Sunday, February 21, 2016

Pedestriating

It's different here. I think I can say that.

It's different here. In a lot of ways. Or maybe I'm a slow learner. Maybe I haven't been noticing.

Naw — it's different here. In the last six months I've seen more people without legs or with the wrong number of functioning legs than ever. There must be a story there. Lots of stories, most of which we, having heard them, I bet, would want to unhear, though you wonder.

Like the guy who drove past on a scooter with a pair of crutches in a holster, the kind of holster you see in movies about the Old West, where both the long-shooting good guys and the equally-talented and equipped bad guys carry a horse-top rifle. In one of those holsters attached to the saddle.

But he wasn't out on his way to a play-fight or a crutch race I'm guessing, this guy on the scooter, because he had only the one leg with him. I'm guessing though, about his intentions, but despite that he still had only one definite leg. Which means that the other one had gone its own way sometime in the past. Which is a thing I myself think about every now and then, because around here it's too easy to slide into a situation where you come out the other side with fewer legs than you started with.

Due to how things work, or maybe we must say not. Due to how things not work.

Crossing the street is a negotiation, but a different kind of negotiation than in the U.S. In the U.S., you come to a corner and want to cross, but if you stand too close to the street, one lane of traffic sometimes stops politely while traffic going the other direction in the other lane keeps moving, so what do you do? That's one thing,

And sometimes, you come to a corner and want to cross, and there is only one car coming forever, and it stops because you are obviously waiting, and you feel like a dick, like you have to cross right there and then even though you were hoping the car would keep going, so then you could cross with no vehicles in sight for miles and miles, and do it at your own easy pace, but you can't. Because this one driver, apparently, based on all the visible evidence, the last driver on earth, has stopped, so you have to run across the street in front of that person's car because it is stopped and the driver is waiting for you to do your business and cross the damn street and get the damn hell out of the way, and everyone else in the car is too. So you run.

Or everyone stops — everyone — all of them, all four lanes or six lanes of traffic, for some reason. Oh, right, the reason being to let you cross while a hundred or so people wait with their engines running, and then the rest is up to you. This is worse. Much worse. Now you really have to perform, and flawlessly. Or else. Or else you antagonize everyone. Which is about the time you wish you could do backflips and kick your legs way up and dance across the street in a clown suit while juggling guinea pigs, for the sake of all those tons of stationary vehicles, and their drivers, and the passengers of the drivers. All waiting for you. While you just walk in an ordinary and uninteresting way. Across the street.

But that's there and not here. Here it's different. I'm still not sure.

I'm sure that it's different here, but not so sure how it works yet, exactly, with infinite precision. This is only my third winter here. After all.

I'm thinking maybe it's like people are used to living in a small village among sheep or goats or chickens, and all those sheep or goats or chickens have jobs and families and obligations of their own, and are all out on the streets all day, going about their respective businesses. And when those people who are used to living in a small village and walking among busy sheep or goats or chickens come to the big city, they carry on.

And here, in the big city, the sheep and goats and chickens are taxis and buses and vans and they all have steel teeth to bite you with. To bite your legs with. Off. To bite them off.

But people don't know that, quite. The pedestrians. So they drift through moving traffic as wind through rushes, seemingly oblivious, and mostly it works. Whole families. Families. Crossing streets, often in the middle of blocks, completely carefree with not so much as a single simple glance toward dozens of vehicles and their hundreds of tons coming along. Coming along at them, the people, the families, mother, father, little tiny children, and a baby or two being carried, all drifting across the street like wisps of smoke and somehow, in my experience, which I am thankful for, making it safely. With all their legs.

And yesterday, to illustrate another point, two men. Toward evening, crossing Calle Mariscal Lamar, against the red light, were honked by a taxi. Honked upon. Honked at. And the first man continued, and mounted the far curb, safe. But the second man, the trailing one stopped. In the street. In front of the taxi, and looked at it as the taxi swerved around him, continuing without slowing, and remained standing, the man, after the taxi passed, and he, the man, then turned and watched the taxi recede, still standing in the street as the rest of the city's traffic advanced on him, until he was good and goddam well done looking, whereupon he resumed walking and then mounted the curb, rejoined his companion, and proceeded on his original course. All legs present and accounted for.

While I stood Mr. Careful Cautious atop said curb in relative safety and watched it all until the traffic light changed from red to green and then and only then decided to think about crossing the street. Which is one way you can tell the gringos from those who are likely to lose some of their legs sooner than the rest of us. Because traffic here does not yield or slow, and often seems to accelerate when feet hit the street. Gringo Feet. Mine anyway. Definitely mine.

And though I may yet join the leg-lacking through ineptness or misapprehension of one or more subtle cultural cues, it is somewhat comforting to know that the first rule of traffic here is that if you have legs, and are using them to get around with, then it's up to you, all up to you, yourself, alone, to look after them, and no one will stop or slow or yield at all, not a bit.

To everyone else you're no more precious or interesting than a bug splat. So look sharp there and step lively then. Or else, maybe.

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