Why am I thinking of Weingarten today? Because today, I had the opportunity to learn from what he taught me. Just a few minutes ago, I completed my purchase at my southside Cub Foods (yes, the one that blew up--it's safe now) and headed out to my car to load the bags in the trunk. Parked next to me was a jet-black Toyota Tacoma with small child in the back seat. On a sunny day. A little child, no older than 9-10 months old, tops. LOCKED IN A BLACK CAR ON A VERY SUNNY DAY.
If you haven't yet, please read the story that earned Weingarten his second Pulitzer, called "Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?" Obligatory trigger warning: if you are a parent, this story will make you cry. If you are not a parent, it will still seriously bum you out. After you blow through a box of tissues, tell me what YOU would have done if you were me in the parking lot of Cub Foods at high noon.
I didn't hesitate. I called 911. Moments later an angry white man in his late-fifties started waving at me frantically from the garden center tent propped up in the Cub parking lot. He shouted, as he gathered up his flower purchases, that he'd been watching the little girl the whole time. I didn't get off the phone. The man, clearly well-to-do and unused to ruffians calling the police on him, came out to the car, unbuckled the girl, and carried her into the garden shop on his hip, mumbling all the while.
I told the operator that the guy was yelling at me for calling him in. "Well, I'm with you," the operator said. "That's a pretty young kid to be left in a car." The operator said that a squad car would come out for a chat with the guy, whom I described. When I completed the call and the man finished his transaction, I approached him. I explained that I (a loyal Gene Weingarten fan) felt that I had to err on the side of caution.
"Well, you didn't need to call the cops," the man snarled. "You could have asked, hey, is anyone in the garden center watching this kid? And you would have known she was fine."
"Sorry," I answered. "When I see a baby locked in a hot car, I call the police."
"You made a judgment call," he snapped. "And you did it without knowing any of the facts. I was right here the whole time."
"No, YOU made the judgment call," I yelled, furious. "You made the call to leave a kid in the car when you could have just as easily picked her up and taken her in! Look how easy that was! But this isn't about you, it's about her. I DID IT FOR HER."
I wish I could say I stormed off in righteous indignation, but remember, I am a Minnesota native who lives in fear of stepping into someone else's beeswax and who quivers when talked to harshly by a stranger. I'm writing this to justify my actions to myself, to my community, and to my writerly idol, should he have a Google Alert on his name.
Did you read Weingarten's story? What would YOU do?