Those neon-colored gloves are not the only bold things about crossing guards, when you consider they stand in the middle of busy traffic, with cars coming from all sides.
Any uneasy feelings don’t last long, according to veteran Wendy Piatti.
“After you overcome this, you’re fine,” she said. “I think it looks harder than it really is for people who drive by and see us in the middle of the road.”
Classes are back in session and so is the before- and after-school rush.
Piatti and her team of crossing guards are managing traffic around the community. Liberty County isn’t immune to traffic problems.
“Fridays, when the soldiers get off at 3 p.m., bumper to bumper,” Piatti said.
But it doesn’t bother her.
“I like a lot of traffic,” she said. “It gives me some kind of satisfaction doing this.”
It may all look like a juggling act.
With all the hand signs, head turns and nods, it really is.
Alert eyes and overall awareness go hand in hand in the position.
“You have to have eyes everywhere, in the back, on the side, everywhere,” she said. “You have to see everything, even if you don’t see it.”
She does some quick thinking to stay one step ahead and “to stop cars before something really happens.”
It takes a little assertiveness, too.
“Sometimes, if you just step one step back, they start rolling. So, you really have to show them,” she said.
The learning curve
Piatti is in her 15th year as a crossing guard with the Hinesville Police Department. She is the longest-serving and serves as a supervisor now, helping with training and guidance.
But when school starts, training goes for everyone on the road, Piatti explained.
The majority of students, motorists, and bus drivers know the drill from last year, but there are always new bus drivers learning their routes and newcomers to the area who may be completely new to crossing guards directing traffic.
Even for locals, it still takes time to get back in the routine after not seeing crossings guards for two months during the summer break.
“They have to get used us being there. And even during the year, a lot of people are not really paying attention the way they should in school zones,” she said.
People, obviously running late, try to multitask, going as far as to shave, apply makeup “and, of course, play with the cell phone,” while driving.
The students, especially in high school, have to get used to a crossing guard and their rules.
“We don’t actually let them walk across the street with headphones because a lot of stuff can happen,” she said. “But most of them (students) are very friendly and nice, and say, ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Have a nice day, ma’am.’”
Geography has changed, too. She pointed to the Memorial Drive roundabout and other similar road projects.
“The traffic was different in the first five, six years when I started, and now it’s different. Also, when the soldiers are deployed, there’s not a lot of traffic like we’re used to,” she said.
It’s not the autobahn
Piatt was a recent military transplant when she joined the HPD crossing guards August 2003.
“I’d just moved here from Germany in 2000 and I saw the police car driving around and them doing the crossing guard stuff all the time,” she said. “And I was, for some reason, interested in doing something like this. I watched them and what they were doing. That’s when I started really becoming interested.”
Crossing guards go through a couple of weeks of training to learn the hand signals, traffic procedures, and build up their confidence.
Her day starts with a morning meeting and loading up equipment. Guards carry a radio, whistle, gloves and, if there’s bad weather, a hat and poncho.
Piatti compared her job to doing a hobby.
“You work out. You move. You walk. It’s not like work,” she explained. “It’s so much fun It’s just fun doing this job.”
She couldn’t pinpoint one thing she liked best about the position.
“Everything,” she said. “that’s why I’m still here. I like helping kids, giving back to the community. I just like everything about this job.”
She said she appreciated the hello honks, waves, smiles, and interaction with the community. Some drivers even bring her water and friendly conversation.
Crossing guards rotate between posts, but regular drivers and passers-develop a familiarity.
“Sometimes when the school year’s over or when Christmas break starts, they bring us cards,” she said.
Piatti worked Highway 84 for Frank Long Elementary and Lewis Frasier Middle for awhile. She said she would bring back home fruit baskets and other presents “all the time.”
“I live in Bryan County now, but I really liked living here,” Piatti said of the Liberty County community. “I just felt comfortable living here. I don’t know why. Maybe because it was my first place after Germany.”
Piatti is married with a son, daughter, and four grandchildren. Her son lives in Midway and her daughter lives in Colorado.
Coastal Living: Q&A with co-workers Ute Kurtz and Renate Howard
Co-workers talke about Hinesville Police Department crossing guard Wendy Piatti
How would describe a day working with her?
Kurtz: “It’s fine. We’re like friends. It’s really good.”
What do you like most about working with her?
Howard: “I like her honesty.”
What’s your best memory working with her?
Howard: “I remember starting off with her. She was training me. It was nice. She was gentle and nice with me.”
Kurtz: “It’s 11 years for me. She trained me, too.”
How have you seen people react to her?
Kurtz: “In the beginning, we worked for two years together. People were waving and got used to us.”
How would you describe how she takes her job?