As I drive around the side streets of town, more and more I’m noticing these little “Yield to Pedestrian” signs plopped down right in the middle of the road. While I initially assumed this was part of some federal campaign being carried out by the Department Of Pointless Signage or whoever it is that also puts up those signs that say, “Watch Out For Deer That Haven’t Passed Their GED’s”, I have since discovered that it is actually our local city government who has taken the initiative with the intent of improving public safety.
Unfortunately, rather than providing safety, these little signs have given birth to a whole new mantra for the self-righteous and self-absorbed: “Pedestrians Have The Right of Way!” which you’ll hear a lot lately and usually accompanied by a slap on the hood of your car by the person saying it when you have the temerity to move your car forward simply because it’s your turn to do so. We’re becoming a nation of “I’m walkin’ here” Ratso Rizzos and Imogene Coca Grindls with her penalizing umbrella.
I’m aware that pedestrians have the right of way. I’m also aware that this is a legal default determination in cases where injury is sustained by the pedestrian and fault is unprovable. What it isn’t, and I think this is where some people are confused, is an incantation to a genie that produces a magic bubble that protects them from harm. And it is this particular misconception that has led to “Pedestrians Have The Right Of Way” becoming the most popular headstone epitaph of the decade, having just recently eclipsed the ever popular “All Things Considered, I’d Rather Be In Philadelphia.” I know you have the right of way; my three thousand pound car doesn’t, which is why blind people have working dogs that prevent them from stepping out into the street when a car is coming. Maybe you should consider getting one too if you’re at all fuzzy on Newton’s second law of physics which states mass times speed equals force. Note that there is no mention of your rights in this law.
In the old days, we believed that cars had the right of way. That’s right, the cars. We inherited this belief from our pioneering ancestors who plowed the plains and came to the conclusion that stampeding buffalo had the right of way. Their kids, our grandparents, with the advent of the 20th century and consequently the automobile, which weighs about the same as a buffalo, naturally gravitated to this same concept in the pursuit of staying alive when crossing the street from the general store to the apothecary in pursuit of a cold sarsaparilla.
This seemed like a pretty good idea to our generation too, which is why we children of the sixties decided to continue this time-honored tradition despite being against everything else that anybody previously ever thought was a good idea. This view was also encouraged by the introduction of the 1966 Oldsmobile Delta 98, fondly known as The car that says “Get out of my way”, and famous for its ability to “stop on a dime” provided the dime is in another country.
But putting aside for the moment this viral disintegration of the previously human instinct for self preservation, I would like to point out that just because I’m in my car, and you’re not, it does not mean I’m a minion of the Galactic Empire in a TIE fighter who you must thwart in order to preserve the ideals of the United States Constitution.
Also, should you ever be a member of an entire group of enthusiastic and like-minded pedestrians who have just been released from a college football game where the arena is in an actual neighborhood instead of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica where it should be, or you have amassed for a great political and just cause such as supporting that Hillary Clinton get prison time for having a private email account while she was Secretary of State thus compromising our national security while at the same time exponentially increasing the rate of global warming, this remains the rule: Streets are for cars and sidewalks are for people. Show a little consideration. We just want to get home to be with our loved ones after a hard day at the office, or a hard day at the factory for those of us who have to commute to China every day. If you are in the street with a herd of like-minded individuals, it’s only okay if you and your group are confused caribou. We’ll understand and take pity on you. We might even feed you. If you are not, and are in fact human, you have no business being in the street unless you’re being chased by a bull with a Spanish accent. Or Godzilla.
If on the other hand you, the pedestrian, do have the go-code, and it seems reasonably safe as well as socially appropriate to transverse the crosswalk, don’t compose a poem while you’re doing it. Don’t text and don’t read. And if you sense that a car might be turning toward you, my tip would be to watch it and make sure it actually comes to a stop rather than assuming it will because the driver is a fellow American.
So here’s a new mantra–actually it’s a golden oldie: Look Both Ways (which includes up). As you look left, should you see no cars, trucks, or buffalo approaching, you’ll now want to look to the right and make sure that is also free of giant, rapidly advancing machines and/or mammals. Once you have determined that nothing is approaching from either the left or the right–RUN. Do not walk. RUN. Because we’re coming.