I just moved to a suburb south of Nashville, and I feel like I’ve found myself in a Richard Scarry “Busy Town” book. Traffic lights dangle from the power lines, bobbing in the wind; lawns are perfectly manicured; firetrucks are tucked neatly into garages every few miles apart; there is a big library, as well as bakeries and parks with playgrounds…it’s all so different from the small mountain town where I spent the last 20 years of my life. It’s all so…busy…so many things to do…so much traffic to take in…

That traffic is why they need the school crossing guards.

Every morning, truer than the clock, the guards take their positions in front of the elementary school we drive by, and then the middle school my kids attend. The guards stand boldly, smack dab in the middle of the intersection, systematically creating one traffic jam while relieving the others.

The first guard on our route is the thin black woman I’ve lovingly nicknamed Flo. She looks to be about 65, and has the look of a grandma you wouldn’t want to cross. This is the lady who blew her whistle with a severe look of disdain the first day I drove my kids to school…I didn’t realize the school zone started quite so soon. Being me, I gave her a big broad smile as she frantically waved at me…I thought she was saying hello…My, these Tennesseans are friendly!!!

Then I heard the whistle…and her face came into focus. My face dropped. Yes, Ma’am..I will slow down…way, way down, every single time I come up to your corner, from now on…they put Flo on the first corner for a reason. She means business, and isn’t afraid to make you know it. The sound of her whistle can overpower my crying toddler in the back…

Next is the older white man who is at least 65. I call him Ned. He has the easy corner, guarding an intersection into a neighboring subdivision. Flo already slowed down the traffic for him…all he needs to do is nod and wave, every once in awhile when a car or child decides to come out of the neighborhood. I like to wave to Ned because he often smiles and waves back at me…which is kind of confusing, because then I wonder if he’s actually signaling me to stop…or slow down…

I should probably stop waving at Ned…

Bravely standing watch over the next major intersection is Belle. Of course, I don’t really know her name, but she is a bigger black woman, a bit younger than the others, but certainly old enough to stop us. I study her black outfit every day as I wait for her to wave me on…marveling at her gloves. They are called “Glo Glovs“…all black, with orange caution triangles on the palms, and I think they come with superpowers. Unfortunately, Belle has the version with the triangles on her palms, not the stop signs. Her hand motion says stop, but her gloves say caution…and I think I look at her with a confused, knitted brow as I drive past her, every single morning.

After we get by Belle, it’s smooth sailing for a few miles until we come up to the middle school. There is only one crossing guard there, but she is the grand crescendo of the morning…I call her “Crazy Arm Lady.” Crazy Arm Lady is in her 30s, blond and thin with a very tidy, no nonsense appearance. She stands at the corner, rolling her arms in a spectacular fashion that make her look like she’s doing some kind of aerobic move…yet with such a serious face and deliberateness, that you KNOW she learned that move from some kind of traffic training program. Man, she is fun to watch, that Crazy Arm Lady…arm roll, arm roll, arm roll…stop!

Every morning, I think about how I’d like to buy each of them a cup of coffee. I want to say thank you for being out in the rain and braving the miles-long parade of minivans with children spilling out of it…but their hands are so busy, I’d have nowhere to put the cup. It would just result in an awkward dance of arm gesturing, and a sad Starbucks cup left on the cold sidewalk, waiting for the commute to be over. So I’ll just continue to drink my coffee from the confines of my Toyota. I will drive by quietly, heeding their passionate arm signals, and saying a prayer for their safety as they take on another early morning commute.

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