Camp's traffic routine isn't child's play Drivers follow safe course to drop off, pick up youths

July 08, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Brad Jergensen ties a Day-Glo orange vest over his white T-shirt, loads red, blue and yellow plastic cones into a golf cart and, with a couple of counselors aboard, cruises around Friends School, creating traffic lanes.

Even before the cones are in place a Chevrolet Cavalier and a Subaru wagon line up -- the first of hundreds of cars that he will help guide through these lanes and the narrow, winding ways of Baltimore's Charles Street school in just a half-hour.

It's pickup hour at the Friends School summer camp. And this is not child's play. With the precision of the Blue Angels, the walkie-talkie-equipped crew has choreographed a routine designed for safety, speed and a minimum of adult angst.

"We've had some real maniacs in here," says Manny Papadimitriou, one of Friends' two traffic directors. Worst offenders: drivers who make U-turns, those preoccupied with car phone conversations and parents running late.

After dropping off the counselors, who have a different role in this traffic tableau, the two head to meet the afternoon onslaught, their baseball hats pulled low and walkie-talkies crackling.

Twice a day Papadimitriou directs cars coming and going in four directions at the intersection just beyond the campus traffic circle. Arms in the air, he stops cars coming in from Charles Street, while motioning those who have picked up youngsters to make the left turn back to Charles.

Jergensen, meanwhile, works the middle of the narrow road between the tennis courts and the fields, keeping cars moving cautiously in both directions.

"We have up to 300 cars between 2: 45 and 3: 15 p.m., so we literally have to have a traffic staff," says Papadimitriou, a Norbel School teacher and summer traffic director for three years.

Near the gyms, where campers are picked up, camp director Tom Randall sizes up the scene.

"You need to come over this way," he calls to the drivers on the left. Dutifully, they move as far right as they can, opening another lane on the outside.

The precision pays off.

"Tom, she's got to get home right away," a counselor yells, pointing to a woman getting into a small red Honda.

The director, a Friends coach and physical education teacher, sprints half the length of the lot and guides the driver out of her parking spot and along the narrow lane beside waiting cars.

"You have to be flexible," says Randall. "Parents want to get in and get out."

Like the man in a red Volvo wagon. "Is this van going to be much longer?" he asks, his tone as steamy as the July day.

By moving along a few cars in the other lane, Randall opens a hole and the man zips through.

In addition to four adults, about 30 assistant counselors and counselors-in-training make up the traffic staff. They work as "runners," meeting cars and matching children with adults.

On a recent morning, 13 young staff members line up along the drop-off route, gathering children and escorting them to the proper groups inside the gym. At the head of this line, assistant counselor Amanda Harville motions for cars to move along. As her arms wave, her hips sway in an ad hoc hula.

"Sometimes it's hard for parents to get the concept of keeping moving. I just dance and make them laugh," said the 17-year-old Dunbar High senior.

Randall, too, likes the passing parade.

"Was that breakfast?" he asks a mother when a child's cup falls out of the driver's door. "Every once in a while, you throw something like that in. You see what kind of a day they are having."

She doesn't respond.

"Good morning. How are you?" he calls to another mother.

"Fine," she says, waving. "Thanks."

"She was ready to tear me apart yesterday," Randall explains. Over a chronically missing lunch box.

His walkie-talkie is unusually quiet. The morning rush is winding down.

"These things here are godsends," Randall says, holding up the device.

"How ya doin', Manny?" he calls to his unseen trouble-shooter.

"Fine, but I got a question. This is the second day there's been a Ryder truck with a car tow blocking up the tennis court [parking] lot," Papadimitriou reports.

"I think it belongs to the new head of the middle school," Randall radios back.

"Do you want me to rattle his cage?" Papadimitriou asks.

"Not yet."

By afternoon pickup, however, the truck is gone.

Pub Date: 7/08/96

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