someone will get back
have any idea what that SUV weighs?” she asked. to you as soon as possible.” When she asked how soon was
“Excuse me, ma’am. Please step back,” the police soon, he suggested calling CalTrans, the state
woman said. She was taking down information in small transportation agency.
black lined boxes on a white form. CalTrans couldn’t help her, so Sandy called city
Sandy turned to her. “Do you know?” hall, where she finally found a partial answer in the Office
“I didn’t hit the kid!” Trevor said plaintively. of Planning and Community Development. A
“I’ll speak to you in a moment, ma’am,” the officer transportation specialist there confirmed that under city
said. “I’m taking care of this now.” code it was, in fact, illegal to drive any vehicle over 6,000
“The Cayenne Turbo has a GVWR of 6,790 pounds. pounds on most residential streets in Santa Ynez. In a lot of
Trevor, it is illegal to drive your SUV on this street.” other California cities too. The ordinance was designed to
“Really?” George Fleming asked. He turned to the keep heavy trucks off the roads because of the greater wear
police woman. “Is that true?” and tear they cause.
“I wouldn’t know anything about that, sir. Ma’am,” “Who’s responsible for enforcing the law?” Sandy
she turned to Sandy again, squaring her shoulders, “if you asked.
don’t step away right now I will arrest you for interfering The transportation specialist was silent for a
with a police investigation.” moment. “I don’t have a clue. I guess Santa Ynez police?”
Sandy suddenly saw herself from the police After the last bell Sandy headed across campus to
woman’s point of view. Crazy neighbor in gray sweat pants Eddie’s classroom. As they walked out to the faculty
and a maroon chamois shirt so threadbare that the lining parking lot together he listened quietly to her story about
glowed white at her neck. Making incoherent accusations Trevor Hargrove and the little boy he nearly killed. About
in her bare feet, while a six-year-old boy and his mother the sign at the end of Cielo Avenue and what she’d learned
screamed and two ruined cars leaked toxic fluids into the from the city transportation planning specialist. “Do you
street. “Sorry,” she muttered, and walked away. understand?” she concluded. “We could use this to get
The next morning, during her free period, Sandy SUVs off the streets.”
called the Santa Ynez Police Department. They couldn’t
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“I suppose so.” Eddie sounded uncertain, which Eddie’s smile widened further. “I’m doing lots of
wasn’t like him. Sandy looked up. They had stopped work these days on my property in Riverside. Clearing tree
walking, and were standing next to an enormous, shiny stumps and whatnot. Need a big truck for big jobs like
gold Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck. that.”
“Listen, if it’s already illegal to drive these death This was why Sandy always insisted that his face
machines on our streets,” she gestured to the pickup, “then appear before the television cameras, not hers. He could
SCSY’s work would just be a matter of enforcement.” sound so convincing, look so authoritative, no matter how
Eddie was fidgeting with his key ring when the bad the situation appeared for SCSY. And for himself, it
truck doors unlocked with a heavy clack, accompanied by a would seem. “I can’t believe you bought one of these
loud honk. He reached for the door and opened it. things! It’s got to run three and a half tons at least.”
“Eddie, what the hell are you doing?” “At least,” Eddie repeated after her as he pulled
“I’m getting in my truck and going home,” he himself up into the cab with a grunt. He started the truck,
answered. then rolled down the window and turned to her, shaking his
“What about that little Hyundai you always drive?” head. “Oh, Sandy, you always were a true believer.”
she asked. Then he drove away, leaving Sandy to stare, open-
“We traded it in last month. I’ve needed a truck for mouthed, at his sheep-headed brake lights.
a long time, but I waited until after the council vote. That night Sandy was on the phone calling SCSY
Thought it would look strange, the head of SCSY buying a members. “Did you know that it’s illegal to drive SUVs
big truck like this while we were trying to stop the city over 6,000 pounds on most residential streets in Santa
from spending money on SUVs.” Ynez?” she asked them one by one. “We need to do
“Do you…?” Sandy began, then had to stop because something about it.” While she had expected a little
her voice had caught in her throat. “Are you saying you’ve resistance from people who were disappointed with the
switched sides?” council vote six months ago, she didn’t expect wholesale
“Of course not!” Eddie answered, his voice big and dismissal of her discovery on principle. Even worse, at
booming, his politician’s smile spreading across his face. least eight of the seventeen people she called that night
“City governments should not spend taxpayer dollars on admitted to her – some hesitating with shame, others
overpriced vehicles that damage the environment and blustering defiance – that they owned SUVs themselves.
create dangerous traffic risks!” Others simply didn’t see the point.
“But it’s okay if you do?” The words were out of “What are we supposed to do about it? That’s a
Sandy’s mouth before she could stop them, pushed out by problem for the police.”
the acid rising from her gut.
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“If it’s already the law, then it’s not like we can get “Seriously, Sandy. I suppose I saw your flyers and
an ordinance passed at city council to fix it.” posters up around town, about all the air pollution SUVs
“Of course the police can’t spend all their time generate and about how dependence on oil is bad for,
stopping law-abiding citizens from driving SUVs down the what’s that word you use? Geo-something-or-other.”
street. They’re busy with more important things, like “Geopolitics?” Sandy asked.
stopping crime.” “Right! Geopolitics. What’s that got to do with me?
“I can’t judge what my neighbors choose to drive.” I got interested in SCSY when a kid came to my door with
“What do you want we should do, Sandy? Stand in a petition, talking all about how expensive those SUVs are,
the middle of the road and stop SUVs as they drive up the how much it costs to insure them, about the cost of
street?” repairing roads damaged by those big vehicles. He showed
Sandy’s ears perked up when Angela Fleming, said me pie charts of how much the city gets in tax dollars and
that. “We could,” she answered. Angela and her husband how they spend it, and that’s when I got it. Taxes are bad
George owned the yellow Honda that had been totaled by enough, and I don’t want them going up so the city can buy
Trevor Hargrove and his SUV. expensive toys when they could buy something sensible
“Could what?” Angela asked. instead. That’s when I signed the petition and came on
“Block SUVs from driving up Cielo Avenue.” board.”
“Sandy! I was joking. That would be completely “But don’t you want our neighborhood to be safe
loco.” and healthy?” Sandy asked. “Isn’t that important to you
“Not if we did it together,” Sandy insisted. too?”
“Who? You and me and what army?” “Of course it is! I’m just not interested in making a
Sandy paraphrased a line she’d heard Eddie say fool of myself in front of all my neighbors. Well, I might
many times over the past three years. “If you’re just one do it if I thought it would lower my taxes!” Angela’s laugh
person out there, sure they’ll think you’re a nut. But when made a thin, tinny sound across the telephone lines. “But
there are two or more, then it’s a movement.” you should think about it carefully. You’re a public high
“Listen, Sandy,” Angela said, “I’m an school teacher. The school board doesn’t take kindly to
environmentalist, more or less, but I’ve never been one for lunatics in the classroom.”
protests and that sort of thing.” The next afternoon, Sandy stopped by an office
Sandy laughed uncomfortably and tried to make a supply store on her way home from work and bought
joke. “Yes, we’re just armchair enviros here in the several sheets of poster board and packet of thick, wide
suburban wasteland.” markers. As she drove home, Sandy thought about what
Angela Fleming had said the night before. What about the
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lunatics on City Council? Or the lunatics who designed found her old fluorescent orange crossing guard belt from
gas-guzzling death machines and called them cars? elementary school, with the thin metal badge still pinned to
When Peter arrived home from work, he found her it. The plastic was cracked in places and not as supple as it
in the middle of their kitchen floor surrounded by half a once had been, but it held together as she wrapped it around
dozen poster board signs stapled to the stakes that had once her body. It took a few minutes to remember the
sported Eddie’s campaign yard signs. The red sheet she had configuration. This part went around her waist – well, the
cut into an octagon and written STOP on it in bright yellow bottom of her ribcage now – and the part with the tin badge
letters six inches tall. Under the four letters was a much across her chest and over her left shoulder.
smaller in the name of love in pink. On a white sheet of “Uh, sweetie?” Peter started again, this time a little
poster board she had written IT IS ILLEGAL TO DRIVE more tentatively, “what are you up to?”
YOUR SUV ON THIS STREET. A yellow sheet of poster Sandy smiled. “I’m going to stop the motherfuckers
board read WE ARE SIMPLY ENFORCING THE LAW – from driving their SUVs on my street.”
S.Y.C.C. 468.8(c). Peter frowned. “Did Eddie put you up to this?”
“Uh, hi, sweetie,” Peter said. “What’s for dinner?” Sandy’s face went red with rage. “Eddie and SCSY
Startled, Sandy jumped up and looked at the clock. can go to hell.” Except this time she said “scuzzy.”
“Oh! Sorry. I must have lost track of time.” She opened the “What exactly do you plan to do?” The volume of
refrigerator. It took her several moments to realize she Peter’s voice was beginning to rise.
should be looking for something to cook. “I’m going to stand next to that sign on the corner
Behind her, Peter asked, “What exactly is S.Y.C.C. and stop anybody who tries to drive past it in an SUV. Turn
four-sixty-eight point eight?” them around and send them back the way they came.”
Sandy turned and answered brightly, “Santa Ynez “Right now?”
City Code. That’s the ordinance that makes it illegal to “No. Tomorrow.”
drive SUVs on Cielo Avenue and other residential streets. I “You have to work tomorrow.”
looked it up.” “I’ve called in sick,” Sandy said.
“Did you?” Mauldin /Peter
23 shook his head. “That’s not smart. You don’t
“Sure did.” have a lot of sick days left, not after all the time you’ve
There was a moment of silence while they looked at taken off for SCSY.” He said the letters one by one, the
each other. “Honey,” Peter said, pointing to her belly, way Sandy always did. Used to.
“what’s that thing you’re wearing?” Sandy shrugged. “So what? I’ve got the days off.
Sandy looked down at her torso. At the bottom of a I’m taking them. I’ll be up bright and early to catch the
box of childhood mementos in her bedroom closet she had morning commuters.”
Mauldin / 23 Mauldin / 24

“You mean our neighbors?” Peter’s voice grew compromised on the things that were important to me, and
tight with alarm. in the end I have nothing to show for it. Not even my self-
“If they drive SUVs, then, yes, our neighbors.” respect. So I’m going out tomorrow morning to do what I
Peter leaned in a little more closely, his voice rising. should have been doing all along. I’m going to stand my
“Who else will be there? Whose idea is this?” ground, and to hell with anyone who tries to tell me
“Nobody. It’s my idea and I’m going out there all otherwise.”
on my own. I don’t care if nobody helps me at all.” “No you are not!” Peter shouted.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Sandy, stop it right now! “Yes,” she said calmly. “I am.”
You can’t do this! It’s crazy! You’re going to make a fool Peter picked up his briefcase, stormed out the back
of yourself out there.” door and slammed it. Then he drove away, leaving Sandy
“I don’t care.” She was well past caring. trembling slightly by the kitchen sink. Rattled, but
“Then think about me,” Peter shouted. “You’re undeterred.
going to make me look like an idiot.” Sandy was awake a little before six the next
“No,” Sandy answered. “I’ll be there. You won’t. morning. As the darkness of the bedroom around her
Our neighbors can tell the difference between us.” brightened with the rising sun she donned the long-sleeved
“Goddamn it, Sandy, I put up with this ‘scuzzy’ shit white t-shirt and comfortable blue jeans she’d laid out the
for three years, and I thought we were finally done with it. night before, then wound the skinny orange crossing guard
What the hell has gotten into you?” belt around her upper body. Looking at her reflection in the
Sandy cocked her head to the side a little and full length mirror next to the bed, she thought, not bad for
looked at Peter more closely. “Yes, it seems that I’m only mid-forties. She decided against makeup this morning. If
seeing the truth now. For three years I busted my ass, and it she was going to get arrested, she didn’t want raccoon eyes
turns out it was for somebody else’s cause. All along I in her mug shot.
thought SCSY was about creating a safer, cleaner world, The bed groaned with Peter’s weight as he rolled
but I let people convince me that such lofty ideals are corny over. He’d returned late last night, stinking of old
and naive. So I told myself that what I think isn’t hamburger grease and non-dairy milkshakes when he
important. What’s important is increasing SCSY climbed into bed beside her. “Don’t do it,” he said
membership and getting that ordinance through. I kept my groggily.
mouth shut and believed it was for the greater good. I lied Sandy didn’t answer, didn’t even turn to look at
to Eddie and everyone else but mostly I lied to myself. I him. In three years he had never voiced a single complaint
even told them that my beloved husband Peter is behind me about SCSY or the time it took her away from home.
one hundred percent. But I was fooling myself. I Perhaps she should have noticed. Now that he had spoken,
Mauldin / 25 Mauldin / 26

though, she had nothing to say to him. She left the room ears, smiled, and walked resolutely into the path of the
and walked downstairs to the kitchen. oncoming SUV.
The pair of yellow gardening gloves she’d run
through the wash last night were waiting in the dryer.
Another trick she’d learned from Eddie, to protect against END
loose splinters while carrying handmade signs at
demonstrations. The cotton cloves looked wrinkled and
impotent as she took them out of the dryer, faded to nearly
white at the seams. But when she put them on, they
stretched to fit her hands. As she picked up the six signs,
taking three in each hand, she felt the strength of her own
resolve ripple up the muscles of her arms and across her
back. Bronwyn Mauldin is a Los Angeles-based writer and
At the end of the block Sandy positioned four of the creator of GuerrillaReads.com, the online video
signs along the sides of the street leading up to the literary magazine. Bronwyn’s work has appeared
telephone pole, driving each one into the well-packed dirt in The Battered Suitcase, Blithe House Quarterly
with a heavy rubber mallet. Then she took up her post on and Clamor magazine.
the sidewalk beneath the three ton prohibition sign. Her
oversized red STOP sign was in one hand and her Sensible Cars for Santa Ynez originally appeared in
explanation of the city code in the other. Sandy’s heart beat Blithe House Quarterly, Vol 9, No 4, Fall 2005:
so hard that she was breathing with her mouth open. www.blithe.com/bhq9.4/9.4.04.html.
A Lincoln Navigator came along less than fifteen
minutes later, wending its way up Cielo Avenue at a
leisurely twenty miles an hour, possibly less. The rising sun
caught the windshield at a sharp angle and Sandy couldn’t
Permission is granted to print or repost this story
make out the driver’s face behind the glare. Someone she
elsewhere, only in its entirety and without changes,
knew? Another teacher at Santa Ynez High? A SCSY
as long as the author’s name is fully credited.
member? A complete stranger?
It didn’t matter. She took a deep breath and closed
her eyes for a brief moment. Then Sandy lifted a sign with
each hand, raising her gloved fists almost as high as her