BELFAST, Maine — All the children and almost all the drivers passing through the busy downtown intersection of Congress Street and Miller Street get a smile and a wave from Lee Phillips, the school crossing guard posted at the corner.
But a few of the waves are of the unfriendly sort. On Friday morning, two drivers heading through the crossroads at a clip that clearly exceeded the 15 mph limit move Phillips to wave his hand in a downward motion and shake his hand-held stop sign for emphasis.
It’s a part of the job, Phillips, 78, of Belfast said, though the morning fog on this day means fewer children are walking to class at the nearby Captain Albert Stevens School.
Phillips worked for 13 years at Belfast Area High School in the food service department before retiring. His daughter, Karen Flood, who also is a crossing guard, at the Miller Street-Lincolnville Avenue intersection nearer the Stevens school, persuaded her father to take on the job after he retired.
“I had to find something to do,” he said. “I like to work with the kids. I enjoy talking to the kids.”
The crossing guards are hired by the city and supervised by the police department. They earn $10.21 per hour, and work two hours each day. Phillips is on the job from 8 a.m. to 9 am., then again from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.
In the last 15 years, the district has closed three downtown elementary schools and built the Stevens school, but the city still has four crossing guards and a backup to fill in if one gets sick. In addition to the three who help children get to and from the Stevens school, a crossing guard assists those crossing Route 1 at the Route 52 intersection on their way to the Troy Howard Middle School and the YMCA.
“This is the worst intersection,” Phillips said, and in the 8 a.m.-9 a.m. hour, there is a steady flow of traffic, with drivers sometimes less cautious than they should be. The intersection has three stop signs, which can confuse drivers not familiar with it.
In the dozen years he’s been shepherding kids across the street, Phillips has seen them grow up. Earlier this week, he said, he reminded a mother walking her kids to school that the younger child, now a student at the school, was being carried on Mom’s back not that long ago.
One young boy, who kisses his parents good-bye a half block away from the intersection is greeted by name by Phillips, who also makes a joke about the hat the boy is wearing, an old-fashioned driving cap. The boy responds with a laugh.
“I just tease him about the hat,” Phillips said.
The children almost always are pleasant in return, he said, though some will respond sharply to warnings about running through the crosswalk.
A woman driving a pickup, who had waved on the way to the school with her child, slows on the way back and shouts out, “He does a great job. We don’t always get up early enough to walk up [the hill to school], but we always walk back,” she said.