Unless you work from home, you can’t beat crossing guard Jim Schroeder’s daily commute. On weekday mornings during the school year, you’ll find him on the corners of Hillside and Forest Avenues—directly in front of his house. “I leave for work at 8:40 a.m. and I arrive at 8:40 a.m.,” jokes the former cable splicer who spent 35 years high above—and below–the sidewalks.
Today Jim prefers keeping his feet on the ground. Like many of Verona’s crossing guards he raised his children here–he has four children and 5 grandchildren–and likes the way his job keeps him connected to the youngsters. “The kids keep me young and get me out of bed in the morning,” says Jim, who also answers to Jay Jay.
In addition to his crossing guard gig, Jim also works as a professional magician and clown. “I’ve loved magic since I was a kid growing up in East Orange. There was a wonderful magic shop–Mecca Magic–in my neighborhood. It was my second home,” admits Jim. Overtime, what started as a childhood interest kept evolving. “In 1966, I was in the army and sent to Vietnam. Magic became a way to entertain my buddies in the bars and pass the time in the barracks.”
My son Billy, 12, is one of Jim’s biggest fans. To Billy, Jay Jay is much more than an adult who gets him safely across the street. Not long after we moved to our current home near Forest Avenue School, Billy discovered magic tricks in an old suitcase. They had belonged to his great grandfather.
Billy knew of Jim’s magic act and like a true mentor, Jim took Billy under his wing offering free advice, slight-of-hand tips and constant encouragement. The first trick Billy mastered—with a little help from his crossing guard friend—was turning four colored scarves into one magically-connected square of material.” The change bag trick is popular with audiences and one of my favorite tricks,” says Billy.
Always generous with his time, Jim was in the crowd cheering Billy on when the aspiring magician took his show–Never Tell Magic–on the road at the Verona Talent Show in January. But that wasn’t the first time Billy followed in Jim’s footsteps.
Two years ago, Jim was scheduled to perform magic for Billy’s cub scout troop when he was hurt in a car accident. The injury forced him to break the engagement at the last minute. Rather than disappoint the boys, Jim suggested Billy step in as his replacement. Thanks to Jim’s tutelage up to that point, Billy had mastered a few tricks of his own and the show was able to go on as planned.
Another time, when Billy was frustrated to the point of tears trying to make a trick work, he called Jim in desperation. Feeling Billy’s pain, Jim made a quick pit stop to our house even though he was late to a doctor’s appointment.
Over the years, Jim has come to the aid of many children and adults in Verona. His trademark clown car can easily be seen around town—it has a big, red clown nose affixed to its front grille—and is stocked with a first aid kit, pens and pencils, doggie waste bags, tissues and the like. “I’ve loaned kids money, let them use my phone to call home and even poured water into a parent’s car to keep it from overheating. I like to be ready for anything,” says Jim who also enjoys goofing with the kids.
“I’ve had fun this winter lobbing snowballs at the kids and some have been thrown back in my direction, too.” But when it comes to crossing the street, he’s all business. “I report reckless drivers to the police and keep tabs on the general surroundings,” says Jim. “When the kids are out with me, I consider them my kids and I do whatever it takes to keep them safe. Once they get home, they’re your problem.”
In spite of the button he wears on his jacket which reads: I’m in charge of diddly squat, clearly no one messes with his kids.