The Gatekeepers

Photo credit: Joe Angeles/WashU Photos

Each day, whether it’s sunny, rainy, hot or cold, Georgia Binnington, associate dean in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, walks to her office in Bixby Hall on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis from her Pershing Ave. home.

“I could drive and park closer,” said Binnington (pictured above), “but every day I look at my car and think, ‘If I drive, I will miss them.’”

Them?

Them being Marjorie Lindsay and Danyeal Crittenden, the two employees of Castle Contracting who have stood at the entrance to the East End Transformation project every day since it began in May. With flags in hand, Lindsay and Crittenden direct traffic in and out of the site and serve as crossing guards, gatekeepers and big sisters for staff, students and workers alike.

At the height of the summer months, 122 trucks were taking 10-12 loads of dirt a day out of the site and into the Skinker traffic. The flow of that made Lindsay and Crittenden quite likely the two most important people on the Danforth Campus. Now, there aren’t quite so many trucks, but the job is still important as the two are charged with keeping the entrance to the site running smoothly.

From the beginning, this dynamic duo was up to the task, performing the job with precision, safety and good humor – with a little boogie shake thrown in for good measure.

“That’s why I started dancing,” Crittenden said. “The trucks are so big and loud, and they can be scary. So I just tried to distract the students from the scary part by doing a moonwalk or something. Then they started dancing with me. I think it takes their mind off everything going on around them.”

Now six months into the biggest construction project in Danforth Campus history, the two women have flagged their way into the hearts of the Washington University community.


Meet Marjorie Lindsay and Danyeal Crittenden, the dynamic duo keeping the WashU community safe and smiling. (Video by Clark Bowen)

And it may have begun with Binnington. “On maybe the third day of my walk this past summer, I said to them, ‘I’m going to be crossing here every day, so what’s your name?’

“We just started talking,” Binnington said. “And sharing stories. And getting to know each other. And now I’m happy to call them my friends. They make my morning so much better.”

A momentary encounter

Binnington’s story is a lot like other students, staff and faculty members who walk down the west side of Skinker Blvd., and whose day gets brightened because of a momentary encounter with Lindsay and Crittenden.

In addition to putting names to the many faces who walk by, the two women sing, dance, offer advice, and notice things such as new haircuts, purses and backpacks. They know the moods of the students, and, if they’re down, they try to lift them up. They know the rhythms of a construction shift as well as that of a college campus. They know class schedules and campus couples. And did we mention dancing?

“I tell the kids, ‘You can slide across or glide across, as long as you get across safe,’” Crittenden said. “My favorite thing about the job is making the pedestrians smile and laugh. They tell me their stories and if they’re having a good day or a bad day. Then they tell me how I’m making their day.”

It comes right back to them, too, in the form of thank-you notes, gift cards and sometimes baked goods. Crittenden recalls a day a student brought her home-baked cookies. “I was having a bad day, and I kept saying, ‘I got to keep smiling no matter how I feel,’” she said. Unexpectedly, a student showed up with a Ziploc bag full of cookies.

The gesture was both unexpected and surprising to Crittenden. “Oh my gosh,” she said, “she thought about me enough last night to bring me these cookies today.”

Lindsay, too, has been overwhelmed by unexpected moments on the job – at a time she needed it most. She recalls with clarity the day a student approached her and introduced herself. “She wanted me to know that her name was Anna, and she would be seeing me every day.

“I just thought that was awesome and amazing because two weeks before that I lost my mom, whose name was Anna,” Lindsay said. “So I just felt like my mom was coming to me through this child on the sidewalk.”

A welcome addition

Crittenden and Lindsey’s presence at the construction site are a welcome addition in a time of transition, and they’re not about to let a day pass without some sort of surprise, or a smile, or a nickname. Chances are, if you’re a regular pedestrian on the east side of campus, you probably have one. “Baby Girl. Sweetie-Pie. Boo-Boo. Little Mama. The list goes on and on,” Lindsay said.

Said Crittenden: “One day I told this girl, I don’t know if you’re too old to watch ‘Moana.’ She said, ‘I love Moana!’ So I started singing ‘Moana’ songs to her. And then when I see couples come by, I’ll say, ‘Good morning, lovebirds.’ Or I’ll say, ‘Keep loving each other, or embrace love.’ I try to think of new love songs, but I’m still stuck in the 80s.” She laughs.

So the next time you’re walking down Skinker, seek out this dynamic duo and don’t forget to say hello. You can’t cross the street without them, and both women have smiles that are hard to miss. “Whatever you put out, you get back,” Crittenden said. “That’s what I teach my kids.”

Lindsay is on the same page, which is why the women make such a great team – and why the Washington University community is lucky to have them. “Whatever we can do it make it easy for pedestrians in stressful situations, we’ll do – smile, wave, dance. Anything we can do to make it easy and safe at the same time.”