Squirrel Hill crossing guard holds children's safety in white-gloved hands
The woman they call “Sis” refers to the students as “my kids,” and as she waits for the school day to end, she proves it by rattling off details about each one.
Rachel talks to her all the time, about homework and long days stuck in a classroom. The adorable little boy they call Shtill never stops smiling. Sarah, who recently left for Israel, is a pretty, popular girl who never complains. Little Rosalynn, well, she just hates going to school.
“She comes up moping and I say, ‘What's the matter, Rosalynn?' and she says, ‘I don't want to go to school today!' ” Sis says with a laugh. “But she goes. Every day, she goes.”
As does Sis, one of about 100 crossing guards who fan out across the city mornings and afternoons to help residents and students navigate intersections. Her spot is the corner of Murray Avenue and Beacon Street in Squirrel Hill. She's been here 15 years, smiling and greeting everyone.
“It's a fun job,” says Sis, 64, whose real name is Rosemarie Lloyd but who has gone by Sis since birth because her older sister couldn't pronounce her name. “You get to meet people and help people. To do this job, you have to care about people n'at.”
She spies a group of boys approaching and walks out into the street, stretching out her white-gloved hand. The boys rush to greet her and then, safely back on the sidewalk, jockey for her attention as they share stories from their day.
“You cannot get a better crossing guard,” a 10-year-old boy named Yehuda declares with an air of worldly wisdom.
The others chime in with praise until Gedalyahu, 9, says: “You cannot get a better crossing guard.” Yehuda folds his arms and shouts, “Copyright!”
The boys run off. Sis smiles. “Just another day on the job.”
It's not always this fun.
There's the constant walking, for starters. One day Sis wore a pedometer that showed she walked 12 miles without leaving her intersection.
There's the elements, too. On this day, it's hot and humid, and Sis closes her eyes and stretches her arms to collect a breeze. When thunderstorms roll in, “You get your rain gear on and do your job,” she says. And in winter when it snows, Sis shovels all four of her corners.
But the worst part of the job, Sis says, are the careless drivers. Sis has no patience for them. Some drivers shout at her when she holds up her white-gloved hand; others give her the middle finger. “I just grin and bear it,” Sis says.
She pauses her story, steps into the street and ushers two women with babies across Beacon. On cue, a driver with Virginia plates on Murray attempts a Pittsburgh left, cuts in front of approaching cars, then speeds through the crosswalk, narrowly missing Sis and her charges.
Her smile disappears. She shouts at the driver and blows her whistle. She tries to make out the license plate — crossing guards have the authority to issue moving violations, even if the car doesn't stop — but it's too late.
She shakes her head and says, “I put my life in my hands every day.”
As do her colleagues. In 2009, a city crossing guard was injured when a car struck her in front of Perry Traditional Academy. The next year, a minivan hit a guard on Federal Street in the Central North Side. Neither returned to work, Sis says.
“A couple times, I had to grab kids out of the way,” she said.
A young girl appears, stops at the corner and waits. Because she, like every other kid around here, knows not to cross without Sis.
“Come on, Hon,” Sis says, her smile returned.
Then she leads the girl into the crosswalk, her white-gloved hand high in the air.