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Meeting That Girl

I kept looking at her. There was just something familiar about her.

Maybe it was the way she dressed. Perhaps it was the shape of, well, of her face.  The fact that she was black had a lot to do with it. She wasn’t black in the racial sense that we commonly use. She was black, like the words in a newspaper headline.

“Yes, I’m her”, she said, “didn’t anyone tell you it is impolite to stare?” She caught me. “I’m sorry. You look so familiar. I’m sure I’ve seen you before. What’s worse, I mean, besides getting caught staring, is that I can’t put my finger on why I think I’ve seen you.”

Yes, that girl is real. (image via carsandracingstuff.com)

“Let me help you” she said as she began to strike a familiar pose. Her right foot was ahead of her left. Left arm bent at the elbow; right arm extended. I shook my head, her pose wasn’t helping me. She stopped, picked up a book in her left hand and resumed the posture. That made all the difference.

“You’re staring again” she said. I apologized. The thing is, I didn’t realize before that moment that she was real. “You’re her, the girl from the school crossing traffic sign.” She nodded.

Yes, the girl from the school crossing sign is a real person. Her name is Jamie. Jamie’s not a kid anymore, but when you realize who she is, the years melt away and there is no doubt about who you are looking at.

Jamie was very kind once we got past the introductions. She didn’t seem to mind being recognized. “It used to happen more when I was a kid, especially when my brother Al was around.”

It turns out that the school crossing sign we all know is based on a photograph taken of Jamie and her older brother walking to school. The pair caught the eye of a news photographer covering the first day of school in 1971. He took several shots of them, but the one that got published and became the iconic warning we see along roads where kids walk to school was the one with Al extending a guiding hand to his little sister’s upper arm as they approached a curb.

The sister and brother were thrust into the spotlight. Strangers would approach their family and ask the kids to reenact “the sign picture.” As she got older, Jamie tried wearing jeans and shorter skirts, but was frustrated when people would say things like “y’know, there’s something about you in a dress.” She tried building her own identity by joining her high school drama club, but she only got small background parts like “girl, walking by”. Jamie gave up on acting and put her energy into the technical side of theater – building sets and handling the spotlights.

Some of Al’s work as an adult (image via logotown3ag.wordpress.com)

Jamie rebelled against being the girl in the picture. Meanwhile, Al embraced his moment in the sun. “Honestly, if I could have kept it together, I probably would be rolling in the dough like Al”, she said. “He made so much money for his work on the cross walk sign. By the time he did the slippery when wet sign Al was getting seven figures just for posing. God only knows how much he gets per sign.”

It isn’t that Jamie rejected modeling. “They said I had a look, whatever that means” she told me, “but no one wanted me for still shots. My agent kept booking me for runway modeling. I was doing a show in New York and as I walked the runway it hit me – they’ve got me walking again and they never let me wear the colorful stuff. Black, always black.”

Well, yeah, I suppose she did reject modeling. That was her last show. Jamie returned to school and got a degree in Theater Arts. She is in great demand as a set designer. But when her schedule allows, she’ll still slip backstage and spend a few nights as a stagehand. It keeps her connected to her roots, she says.

“Do you know what the best part of me being a stage hand is?” I didn’t. I never know what people think the best part of anything is. “Between acts, when the stage is dark and we’re moving things on and off stage.” I was confused, but right before she explained herself it hit me – in the dark, this woman is invisible.

Jamie smiled when I pointed it out. “Yeah, It’s like I was made to do that sort of work. Of course there are trade offs. It’s dangerous for me to cross a street at night. I got clipped by a taxi one night the last time I did a Broadway show. The driver said he never saw me.” She shrugged.

“It’s a blessing. It’s a curse. What cha gonna do? Right?”

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20 Comments on “Meeting That Girl”

  1. Is this true? I want to google it but it’s such a fun story….I think I’ll just enjoy it. The last line about getting clipped. . .

  2. We Found Him Captain! says:

    I think you solved a problem for me. For several decades I have been bothered by something I saw during an off-broadway play. It was during the intermission, I stayed in my seat while everyone else went to the lobby.

    The play was called “April in Paris”. As I sat looking at nothing in particular, I heard a scraping noise from the stage, the curtains were not closed,all of a sudden the cafe table slid across the stage, then the two cafe chairs lifted about 4 inches and moved quietly off stage.

    I thought I was going crazy, so I never told anyone this story for fear of being committed. Now I realize there is nothing wrong with me. It was that same girl. You saved me from a life without attending plays since 1975. Now I can go back to my favorite pastime.

    Thank you so much!

  3. Bryan says:

    I really wish I had met this girl when I was 16. I had a question to ask her that bugged me for many, many years. I don’t know what happened, I probably skipped one very important page in my Drivers’ Ed book. For many years when I passed a particular sign …..and alone, I would see a similar sign that looked as if it was written in a foreign language. I would pronounce it aloud in case I was missing something. “Ped zing, ped zing, what in the hell is ‘ped zing’ and why is it almost always near a crosswalk?” I don’t want to tell you how recently my dimly lit lightbulb turned on over my head. Anyway, thank you Jaime and Al for your service to peds and drivers everywhere.

  4. Lizi says:

    Brilliant. I know what it’s like to have that kind of celebrity in your family since my Great Uncle Keith posed for the famous handicap accessibility sign in 1973. He made out like a bandit, but like you say, being such a symbol has its tradeoffs.

  5. I wonder if Jamie was the model for the traffic light Don’t Walk / Walk people. At least then she’s in red and green.

  6. I always wondered what her name was. Maybe you can hook me up with her brother. He seems really nice, too!

  7. Blogdramedy says:

    It’s amazing how far she’s come in life. With no feet.

  8. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    Shouldn’t that sign say, “Two Heads”? Man, that drives me nuts.

  9. kimpugliano says:

    I love you. That is all.

  10. Debbie says:

    Well done! Glad you’ve explained what has been a mystery for most of my life. Nice to have “met” Jamie — now, have you snared an interview with Al??

  11. It’s good to hear Jamie and Al have both done well in their own way. The close call with the taxi concerns me. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for her to wear some sort of reflective gear at night. Maybe the bright orange/yellow of the sign would work as it certainly makes her stand out in the sign.

  12. Dan Hennessy says:

    I went out with Jamie for awhile , but I found her lack of depth way too annoying .

  13. What a great post! Awesome! I’ve wondered about the missing hands and feet before. I also think her dress is due for an upgrade, it’s has a little bit too much of a 60’s feel. This also makes me wonder, maybe Jamie and Al are the models for the bathroom door signs. If so, at least once she got to wear white!

  14. A. van Nerel says:

    How poignantly funny, or funnily poignant…in any case brilliant! If you meet her again, could you ask her how her head stays attached to her body? Cause there just seems to be a lack of anatomy where her neck should be…That’s something I always wondered about…

  15. Aaah poor Jaime! If only…


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