Peter Jensen 8:30 a.m., May 25
- Community Blog
The Ambassador of Goodwill
Perhaps you’ve seen him, while on your way to Little Italy or on your way out to the airport, on a corner at Laurel Street and Pacific Highway, across the street from long-time San Diego fixture, Solar Turbines. The man is hard to miss. Twice a day every Monday through Friday for four hours in the morning and four in the afternoon, he is there with his small stool and a smile stretched so big it looks like it would hurt.
His name is Lawrence and he is there to do a job, which is to assist Solar Turbines employees with safe and quick passage across the street on their way to work, and then later in the day from work and back to their cars that fill the expansive private lot that sits at the tail-end of Lindbergh Field. They may cross two at a time or cross in droves, yet each time you will see Lawrence holding up a hand and his bright orange flag to pause drivers as they go to turn the corner. More often than not, you will also see him waving at drivers along with a huge grin that is almost a laugh.
Not too long ago I started at a new job in that neighborhood and when I first drove by and saw someone directing Solar employees across the street, I thought it was a little ridiculous that a security guard had to spend his time playing crossing guard. But whether or not what he did was necessary and useful, I supposed, was not my business. Obviously there must be a reason for Lawrence to do what he’s doing and whatever the reason, it was okay with me because I became one of the drivers on the receiving end of Lawrence’s smile and wave.
In the beginning, though, when I started working in that neighborhood, I tended to ignore Lawrence as if he were in the same league as one of those ubiquitous, annoying sign-twirlers. But when I started noticing him waving to drivers, I began taking note. I figured he must recognize the same people who drive by every day and he waves to them as if they are his friends. The man sure looked to have a great deal of fun doing his job and for that I envied him. So my initial suspicion of him started diminishing and, soon after, it happened: he waved at me! Was it because I’d driven by enough days that he started recognizing my car? Didn’t matter. What mattered was that it felt good to be recognized by the jovial man on the corner. It felt good because his wave has a way of saying, “I’m glad I saw you today.”
After a few months I decided I needed to know this person. So after I got off work one day I went over to his corner and introduced myself as the woman in the red car. He immediately hugged me before I could even say why I was there. When I told him I wanted to interview him for an article because I felt it important that the people of this city know about him, he said he could not wait to tell his mother, the person to whom I am sure credit can be given for his having such a cheerful nature.
So just why does Lawrence spend eight hours a day doing what he does? Don’t people know how to cross the street on their own? Said Lawrence, “They’re adults. They’ve been crossing the street all their lives.” But he adds that “it’s a busy intersection.” Distracted drivers are a daily occurrence as they attempt to find their way to Little Italy or to the airport. Solar Turbines felt their employees needed a little added insurance against distracted or hurried drivers. As Lawrence pointed out to me, when the light turns green for drivers on Pacific Highway, the pedestrian signal also gives the go-ahead to people wanting to cross the street. Many drivers try to beat the pedestrians by turning right in front of them, that is, they would if Lawrence were not there to pause those cars with his hand and trusty orange flag. But he can’t stop every car from coming close to hitting a pedestrian. As I conducted my interview, we witnessed a driver come down Pacific Highway and make a right turn onto Laurel Street from the middle, straight-only lane. Lawrence said that was not the first time he’s seen that, but there’s not much he can do when drivers make an unexpected right turn from the middle of the street. Still, no one has gotten hurt since he started on the job in August of 2008, but he had been told that his services were needed because people in the past had gotten hit by cars.
But aside from keeping watch over Solar’s myriad of employees, he also keeps watch over San Diego’s reputation as one of the finest cities in the United States. While in the beginning he only waved to commercial van drivers, the ones who day-in and day-out bring airline passengers to and from the airport, he soon began waving to the tourists in the tour buses, to the U.S. Marines from the nearby MCRD, as well as to the people who, like me, drive by him every day. Then it became that if any driver at all made eye contact with him, they would get a smile, a wave, and maybe a greeting if their windows were down. Officially he may be a security guard, but unofficially he is San Diego’s ambassador of goodwill.
Many out-of-town people also walk by his corner asking for directions or for points-of-interest. It got to where he was having to give directions so often that a friend of his helped him out by printing maps of the surrounding area for Lawrence to hand out. The maps even include written directions on the back telling how to get to certain sites such as the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park.
But it is the people who drive by that Lawrence likes the best because those are the ones he gets to wave to. He said he’s “just putting some San Diego love out there.” As we stood there talking, a woman he didn’t know honked and waved at him. I guess sometimes that San Diego love makes its way back to him.