We’re essentially okay!

One of the best things about living in my neighborhood is that I can walk my son to school. If my car breaks down, and I have no other way of getting him there, I can always hoof it on foot. It’s about a half a mile to the school, and another half for me (and my 4 year old) on the way back. There’s 2 intersections that require crossing guards along the way. Both in the morning and the afternoon. The crossing guards in our neighborhood always become more than just familiar faces for me and my sons. Sometimes we even become friends. You’ll miss that kind of stuff if you drive. Sometimes you just gotta walk.

I’ll admit that there’s been a lot of times, over the years, that I drove the car. Parked it on a side street near the school and walked the last block, so I wouldn’t have to queue with the rest of the parents (*ho’ve been driven mad by the weird etiquette involved in school pick up/drop off). My son is actually the one that keeps us walking, for the most part, and we’ve been doing this for almost 3 years, at the same school. 

Until the pandemic, I’d always seen the same 2 crossing guards, wonderful women, who’ve helped my small family survive the dangers of morning commutes. After Covid, those 2 women lost their jobs. Both gals! Just one of those things you can thank the pandemic for. At the start of this year we had an old couple take over the two intersections that we still cross each day. Not sure why these 2 got the job my friends were booted from? 

This new couple didn’t do the job as good as the two ladies who’d been doing it up until then, but still, not bad. Yesterday, however, there was a city engineer filling the job. Waiving our brats through those places where children and large vehicles converge, while collecting his city wages. As a concerned parent, I tried to give the overpaid kid some advice as he clutched his stop sign.

As I approached the intersection, just at the corner of my son’s school, I noticed him looking bewildered. It wasn’t the first time in the last few weeks that I’d seen a new person at this particular crossing. It was the most important intersection for my son’s school: The most traffic of both pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles. So, at pick up and drop off, it’s important this crossing is facilitated by someone with a handheld sign that says stop. 

It’s 2021, and this is really the technology that gets the best results! However, this young man had no idea what he was doing. He just didn’t have the necessary skills to do it right. Or safely. Usually, it takes an old lady, who likes kids and doesn’t mind getting paid nothing. Those kinds of workers have eyes like hawks and almost a 6th sense for approaching children and distracted drivers.

This guy was just trying to watch 2 points, of the 4 way intersection, and I could tell he had too many blindspots. Kids were arriving at corners that he didn’t see, because his back was to them. He just didn’t know how to do this job. All of us could see it. 

When he saw me coming, he walked through the crossing with his stop sign held low. Rookie mistake. You gotta always hold that thing high! Or else parents, trying to get to work on time, will take it for a sign of weakness. He learned this the hard way, when he pivoted with one foot in the crossing, and the other up on my sidewalk, to lead us back across. The minivan missed his nose by a good 10 inches, when a young mother in haste drove by with an apologetic smile directed at us. You could see this new kid might be reconsidering his new career choice. I still thought he was a low paid worker at the time. Not an engineer. Some people wouldn’t take the time, but I had to give him some advice.

“You gotta grow eyes in the back of your head with these parents!” I said behind my mask. “They’re in a hurry.”

“Did you see that?!” He replied with wild eyes, while glancing off at the reckless matriarch. 

You mean when you almost got run over by a soccer mom? “Yeah.” I replied.

After dropping my son off, I still had to go through this same intersection, so that’s when the young man mentioned to me, “You know I’m interning as a city engineer. There’s a shortage of crossing guards and they’ve got a bunch of us city employees filling these spots.”

Wow! That’s interesting. You never hear that kind of stuff on the news. It’s always politics and coronavirus. It’s never news about how little things have changed because of social distancing, lockdowns, and all the other stuff. When I got to the 2nd intersection on my walk home (which I’d also noticed a constant shuffling of crossing guards recently) I asked, “Are you a city employee too?”

“No. I’m the supervisor for this area.” He said, shaking his head. “I’m just doing this spot, because we’ve got no one else.” He looked like a good guy. He did know how to do his job. He had no blindspots and he knew how to hold the sign.

“We’ve been advertising, but no one’s applied.” He said with a frown. “Finally, this week I just got 2 applications, but it’s not enough.” 

He told me I could go on Indeed.com to apply, but he’d already told me it’d only pay $13.75/hr and you only worked 1.5 hours a day. So you’d be lucky to make $20 a day with this job! We continued our walk home.

One of our old crossing guard’s houses is on the way to our house. Her name is Beverly. But I thought it was too early to bother her. Passing her house, just made me think about her. When my 4 year old and I got home, I checked the contacts on my phone to make sure I still had her number. As my son ran off to watch TV, while I made him breakfast, I thought about writing a story. I waited until lunchtime to call Bev. To gossip. I told her about the city workers doing her job. She couldn’t believe it! We were being just like old neighbors. So much fun.

We had a good laugh and caught up. I told her how I kicked my mom out of the house, recently, and she told me how her son had died a month ago. She still had 2 granddaughters though (both grown). Thank God. But they lived in California and Bev hadn’t seen them in a couple of years. She had to go as her dog started barking and she said someone was at the door.

After I hung up, I thought about how I wanted to be a writer. How I wanted to change my career at age 42. During a pandemic. And here was a story that God had apparently put right into my own lap. It was a coronavirus story in my own neighborhood. Nothing like what you see on TV or the news. Just a small story. About essential workers. How our society never pays essential workers enough for the skilled jobs they do. I thought about how Beverly had helped me and my family cross a dangerous street for years. I knew I didn’t have very much money myself, but she lived in my neighborhood and I wanted to bring her something. I wanted her to know that I appreciated what she did for us. I wanted her to know I was sorry about her son. So I made cookies.

It’s not the first time I’ve brought her cookies. So it wasn’t such an inspired idea. You can conclude, then, that this wasn’t the first time that I’d told Beverly (or showed her) how much I appreciated the job she used to do. That’s why I felt comfortable not calling first, before knocking on her door, on my way home after picking up my son from school that afternoon.

Before grabbing my son from the walkers exit on the side of the school, I saw that same engineer working his sign. I asked him if he was getting paid for doing this lowly job. “Oh yeah!” was his reply. I’m sure he was getting more than the $13.75 that the city had been paying Beverly. The $13.75 they were currently advertising for. He looked like a nice kid, but he was getting paid more money (to do a worse job!) than some women I knew. I still thanked him for his help.

Beverly was happy to see the 3 of us when we knocked on her door. She made us come in and offered us cookies. She tried to get her dog locked in a bedroom (tried but didn’t manage) as my kids began exploring her house. Bev and I spaced our short bits of conversation between sharp sounding barks and rich children’s laughter. We gossiped like neighbors and exchanged cookies. I told her I was sorry to hear about her son dying, and she told me she was sorry to hear I lost my mom. We talked until I could tell my kids were ready to go home. Which wasn’t long.

It wasn’t until we were almost home when Beverly called me. She’d found the framed picture of the boys and I, which I’d placed in the bag with the cookies I gave her. Before my 4 year old and I had left the house to get my oldest, I’d grabbed the photo off the wall. My mom had given it to me to hang there. I never knew why people would keep pictures of themselves on their own walls. Why not photos of other people? If you want to see yourself, get a mirror.

“I just loved the picture you gave me!” Bev said over the phone. I imagined she’d put it somewhere in her house. When she’d let us in earlier, I’d seen her house was full of pictures of other people. Family. Most likely.

“You know the boys are going to their mom’s for the summer at the end of the month.” I told her. “If you want to come over for a barbecue or something…”

“Yes.” She told me before hanging up. “I’d love that.”

As I got my kids ready for bed that night, I thought about writing this story. I thought about calling the city. To find out who gave the order to have high paid employees do jobs that they wouldn’t pay other people enough money to do the same. I thought about how no one is talking about how the pandemic is changing everything! In little ways like this. You won’t find this kind of story in the news, because everything has changed already. It’s still changing everyday. 

People only want to hear about the big stuff! I’m tired of it. All the deaths. All the politics. The news wants to report the shocking things, and people watch while hoping everything goes back to the way it was. It won’t. If we need an engineer to hold a stop sign, more than we need him doing anything else, then something is definitely different!

The pandemic has shown us what is truly essential in our society, and for some reason people still don’t notice. We always seem to pay the employees who do the most important jobs the least amounts of money. On top of that, we chop up our economy so that people don’t know one another, or talk to our own neighbors anymore. You can think I’m being dramatic, but most of us don’t even know when a person, who lives next to us, might have lost someone to these awful times. How many people have died in the last year? How many of you neighbors have lost someone? What’s that cliche about being alone in a crowd of people? That relevant for you?

I’m not saying engineers aren’t essential but, apparently, I never considered what our society would end up valuing more! Kids still need help getting across the street. Obviously. People still need to make money though. Things still have to change. And it’s nothing to be scared about. That kind of change. It certainly didn’t keep me up last night. I realized that we’re essentially okay. Our institutions are failing, but things are still working. And if things finally break to the point where we have to make something new, then…. so be it!

But don’t worry. People like me will be there who’ll try to make it easier for you to handle. I’ll tell you to watch out for minivans when you’re not looking. It’s really no bother. I’d enjoy helping you. I don’t have much. So don’t expect miracles. But I could certainly bring cookies.

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