Danville crossing guard gives passers-by a jolt of good cheer
DANVILLE — It's not the kind of morning that inspires a smile.
It's after 7 a.m. on a wet, overcast day that's barely above 40 degrees.
Abby Chandler, 28, has a hundred things on her mind as she grabs some hot coffee and begins her daily drive across town to Walgreens' accounting office.
Several blocks from her house, she approaches the busy four-way stop at Winter Avenue and Jackson Street, a block from Edison Elementary School.
Vehicles stack up in all directions as drivers rush to work and parents and school buses pass through to drop off children.
It's not the kind of intersection that inspires a smile, either, except for one half-hour in the morning and one half-hour in the afternoon when Emmett Burns works his crossing-guard shift.
Standing on the corner is, as Chandler describes him, a "ray of sunshine" on this gloomy morning.
Wearing a neon-yellow safety vest over his thick sweatshirt, black ear muffs and red Chicago Bears cap and a wide smile, the 73-year-old Burns leans his tall frame toward Chandler's silver SUV as it rolls to a stop.
Making eye contact with her through the car window, Burns raises his arm high over his head and gives Chandler a big wave.
"Good morning," he shouts as Chandler waves back and returns the smile as she makes her left turn.
For more than two years, Chandler has been driving through the same intersection on her way to work.
She's never known much about the crossing guard, not even his name.
But she knows he will be at the corner every school day, no matter the weather, and he will be smiling, waving and sometimes giving a shoutout to her and every other driver and kid crossing that intersection.
Chandler looks forward to it. He kicks her day off right — just like her morning coffee.
Unless he's guiding children across the street, Chandler has never seen Burns without a smile or a wave during his half-hour morning shift.
Some of her co-workers who take the same route to work look forward to seeing Burns, too.
A driver heading the same direction as Abby rolls down her window and beats Burns to the punch.
"Good morningggggg!" the woman shouts. Another driver honks at him.
Burns gives a truck driver two thumbs up, then walks into the middle of the intersection and stops traffic for a little girl who skips through the crosswalk toward Edison.
They trade good mornings.
He retreats to his corner again, doling out smiles and waves, sometimes with both arms.
"I wish I had three hands and three arms," Burns says with a laugh.
Three young children on a big yellow school bus eagerly wave to Burns.
Occasionally, a driver seems reluctant to return a wave or a smile, but it doesn't faze Burns. He raises up on his tip toes to see across the intersection, so he can smile and wave at a driver making a right turn on the other side.
He strides into the intersection again, stopping traffic and high-fiving a little boy bounding across, his backpack jiggling.
"Have a good one," Burns tells the boy.
Burns, a great-grandfather and General Motors retiree, has no profound philosophy, near-death experience or magic potion to explain his unfailing friendly attitude toward strangers and love of his simple part-time retirement job.
He says he finds it easy to smile.
"I'm just a happy guy," says Burns, who mostly credits his attitude to his belief in God.
Burns calls himself a homebody — but one who got tired of being home all the time a few years ago.
His wife, a retired educator, suggested he be a crossing guard. The next week, he found himself at the corner of Winter and Jackson.
Now he's a bit of a local celebrity. He's been stopped at local shopping centers by people who recognize him and are eager to tell him how he brightens their day.
"I enjoy it," he says.
"I really enjoy it."