Where Beech Street meets Massachusetts Avenue, at the base of stately St. James Episcopal church, where school buses stop each afternoon to release distracted droplets of children, a siren blares, chased immediately by a single police car, dark and unmarked, blue light at the dashboard, lone man inside: an action figure, driving full-tilt toward a shootout, a crime scene, possible death and certain drama. Dirty Harry.
Three other cars follow, marked, unmarked and marked again, all sirens and speed and lone men of action inside, gapped, a moment of silence between each. But as the first car passes, I am at Beech with the crossing guard, virtually alone. The speeding cop has the green; there is only one car traveling on Beech toward Massachusetts Avenue, and it’s already slowing for the red.
The crossing guard is a stout young man marching stolidly toward middle age. He wears a hearing aid and bright orange vinyl vest over his officer’s outfit, doesn’t smile, has hair so short it’s nearly shaved. He steps into the crosswalk and his hands float out in warning — he’d be clearing the way for the speeding plainclothesman, blocking traffic if only there were any. As that first cop car clears the intersection, gone almost before we can react, the crossing guard’s bulk turns in place to follow it. His eyes are squinting and expressionless, but the face has an adolescent looseness that mutters just loudly enough.
His car is parked on the opposite side of the street. It is a small Subaru Legacy station wagon, dark gray, also in a clear decline into middle age. In the back there is a festive, folded baby stroller. Its pink plastic legs and wheels stick up.