Cline column: Getting the chance to be a School Safety Patrol Boy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 23, 2012

By Mike Cline
For the Salisbury Post
I have been thinking back lately to one of the highlights of my youth.
It took place exactly 50 years ago this month: the School Safety Patrol Boys trip to Washington, D.C.
Some of the younger generation may be asking, “What is a School Safety Patrol Boy?”
Well, I’m a gonna tell ya.
Each elementary school (we had five) in the city school system where I grew up had a squad of fifth- and sixth-grade male students (sorry girls) selected by the school principal to make up a group who would be stationed at crosswalks near their schools.
These safety patrol boys were to make sure the coast was clear for classmates to cross the streets on their way to and from school.
I know this may sound primitive, but way back when, kids were actually permitted to ride bikes and to walk to school. No horses were permitted, however, as the buggy had recently been replaced by automobiles.
A very kind police officer — in our case, Lt. Serino — supervised the program citywide. He visited each school one morning every week, and our attendance at his meeting in the auditorium was mandatory. No problem, as it meant we often missed some of our first class.
Each school squad had a captain and a lieutenant (always sixth-graders). The rest were patrolmen. It was a two-year hitch. The negative was that all patrol boys had to be at school 30 minutes before the other students. Back then, that was 8 a.m. The positive was that all members got out of class 10 to 15 minutes before anyone else so we could get to our posts before the bell rang at 3 p.m.
While on duty, our uniform consisted of a wide strap with the official badge worn across our chest, a yellow helmet and a yellow flag which read “SCHOOL PATROL.”
Our posts were all the main crosswalks within about a three-block radius of the school, the bus stop in front of the building (city buses doubled as school buses) and the bicycle rack (many kids, mostly guys, rode their bikes, and none I remember ever used a lock). We were confident our bicycles would be right where we left them when day’s end arrived.
I should point out that while on duty, the Patrol Boys were not permitted to stop traffic. The procedure was, when a student made it to the crosswalk, we were to look in all directions, making sure there were no cars approaching. Then we stepped out into the crosswalk just off the curb, not in the middle of the street. We then held out our flag and told the students to cross. We had the authority to report to the principal any students who disobeyed our instructions or any who jaywalked. Such power for a 10- to 12-year-old kid!
On bad weather days, we weren’t required to stand out in the rain or snow. All students, as they arrived, reported to the auditorium, where each patrolman had a certain area assigned. Our job was to make sure the kids in our section remained seated and were quiet.
The first- and second-graders were scared to death of us. The others, not so much.
Our “payday” for serving in the squad for two years was a five-day trip for the sixth-graders to Washington, D.C. During the trip, the underlings (fifth-graders) had to take up the slack. The trip expenses each year were covered by the local Elks Lodge. Remember B.P.O.E. — Best People on Earth? We certainly thought they were the morning we boarded the bus to head to our nation’s capital.
A total of 38 boys citywide went on the trip, seven from my school. At the start of the fifth grade, there were eight of us, but during his first year on the patrol, one was dismissed (not Cline) for throwing tacks in the street when on duty, causing several motorists to suffer flat tires while hauling their little ones to get an education.
I know, one dirty cop makes us all look bad.
From the day of our selection on the School Safety Patrol, we all talked about the Washington trip at the end of our patrol run. Older friends who had already been told us of how great it was. Believe me, it was a really big deal. What better way to bring down the curtain on our elementary school careers (elementary school went through sixth grade back in 1962). Looming ahead was the unknown black hole of junior high (grades 7-9), so the trip was our time as upcoming grads of grade six to shine.
At some point, we were given the information regarding our D.C. journey.
The instruction sheet stated that “all boys will be expected to behave like gentlemen at all times,” and “there will be no rough playing at any time.” I can only guess that whoever wrote the instruction sheet didn’t have kids.
On departure day (Wednesday, May 9, 1962) all boys were to report to the Police Department no later than 6:30 a.m. Our non air-conditioned motor coach would be on the road at 7 a.m. I recall my father telling me that as the bus pulled out to leave, my mother started crying and did so most of the day, because her baby would be gone until Sunday evening.
The entire day would be spent on the road, with an arrival in Washington scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Then it was straight to the cafeteria, where we would have every meal while on our trip. The papers given out to parents even included our menu for every meal. Wednesday’s “Welcome to Washington” dinner consisted of grilled ham steak with pineapple ring, choice of two vegetables, hot roll and butter, pie or ice cream and milk.
But all 38 of us were in for a big surprise when we began to eat our dinner. And that will be for next time.
Mike Cline’s website, “Mike Cline’s Then Playing,” documents all the movies played in Rowan County theaters from 1920 through 1979.