I didn’t know Brother Dave had done it, but I knew Brother Steve and Brother Dan had. So it turns outs we were all of us at one time or another operatives in the Casa De Ora Elementary Safety Patrol. That meant, when we were in sixth grade, that we all left class a few minutes early and went to the Safety Patrol Room to don our red Safety Patrol Sweaters. I think we had red Safety Patrol hats, of the kind used in the military, those useless things that cover a small portion of the head and can be folded up and put in the pocket.
Because I was the Sergeant of my Safety Patrol I got to walk in front of my two privates. I carried a pole that was painted red and white, and I got to wear a whistle too. I can’t remember if we had individual whistles or shared the same one. My two privates carried poles about seven feet long or so with a metal sign attached to the end with the word “stop” written on it. The poles couldn’t have been very long because we who carried them were not very large. Kids in sixth grade back then topped out round five feet, five inches, not like those monsters you see now in 6th grade. Hell I would go so far as to say we were “tykes.” Not tiny tykes, but tykes none the less.
Then we walked down the hill from the elementary school on Aqua Dulce—I think it was—till it ran perpendicular into Campo Road. On the other side of Campo, Aqua Dulce became Sweetwater Road (don’t ask me why); and there was a cross walk there painted on Campo Road to help children navigate from Aqua Dulce (which means Sweetwater) over to Sweetwater.
Campo Road, an old rural two lane job, was the primary artery through the area from San Diego on out to the desert. Right before Sweetwater there was a pretty sharp jog in the road. If you were standing on the Aqua Dulce side of Sweetwater by the Campo cross walk you couldn’t see past that jog in the road maybe 75 yards away to tell whether a car was coming. Thus the Safety Patrol.
I would send one of my minions to that spot 75 yards away and he through a variety of intricate arm signals would indicate whether a car was coming. I sent the other minion just off to my left about 50 feet. When the kids arrived and wanted to cross, my minion off by the jog in the road would indicate when a car was coming, and if a car wasn’t coming, I would blow my whistle—once I think—and my minions would stretch out their signs across the road or at least into it with the stop part of the sign pointed in the direction that cars might come from. Then I would walk the tykes out into the crosswalk. I would stand in the middle of the road until they cleared the cross walk and then I would blow my whistle twice and my minions would withdraw their signs.
I stood there keeping kids from the cross walk till I said so many, many times, and I don’t remember one rebellion or one kid just taking off. Apparently my red Safety Patrol Outfit endowed me with great authority. Or perhaps they were afraid I might beat on them with my red and white pole which was clearly intended as a crowd control device. I was not much of a Sergeant actually; my minions screwed around with their signs, occasionally jousting with them, or just dragging them along on the blacktop when they were supposed to carry them under their arms. But when we got in eye shot of the school, I would say, OK, cut it out, and my minions would.
One day Brother Dave was the cross walk sergeant in charge and just as he whistled once to lower the signs and kids started to cross, he looked to see his minion at the critical jog in the road had abandoned his post and fled down the embankment having been attacked by a band of bees. Consequently Brother Dave, as he tells it, had to put his life on the line and step out into the road making a car stop with only his trusty pole.
But that was 40 years ago. The jog in Campo Road is no longer there, wiped out by improvements and road widenings. And Campo Road no longer has pride of place, having been replaced by a freeway. I would doubt there’s a safety patrol anymore at least at that intersection. And kids don’t walk to school anymore anyway. I wonder if insurers would even allow tykes to command the highway these days.
Brother Steve made it to Tucson last night and at this time should be in New Mexico….
A right of passage for the young male at Case De Ora Elementary was being recruited for the Crossing Guard. There were a limited number of uniforms, a red sweater like thing and a cap, and the staffs sporting stop signs were getting beat up by the time our sixth grade came along. This was back in the day when girls could be excluded from things based on gender, and they were excluded from the Crossing Guard for sure. Their domain was the ball and sporting good check out at recess, and they took their revenge often enough, doleing out the choice kick balls and teather balls to their same sex sisters and sticking the boys with deflated broken down gear. I don’t recall having any interest in being a crossing guard but its greatness was thurst upon me early in the 6th grade school year. There was a morning shift and an afternoon shift on the guard. The afternoon shift was the most desirable as you did not have to get to school half an hour early to do it, being that I just lived accross the street I think I was recrutied for ease of service more than anything else. The drill was that you met the teacher in charge that week behind the Cafatorium where a short set of steps lead up to the back stage area that served double duty as the Cross Guard room. Mostly the teachers just unlocked the door and made a b line to the lounge to get some coffee, a danish and have a smoke. A couple of teachers liked to make a para military exercise of it and make us march single file out to the corner to our posts. The Viet Nam conflict was in full swing, but we did not talk about it much if at all in school, we just watched it on TV while we ate dinner. Once we made it up to the street the Duty Sgt. of the day would assign a corner to each of the four guards and take his post at the corner nearest the bus stop with his staff. The Sgt. at arms staff did not have a stop sign attached, it was for directing the Guards Men to either stand at ease or lean their signs out into the road to stop up coming traffic. The Sgt. at arms also held the whistle, passed from mouth to mouth each day after a wipe with a foul tasting disinfectant swab. As kids came to school they would wait at what ever corner to be allowed to cross under the protection of the guard. Most drivers were pretty good about paying attention at the school corner but there was one incident where an older gentlemen decided to ignore the guards stop sign and just went rolling right through the intersection. The Sgt. on duty took down the Lic Plate and ran to the office, the police were called, and the man was pulled over down the hill as he was leaving the Mayfair Grocery to return home. He was informed that for all intents and purposes the Crossing Gaurd was a sanctified arm of the law and he was bound to obey their stop signs just like any other. That was a pretty cool day. I got tired of the guard after a while, it became clear to me that it was more and more of a recruting ground for the ROTC, and I knew that the ROTC was just a stepping stone to the military and then to Nam. The war had being going on for as long as any of us kids could recall, for all we knew we would be drafted after High School. Part of me did not want anyone thinking I was cut out for the military so I gave up most of my shifts as soon as I could.
I think David would agree, the best thing about Safety Patrol was Safety Patrol Camp in the Summer….for a week you went up to Doane’s Pond, the same place for sixth grade “snow camp”….and you got a card that they punched holes in to get Cokes and candy….and you watched movies in Orion like “Captain Blood” or similar Tarzan or Errol Flynn things…it was cool….I went and I know David did…I’m not sure about Nick and Dan?
Excuse me: “Cafatorium”? Nick, did you make this word up or is this a regional difference?