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Don't Get Cross(ed)

Sometimes, I find myself in benign, everyday situations that for no good reason make me feel – for lack of a better term – “itchy” (not in the physical sense; just out of sorts).

It’s those chance meetings in the grocery store with the distance acquaintance that start in the in pickle/salad dressing/condiments aisle (a polite nod and “hello”) that repeat themselves aisle after aisle, from ethnic foods/pasta, to coffee/tea, and baking good/oils/cake mixes, before I finally can’t take it anymore and double-back to a previous aisle to create some space between us so I don’t have to make the decision whether to stop and talk (rarely and option for me in a grocery store), make a brief, quippy comment, or just go “head-down” and pretend I’m on a mission and can’t be bothered with small talk.

One of these situations arose recently: the “adult crossing the street near a school/crossing guard helps said adult across the street.”

By this point, you may already have several questions running through your mind, and two pop into my head immediately in case you need a prompt:

1. What’s wrong with this guy? Is he a social misfit?

2. How in hell is he going to make this story even remotely interesting?”

The answer to Question 1 is, “We don’t have time to explore Question 1.” The answer to Question 2 is, “Two words, I’m not.” But that won’t prevent me from telling it.

(The other questions you have, about my grocery store phobias, social “inadequacies,” etc., can also remain unanswered, or at least, “undiscussed” for now.)

Here’s how the brief but weird (for me, anyway) scenario played out.

I approached a relatively active intersection two blocks from an elementary school. Moving at a brisk pace (I walk for exercise, not pleasure), earbuds in place, podcast “casting,” I noticed a tan, 2010s Buick sedan parked (and idling) just near the corner. Forgetting for a moment that school is back in session, I suddenly realized what was coming.

As I neared, I saw the driver door swing open. Next, a large “Stop” sign emerged, followed by a yellow-vested crossing guard. Suddenly on high alert, my head on a swivel, I evaluated my surroundings, taking note of everything, hoping to see one or more children approaching, triggering the crossing guard to “hop to it.”

Seeing none, I realized she was after me. Not wanting an escort to the other side (crossing the street is something I’ve mastered over the years), I froze, looking for an “out,” a detour I could take that wouldn’t make it obvious I was avoiding an encounter with the crossing guard.

Don’t ask why I have such a strong resistance to this type of situation; it’s just strange to me that someone whose job it is to make sure first- and second graders get across the street safely should be offering the same service to someone like me … that is, a full-grown (well, mostly) capable (OK, not always, but generally speaking) adult.

Also, when I’m driving and observing the large “Stop” sign wielded by the crossing as she slogs into the middle of the road, I think it’s strange when all I see is another adult taking advantage of this service, as though they’re getting something they don’t deserve.

“Hey, that crossing guard’s for kids!” I want to yell, letting them know that I know they’re trying to pull a fast one, game the system or get something for free, something meant for others.

Anyway, I was in a quandary. First, I didn’t want to feel weird being escorted (and I knew I would). Second, I didn’t want those waiting in traffic to see this unfold and think, “Can’t that dude cross the street on his own?” Finally, I didn’t want to offend the crossing guard, who was either 1) simply doing a kind gesture for another, 2) following the crossing guard “code” of “no pedestrian left behind” (I doubt that’s part of the code, if indeed a code exists) or 3) both.

Seeing nowhere else to turn (quite literally, and I did consider lifting a manhole cover and climbing into the storm sewer), I approached the 70-something woman, and our eyes met.

On cue, and without any acknowledgement of me or my gentle smile, nod and “Good morning,” she began her slow trek toward the intersection, lifting the Stop sign in perfect rhythm with her labored steps, an action she’d performed so often she could do it without thinking, as though someone had flipped an “on” switch on her back.

At this point, I had a decision to make. On one hand, I could confidently proclaim I didn’t need assistance, and that I’d prefer to cross the street without her help. While it would save her a trip to the middle of the road (and back), I saw this as an a**hole move.

Plan B would be to tell her I was turning left and wasn’t crossing at this intersection. “Better,” I thought to myself, “maybe I’ll go that route.” However, she had made the effort (either through kindness or obligation) to put down her book, emerge from the Buick and do what she was sent by the crossing guard “powers-that-be” to do, so that didn’t seem right either.

Twenty feet from the intersection, and with moderate oncoming cross traffic, I decided to power through, to face my fears and let her do her job. As she led the charge to the middle of the road, sign in hand, hi-viz vest ablaze with color like a Meyer lemon, I run-walked my way to the other side, and as I passed her, simply said, “Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day.” Surprised by the interaction, she blurted, “Oh … yes! You’re … you’re welcome!” And with that, it was over. I was on my way down the street, and she returned to the Buick and her book, waiting for her next customer.

Overall, I felt good about the exchange. I had stepped out of my comfort zone, and hopefully, I had been a bright spot for someone.

But what I still can’t get out of my head is the look I got from the 40-something guy in the late-model SUV as I crossed the street. It was a look of contempt and judgment, one that seemed to say: “What is it with you walkers? It’s always take-take-take. A**hole!”

It’s true. I need to work on some of my situational issues.

© 2021 David R. Haznaw

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