I do a lot of walking in New York City and Jersey City. There’s one particular corner in Jersey City that always strikes fear deep in my heart and stabs me down betwixt my toes with absolute pity and terror: The “crosswalk” — angularly located at the bisection of Nardone Place and John F. Kennedy Boulevard West — spans five lanes of traffic, at least six turning car angles aiming straight at you, and a long walk that means you actually must run as fast as you can to make it safely across the street.
Jersey City provides excellent Crossing Guards at vital street corners near community schools, so if you’re smart enough, and lucky enough, to be able to time your walk when the kids are going to, or leaving from, school, a Crossing Guard is there to help you get across the street, and stop traffic, if necessary, to make sure you don’t get run over.
Oftentimes, the Jersey City Crossing Guards will walk all the way across the street with you instead of stopping in the middle of the street and letting you walk the rest of the way alone. It doesn’t seem to matter to them if you’re a student or not. If you’re a citizen walking, and they’re on duty, they’re going to help you get across the street.
Last week, I was lucky enough to be in the Nardone Pl and JFK Blvd W vicinity, and my favorite Crossing Guard was working. He’s a big, young, Black guy with a Quaker beard and wide shoulders and he has a street tough attitude that you love in a Crossing Guard. If you’re waiting at a corner, he’ll silently come up and stand next to you, and then walk with you and give all the cars trying to turn into your pathway, the evil eye. He’s a real pro at knowing how to stop traffic and getting the stupid people driving the smart cars to actually obey the law.
When we finally reached the other side of the street, I thanked him, as I always do, and I finally got up the guts to ask him if he’s ever been hit by a car. His demeanor immediately changed from, “don’t hit me with your car!” to, “I have a story to tell!”
He smiled, pulled at the curls of his beard, and said from beneath the shade of his Jersey City municipality hat, that, in eight years, he’s had two close calls. He said the first one made his heart leap out of his chest as he was almost run over and the second, an even closer call, was not as terrifying because he’d already “lost his heart once.”
I asked him if he felt safe on the most dangerous corner in Jersey City, and he told me the JCPD cops often park near him just to keep an eye on things and to make sure nobody is speeding down JFK Blvd. The cops are his friends, and they watch out for each other.
I then wondered if he had a portable radio with him in case someone were actually injured. He lifted his neon-yellow Crossing Guard vest to show me an antiquated flip cellphone attached to a brown belt, and said, while he doesn’t have a radio, he does have his personal phone to use if someone is in trouble. He didn’t know why all Crossing Guards didn’t have police radios, and I, too, thought that was strange, since Crossing Guards are eager and helpful eyes on the street. He went on to reason that if anything “real bad” happened, he’d be able to get a cop on scene “real quick.”
I again thanked him for walking me across the street, and he gave me a kind smile and a wave goodbye as he ventured back across the crosswalk abyss. It was a great feeling, with the bright sun on my face, knowing such a careful guy had your back and that he would be there if the worst of the world turned into you.