Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I Didn't Get Run Over

I have turned in the keys and closed the office in New York City. After 40 years I will no longer be getting my daily dose of the Big Apple.

How would I sum up my years in NYC? I didn’t get rich, but I didn’t get run over.

I say that with considerable pride, because it is very easy to get run over in New York. Mix in cab drivers from exotic locales whose last vehicles were two wheel carts pulled by goats, the most aggressive pedestrians in the world, crazed cyclists, roller bladers, dazed tourists, and now various forms of motorized and unmotorized scooters, and the end result is zillions of citizens squashed like bugs every day.

Not me, though. No tire tracks on my back. I finished the fight standing up.

I didn’t accomplish this in a wimpy way by stopping on red and crossing at cross walks.
Oh no, I was a NY Pedestrian. In this city, being a pedestrian is a competitive sport. New York walkers view a red light in the Italian manner: it is merely a suggestion. They know the Don’t Walk light will blink twelve times before the traffic light actually changes, unleashing the vehicular horde. Thus they will launch themselves on the eleventh blink knowing they may make it across before the traffic reaches full speed. They will not dash either. A moderate increase in walking speed and a deaf ear to the honking horns is the approved style.

Seeing a fellow New Yorker execute this maneuver is like seeing a matador perform a difficult and graceful pass and then turn his back and walk away from the stunned and confused bull. You can only admire his sang froid.

The competitive nature of walking in New York is evident at corners. You approach the corner, the light is red, and there is no break in the traffic. You position yourself two feet into the roadway. Only tourists wait on the curb. The next person along moves past you and positions himself three feet off the curb, and so on until the last and most daring walker places himself just beyond the safety of the cars parked along the curb. When the light changes, or there is a sliver of a break in the traffic, they’re off!

Every child is warned not to cross between parked cars. Well, come on. The between-the-parked-cars-dart is a vital tool in the New York walkers’ kit. You wouldn’t get anywhere without it. It is particularly useful on cross town trips where the walker's pace is often faster than the traffic, thus increasing the chances of making a successful dart. It’s risking your life, but worth it to avoid the light at the corner.

Adding to the challenge of getting around on foot has been the enormous increase in recent years in the number of bikes, skaters, and scooters. What makes these people scary is that they are walkers on speeding vehicles. They have the same laissez faire view of traffic regulations as a pedestrian while moving at blistering speeds.

Before you make your sprint across the street, you now must factor in whether there is a bike or scooter bearing down against the flow of traffic.
And since these people consider themselves pedestrians, they have no problem tearing along the sidewalk. New York is now the only city where you have to look both ways when leaving a restaurant.

Whew! It’s a wonder anyone makes it out alive.

Well, I did. Not getting killed is something that looks good on my resume.

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