Those who have known me for a very long time, as well as friends just learning about yours truly from this blog, are aware that I’m a journalist and foodie, as well as a wife and mom. And once upon a time, I was Celery, the Ringling Brothers trained circus clown who juggled with scarves while balancing on a rolla-bolla; played a beribboned violin, and balanced a peacock feather on my nose. (My husband is adamant that I will always be a clown, but, that’s another post for another day.)
From time to time, though, this girl clown wears another job hat that most of my chums don’t know about.
It requires a neon orange vest.
Be advised that this particular occupation won’t work if being outside on cold mornings is a deal breaker. It’s also a gig that’s an absolutely terrible fit for those who hate smiling and waving. Most of all, it’s not a position for folks who are incapable of giving directions, especially to small children.
You see, a few times every month, I’m called on to be a grammar school crossing guard.
Besides wearing the baggy yet festive vest, which sports equally blinding yellow trim, there’s also an old-fashioned, wooden handled stop sign I foist up high. Comfortable sneakers are a definite plus, and in the wet foggy mornings
we get around here, a warm hoodie, knit cap and scarf complete the look.
I began this work a little more than five years ago, when my little family moved to the sweet beach town where we
Money was tight.
My husband’s once-thriving business had taken a spectacular nose dive; our big dream house was abruptly foreclosed on us, and I was between the lucrative television show jobs I still land every once in a while, thanks to the miracle of telecommuting. I knew I wanted to be at home for my then 10-year-old daughter, but I also knew that even a little extra dough in our bank account would be more than welcome.
So, when I saw the notice to be a substitute crossing guard (as well as doing occasional lunchtime yard duty) at the school six blocks away from the house where we were now living, I jumped at the chance. I wouldn’t have to buy new, fancy work clothes, and I could still be home for my child, who was not thrilled about our unexpected move.
But mainly, it was a job that yielded a paycheck, so I swallowed my pride and applied. Although I wouldn’t be in a classroom, I’d still be in contact with children, so I had to be fingerprinted and take a TB test, too.
I gamely went through every hoop, and was finally hired a few months after first hearing about the job.
What I didn’t know then is how much I’ve grown to love, absolutely love, wearing the neon vest.
These days, the paycheck is nice but not needed quite as much as before. What that means is that I no longer have to get up early on those days I’m called, and I no longer have to work the afternoon shift, either.
Except here’s the thing: I want to.
Maybe it’s because everyone loves crossing guards.
Rough looking men who drive testosterone-fueled trucks; moms full of little ones in common sense vans, and white collar folks behind the wheels of expensive cars--all of them smile and wave. I think that’s because, much like a fireman, I’m considered one of the good guys performing a truly necessary service to the community. And since I’m neither armed nor dangerous (unlike a policeman, especially these days), I’m also utterly benevolent and non-threatening.
Simply put, my neon presence represents all that is good and comforting in an increasingly complicated world.
I especially love escorting little kids across the street.
They soon learn that by me walking out first into the intersection, I’ll take the hit, literally. I also get to teach bicyclists, skateboarders and scooter riders to always walk with their accoutrements in the crosswalk. I let everyone know that it’s never okay to run. With folks trying to get to work at the same time, it’s a juggling act, but maybe
because of my past experience in that ring, I’m good at it.
As it turns out, school crossing guards have been around the United States for nearly 100 years.
The heartland of Omaha, Nebraska, was ground zero for the idea. In 1923, its police department created the position after an influx in cars on its roads made parents anxious about how to best protect the children who walked to school. Called safety patrol officers, they were assigned to that city’s busiest and most pedestrian-heavy intersections. The concept was the right idea for the right time, and by the mid-1950s, crossing guards were working in nearly every American town.
However, I’d be neglectful if I didn’t mention the most famous crossing guard ever.
Neither man nor woman, she was a dog named Lori.
Lori traveled around our country, from school to school, where she boasted a variety of tricks, including carrying a safety paddle sign in her mouth while standing on her hind legs to stop traffic. The lesson was this: if a canine of undetermined origin could be taught traffic rules and safety, so could children. Much loved, she died in 1977 and
was buried with special honors.
As for me, the academic year is nearly over, which means that my vest and sign will soon be returned to their school closet home for the summer.
But I’ll be back.
Smile and wave if you see me, because come September, the neon vest life will, once again, be calling my name.
I can’t imagine it any other way.
What jobs have you had that ended up being something different than what you expected? And, what memories do you have of your school crossing guard? I’d love to read your comments!