We're living through the "interesting times
" of the apocryphal malevolent Chinese proverb when folks' first reaction to hearing that Caltrain plans on raising fees while cutting services
is "thank God!"
The fewer trains running on the tracks, the fewer Gunn High students can end their brief lives beneath Caltrain's steel wheels. The propensity of the Palo Alto school's students to induce what the French innocuously call "accidents of person" shifted from tragic to bizarre last night when onlookers wrestled a 17-year-old boy off the tracks
. Had the student followed through on his suicide attempt, he would have been the third from Gunn to die on the tracks this month
As De La Salle is known for decades of unbeaten football teams and Piedmont is known for Johnny Carson birdcalling specials, so Gunn will now be known for suicides by train. Prior to this, the school was perhaps best known as the site of a 1994 senior prank gone awry
, when three teen-aged future Nobel prize-winners stuffed 65 pounds of volatile chemicals into a dilapidated drinking fountain -- what they thought would be a puff of smoke instead produced a fireball, scorching 18 students and leaving some with third-degree burns. (It's also known as an excellent academic school in a nice part of town).
The drinking fountain incident casts an interesting light on the ubiquitous query posted on newspapers' comment sections in the wake of yet another suicide attempt -- "What's in the water over at Gunn High?"
It's a quesiton many people are asking -- albeit in a more sensitively worded manner. Is there something about this school driving its student body to the breaking point? Perhaps. But I think the answer may be found not in an detailed analysis of the school's culture but a glance at where the school sits on the map. The Caltrain tracks are a five-minute walk to the northwest.
Being a teenager is difficult. Being a high school student is difficult. For some teenagers, having a train regularly rumbling by is akin to putting a weapon in the hands of an aggrieved person. If Gunn High stood at the edge of a river or cliff, it's likely that similarly beleaguered students would end their lives there.
If there's a solution to this problem, it's eluding us at the moment. Sadly, Caltrains' budget-induced service cuts may actually help the most. God help us all.