Today, while I stood pondering the moral vagaries of buying organic or pesticide carrots, I was clipped by a lady with a baby stroller. I turned around. It was one of those SUV-jobs--colorful and behemoth--probably named after a Norwegian sports hero or a mighty civilization in Norse mythology. The lady pushed past me, put her fingers to her lips. "Shhhh," she mouthed. "Baby Bjorn is sleeping." She nodded her head like a bishop in benediction, forgave me the trespasses of my buttocks upon her air space, and continued patrolling the aisle.
In the past few years, the proliferation of these SUV strollers has become an object of disdain among a certain class of non-breeding Americans. And what has been a steady stream of ever-escalating designs for an insatiable baby market obsessed with ambulatory puissance has inspired a backlash. Recently, a spate of articles have emerged, protesting the privilege of young baby boomers who are now showing up on subways and buses, restaurants and bars, demanding that they should be allowed to park their strollers anywhere they please.
I don't see what all the fuss is about. The backlash protesters of SUV-strollers come off a little whiney. Personally, I have stood in the plain, sweet air of the trash-strewn city streets, smoking a cigarette, only to have an ambulatory mother pushing one of those SUV-jobs pass by and scream at me, "Ass-hole," most probably as retribution for my polluting her air space. This no longer perturbs me. I have resigned myself to living with the occasional clip and the insults of a harried mother who demands that all things revolve around the needs of her infant who is, no doubt, a genius. It is a part of city life, especially in the parts of the city I inhabit, where increasingly, I am surrounded by strollers, as squirrels in the wild are surrounded by trees.
But it has lead me to realize that these accessories are themselves tools of prestige and empowerment that could be directed towards other sectors of society, instead of just the latte-sipping yoga set. In the well-heeled world of fallen yuppie-dom where bankers overnight have become baristas, I have noticed a new phenomenon. As often as you see SUV strollers pushed by mothers in yoga pants, in this terribly crushing economy, you just as often see homeless people pushing last-year's strollers filled with their worldly possessions. They stride purposely down the sidewalk. They yield no right of way. They look like they're in a hurry to make it to an especially important play date. Their equipage cuts a much more striking angle than that distant, bedraggled cousin of portability: a shopping cart.
In this new economy, a whole new class of people are recycling and re-purposing, taking these cast-off symbols of privilege and lending themselves an aura of personal esteem that is laudable. I see in their use of the stroller, a fabulous spirit of American ingenuity, a new frugality, marked by a healthy desire to find dignity in what can be challenging circumstances. So I wonder: What if ALL homeless Americans enjoyed the benefit of owning a SUV stroller at no extra cost? What if there was a cash for clunkers program just for SUV strollers, which as we know, become obsolete within one year of purchase? Is there a way for a cash-strapped parent to trade in that Norwegian pram for the latest model and, altruistically, pass the not-so-nice one to a needy stranger? If all economically challenged Americans were granted access to SUV strollers, no doubt, we would see more purpose-driven Americans on the streets, holding their heads up high with the dignity of a first-time mother. Doesn't everybody deserve an SUV-stroller?