It was such an amazing surprise farewell party at my former employment at Busch Systems just over a year ago. After walking into the crowded boardroom, all of a sudden I found myself to be the centre of attention while several speeches and then some presentations were given on my behalf. Then a beautiful cake was cut and served. As we were socializing in and around the main boardroom, so many of my worker peeps came over to give me a hug and wish me all the best.
Retiring from Busch Systems at 60 years old was never on my radar. The company treats their employees with so much respect. There was little perks like bringing in professional Pilate and yoga instructors to keep us healthy. There was a community organic garden for the employees, with any excess produce donated to charity. A gourmet coffee machine was introduced for the employees to reduce the use of disposable coffee cups. And save the employees some money.
Busch Systems also has an amazing Corporate Social Responsibility. They give huge sums of money back to the community through local charities such as the Barrie Rotary Club and Youth Haven. They send employees to volunteer for charities such as Habitat for Humanity and Barrie Christmas Cheer, and pay for the employees wages while away. The company is very sustainable and has a deep environmental consciousness. A portion of their sales go back to support several environmental charity initiatives. It was also such an honour to have had the opportunity to write 47 environmental articles on the company blog as a creative writer. And of course Busch Systems was where my running all started through their running club.
I had so many great co-worker friends at Busch Systems, and as I was repeatedly receiving hug and after hug, I was being told how much I was going to be missed again and again. There was a fair bit of heaviness within my heart during this joyous celebration. All of a sudden I was second guessing myself. Was I really making the right decision? Was I being too hasty? But there was some other words shared with me that gave me so much comfort and consolation. “Those kids are so fortunate to have you as their crossing guard”. And, “Those kids are so lucky”. Those words were repeated time and time again.
Two weeks earlier I had been so sure of myself. I live in a very small village called Hillsdale, and it is pretty much impossible to have a job that does not involve getting in a car to commute to work. And the few jobs available, people tend to hang on to them. An example is the crossing guard position. There has been a crossing guard to help children across busy Highway 93 for 26 years. And only 2 crossing guards during that entire time. Even though my new position meant less pay, and a loss of benefits, I figured I could do this for a lot of years. Who knows when the next time the crossing guard position would become available.
The most exciting thing that after living in the same little community for over 30 years, I would be able to give something more back to the community. I have taken so many personality tests over the years to try to get a better job, and each one points out that I have what is known as a “helper personality”. I even went back to college as a 52 year old to take the program “Social Service Worker”, which was very much designed for those with the helper personalities. I never ever did find employment in my field. So after 42 years of working mostly physical labour, it was so exciting to land employment most suited to my personality. The job description resource “OwlGuru” describes in detail all the responsibilities of a typical crossing guard in their article “What Do Crossing Guards Do. It also mentioned the most suitable personality for this position was “The Helper Personality”. For the fun of it, I recently completed a detailed personality survey through the website “16 Personalities“. The results are broken down into four main categories, which are analysts, diplomats, sentinels, and explorers. Each of these are divided in to four sub categories. I ended up being a sentinel, described as “a soldier or guard whose job is to stand and keep watch”. And a defender described as “very dedicated and warm protector, always ready to defend their loved ones.” I was thinking, “wow, that’s me as Hillsdale’s school crossing guard”.
My crossing guard position is in the village of Hillsdale on what is sometimes called the Penetanguishene Road. The road was originally built as supply route between Barrie and the naval base at Penetanguishene during the War of 1812. It would have taken a few days to navigate the route back then in the horse and buggy days. It is much quicker these days. Today it is a county road (called County Road #93) from Barrie to the interchange of the four lane Highway 400. From there the road picks up a considerable increase in traffic volume. From the Highway 400 interchange, it becomes a Provincially maintained Highway called King’s Highway 93. It ends at the town limits of Midland at Highway 12. My crosswalk position is on Highway 93 in the village of Hillsdale where it meets Albert Street.
My last day at Busch Systems was a Friday, and the following Monday March 25, 2019, I dressed in my bright orange reflective clothing, grabbed my stop sign from the fire hall and became Hillsdale’s newest crossing guard for the Township of Springwater. I had done this before as a back up role when I was in college eight years ago. Just like getting back on a bike, it does quickly come back to you. The first child I crossed was a boy named Ethan. Since that first crossing I have made the effort to get to know the names of each child. In order to keep my name retention, I aimed to learn one new child’s name a day. Addressing each child by their name, I really feel it gives them a sense of importance and self worth.
Traffic did seem a fair bit busier from 8 years earlier, and it does make sense. Demographically, the area population has increased dramatically. Not only does it involve more homes, it means more commuters, more service vehicles and more transport trucks delivering goods. And growth is expected to continue. An Ontario government report called Ontario Population Projections, 2018-2046 estimates that the population of Ontario will grow by 38% or an additional 5.4 million people over those 28 years. At my crosswalk I have done some current traffic counts before the big rush of children just before school starts, and after the big rush of children right after school gets out. There are ebbs and flows, but ends with a traffic volume of anywhere from 65 to as high as 88 cars and trucks passing through in five minutes (780 to 1056 cars and trucks an hour). The busiest two periods are Monday mornings and Friday afternoons.
In a February 3rd, 2020 article from the website Use Your Passion regarding Crossing Guards, it mentions, “The safety of our society’s young children is very important and their safety needs to be everyone’s priority. However, we all know that most drivers need to be reminded of this on a constant basis. Thus the necessity of school crossing guards have become more and more important and necessary over the years.” The Ontario Traffic Council (OTC) has provided a School Crossing Guard Guide for use by municipalities across the province. The updated May 2017 downloadable edition was 127 pages long. The goal in publishing it is to keep children as safe as possible in crossing various busier roads across the province on their way to schools.
Originally published in 2006 there has been revisions over the years with amendments due to changes with the Ontario Highway Traffic Act and emerging new best practices. The latest updates was May 2017. The amazing thing with our crosswalk system in Hillsdale is we go above and beyond what is outlined in the guide. Former OPP officer and long time resident, the late Graham McDonald, was a retired police officer who spent hours upon hours at the highway working with the former crossing guards to make things safer. What he implemented was a three whistle system to cross the children here in Hillsdale. At the first whistle, the crossing guard finds a big enough break in traffic to get to the middle of the highway with the stop sign. Most times traffic will see the crossing guard decked in bright reflective orange right away and stop. Sometimes not, as the driver could possibly be distracted and not paying attention. There then becomes some frantic sign waving to try and get their attention. Once traffic is stopped, and it is safe for children to cross that the second whistle is blown. And the children then proceed to cross the highway. Once all the children are safely across, the crossing guard returns to the sidewalk and blows a third whistle for traffic to proceed.
The kids all know the drill, and it is a system that has worked exceptionally well. The analogy can be likened to the term “due diligence” adopted by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, which means “taking all reasonable precautions, under the particular circumstances, to prevent injuries or incidents in the workplace.” In this age, we need to do everything possibly can to keep our children safe on their way to school. The legal website “Law Firms” has an article on their website called “Car Crashes Due to Distracted Drivers“. It mentions that “collisions caused by inattentive drivers failing to stop for stop signs and stoplights is more common now than it was 20 years ago.”
I grew up in an era before cell phones, take out food and GPS’s. If I got lost I simply pulled in to a store or gas station and asked for directions. Cabin interiors in automobiles were simple. If I needed to turn the heat up or the radio volume down in my 1968 Buick Wildcat, it was easy to make the adjustments without taking my eyes off the road. If I was not driving I could have definitely made the adjustments with my eyes closed. My Wildcat had big chunky dials, knobs and buttons. Many new cars have what amounts to an I-pad on the dashboard. It may seem impressive, but these touchscreen infotainment systems that control almost everything inside the car from music to air conditioning are very demanding on driver’s attention. Some functions in some cars are buried in hard to find sub-menus. For a lot of drivers this technology can be very frustrating, not to mention are dangerously distracting.
The non-profit organization AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in an article titled “New Vehicle Infotainment Systems Create Increased Distractions Behind the Wheel” mentions that taking your eyes off the road for two seconds doubles your risk of a crash. The article mentions that “Programming navigation was the most distracting task, taking an average of 40 seconds for drivers to complete. When driving at 25 mph (a very modest 40 kilometers per hour), a driver can travel the length of four football fields during the time it could take to enter a destination in navigation—all while distracted from the important task of driving”. Men’s Health Magazine mentions the average time to send a text on a handheld phone is 37 seconds. The average time to place a call is 12.9 seconds. The average time to answer a call is 7.9 seconds. The average time spent manipulating vehicle controls (windows, air/ heat, cruise control) is 4.8 seconds. And the average time manipulating audio controls is 5.5 seconds. Distracted driving is dangerous because it takes the drivers eyes and attention off the road. It only takes a second for something to happen. And just because a technology is available in a vehicle, does not mean it is safe to use while driving.
It is disconcerting when I see distracted drivers every day at the crosswalk. It is what is. But in all honesty, the way I look at it, my crossing guard position really is not any more dangerous than some of my other positions in well drilling and construction. Danger is relative. In my first 3 years of well drilling I broke 5 fingers during 4 occasions. And in my first year in well drilling I watched a person get killed on the job. The daring, pioneer aviator Charles Lindberg was once quoted as saying, “I learned that danger is relative, and the inexperience can be a magnifying glass”. As unpredictable as accidents in well drilling can be, the final 17 years of my career in well drilling I had no accidents or injuries whatsoever. The key is I gained experience. And I became extremely focused and alert in my environment, all the while every day making critical split second decisions.
I use the well drilling analogy to the unpredictability of being a crossing guard in a world of distracted drivers. It means being extremely focused and alert in my environment and making those critical split second decisions every day. Making eye contact with the drivers is the biggest thing. Do they see me? Or do they not? Are they drifting from one side of the lane to the other? Are they eating and drinking away on their morning take out meals, oblivious that there is a school crossing ahead? Are they aimlessly fiddling with their infotainment systems? Or looking straight down at their laps, which indicates a concealed cell phone (which happens a lot). A CAA report on distracted driving mentions that drivers who just check their phones while driving are 8 times more likely to be in a crash. The Ontario insurance help website Think Insure mentions that drivers are 23 times likely to crash if engaged in texting and driving. The OPP reports that distracted driving is the number one killer on our roads, causing more deaths than speeding and impaired driving. Chances are with enough frantic waving of the stop sign, I might grab the drivers attention in the corner of their eye to bring them back to reality for them to stop. For my own personal safety, mentally I always have prepared an escape route in my mind to step back out of the way if a distracted driver does not stop. The most important thing is the precious children of Hillsdale are safe on the side of the busy highway, and will not step onto the highway until they hear that ever so important second whistle.
One thing that really seems to pay dividends is connecting with the drivers that are paying attention to the road and going the speed limit. It is amazing the difference a smile and friendly wave will do. I will give a friendly wave at least a couple hundred times a day. There are a lot of regulars that travel through Hillsdale the same time each day, whether they be commuters or tractor trailers drivers. Those smiles and friendly waves seem to be a way of traffic calming. I am getting nice friendly waves in return. Drivers see me and are fully aware of the environment around them. This is so extremely important. I even now have some wonderful regular tractor-trailer drivers that drive with their 4 way flashers on all the way through Hillsdale during school crossing times. They are my angels.
I have to say that I really love my new job. After 42 years in the working world, I am at long last using my “helping personality” in a work environment. I am a Sentinel, described as “a soldier or guard whose job is to stand and keep watch”. And I am a Defender, described as “very dedicated and warm protector, always ready to defend their loved ones”. I am a proud school crossing guard. But it goes beyond just getting the children across the highway. There are a lot of children who cross without adults. Sadly in this age of human trafficking and predation, I will keep watching them in the corner of my eye until they are completely out of my view.
I love these children so much, and just want them kept safe. My former work peeps from Busch Systems kept saying “the kids are so lucky and fortunate to have me”. Well I am so lucky and fortunate to have them. They are giving me so much purpose and make each day so fulfilling. I am inundated with so many thank you’s each day from these mannerly, respectful, beautiful children. And given titles such as Mr. Carl and Mr. Wright. Or the one that melts my heart the most, shared from a particular kindergarten or grade 1 student….. “Good morning Officer Carl”. It does not get any better than that.
To read up on the updated distracted driving laws implemented in Ontario on January 1st , 2019, please go to this link found here! To close, this is a must see powerful 96 second video from CNN titled “The Science Behind Why You Can’t Put Down Your Phone”.