Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why I’ve Stopped Jaywalking (Sort of)

I recently made a momentous decision, one that leaves me so far outside of the mainstream (at least in Boston) that I might as well by on a mountainside somewhere dressed in animal skins and chanting while sheep gambol nearby. It’s a decision that leaves me exposed, alone, vulnerable, Diogenes with his lamp looking for an honest man, a lone voice of sanity against the madding crowd.

Yes, I’ve decided to stop jaywalking.

Those of you in more law-abiding parts of the world (residents of NYC, Montréal and certain southern European countries may want to skip ahead here) likely understand that the white lines on the road are called “crosswalks” and are meant to guide people safely across a street while alerting drivers to stop. You also likely know that the white pedestrian light means “walk” and the red flashing hand means “don’t walk.”

Things are understood a little differently here. The average Boston pedestrian or driver might occasionally notice white lines on the road, but assumes they’re left over from old road construction or some sort of fraternity stunt. As for the walk/don’t walk lights, they’re oblivious. Perhaps some combination of too much intellectually rarefied air and the extreme climate has rendered everyone incapable of seeing that spectrum of colors. Which wouldn’t be so bad except many of them are also oblivious to more important details, such as cars, trucks or bikes bearing down on them.

It’s barely contained chaos. You can feel the tension, even just walking on the sidewalk. I know that after a few minutes of driving around here, I’m ready to scream, purchase weaponry, break into a pharmacy and steal some OxyContin, or move out to the country.

So I decided to take a stand. Except in certain limited circumstances (outlined later), I’m not going to jaywalk. I’m going to wait patiently for the white walk light. I’m not going to wend my way through moving traffic in some real-life version of Frogger.

It’s an odd step for me really – I’m not a rule follower by nature, being rather independent-minded. Rules often have a purpose, though (in spite of the occasional silly regulation) and when it comes to driving and walking, these rules are, with a few exceptions, very important and helpful. They impose (or rather should impose) discipline and understanding on a part of life that’s fraught with opportunities for misunderstanding and danger.

So as much as possible, I’m going to follow these rules, even on foot. Of course there are exceptions. There have to be around here. For one, I’m not going to wait when the pedestrian light is broken. I’m also going to try and avoid pressing the walk button at the ridiculous “all-walk” lights prevalent in certain communities. (I will, however, cross with the traffic going my direction and avoid blocking anyone turning down the street I’m crossing.) And, finally, I’m not going to use walk lights at some of the poorly designed intersections (such as Powderhouse Circle, a cluster f*** if ever there was one) where I can bring dozens of cars to a halt and produce instant traffic chaos with one press of the walk button.

I can’t say it’s easy. It’s a lonely existence. I am the only one standing there. Everyone – from kids on skateboards to grandmothers with shopping bags – is walking past. If their thoughts were bubbles, they’d all read “What the f*** is that guy standing there for?”

My answer is simple: “I’m standing here for civilization.”

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