During the morning rush hour, they’re at practically every intersection. You’ve seen them. They wear bright green florescent vests, they’re blowing whistles, holding up stop signs, and generally keeping mayhem at bay.
Sylvia Rivera has been standing at the corner of Grand and Marin for three years and 10 months. But she’s an 11-year veteran. Her former post was near Sacred Heart School at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Bayview.
Though she walks with a cane when she’s off duty, when she’s on the job, she moves briskly—all eyes and ears as she patrols the busy intersection. On one corner is OLC/The Little Harbor Academy. Schools are obviously an important place for crossing guards to be posted.
Rivera, who was born in Manhattan, has lived in Jersey City since 1971, currently in the Greenville section. She’d been jumping from job to job when she started noticing crossing guards. “I’m a people person,” she says. “I put in my application, and I’ve been dealing with people and kids from all walks of life ever since.”
Saint Peter’s Prep is also nearby. “I interact with everybody,” Rivera says. “Children in high school, college students, lawyers, and teachers.”
The job can be stressful. Rivera relates an incident in which a parent was crossing the street with two kids on bikes, and a car almost failed to stop in time. “I put up my hand, but they didn’t hear or see me,” Rivera says. She says the whistle, the uniform, the vest, and one white-gloved hand all help.
“It’s not safe to be crossing babies on this wide street where I work,” she says.
And that’s where she comes in. “As long as God lets me work, I’ll stay on the job,” Rivera says. “As long as He lets me get up and go to work, I have no problem being a crossing guard.”
The intersection where Sultan Goodman works is so busy, it’s downright scary. I, for one, would never attempt a State Highway crossing without him. He’s at John F. Kennedy Boulevard, where cars whip around the corner right at the entrance to 1 and 9.
Goodman, who’s been on the job eight years, doesn’t wax poetic when he explains why he went for the gig. “I wanted to work for the city,” he says. “There was nothing else at the time of interest to me, and I was honored. They didn’t have to hire a 26-year-old from the projects.”
He says he gets to know the people. “A few know me by name if they can pronounce it,” he says.
Goodman, who grew up in Jersey City, lives nearby and can walk to his intersection.
“Guys fly around the corner,” he says. “I get them to stop with a whistle, and they stop on a dime.” He’s had some close calls. “I’ve saved a number of lives over the years,” he says. “Some feel they don’t need me to cross them, but I do it anyway. That’s my job.”
He says there are therapists’ offices nearby. “A few therapy patients look for me to be there on their schedule,” he says. “Before I took that post, they had a hard time getting across the street. Guys were constantly running lights.”
Goodman and his wife, who is a school bus aid, have four kids. He’s 35 and thinks he can retire by age 50 or 60. Until then, he says, “I like the job. I like keeping the community and people in the city safe.”
I used to notice Darryl Jones, who works on the corner of Grand and Washington, because kids called to him by name. Jones, a youthful 52-year-old, has been on the job for 19 years, working at a number of different intersections.
A Jersey City native, he used to work at a liquor store but wanted the benefits that he could get from a city job. He also works as a security guard at night.
“After about six months, I get to know the kids by name,” he says, referring to the elementary school students at P.S. 16. Until then, he’ll use “Missy” and the like.
Though crossing guards are not allowed to touch kids, he doesn’t hesitate to grab one by the waistband if he or she is in danger of getting hit by a car. But, he says, “Kids know not to cross without me.”
He brings out the big gun—his whistle—only when a fire truck or ambulance comes by.
Cars usually stop when Jones uses hand motions. Sometimes drivers, even school bus drivers, get a little mad if kids are taking too long to cross the street, but Jones uses his people skills to smooth things over.
He’s sad than an older woman named Stella, who was a fixture in the neighborhood, walking her dog, Clark Gable, recently died.
“I talk to the same people every day,” he says. “If you’re grumpy to people, you can’t work here. I’m here to cross, not to argue.”—Kate Rounds