Friday, November 12, 2010

The Crossing Guard

Look at this delightful lady, helping this sprightly young lass at a dangerous intersection! What a joyous life it must be, to be a protector of children!

When I was in elementary school, I recall that sixth graders were allowed to be crossing guards. Looking back, I wonder what my school administrators were thinking. Really? This 12-year-old is going to tell me when it's safe to cross the street? That doesn't seem a little . . . premature?

Here in Pittsburgh, our crossing guards are quite a bit more authoritative--or even authoritarian. I get the feeling that they flunked out of police academy, and are now trying to assert their authority over their precinct, even if that precinct is just an intersection. They spread their arms to stop traffic as though they were Moses parting the Red Sea. If their white gloves, police-style hats, and hi-liter colored trench coats (seriously) aren't enough to summon every bit of subservience in you, the fervor with which they wield their stop signs and blast their whistles will surely help you to find your way (when it is deemed safe). Actually, their role seems to have way less to do with keeping pedestrians safe than is has to do with showing those damn cars who's boss.

There are others, though. The crossing guards in my neighborhood are much gentler about it all. They don't leave their corner unless a bus is unloading, and they just give you a nod or a small hand gesture if it's your turn to go. I dig that.

Yesterday, I was sitting at a stoplight in a small suburb, and was approached by a crossing guard. He signaled for me to roll down my window.

He'd seen my license plates. "What part of Texas are you from?"
"Dallas area."
"Ohh, Dallas is alright. Lotta one-way streets."
"What brings you to Pennsylvania?"
"My husband's going to grad school."
"Oh. So you're here a while. You been through a winter here yet?"
"No, we're kind of scared."
"Well, you missed a good one last year. Maybe it won't be so bad this year. But you'll see snow, that's for sure."
"Yeah, I bet so."
"I'm going to Houston for Christmas. I like Houston. Dallas is alright."

May I remind you, this is all taking place at a stoplight. We had a whole conversation! He bid me have a nice day, the light changed to green, and I went on my way, smiling more than I had been. I guess they get bored, too.

I'm pretty sure, now that I think of it, that there must be a strict hierarchy for crossing guards. The best (meanest) ones go to the busy intersections, donning their uniforms with pride each day. They probably recite the Crossing Guard's Code before they step onto the curb. They use Stop signs passed down through generations of crossing guard royalty. The more lax ones go to the places like my neighborhood, or the stoplight where I had the conversation yesterday.

I like the second group much better.


  1. That's awesome. Really outgoing, friendly people amaze me. I don't think I would ever have that much courage to approach a stranger in a car (well I guess I did things kind of like that on my mission, but that's a little different).

    And I'm still doubtful that that's a lady in the picture . . .

  2. I like the second group better, too!!