Monday, April 28, 2014

What's That Jiggling There?

Walk for life. No, wait. Run for it.

It's a challenge.

Getting around.

Lots of gringos come here and are amazed at how much weight they lose. Collectively, I'd say tons. Tons of gringo-fat, just vanishing like that.

Some ascribe it to the altitude. Some say it's the water, or the fresh, pesticide-free food. Others get more kinky and refer to Bio-Schmetz frequency oscillators, Vortex Imprinters, Fischer-Fueller Hauptmeister Flower Therapies, and other fundamental sciences that they partake of. Mostly, not, I think.

Mostly it's that these people get off their fat asses for the first time in their lives, rear up on their hind legs, and walk around. Because you have to, to get around here at all. Doing that (actually walking) is such a profound shock to their systems, that in a last-ditch grab at self-preservation their bodies jettison huge amounts of flab.

And then they praise themselves for a purely unconscious physiological reaction to getting woken up after a life of sloth. Their bodies, that is. Their bodies wake up. Their minds generally remain tiny and torpid.

The body is usually the smart one, instinctively knowing right from wrong, survival from death, and wishing to remain among the living regardless of what that brain thing up there thinks it ought to be doing.

But there are problems. That's life. Life always comes with problems, and the more people you have to live around, the more problems you run into. Or vice versa.

Which is an issue here in Cuenca, because of three things

  • Narrow streets.
  • Motor vehicle traffic.
  • Crazy pedestrians.

Let's take that last item first. Go ahead and peek at the photo up top. See anything?

The first thing, aside from the posture, is that this doofus is wearing a suit. That's not typical. Jeans for men and tights for women, aside from office peons. The latter wear uniforms (for women it's skirt, heels, vest, blouse, and for men it's not quite so much a uniform, generally, but not a suit either — more like slacks and a sweater, in subdued colors). Office-worker non-peons in suits are out only occasionally, between roughly 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., in selected areas.

A doofus wearing a suit (i.e., anyone in a suit) is almost but not quite exceedingly rare, so I don't get why this person got printed on a sign. So that's the first thing.

The second thing is the posture. Just as weird. There are even fewer zombies around here than office emperors in suits. To date, after roughly a year's time spent here, total, I can say what? What I can say is that there are no zombies walking around in suits unless they wait until I'm looking the other way to do it.

From everything I've heard, zombies are not that fast, so how did one get on a sign? Nuts.

We might as well have zombies though, because pedestrians are pretty crazy. They flow through traffic like fog in a forest. I started late, and have to deal with traffic on a conscious level, but the locals almost don't see traffic. It's like they're wading through a herd of sheep. They sort of decide that they've had enough of standing and waiting to cross a street (three to four seconds of it), or they look and see only 16 or 18 vehicles approaching from a quarter-block away at speeds between 20 and 40 miles per hour (32 to 64 kph) and deem it an acceptable risk.

I wait. Normally. People flow around me, nervous about waiting, anxious to get out in traffic, which seems to be their preferred element, while I run through my head the hundreds of different scenarios succeeding the impact of a chrome bumper against my brittle little self. So I keep waiting. Most of the time.

Unless waiting gets to be too much, and even then I typically cross against the light only when it seems that most of the laws of physics would have to be bent to the point of audible screaming for me to actually be hit. And even then it's a squeaker for me. Too often. I haven't been brought up to this life. I'm still learning. Slowly and fitfully.

I have heard that it is the law that vehicles must yield to pedestrians, at least when there is a stop sign, or a crosswalk, or a traffic light that indicates it's safe for a pedestrian to go ahead and pedestriate. But no. It ain't so. This is true. So true. Which, in a way, makes life simpler here.

The real rule is, if there is any motor vehicle traffic either visible or audible, or potentially so, the pedestrian has no rights. In other words, it's your life — run with it. Which is how you cross the street. Which means, either stand and wait forever because no one is going to give you a chance, or sprint. Or, if you've been brought up here, develop psychic powers that enable you to float through moving traffic somehow. Anyway, it's a driver's world.

Which brings us to the real question — How in hell do you cross the street then?

And that brings us back to the first bullet point above. Narrow streets. That's it. That's how.

A wide street in Cuenca is two lanes, at around 14 feet wide (4.25 m), all-inclusive, maybe less. If it's a one-lane street, you have around 10 to 12 feet. Not much. Easy to cross as counted in strides — four or five. Maybe six.

Walking down a street? Want to cross? Whatcha gonna do?

Listen, then look over your shoulder. If there's no traffic, just cross.

In other places this is called jaywalking. Here it's self-preservation. Life as usual. Whatever. Normal.

This is actually much safer than crossing at corners, because you never know what the hell is going to happen at a corner. Every time you cross at a corner you've got to keep looking for people who don't believe in red lights, and what's even more frightening, you've got to keep looking over your shoulder for someone driving on green while you are walking on green, with the driver making a turn onto your street. Over the top of you. Unless you catch sight of them before they can do that.

No wonder the guy on the sign is walking that way, right? Am I right? Yes.

And if you don't believe me, look at the rest of the photo, a little off to the left and a little below the yellow sign. See it? Bus. Coming his way. The way things go around here, the guy has about three seconds to get his ass out of the street or become dogfood.

Doofus or bus.

Which one would you bet on?


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