Crossing guard Howard E. Peterson guides children safely to and from Sam Hughes Elementary School Monday through Friday. He has been doing so for the past 17 years. This 76-year-old Michigan native and retired nurse rides his bike to work every day. You can find him with stop sign in hand at the crosswalk on the corner of Sixth Street and Wilson Avenue for one hour in the morning (roughly 8 to 9 a.m.) and one hour in the afternoon (roughly 2:15 to 3:30 p.m.).
What does your job entail?
The whole objective is to keep school children safe. There are so many that come out here and push the button and go. Adults are sometimes even worse than the kids. They don't wait for me to hold up the sign and they don't look to see if the cars stop. ...You can't trust these drivers out here.
Have there been any close calls?
There have been many. Unfortunately, today some people suffer from tunnel vision. People are looking straight ahead and not looking at the world around them. In the old days, people were hunter-gatherers, you know. They had to pay a lot better attention if they were going to survive; be aware of their surroundings. ... And look at this road (Sixth Street). There is no room for anything. You should see when big trucks come by; they have to take up both lanes. Whoever designed this did not have a college diploma. Maybe they had a high school diploma.
How do you stay cool out here?
I think cool thoughts. I've seen some guys sitting out in lawn chairs, but I'm a standing-on-my-feet kinda guy. I was a nurse for 27 years. Somebody told me I should hold an umbrella out here. I'm not gonna be running out into the middle of the street like Mary Poppins.
Do you like to make people laugh?
When you get old you've got aches and pains. The humor helps with that a little. I've got a small audience.
Are the elementary school kids your audience?
I use humor, but it is lost on the young people. You got to keep sharp. See, there're all these little curlicues up there (in your brain) and no one's using 'em anymore. You've got your computer; you got your calculator. Kids today aren't taught to think. It's the generation we are producing. The kids today walk around with the things in their ears all the time (listening to) their iPods. That is just inviting aliens down here; they see those and think the kids are one of them.
Do you like your job?
It has a lot of frustration. It's a lot of being observant. You never know with these kids. Mondays are the worst. The kids are just coming off from the weekend and they forget their routine; they leave home without it.
If it is so frustrating, then why do you do it?
You get to communicate with people. You have a lot of regulars that come through here. You see the kids start out coming through with their parents and then grow up to grade six, and then new ones come in. I see kids coming through that I used to see and now they are going to high school.
Do you plan on being a crossing guard forever?
When you retire, you have to still stay active. If I don't keep my legs working and my body working, then you stop moving. You start wilting away. If I keep young, I'm like a blossom on a lime. Some would say I'm a sour grape. ... Do I look like I am 76 years old? Just look at a basket of walnuts. They look great. Walnuts never change, they never look old on the outside, but you should see an old walnut on the inside. It ain't pretty. Forrest Gump said, 'Life is like a box of chocolates.' I say, 'Life is like a box of walnuts.'
Is your job an important one?
You know, it is important to keep people safe. You see kids walking along when a car is coming and they'll try to ... make it across. If I don't stop them, they'll get seriously injured. A lot of people think this job is a joke. It's not. There're no young people that want to do this job. In society now, there're so many other things going on that everyone ignores little stuff like this. In all seriousness, our society doesn't value old people as much as they should.
How much do you get paid?
It's on the lower scale. (The city) took away some of my pay about a year ago.
Did you protest?
Do walls talk back?