Friday, December 15, 2023

Watch out for crossing guards


Carol Alvarado

    "Did you hear the sirens?" Carol Alvarado asked in a grave tone as Kitty and I presented ourselves at the corner of Center and Cedar in the leafy suburban paradise of Northbrook.
     Sirens? What, the tornado sirens? I did a quick reality check. Is this the first Tuesday of the month at 10 a.m.? No, Thursday, 8 a.m.
     "Two police cars and an ambulance," she explained. "The crossing guard at Cherry and Meadow got hit by a car." 
      I gasped.  A driver had stopped and told her. 
      "He's alright — he was up and walking around," she said.
     That's a relief. We continued talking.
      Mrs. A, as the children call her, is the sort of person you stop and talk to, and I usually do, if only a remark about the weather — grateful for the good, sympathetic toward the bad. To me, that is part of a life well lived: to not be in a rush, the mad scramble that is the default mode for so many, rushing to and fro in their seemingly charmless lives. Better to pause, linger, notice things, talk to people. You never know what they have to say.  
    When we're not discussing meteorological fine points, we often talk about the mad, salmons-to-spawn scramble of the drivers blasting up and down Cedar. Drivers who just don't want to stop. You can almost sense their coiled impatience, being forced to slow down by some guard, just to let these pedestrians pass. She won't even try to step into the crosswalk if a car is less than half a block away because they have a tendency to keep going.
    "Drivers go around me," she said. "Or they don't see me. Wearing this." And she spread her arms out, with her high-visibility safety neon yellow-green coat and hat, and flashing handheld red stop sign. "How do you not see me?"
    After Kitty did her business — "standing on a dime" is how I think of it — I considered heading over to Cherry and Meadow for first person investigation. But I figured the guard was either receiving medical care or rattled enough for one morning without the media showing up too.
    A call to the police seemed in order. Since I'm not in Chicago, the police called me right back.
    "Yes, we had a minor incident over at Cherry and Meadow," said Rich Rash, community relations supervisor for the Northbrook Police Department. "A vehicle turning left with sun on the windscreen, as the truck was turning the crossing guard was right in his pillar. He couldn't see him, but it was a very, very slow turn. The guard jumped out of the way and fell on his back and elbow. There was no contact. He'll probably be a little stiff, but he's okay. The driver was very, very apologetic. He was shaken up too." No citation was given.
    The suburbs get a lot of flack, but we do tend to operate on a more humane scale. I suggested that this might be an opportunity to remind motorists to look out for and respect crossing guards. Sometimes they seem to want to go around the guards, like bulls surging past a toreador. 
    "They do that," laughed Rash. "Everybody's always in such a rush. We want to let everybody know to use due caution and be patient. If the crossing guard is in the intersection, the law is they have to stop movement until the crossing guard is out of the way and onto the sidewalk."
     So slow down. Give it a try. You'll be safer and, who knows, maybe even happier. Because I am not in a rush, after we talked about the accident, I chatted a bit further with Alvarado, 81, who ran an accounting firm with her husband, 87 who, on nice days, sometimes sits in a chair nearby while Carol does her crossing duties. She's crossed children here for six years and plans to remain at the post for a few more, until the pride of our block, a dynamic 9-year-old who happens to be my next door neighbor, moves on to Northbrook Junior High. We both had attended her outstanding star performance at the Northbrook Park District as SpongeBob Squarepants in the eponymous musical. How many crossing guards attend the plays of children they help across the street? Mrs. A. does.
     "My husband wondered how she could absorb all those lines," she said. "And I told him, 'She's playing a sponge.'"
     She looked at me. I looked at her. For a smart man, I can be amazing slow on the uptake. She saw my incomprehension.
     "Playing a sponge," she repeated. "Absorb her lines."
     Ah, I said, laughing, and went on my way, quite fortified by our encounter.


  1. Sorry, a tepid response by officials. God invented sunglasses. Visors too. If a driver nearly misses a well-marked outfit, how does a kid even stand a chance?

    1. I'm an disturbed at the PD spokesperson's plea for sympathy for the driver because it was sunny. If a driver can't drive a vehicle safely on a clear day, they need to find other work before they really do kill someone.

      And then the PD spokesman says that "if the crossing guard is in the intersection, the law is they have to stop movement until the crossing guard is out of the way and onto the sidewalk."

      But no citation. Once again proving that if you really want to kill someone and get away with it just drive a car into them and tell the police that you never saw the guy. Because hey, it was sunny/ rainy/ foggy/ whatever.

  2. "saw" my incomprehension Well done, Carol! And Neil.

  3. So crossing guard got - let's say 'grazed' by a car turning into them. What if next time it is a child?

  4. Wow, Neil misses a pun? Truly a sign the end times are nigh.

    1. Absorb. Sponge. Good one. I like it! Soak lever...

  5. Thank you, as always.

  6. One day when I picked up my grandson from school, we were walking back to my car, and when the crossing guard walked out into the street, a large SUV completely ignored her and sped by within inches of her. It came so close to hitting her (and probably us, too) and didn't slow down at all when I yelled as I saw it approaching, so it was definitely deliberate. There is no respect for anything anymore. How can you not stop for a crossing guard and small children?

  7. I believe a good percentage of Americans leave their manners at home when setting off on the road. My particular peeve is walking in a parking lot on a cold or rainy day where drivers in their warm and dry vehicles won't yield to pedestrians. She was a neighborhood mother protecting us from traffic on Waukegan Road. I forget her name and her child but I still remember standing on that corner, waiting to cross.

  8. I think crossing guards are our first childhood exposure to authority figures outside of our family. To this day I can remember Officer Pepper, the popular local police officer who doubled as our crossing guard in 1964 Lynnfield, Massachusetts, with his chrome-plated revolver and silver bullets lining his belt, which for us first-graders was at eye level every morning.

    We are fortunate these days to live near Alec Childress' corner in Wilmette. He has already had his fifteen minutes of fame, and then some, going viral on his 80th birthday in 2019 when the neighborhood arranged a surprise party for him on his corner, an event that went nationwide:

    I'm not sure that Alec experiences the same risks as most other guards, because so many cars want to slow down and exchange greetings with him that he creates his own protective traffic jam, through which he navigates both kids and parents. A deeply religious and incredibly cheerful man, catch him in a quiet moment and he will spontaneously produce an inspirational sermon on whatever topic comes to mind (traffic safety, asparagus, world affairs, the flu), annotated with Bible quotes, and although I'm not a religious person, I am always happier for meeting him that day.

    1. Oh, Andy, I would very much like to hear the asparagus sermon! Saint Asparagus, the queen of the vegetable world...


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