Saturday, April 5, 2014

Walk This Way

It's harder than it looks.

You don't see them coming.

Approach any street corner and you're likely to get creamed by someone coming the other way. The best technique is to slow, swing wide, and peer around the corner as you approach it, especially if you plan to send your whole body in that direction. Next best is to slow, possibly to a stop, and look cautiously.

Neither works reliably. You're likely to get creamed about half the time on most busy corners. It may be one person coming at you, which isn't all that bad, or what is more likely, it'll be a family of six, and you can't take on all of them. Usually the best you can do in that case is to stop, flatten your back against the wall of the building, and wait. And hope for the best.

If you are very lucky, you will find a street light standard or a traffic-light post there, and you can shelter yourself behind it. But don't count on it. There aren't enough of those to go around.

Sure, I've probably said it before and it's true — the sidewalks here are narrow. And that is only part of the story. I'm not certain that I know the full story, and probably will never know it, but here are a couple of observations.

Even if you have nothing but almost-collisions all day when walking, you are not responsible for that. You are probably the only person watching where you are going. It isn't entirely your fault. Somehow, the locals seem to know what is going on in traffic, and can drift through a stream of moving motor vehicles like smoke passing through a picket fence, but on the sidewalk it's a wholly different story.

People saunter three and four abreast, completely blocking the whole walk, and are oblivious to everyone else. Even when walking two abreast, they center themselves so that no one can pass either on the right or on the left.

If they come to a stop, people will stand in a knot and talk. Everyone else in the world will have to go around. You don't count.

Curbside car doors spring open at random intervals for someone to get out or for someone to get in, or for no apparent reason.

People charge straight out of businesses without looking, either right or left or ahead — they just come. One day two women were exiting a shop to my right. I was moving smartly, at about three miles an hour (5 km/hr). Both women were looking back into the shop over their right shoulders, and talking, possibly to someone inside. They had no idea what was happening on the sidewalk and they didn't care, because people don't think of that here. I strode past. My right foot was the trailing one. Before I could lift it and be completely past them, one of the women stepped on that foot.

This is not unusual. I get brushed past, nudged, and bumped all the time.

All day long, on every street, pedestrians cross willy-nilly, with or against the light where there is one, or randomly, mid-block, block-end, or anywhere else, as if they are choosing their timing by coin flips and their routes by dice throws.

They stop and stand, or stop and turn, change direction, wobble, weave, spin around, and do anything and everything you don't expect people to do. Everyone is everywhere all the time.

As you can see by the yellow footprints that appear after the street gets striped, and which continue for several blocks in different shoe sizes.

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