Thursday, November 17, 2005

Of bi-peds and motorcars

Today is shaping up to be excreable.

It started out nicely enough. I slept in, completed a paper that has been haunting me, took my dog for a walk. Nice enough morning. Then this morning, when I was arriving at work, I found my regular parking lot was filled to the gills. This meant I would have to maneuver through the narrow streets of the city, dodging other cars and pedestrians galore, just to find a two-hour parking spot. This also meant that I would have to move my car after two hours, to avoid the wrath of ticket-happy cops.

I crept through the quaint, crowded streets of the city looking for a spot and found myself the second car stopped at a perpendicular intersection. The light turned green, the car ahead of me swung right, and I was right behind him, inching forward. When I was about halfway around the corner, I saw a group of about 5 or 6 pedestrians crossing the street. They looked to be about halfway through the street, and I was halfway around the corner. I wasn't sure, so I kept going. I straightened up and continued onward. The pedestrians finished crossing and a few moments later, another car was behind me - presumably the same car that waited to turn right, behind me at the intersection.

For those reading this who do not live on the east coast - all none of you, and Niamh, my imaginary Shropshirean reader - allow me to explain the pedestrian-auto relationship that exists in the bustling metropoli of America's Atlantic seaboard. It's dysfunctional. Crosswalks are really only heeded by cars if there is a traffic light for them to follow. Pedestrians regularly begin to cross the street while cars are moving toward them. If a car is nice enough to stop at a non-stop signed, non-traffic lighted crosswalk to let a pedestrian pass, the east coast pedestrian will not acknowledge the courtesy of the car with a nod or even a glance, and will also most likely meander slowly across the street, even if it was evident the car made a point to stop when it really wanted to keep careening. I know legally the pedestrian always has the right of way, and I agree with that morally as well as legally. But it's also illegal to shoot someone; just because it's illegal for someone to shoot me, doesn't mean I'm not going to duck if I see a gun is pulled on me. It's imperative for drivers to drive conscientiously, but it's also imperative for pedestrians to be defensive.

That said, even as I made my right turn, I wasn't 100% happy with my choice, but I also didn't think the pedestrians were in any danger. I've had many a pedestrian BEGIN crossing in front of me while I was travelling at 20mph, and though I think they're idiots, none have ever been hit. I've also witnessed the same phenomenon with other cars and other pedestrians - never a hit. So, I presumed the gaggle crossing the street, at no danger from the cars stopped at the light, would slow their pace as I completed my turn. I was not 30 feet from where I made my turn, when I was stopped at another light, a few cars down. (Damn, I just wanted to find a parking spot.) Then, from between two cars parallel parked beside me, a woman pushing a stroller emerges and looks like she's going to try to cross in front of my car - not at a protected crosswalk. Naturally I make sure I've got my foot on the brake. Nope, she doesn't want to cross in front of me, she wants to talk to me. I crack my window. She places herself and her stroller-riding baby between a parked car on a busy street and me, in an activated car on a busy street.

"You could've killed us!!" she screams at me. She's yelling so fast that I say nothing and it's taking a second for all this to click. Apparently she was part of the group that crossed the street at the turn 30 feet back. "I HAVE A CHILD!! Don't you watch where you're going? You REALLY should be more careful!!" I manage to squeeze out a very humble and sincere "I'm sorry." "Well, you NEED TO BE MORE CAREFUL!" shouts the woman who pushed her baby in front of my idling car on a busy street to make a point. At this point the light had turned and the cars in front of me had driven away. I pulled away carefully because believe it or not, I have no desire to run ANYONE over. She, I presume had to swing her baby away from the ONCOMING traffic which she decided it was a good idea to brave in order to make her point.

I really did feel badly. By east coast standards, I'm a very kind or even pansy driver. When merge lanes are tight, I let the other person in. When a pedestrian is halfway through a crosswalk and I'm coming, I'll stop and let them pass - it's the law, but it's not the custom out here. I actually use my blinker! When you live here, you learn you have to act like no one can see you, because half the time they can't, and the other half of the time, the other driver or even the other pedestrian doesn't give a rat's ass. I'm a pretty courteous driver. I really felt badly. I almost wanted to cry. I could've killed someone. She made me feel like a bad person.

But then I started thinking about it. She just wanted to make a point. She wanted me to feel as bad as she did. That's not necessarily a wrong thing to want. But I'm not sure that poking your baby whose safety you were supposedly so concerned with, into oncoming traffic on a busy street, really displayed a sense of justice-seeking. Her intent wasn't to even express disbelief or anger. (A common pedestrian gesture here is throwing up of one's hands in anger at the stupid driver who almost killed you.) She wanted to make sure I knew I was an unworthy person. I won't give that to her. I apologized. Frankly, no matter how selfish my driving may have been, that's really all I can offer. No amount of money or groveling would erase a bad traffic decision. Her anger is entirely justified; if she had reported me to the cops, I could probably accept that. But when she decided to doubly endanger her child just to make a point, her anger lost a large measure of credibility.

She will be happy to know that karma crapped on me. I finally found a parking spot, and at the two hour mark I dutifully went to my car to move it, only to find a ticket under my windshield. Apparently I front-end parked into a back-end parking only area. (I'd never seen the signs, until I got the ticket, naturally.) Apparently it's worth $30 to the city that I master a ridiculous parking trick. Thirty dollars. A child is priceless, but I'm sure it would pay for the uber-adorable norwegian cap the cosmo-kiddo was sporting.

Excreable day.

1 comment:

Virginia Gal said...

oh she's a tool - you should have yelled at her. You're right, you're much to nice to be driving in this city. I'm home grown, we are mean ass MF'ers. I would have honked my horn and ignored if she came up to my window "la la, I don't see you."
Next time, just hit her :-)