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I'm a crossing guard with road rage Add to ...

I am trying to take what I imagine to be a Zen-like approach to my stalled career, but it's not really working for me.

I'm a human-resources professional, successfully self-employed for more than 20 years (that sounds like the opening to one of the hundreds of resumes I'm sending out), and in shock that it all came to a crashing halt.

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No more government consulting contracts; they are dead in the water and, unfortunately, I was not one of those high-billing, overpaid consultants splashed across the headlines in the latest financial scandal (wait, that's not very Zen).

In applying for everything from grocery stock clerk to corporate human resources vice-president, all applications ending in a black hole from which no one ever responds, it occurred to me that I might like to work outside, so I Googled "crossing guard."

After a physical, eye test, police clearance and three days of training, I am now serving as an official Toronto Police Service School Crossing Guard - Spare.

When people ask me what I do for a living, I proudly tell them I am Canada's first line of defence; well, up to Grade 6 in 11 Division's line of defence anyway, when the regular guard is away or sick.

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To summarize what I am learning from this work experience: dogs are nicer than children; children are nicer than their parents; parents are nicer than drivers; truckers are friendlier and more courteous than car drivers; all are better beings than cellphone users.

I have also learned to keep my middle finger holstered, my language clean and my anger internalized (for the most part).

Because I am angry, all the time, and it would be so easy to vent it on drivers who sail through crossings packed with children. Angry at myself for not foreseeing my personal economic downturn, angry at banks for obscenely high credit-card interest rates, angry at faceless organizations that advertise jobs for which I am supremely qualified and from whom I never hear a darn thing.

Oh yes, and angry at the arrogance of elected officials and, while we're at it, angry for not winning the lottery. But I digress.

There are lovely elements to this job. I meet many delightful puppies. I have dropped two sizes from all the walking (on average, six 15-minute walks a day). I'm discovering areas of my neighbourhood previously unknown to me. And I am impressed by the loyalty people show to their local guards. One tiny red-headed girl, every day for two weeks, looked at me accusingly and demanded, "Where's Vince?"

Plus, now that I am getting used to the 6:30 a.m. call to assign me to a post, the mornings are actually quite nice and fresh as opposed to just something to be slept through.

And the power! My family thinks I have become power mad; give her a fluorescent vest, a stop sign and a whistle and she thinks she rules the world, they say. I confess, the combination of a whistle (aptly called "Thunderer") and a stop sign is heady stuff.

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One of my best moments was on the Indy 500 called Jane Street in west-end Toronto. A man in a Lexus SUV, on his cellphone, looking down and speeding toward my intersection, came to an abrupt stop when I blew the whistle.

The kids crossed the four lanes safely, but I was still in the middle of the road when he accelerated. As he passed, narrowly missing me, I stuck my head in his window and blew that Thunderer. I quite enjoyed the shock on his face as the cellphone flew out of his grasp. And although I like to tell people I risked my life, the vehicle was barely moving.

I would like to dispel some myths about crossing guards. They are not all 80 years old, but bless those who are. I found my first few weeks exhausting and don't know how those with 20 years on me do it.

It is not the cushy gig some drivers seem to think (I have gathered this bit of intelligence from the comments yelled at me). You need to be alert, focused and quick of foot and arm.

The crossing-guard community is a diverse one: all ages, both sexes, born here, born elsewhere. For some, like myself, it is the only job they could get.

I am working on getting my anger under control. Now, when the kids are safe but I am still exposed to impatient, lead-footed drivers, I yell, "What am I? chopped liver?" - sans expletive.

When the school year begins again, I will push the button, blow the whistle, hold the stop sign aloft and march out proudly. I still have lofty career aspirations - I might even get promoted from "spare" to "regular."

Cynthia Stark lives in Toronto.

Illustration by Henrik Drescher.

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