By Sean Wilkinson
The idea of the crossing guard is a noble one: a person holding a red octagon printed with the word “STOP” places himself between moving vehicles and innocent youngsters on their way to or from school.
Portland crossing guards are a different lot.
For the most part, every crossing guard I have seen in our fair city has some patented move designed to avoid actually putting their body anywhere near a vehicle or child. The most common is the One-Step Arm-Reach Wave: See a child coming, look disgruntled, put one orthopedic-shoe-clad foot in the roadway, extend STOP sign three feet into the street, and wave at the kids like they’re idiots for not just walking out by themselves.
Some favorite modifiers to the One-Step Arm-Reach Wave are the Early Retreat and the Wandering Delay.
With the Early Retreat, the guard makes the usual half-assed move, but as soon as the kids start across the street, he turns around and walks back to his post. The most shameful of all moves, this places the guard in little-to-no danger while increasing the danger facing the children of Portland—or “Our Future,” as I like to call them.
The Wandering Delay is executed with the patient morning commuter in mind. Step one foot into street, stretch sign, wave at kids. Then, as soon as the kids get about halfway across the street, the guard walks out past “Our Future,” stands in the middle of the intersection with the sign limply propped in the air, and glares at the backs of kids’ heads until they’re practically at the next intersection — a futile move designed only to infuriate motorists.
To be fair, I’ve heard stories of crossing guards who go above and beyond. Guards who, at the first scent of pedestrian, leap from their post to proudly hold the red octagon, safely guiding each student one block closer to school. I’ve just never seen this crossing guard.
But how about the one that sets up a lawn chair at the intersection and sits while he waits for walking people to come by — all the more reason to look disgruntled when a kid approaches: “Damn kids and their safety. Making me get up off my ass to do my job.”
Or the guy who parks his truck in the lot at the intersection and parks his ample frame on the tailgate, chatting with any listless individual who happens to come along.
What’s with the sitting? In cars, on chairs, on tailgates… How long is your fucking shift? Like two hours? Three, tops? Good lord. How do you get so cranky and lazy in two hours?
The most effort I ever saw a guard display was to jog across the street to yell at some kids for crossing without his accompaniment. Hey, asshole, the walk signal was lit and you weren’t paying attention. Is it their responsibility to wake your lazy ass up so you can step into the street and wave your sign?
The least effort I’ve ever seen made had to be the guy I saw the other day on the corner of State and Spring Streets. He was on the diagonally opposite corner from a woman and child waiting to cross State toward Katahdin. He stood in place, not moving a muscle except to wave his sign in the air and beckon the pair towards him.
First of all, he wasn’t on the side of Spring Street they were crossing to. Secondly, traffic was zooming down State Street, and I don’t think the average driver is on the lookout for a guy waving a STOP sign from the corner. Third, he was glaring at me for attempting my perfectly legal and not life-threatening right on red at the light to head south towards the bridge. I mouthed something to him that probably looked like “Fuck you,” but I was really saying “Thank you. Thanks, buddy, for being so bad at your job that if some kid was by himself and saw you do that, he might follow your directions, decide to cross and get killed because of your sheer stupidity.”
My crossing guard when I was going to school was Agnes. She was the shit. She was one of those old ladies that wanted you to call her by her first name. “What’s up, Agnes? Check out my wicked awesome Batman-logo Chuck Taylors. See you after school….”
Agnes wore her orange vest with pride. She pointed at you with an assertive “WAIT FOR ME” look in her eye if she was on the opposite side of the street. She got hit by a car once, but she was back up directing kids safely to school soon after. Agnes was a real crossing guard.