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  • Writer's pictureCherie Calletta

Growing up near the corner of Third and Fairview

I grew up on Elm Street, right off of Fairview Avenue. It was a nice quiet back street in the 1960s. It still is. Very little traffic. Great for playing badminton in the long summer evenings.

Elm is bordered on one side by Fairview. Lots of traffic on Fairview, even back then. Cars and trucks go much faster than we’d like, given that it’s a residential area. But Fairview is County Road 561, considered a main thoroughfare. What we did in the 1960s was to silently shrug our shoulders, indicating that there wasn’t much we could do about it.

Every now and then during the 1960s, the peaceful calm of our neighborhood would be shattered by the sound of screeching tires. When we’d hear that sound, we’d brace ourselves for the next sound, which all too often was a terrifying crash.

In those days, there was no stoplight at the corner of Fairview and Third.

One of the Third Street neighbors who was a single house away from that intersection would often remark cynically, “They are waiting until there are at least three fatalities; then they will finally put in a stoplight.”

I don’t know exactly how many accidents occurred at Fairview and Third before the stoplight, but I know it was more than there should have been.

It turned out that the neighbor’s casual cynicism was about right: that is pretty much what happened. After there were several more brake-slamming, tire-screeching car crashes at Fairview and Third, they finally put in a stoplight.

What is worth pondering is why it took them so long.

The county and the town knew that corner was accident-prone. But they did nothing until some sort of invisible social thermometer had risen to a point of intolerance.

As our neighbor said, “They always wait until it’s too late.”

Why did we wait so long to put a stoplight at the corner of Fairview and Third? Why did we allow those injuries to bodies and property for as long as we did? We knew it was a dangerous corner. There should have been a stoplight there much earlier. Yet we carried on in silent perseverance, waiting for the next crash.

There is the casino type of gambling, which is a form of entertainment. Then there is the other type of gambling, where you don’t take enough precautions in ordinary life. When there is a clear, verifiable danger up ahead, and you choose to engage in “risk management” instead of an abundance of caution … when you decide to roll the dice and play the odds….when you know chances are better than average that damage will occur … when you trade safety, health, possibly even life for a short term gain … not my cup of tea.

In business it’s called a “cost-benefit analysis.” This is done in just about every industry, where you weigh the risk against the anticipated benefit. If the expected benefit outweighs risk, then you proceed. I’m just not convinced that this applies to every single case. There are some cases where it is more of a zero-sum game, where any level of risk is simply too great to justify the benefits.

It’s like that corner at Fairview and Third. They knew very well that there was a problem there. The county chose to ignore it for a very long time. It was only after several accidents happened that they finally took the right precautions and put a stoplight there.

That’s how “risk management” operates. It talks about “cost-benefit” analysis. The idea is to balance the costs of an action against the risks. If the benefit of taking an action is more profitable, then they take the action. At some point the county probably did a cost-benefit analysis of that intersection and decided that the balance had tipped in the direction of it being more cost effective to put a light there. Their calculations must have determined that the cost of just putting in a stoplight was more cost effective than further lawsuits and liability costs.

This is how a lot of things operate, so my neighbor, who happened to have been a registered nurse, may not have been just talking out of her hat: she may really have had concrete knowledge of this kind of thing.

I once worked for a pharmaceutical company. My department tabulated and analyzed the number of people who had Adverse Effects (“AEs”) and died, and the number who had AE’s and lived, and under what conditions.

They would study whether it was more profitable to proceed with a drug that had side effects, and just absorb the legal fees when they were sued due to someone suffering damage or death from their product, or whether it was more cost effective to pull the drug, because its profitability would not exceed the legal fees.

There was no emotion attached to any of this. It was all merely a numbers game.

Then the legal department would make a recommendation on whether the legal costs would supersede the expected profits from keeping the drug on the market. Auto companies work much the same way.

Working in that industry taught me a few things: one, I was not cut out for the business world, and two, I was not interested in the law, either. So I went into education, thinking that it would be different there, more ethical and idealistic. Something that worked for the good of society.

A helping profession that did not weigh and measure human beings the way the profit lines were measured. A profession that genuinely valued people, just because they were people, not because they were profits. To my mind, it wasn’t quite a religious field, but something close to it: something more transcendent with intangible benefits that would last far beyond my own life span. “A teacher touches eternity.”

I love teachers, and as we continue in this strange year, all my hopes and prayers are with them. Stay safe, my friends. You are valuable.

Cherie Calletta was born and raised in Hammonton. She graduated Saint Joseph high school in 1977, then graduated from Rutgers College in New Brunswick and went to Japan for four years to teach English as a foreign language. She later spent about five years in Germany outside of Frankfurt am Main. After several years in Charlotte, North Carolina, she returned to Hammonton in 2002, where she and her husband make their home.


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