Crossing the street is a comedy show when Denise Hoffner is leading the way.
“And the woman fixing my new eyeglasses asked me, ‘Are those well-adjusted?” Hoffner jokes, “ and I said ‘they’re the only thing about me that is!”
Every weekday morning on East 14th Street in North Davis, Hoffner ushers hundreds of children and parents safely across the street to North Davis Elementary School with her classic “Gotcha covered!” And while she’s at it, she’s doing more than just keeping people safe–she’s keeping them laughing. “I’m what stands between you and a fanny full of fender!”
But there’s more to this florescent-yellow-clad, STOP sign-holding pedestrian escort than one-liners and laughs. She was born in Brooklyn, New York to parents she lovingly describes as a mix between George Costanza’s parents and characters from a Woody Allen movie. She loved her folks but growing up Denise searched for something other than what she describes as the typical Jewish working class lifestyle her parents were living.
“ I was trying to find some over arching theory to figure out the world and what I had to do to change the world. And it put a lot of pressure on me and everybody around me and it didn’t make me very nice. So I feel like I’ve embraced nuance and complexity and that’s made me happier.”
Along the way she’s collected a few professions, including a law degree, a nursing license, a massage therapy license, a census worker, a stand-up comedian and is currently writing a memoir–and crossing people at the curb.
“I get paid to be outside and talk to lovely people, I get to talk to cool children like the ones walking up to me right now. Look at all these cute kids I get to see every day.”
Denise says being a crossing guard can also be dangerous when cars don’t stop or else drivers cop an attitude about her STOP sign. Still she likes the work because unlike the family model she grew up with this job makes her feel connected and appreciated.
“My parents really cared a lot more about security and stability than I think I do. I think I define it differently. When I feel content and happy every day in what I’m doing I function better .”
Denise Hoffner’s youthful goal of making a difference in the world hasn’t wavered since her days growing up in Brooklyn, it’s just changed. Having settled in Davis 13 yeas ago and now dedicating each weekday morning and afternoon to the safety of school children, her life’s journey has led her to a very honest, simple place–herself.
“I used to put a lot of pressure on myself that I had to do some macro thing to change the whole world. And I want to be involved in ground breaking, world changing things. But I feel a lot more relaxed now that I see I can do that in a micro way in my life by how I influence people and try to be kind and good and open and speak up and out. But do things with a light touch.”
That light touch shows itself at Denise’s crosswalk–for 10 seconds twice a weekday crossing East 14th Street she’s “Gotcha covered!” And Denise Hoffner needs no painted yellow lines or octagonal signs to find hope for a better tomorrow in the simple acts of today.
“Believing that we are all trying to do the right thing, that’s what I have to come back to. When things are hard whether interpersonally or in the world I just have to believe that underneath it all that everybody is just trying to do the best they can. And if we keep doing that, things will get better.”