The Sky Is Falling

It happened. I was worried that it would, knowing how I am. I started feeling twinges of it right from the beginning and I tried to fight it. I almost appreciated “the haters” because they made it okay for me to hate the job, they made it easy for me to be irritated and annoyed by the dangerous drivers nearly running me over- by the fact that NO ONE was listening to me ranting and raving about how dangerous the intersection is- by the freeeeezing (soon to be incredibly hot) rainy, snowy, windy, weather- by the broken sidewalks that I trip over- by the shitty hours and teeeeny tiny paycheck… I know a lot of people who live that way -always annoyed, looking for malice and personal insult whenever possible, always finding the worst because that’s exactly what they’re looking for. – But that’s not me.

It has been my contention all along that “I’m not a crossing guard” … I’m JUST a person who doesn’t want to see someone maimed or killed when it could have been easily avoided. I stand by that -I am NOT a “crossing guard”. I really don’t want to play in traffic in harsh weather – BUT – after that nice 11 day vacation I had, this morning, when I put on my 3 jackets and my fluorescent yellow safety sweatshirt (and today was rasta sock monkey hat day :D) I felt that little twinge of “I missed this” … NO!!?? What’s to miss?? Did you just read that WHOLE first paragraph? I remembered that the kids missed valentine’s day. I remembered that the play (Peter Pan) was coming up soon and how much practice the kids missed. I wondered if “the little burrito” would be back. I know some of the kids names but I call them my own – I have “the little burrito” because he’s always bundled up, I have “the doctor” because, well, he JUST looks like he’s gonna be a doctor when he grows up, I have “the joker” because he just looks like he’s always just about to tell a joke- … where was I?? Oh yeah… “the little burrito” he hasn’t been in for awhile, I worry. I hope he’s being driven and I just don’t see him. I’m sure he’s fine, or I would have heard something, small towns are good that way. Maybe he moved.

WHAT I FOUND
I like this job. Crap! I did not want that! I am NOT a crossing guard!!! I wondered if “Little Red” had a nice vacation, he said he did. Oh! Here comes “Little House” (they just remind me of the old show, I’m not sure why, but if Laura Ingalls has modern day, long lost relatives in New Paltz, these are them) – they bring their dog, I was glad to see them, I really was – weird right? that I would be happy to see people I don’t know and see through glass, for all of 28 seconds, if that. There were a bunch of kids and a LOT of families I was happy to see. I even see kids from when I was a lunch lady dropping off their younger brothers and sisters . I can’t believe how much they’ve grown up. Next year, some of these kids will be going to the high school, maybe they’ll drop off their younger siblings like some of the older high school kids do now. I’ve decided that I’m “in this” for the perks. I got some good samaritan coffee today. That’s my favorite flavor. I like people! Right on the surface and way deep down. I really think most people are good -yeah, it’s bitten me in the ass and I’ve been proven wrong but I learned a lesson from it and they’ve definitely been the few and far between– a miniscule minority in proportion to the amount of people I’ve met.

Sometimes I feel like Chicken Little “CLUCK! someone’s gonna get hurt! SQUAWK” to be met with “Oh, don’t be an alarmist, it’s not that bad.” … But it really is, cluck. When I think that the first published acknowledgement of the need for a crossing guard was in late 2010, I wonder if I’ll be crossing the grandchildren of kids who bought their lunch at my register. I think of the mothers who send their children out, knowing they taught them how to cross, safely and legally – only to think, it doesn’t matter if the child was doing the right thing, it will not protect him from a driver texting, or one who has the sun in his eyes, or one trying to beat the light, or one who thinks if he speeds up he’ll make it through before your kid gets to that side of the road, or one who just didn’t see the person in the crosswalk — or whatever the million reasons that “could be” and have been that pedestrians get hit, even when they’re doing the right thing.

Thank you for trusting me to get your kid across. I mean that. You see how hard it is to get through there and you are handing your child’s life over to me. I’m not being dramatic. I could start posting statistics, or local articles about pedestrians (middle school and college aged students) being struck within feet of our own middle school. I could, but we all have eyeballs. We’ve all witnessed something unsafe, we’ve all seen it completely congested. Just before the vacation I was visited by the New Paltz Transportation Implementation Committee. I feel hopeful that “someone” is finally listening. It’s not lost on me – that if I get what I truly want – for this to be the world’s safest middle school cross walk – that I will render my newly loved job obsolete.

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What a week – Speeders Snow Stupidity and Perspective

Yesterday marked exactly 5 months since I started “my job” as Crossing Guard.  “My job” is in quotes because I AM NOT a “crossing guard”. I WAS a concerned  parent and citizen who couldn’t sit around anymore saying “SOMEONE HAS to do SOMETHING.”  I am someone, so I did something.  I’m not going to play dumb, I know exactly how I got roped into doing it.  In spite of what anyone says or thinks, I must once again reiterate that my ONLY concern was and IS, for the safety of small to midsize children.  Of course after standing out there for 2 hours a day, I realize a LOT of people cross right there on my little corner and it’s far more dangerous than I had originally thought.

Last week was THE absolute worst week I’ve had so far. In those 5 months I have had to call the police twice – both of those times were last week.  As sad as it sounds, “almost being hit” is now the norm for me.  On multiple, COUNTLESS occasions, people have driven directly into my 2×4 foot fluorescent orange flag, countless times they have completely ignored me and my flag and drove right around me, countless times people have slammed on their breaks leaving 3, 4, 5 foot patches of tire.  Now, right now, I KNOW your saying “Dam pedestrians, just walk out in front of you, don’t even look up from their phone.” … well first off, let me promise you, I’m not on my phone when I cross, and I’m certainly NOT “walking out in front of you.”  I try NEVER to stop vehicles headed to a green light, I try never to stop people who are VERY CLEARLY SPEEDING (because WHY would I walk out in front of that?!?!) When I see people NOT slowing down, I hold the pedestrians to the sidewalk and give the “SLOW DOWN” pat in the air with hands — at which point the driver remains completely oblivious to me, or better yet acknowledges me with obscene finger gestures or throw their hands up and give me the “ooops, my bad” look.

It’s no secret that non-parents use the middle school lot to avoid the intersection and beat the light.  Last week a person FLEW through the lot right in the middle of dismissal.  My first thought is always “maybe he got a call that he had a sick child and was scared or nervous about that” so I try to “cut some slack”  … once they’re in the lot, I don’t really look because, that’s behind me and not really relevant to me or my duties.  Because of the excessive speed at which this person entered the school, I definitely took notice, only to see him speed directly to Main Street exit, no kids in the car, none dropped off or picked up.  When I say FLEW, it was enough to kick up gravel and leave a dust trail.  So, I RAN, I hauled asssss in a way I did not think I was capable! to the other end of the lot screaming “SOMEONE GET HIS PLATE NUMBER!!!”  Fortunately, he got stuck behind another car so I had the opportunity to ask “what the hell is wrong with you?! DO YOU SEEE all these kids walking around? It’s the middle of dismissal!”  to which he replies “I know, sorry.”  Three or 4 parents saw this as well as several children. I did get a picture of his car and plate number and forwarded it to the police. I couldn’t help but to think, had he actually struck a child, teacher or parent, that picture of his plate and his apology would mean absolutely nothing.

Tuesday it snowed. Many parents thought they should have closed the school early but they didn’t.  Once the snow started it came fast and furious. There was probably a generous inch on the ground at 2:15 when I got to my post.  I could already tell, I was in for a very busy afternoon. The easiest way to describe the mayhem (and it was nothing short of anarchy let me tell you!!!)  There are 3 lanes on the main road that I have to watch – One headed south toward SUNY and 2 headed north toward Main Street. To my right, there is the 2 lane entrance/exit from the school lot. By 2:30 I had 2 full lanes of cars PARKED in the entrance to the school so no one could get in OR out.  This did not stop people from trying to get in and out. The short story- EVERY lane was blocked – the school lot, the 2 going north and the one going south, which then caused main street to come to a complete standstill in both directions.

I approached the man trying to turn into the school and asked him to go up and go into the far entrance – Nope, he won’t leave and he doesn’t have to listen to me, technically I have NO authority.  I know typing this (because I’m reading it) does not give the full impression of the chaos I was facing.  The traffic was so far backed up coming from the south that the busses hadn’t even reached the lot by dismissal time.  The one lane of traffic headed south turned into 3 lanes with people passing the driver attempting to make the left into the lot, passing him on the left AND on the right! The 2 lanes headed North, turned into one completely stopped lane (those trying to get into the school) and 2 more lanes of people going around them. Not to mention to plaza on the other side of the street which is now completely barricaded, with NO way to exit or enter from Manheim.

My now (normally) 3 lanes of traffic (and 2 to the lot) turned into 9 lanes of traffic!!! It’s a veryyyy smalllll (size wise) intersection – NINE LANES OF TRAFFIC!  At that point I did call the police to help alleviate it.  No fault to the police because I”m sure it was a very busy day for them as well, but by the time they got there, it was all but over. For the half hour I stood there in the middle of that, I got a LOT of sympathy from parents, many even got out and took pictures of the disorder and confusion. I could offer no more than a sympathetic nod of understanding.

What’s the point of my rambling whining? I guess there really isn’t one. There’s no one to “blame”.  The parents are mostly awesome.  They really are.  Not because they give me homemade breads and hot coffee,  not because they hand be bottles of wine and chocolates (and before someone calls the police chief, and I KNOW YOU WILLLLLL!, I did not drink it at work, nor would I, and I’m well over 21!) – but because “the regulars”  stagger in, they let oncoming cars in, they yield to non student pedestrians crossing in front of the school.  It’s a small town, we all know each other, or knows someone who knows someone – not everyone agrees or get along but we really do have a great community.  Every child I’ve crossed has been respectful and courteous to me.  They wait when I tell them even though traffic looks clear.  They’ve seen me almost get hit, I say “THIS is why I tell you to cross carefully, even when I’m not here.” They saw me chase the speeding driver through the lot and actually thanked me!  Kids are not good at expressing their appreciation so for them to mention it, I think they know I”m there for THEM and no one else.

I guess “the moral” of the story is…. I had one beyond horrific week out of 5 months, I give complete and utter thanks to the parents, and to the amazing children they are raising because if every week was like this, or I wasn’t getting any support from the people who matter, I would have walked away 4 months ago. What I do DOES matter – maybe not to commuters, maybe not to parents whose children take the bus, maybe not to people who are cursing me for making them late for their appointment and maybe not to people who think I”m standing there for anything other than pedestrian safety – but it matters to the kid I MAY have saved by stopping a speeding a driver through the parking lot, it matters to the parent who won’t be getting a call later saying “your small human was struck by a vehicle whose driver was trying to beat the light.” and it EVEN matters to the people who think it doesn’t — because what I”m doing is stopping you from having the guilt on your shoulders that you killed a kid because you didn’t want to wait, for whatever reason you think your law breaking was justified.

LOOK! It’s a Crossing Guard! Do’s and Don’ts …

You approach the intersection and see a giant orange safety flag appear a few feet ahead.  What do you do??

DON’T

  1. … throw your phone across the seat as if I didn’t see you talking on it.
  2. … try to put your seatbelt on, I don’t care about that.
  3. … go around to get into the other lane — to see what’s going on — to get to the intersection — because you’re late and can’t wait.
  4. … look at me to DO SOMETHING because your fellow drivers are inconsiderate. My purpose is strictly to make the drivers aware of the pedestrians
  5. … get upset if I stop you on one side of the cross walk instead of letting you pass when you’re only going to be sitting at a red light.
  6. … SPEED UP!

DO

  1. STOP! and watch for instructions!
  2. look for pedestrians, bicyclists, skateboarders… who might be about to cross from either side of the street.
  3. continue to look for pedestrians even after you’ve completely passed through the intersection.
  4. LEARN the driving LAWS regarding crosswalks, right on red, “blocking the box”, and pedestrian right of way.  —>New York State Drivers Manual
  5. be considerate of your fellow drivers – a teeeny bit of courtesy goes a LONG way and really DOES make the intersection run more efficiently and smoothly.
  6. Have a GREAT day 😀

No Peer Reviewed Confirmations just Car Eyelashes and Dogs

How much do I HATE labels and stereotypes? It’s rhetorical, don’t answer that.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t noticed some… shall I say … “similarities” in certain collective groups of drivers and pedestrians.

I just want to get it out of the way – the bad and the ugly, which, coincidentally are the same…  Honda Civics! Not the “off the lot” Hondas – the customized ones.  They usually have sunroofs, dark tinted windows and brightly colored brakes or rims.  This collective group of drivers like to rev their engines.  I can only conclude that Hondas must stall, a LOT. I can’t think of any other phenomenon which would cause only customized Hondas to force the drivers to constantly rev their engines.

Intersection Blindness is a medical slash driving term which I just invented (and my shit is copyrighted so don’t even try to steal it!). This was a natural segue from the engine revving theme because many many Honda Civic drivers have this, but unlike the revving, this condition is not unique to a certain make or model of car.  This seems to be an age related stereotype, I associate it with younger drivers. When a driver is approximately 600-700 feet before an intersection they become blind to EVERY thing else around them and only see the intersection ahead. They have to “beat the light.”  I think in some alternative driving class somewhere, they teach people to telepathically connect to the stop light by maintaining unbroken eye contact with intersection ahead and a green light fairy will hold it for them so they make it through — pedestrians and side streets be dammed! DON”T BLINK or the light will change…  and whatever you do — DON”T slow down!!

Generally, the pedestrians and bicyclists are very pleasant.  Almost all of them wear headphones. Some take them off to say good morning (or afternoon).  If they don’t take them off, they usually look up and give the nod and a smile – and – I really think the joggers are appreciative of my “Theme from Rocky” rendition as they run through the intersection.

You would think a “cute” car would indicate that the person driving was generally happier or friendlier. That is not the case unless there are accessories involved.  If I see someone driving a car that was heavily promoted by head bobbing hamsters, I would guess they had a sense of humor.  So when they pull in looking all cranky and completely un-amused with life every morning, all I can think is, “those hamsters would NOT be happy.”  Volkswagen Beetle drivers? HOW can you not CONSTANTLY drive around in state of slightly amused, especially driving past a middle school, KNOWING, in at least one of those classrooms or school buses, someone is getting “punch buggied” because of you?

I’ve noticed 3 types of families who drive to school.  The “Not Morning People” families where, NO ONE in the car is happy, smiling, or giving a wave.  The “I Can So Sympathize” families where, the parents are smiling, waving and happy – but the kids are not, at all, excited, happy or enthused about their day in any apparent way!.  Then there are “The Cleavers” – everyone is happy.  The entire car of people is excited about their day, or pretending, or at least well caffeinated. Now that I’m writing it, I don’t recall ever seeing happy kids with unhappy parents.  Hmph. Interesting.

Drivers of cars with eyelashes, minivans and SUVS with stickers all over the interior windows, moms with cups of coffee in their hands and people who drive (and walk) with dogs are the happiest. While a “cute car” has not proved to be an indication of general driver pleasantness, cute accessories totally do! I have witnessed zero incidences of eye lashed adorned vehicles containing a cranky driver.  The coffee drinkers – well, they aren’t smiling, waving goobers like me, but they always manage to muster, at the very least a nod or a wave.  Caffeine up my sister from another mister.  I’m right there with you.

The dogs that get to bring the kids to school are the happiest of all the pedestrians and vehicle occupants. Dogs don’t know from traffic and time schedules, they’re just glad to be there. The smiling furry baby faces peeking from the windows or the entire laundry basket looking fur balls hanging half out of the windows are always accompanied by generally happier looking people.

If you read today’s tale and are wondering “what was the point?” — there isn’t one.  It was all observation.  I’d like to say the point is walk, get a dog, or a car with cute accessories but I think that might be a chicken/egg thing.  ARE they happier because they have those things – or did they get those things because they’re happier?

Why This is Important to Me – Chuck Full of Pics

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This is how you’re supposed to do it! ((Completely unscripted – Thank you UCAT))

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School behind me, facing plaza

Sunrise at the intersection

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School on the left, plaza on the right

It’s almost hard to imagine jam packed with cars

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“MY” corner

It smells like fresh air in the morning and pizza in the afternoon

keep reading… the meat is between the last 2 pictures…

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Big Empty Intersection

The picture above and the picture below are the bread of my “why this is important to me” sandwich -In the middle is the safety of kids (and other pedestrians). I will, right up front admit, I have “driver arrogance.”  I hate dodging pedestrians, especially downtown.  My driver arrogance is matched and exceeded only by “pedestrian arrogance.” I hate that “pedestrian right of way” means “you can just step out in front of on coming traffic because they have to stop for you.”  You guys drive, you know what I mean.  It wouldn’t even be so bad if they would step out… and then… HUSTLE – but no… it’s a nice slow strolling meander through any part of the street they feel like walking across.   I live here, I accept that there is going to be foot traffic. I accept that the road belongs equally to the cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, skateboards and pedestrians.  But if everyone does their part, we can all be safe with the least amount of inconvenience for everyone involved.

I (mostly) love my town/village.  I grew up here and I walked to the same middle school that I now stand in front of every morning and afternoon.  My children took the bus.  When I first “discovered” that New Paltz NEEDED a crossing guard for the middle school, I immediately consulted my friends.  That’s what I do. I rant, rave, bitch and moan.  Then, I either let it go, or decide it was a warranted rant.  One of my childhood friends said, “Mare, WE walked and no one helped us, we all did just fine.” — so I wondered, about the difference between then and now.  There were roughly 100  people in my entire graduating class, the class of 2012 had almost 200.  Clearly the population as increased.

In the picture above you can see one lane on the far left and 2 on the right. One day I was driving into town and I was in the center lane headed straight for the main intersection. The lane to the right was stopped – for what I assumed was someone turning into the school. As I headed toward the intersection, and through the cross walk – a kid stepped out from in front of the car in the right lane.  I barely missed him.  It was not his fault.  He was in the cross walk.  It was not my fault, my light was green and I did not SEE anyone in the crosswalk – until he stepped out.

I hope that’s not a feeling you ever have to experience. It’s extremely unsettling to be that close to almost killing a person, no less a child. I didn’t even see him.  Had I got to that intersection a fraction of a second sooner, and I would have hit him. So after much bitching and moaning on Facebook I decided my “upsetness” was justified.  Someone asked if I knew Amy Cohen.  At that time I didn’t, but I found out that her kids walked and this was IN DEED a SERIOUS issue and it was only “new” to me. Parents of the children who walked had been fighting for this. That was 3 years ago.  In that time we got a guard and lost a guard.  I’m doing this for now, but I know if I left tomorrow, there would be no one else to do it.  No one would be assigned or have their job duties redefined to allow them to go out for the hour in the morning and the hour in the afternoon. Amy is currently on the Police Commission and I know this topic is still a passion for her. She is, actually, a huge part of the reason I’m there now.  She has not let this important issue be forgotten.

Links to all the newspaper articles are in the “Drama” tab at the top of the page – you can see the New Paltz Police, the School District itself, the governing bodies of the Town of New Paltz, as well as the VIllage of New Paltz all agree, it’s a dangerous intersection. When a school bus stops, a stop sign pops out, lights flash and drivers are forbidden from passing until the child is safely across the street.  How come we don’t give the kids who walk the same protection from gigantic steel and fiberglass pedestrian squashing machines? If you take a bus we care about you, but if you walk … hey kid, good luck with that.

The picture below shows where I almost got hit. A child was on the sidewalk waiting to come back to the school.  I started across the intersection and had the 2 lanes headed to town stopped.  As a walked toward the sidewalk, I lifted the flag to alert the car in the lane closest to the plaza that the child needed to cross.  I use a gigantic 2 ft by 3 ft orange safety flag. I would not be exaggerating if I said, it IS the size of a small child.  The car didn’t see me, or the flag and drove – literately – right into the end of the pole. I am so grateful that child waited for me like I asked him to.  I am so glad he didn’t step off, even one second sooner and he would have been hit by that car.

I can write about this, community members can see the chaos, parents who drive can experience the gridlock and children can actually be struck by moving vehicles – but until all the parents and community members fight as adamantly for the safety of the walking children as they do for the bussed children, this will continue to be an issue.

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The school from the Plaza