Oh, sweet red. Beloved at the corner, the dip in the hill. I’ve done what so many others have. I’ve overlooked you. I’ve seen you, but not fully seen you. I’ve coasted too rapidly on the descent. I’ve tapped too late the brake, but not slamming my mortal foot down. I slowed, but not nearly enough. I disobeyed your only request of any of us. I didn’t come to a complete and full halt.
Now I sit, typing in a cold dark room. This is my penance. (This and the hefty citation coming in the mail).
I think of your silence. Unwavering through nature’s elements. The fierce winds and torrential rains. Your four letters make up a word I say throughout my days. I beg the canines to quell their cacophony. I urge the new voice-activated machines to cease with this or that toddler tune or to refrain from their unrelenting beeps when I’ve set a timer. Sometimes I say it without any volume at all, inside my mind, when I feel my whiskers have been bent.
Let me be clear: you exist so that we all may proceed appropriately. In my youth, perhaps it was my inherent aversion to rules that caused me to look at you with such disdain. I saw how your game was played in the Boston area of my early driving years, causing confusion when you and your siblings converge upon a heavily-trafficked boulevard. Honking horns and middle fingers; abuse you had no choice but to tolerate, standing in your solitude, peeking out among the wintry mounds of icy snow and gray slush.
It’s only fitting I take this hour of reflection after having paid you little heed, making my way home after preschool drop-off, winding upon the road on the hill’s edge, the one that shares the name of my hometown back in wintry Massachusetts: Arlington. Your cousins back in that town were more often rusted and on rare occasions, defaced.
I took a moment to look upon your descendants and discovered the strangest thing: you used to be yellow. With black letters. Not exactly great for nighttime visibility, denizens of Detroit! Your kind was created over 100 years ago, in Michigan, the land of the automobile. It wasn’t until 1954 that your kin took on your modern elegance, the crimson octagon with white lettering we’ve all come to recognize.
One more thought, dear friend. You’re a symbol of restraint in a world of willful individualists. You’re a mechanism of order in a sea of chaos. You’re a plodding tortoise among the many hares of the signage universe. I know you must feel generally under-appreciated. You’re quietly humiliated by urinating dogs. Perhaps you’re distracted at this time of year by all that is falling from above, branches, twigs, and the constant barrage of leaves.
But know this, solitary hero, you have a wonderful view of the sunset. A view that some only notice because they obey your one word: Stop.