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Saturday, October 10, 2015

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The crossing guard

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Most of the time, a crossing guard stands aware and ready to hold up her or his sign to halt traffic so that school children can cross safely.

I watched a crossing guard recently. It was after lunch, and none of the kids were around. I waved at him and said hello from my car window. He did not wave back. I believe he was standing on guard with all his heart. As I drove by, I remembered an experience I had with a crossing guard many years before.

It was around the end of the 20th century, and I was on radio doing a show called Marty & Avrum: The Food Guys. My partner, Marty Galin, and I had created a show about the people behind the restaurants, such as the Greek family who had arrived here 50 years ago with a drachma in one pocket and eventually owned an entire street of buildings. These narratives fascinated us. I believe they interested many people.

I would wander around the streets of Toronto with a tape recorder asking people about their experiences in certain eateries, or a waitress or waiter about their biggest tips, or the delivery guy about his strangest delivery.

One sunny day, I stopped around Queen Street and Broadview Avenue and said hello to the middle-aged crossing guard. She had few teeth, appeared wind-blown and was upbeat and enthusiastic about her job. She seemed to take her task very seriously. Many people with low-paying jobs often seem to be quite driven to perform well and succeed at their task. This crossing guard was one of them.

I asked the crossing guard if I could bother her for a moment. When she said yes, I explained that I was an on-air host for a food show and wondered about her favourite restaurant.

She then told me the following story: “Once a year, my husband takes me out on our anniversary to the most marvellous restaurant. A woman dressed very nicely at the front door greets us and walks us over to our favourite table. We sit together, romantically, a little shy, and go through the menu. When we are ready we ask the waitress to bring us a 1/2 chicken each and potatoes and gravy. It’s the same dish every year.”

The crossing guard continued: “The best part of the evening is when our wait- staff comes by and refills our glasses with water. We feel so special. The food arrives pretty quickly and is beautifully laid out on the plate. My husband and I take our time, talk, sometimes kiss, and just enjoy our night out.”

“Could I ask you please,” I said even though I really didn’t want to bother her as she told her story. “Which restaurant do you and your husband go to every year on your anniversary?”

She responded, with a huge grin, “Swiss Chalet,” referring to a chain of chicken restaurants in Canada, a low- to middle-price place with a cozy atmosphere that resembles a winter chalet.

I smiled at the wife and a wave of warmth washed over me, as I had just heard the most romantic story ever.

She wished me well. The light turned green and the crossing guard walked a child across the street, beaming as she went, yet totally aware she was protecting somebody’s gem with her STOP sign and riveted gaze.

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