Note: This column was inspired by recent articles in our paper about local citizens, exasperated by the city’s failure to do long overdue repairs, taking it upon themselves to make these improvements. I was reminded of a similar event back in 1996.
[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published March 13, 2023] ©2023
Sometimes the best-intentioned plans can go awry. And in the process, create a family catchphrase that lives on forever.
It all started when a well-meaning neighbor who was an avid bicyclist decided that our neighborhood could use a small cement ramp from street to sidewalk so that he didn’t have to stop and lift his bike up on the curb when he wanted to ride through a scenic right-of-way that starts just across the street from our house.
So, he decided he would create such a ramp, which, as you might guess, is totally illegal. The city takes a dim view of citizens making adjustments, however potentially positive, to city streets. But heck, my neighbor reasoned, who would even notice, other than other grateful bicylists.
We, of course, had no knowledge of this project.
Late one Saturday afternoon, the neighbor showed up, mixed up a small batch of cement, and created a ramp about ten inches wide from street to curb, perfect for a bicycle. But the cement was going to need to set over night.
To make sure it would be able to dry unmolested, he took a medium-ish cardboard box, put a few bricks into it to weigh it down, and wrapped it up with duct tape. He then placed this on the sidewalk in front of his new ramp so no one could drive over it.
Meanwhile…that night, my son Henry, then a teenager and a fairly new driver, was taking his girlfriend to her North County high school’s prom. Now, anyone with a teenage son worries about them driving late at night, especially with a car full of compatriots whose brain judgment centers, like his, are very much in the still-developing phase. You just can’t count on a 16-year-old boy to say, “You know, folks, I’m just too tired to drive.” This was long before Ubers.
Had it been a La Jolla High School prom, he would be sharing a limo with a group of friends, to the enormous relief of their collective parents.
When we expressed our concerns about his driving home in the wee small hours, Henry was happy to agree to spend the night up in North County after the prom, then come home on Sunday.
A little aside here: we had always been told that if your kid is in an accident, the police call you. But if your child has been killed, the police come to your door.
So… fast forward to Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m. Our doorbell rings repeatedly. We ignore it because, well, it’s Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m. Finally we hear an insistent voice through the door: “Police. Please open your door immediately.” We look outside and there’s a police car in front of our house.
My husband and I completely panic. We already know what he’s going to say. We are sure something terrible has happened to Henry. I don’t even bother to grab a bathrobe, rushing to the door in my skimpy nightgown. I’m shaking so hard I can hardly turn the door knob.
But when I opened the door, the officer points to a duct-taped cardboard box in the middle of the street in front of our house and says, “Do you know anything about this box?” And that’s when I see that there are three more police cars out there and they’ve blocked off the street.
The officer says that a concerned citizen walking his dog had reported seeing the box in the street and since there had been a recent mail bomb incident in La Jolla and since the box looked incredibly suspicious (it did), they thought it could be a bomb.
I was so incredibly relieved I could hardly stand up. I yelled to my husband (who had actually stopped to put on a robe), “It’s only a bomb!” I told the officer we knew nothing about the box and had thought he was coming with bad news. And I shut the door in this poor officer’s face and went back to bed. I can only imagine what this guy thought. Like a bomb in front of your house isn’t “bad news”?
Anyway…what apparently happened was that in the dark that night, somebody either ran into the box on their bike and sent it flying into the street in front of our house, or just picked it up to see what it might be and then dumped it. Those bricks were pretty heavy.
As we learned later that day, the neighbor heard the commotion and seeing all the police cars surrounding his new ramplet, decided to investigate. I don’t remember now whether he got in any trouble for it. I’m guessing the police were just as happy to be able to call off the bomb squad which was already on its way.
But the phrase, “it’s only a bomb!” has lived on in family lore ever since. Especially when one just needs a little perspective.