You’re killin’ me, people. A three-way tie? Okay, fine.
For the past few years, passing by my elementary school has made me sad. I’m not longing for the days of carving dirty words into the pencil-lip of a 472-year-old schooldesk or yearning to relive ages 5 through 13 (though, man! What I know now!) – I’m disconsolate over the fact that the 7th- and 8th-graders being schooled inside that building are missing out on one of the Awesomest Adventures of Their Lives: Safety Patrol.
Safety Patrol was, basically, the shit. At approximately 7:30 each morning and 2:50 each afternoon a group of rowdy 13-year-olds wearing nasty old orange “safety belts” and wielding traffic cones and hand-held stop signs were unleashed onto the parking lot and roadways surrounding the school. We were bad ass, y’all, not to mention the Greatest Crossing Guards That Ever Lived.
We were casual about it, of course. “Oh, I have ‘Patrol tonight,” I’d say to the teacher, who’d excuse me to the cafeteria where I’d meet up with the others at one of those giant metal cabinets full of our ‘gear.’ This was our locker room. Casually exchanging jokes, the boys smacking each other with the belts – but we took our responsibilities seriously. Like some tactical response team suiting up in body armor and methodically checking their weapons, we carefully donned our belts and carried our cones and signs with a sort of nonchalant reverence.
While I served a few tours in the back parking lot – carefully guiding the youth of St. So-and-So through a traffic cone-lined path to their waiting minivans – the real action was on the main road. The very small handful of kids who walked to school had to cross not one but two intersections, and I’d be damned if they did it unsafely. I risked my life and limbs (literally! – more on that in a sec) for those children.
One bitter cold morning, I took my post down at the corner (that sounds like the beginning of another kind of story, doesn’t it?). Step One was to tend to the stop signs. This involved removing the padlock holding them in place and turning them so that oncoming traffic would, theoretically, stop.
On days like this, we were also supplied with a 398 year old can of de-icer to facilitate the process, but on that fateful morning, the de-icer was gone. Struggling with all my might to turn the sign, cars zipping past me at 70, 80, 90 miles per hour, I was faced with one of the most difficult decisions of my life. The cheap cotton stretchy gloves I was wearing allowed no grip on that cold, metal pole and the only choice that my 13-year-old brain gave me was to remove them and go barehanded.
Using my teeth, I removed one turquoise atrocity from my right hand with expert skill. Whipping my head around and tersely spitting said glove onto the frozen ground, I turned to face my metal nemesis. Gritting my teeth, eyes steely with determination, I reached out to grab that pole (that’s what she said! that’s what she said!). Much to my surprise, it gave way immediately, forcing an 18-wheel tractor trailer to come to a screeching, skidding halt just inches from my toes.
Plucking my glove from the ground, I resumed my duties. No big. All in a day’s work.
But something was wrong. My hand burned. Why did it hurt so bad? Why was I losing feeling in my fingertips? Once inside, I removed my gloves to find that all of the fingers on my right hand had turned black with necrosis! *
We were warriors of the Safety Patrol, martyrs for our cause, but this – all of this – has been gone for a long time. If Safety Patrol exists at that school anymore, it’s probably just some hosers aimlessly milling around the parking lot making sure the kindergartners don’t run under someone’s Expedition. It’s just not the same; the main road that runs along the west side of the school (a road which, in my memory, was crumbling and incredibly narrow and filled with vehicles travelling at rates of speed nearing 400 kilometers per hour) has since been re-paved. A wide, welcoming sidewalk’s been installed. And – this is the part that really gets me – the rusty stop signs on each side of the road are gone, having been replaced by an actual stoplight.
*No, stupid. Are you really believing this? I mean, I did take off my glove, and I think the technically term for what I experienced was “frostnip” (frost-teeny-weeny-bite?), but really?
How is this creatively-fictionized?** you are now asking yourself.
This story is junk. If you were once part of The Patrol, you know better: We were schmucks, dumb ones at that, who signed up for Safety Patrol not out of a sense of duty but because everyone who did it for a full year got a free ticket for a Cardinals game. We acted under exact orders of our teachers, rarely making any kind of decision on our own.
**And why make up words, Julie? Is “fictionalized” too difficult for you to type? Yes. Yes it is.
Stay tuned for Poll results, part deux!