As I venture out mornings for a bike ride ‘round some favored routes, it is apparent that the young denizens of the village are headed to their respective campuses as schools are now up and running full tilt boogie. It goes without saying that auto drivers and bike riders need be careful during those morning and afternoon times when backpack-strapped sidewalkers, crosswalkers and jaywalkers are trodding about the town.
But I’ll say it anyway: Adults watch out for kids cuz kids don’t always watch out for themselves. Now when these young people arrive at either elementary or middle school campuses, they are assisted by crossing guards.
Good old crossing guards: I was one once. Greenfield Elementary School in the 1960s had a Safety Patrol, headed by the Safety Commissioner, a student elected by the student body, where sixth graders were allowed to be safety guards. We donned a Military Police-styled belt with over-the-shoulder strap; where a pistol holster would normally be, we had a loop to carry short-handled stop signs. One of us had a whistle: one blast for cross, two blasts for wait. And so accrued we hopefully stopped autos for students to safely cross.
I say hopefully stop because I once witnessed the opposite, and it is a vivid memory to this day. Another fellow and I by the name of Donnie Price, aka Donnie Thompson, were assigned to El Camino Real for dismissal of grades one through three. We donned our gear, but instead of the short-handled stop signs used on the side street crossings, we used the tall signs used for the main crossing on ECR. These signs were regular white letters on red background, octagonal stop signs on poles that were over my head at the time, so probably five feet with the sign adding another 10 inches or so.
I remember it was a warm day and early enough no wind was blowing, and Donnie and I went about our task, each of us taking our positions on the broad roadway, one stood at the northern white crosswalk line and one at the southern, we faced our signs in the appropriate directions to stop cars and allow the students to cross. It was, looking back on it, a lot of responsibility for sixth graders; I doubt such a program would last long today.
We were at the end of our shift, all of 15 minutes probably, and the procedure was we both stood stopping any traffic and the far side guard, on this day Donnie, would cross the street while the near side guard, me, held position until he had fully crossed. Easy. Well, I was in the street with sign in place, facing south toward town, when I glanced to my right and there stood Donnie, sign in place, with a strange look on his face, I swiveled enough to look north and saw her coming.
The “her” mentioned will remain nameless, mostly because I never knew her name, but certainly knew her reputation. She was by all accounts a dear of a person, one of a small colony of field workers on an outlying farm, known for her culinary talents and generosity toward others. She was also known as the worst driver in town. At only a few inches above 5-foot-tall, she peered through the steering wheel rather than over it, and as such she often just didn’t see things in front of her.
On this day, apparently she didn’t see Donnie frozen in place with a stop sign held rigidly in his right hand, his left arm extended, palm up, toward the still oncoming car. The whistle was clenched between his teeth but not a sound came out. Why Donnie didn’t move may have had something to do with him not being a city boy where cars were plentiful; Donnie was raised on property bordering Arroyo Seco Road overlooking Sycamore Flats (old Seco people will remember the Thompson name), so he surely did not recognize the car coming straight at him nor the reputation of its driver and may have underestimated the speed of the auto; at this time there was no stop sign or light at Walnut Avenue.
But knowing Donnie as I did, I think he was just going to stand his ground and do his job. I disagreed; loudly. I don’t recall my exact words, but they surely were something along the lines of “Jump, Donnie, jump!” and so Donnie jumped, scampered, bolted, skittered or whatever, but he got to the curb six feet away in lighting speed. So fast in fact, he abandoned his stop sign and, without wind to affect it, the thing stood balanced for a few seconds. Just long enough.
She must not have even noticed when her old car’s bumper snapped the sign in half and sent the piece with the red octagonal sign flying into the field nearby because she never slowed her speed and continued on into town. Donnie gathered the two sections of the sign, now destined to short-handle duty, and we trudged into the office to inform the authorities what had transpired. I don’t recall the outcome of the incident, but I do remember the spectacle of it.
Rats! I’ve used up my word allotment on “digression; the storyteller’s bane.” What I wanted to convey was this: crossing guards no longer exist at high school crossings; they once were employees of the school district, but for some reason that program is kaput. Teenagers being teenagers, their concern when arriving or departing the campus is not with automobile traffic, and so long streams of students will occupy a crosswalk without regard to the lines of autos waiting to get through the intersection.
Not their fault, really; non-drivers most of them, so they have no experience with sitting and waiting for traffic to move. It would be nice to have a crossing guard at Mildred and Ellis and either guards or timed pedestrian lights at Broadway and Mildred and Broadway and Canal.
Take care. Peace.