Thursday, November 05, 2009
Dead Man Walking
A few years ago, while crossing the intersection at West 4th Street and Washington Square East, I was hit with a glancing blow to my side by a car, swept completely off my feet, bounced off the hood, landed feet first, and continued walking without breaking my stride one bit. I turned while walking and scowled at the driver, who looked like he recognized the massive impending doom to come. But, to his and the onlookers' amazement, I only kept walking.
The expectation was, of course, that there would be the confrontation and requisite berating. There would be exchange of personal details, the police, implicit threat of lawsuits, claims of pain, and suffering with symptoms both real and imagined. The fun would be all mine - there could be no defense in hitting a pedestrian. And I was even in the crosswalk, with the walk light in my favor.
I am not a hero or Superman, only very lucky. After landing on my feet, I just knew instinctively that I was not injured, so why not enjoy a bit of self righteous arrogant indignation with the world and perpetrator all on my side? How often does an opportunity like this present itself to look like a victim and hero at the same time?
An anecdote like this does not, however, make a case for walking in the streets with reckless abandon, jay walking, and other pedestrian transgressions. Or walking up the center of Broadway in rush hour traffic, as seen in the photo.
At times, the sidewalks of Manhattan are jammed with teaming masses and almost unwalkable. No one likes traffic, and most drivers will strive to take shortcuts and alternate routes to avoid congestion. Often, however, for both the pedestrian or automobile driver, only one road leads to Rome, and we must suffer that route.
Pedestrians do have other options, though - take it to the streets and walk curbside. This style, along with walking diagonally across streets and through intersections rather than perpendicular at crosswalks, is a good indicator that the individual is a New Yorker. Tourists will rarely walk in such a manner - only when absolutely necessary, but certainly not as the regular habit common with so many city residents.
For the long time New Yorker on the go, the crawl of pedestrians at rush hour, the hordes of shoppers, and the amble of tourists in awe of our great city are all just irritants. Walking in the streets is the balm to soothe. Many would say that life has numerous irritants, crowds, and traffic, and that dealing with congestion is part of the contract one signs to be in New York City in the first place. And to flaunt with traffic is to be nothing less than a Dead Man Walking...
Photo Note: This was taken in the evening rush hour from the center of Broadway in SoHo looking north. The Chrysler Building can be seen in the distant center. I do not walk in the center of a street or avenue long or often - in this case, only a moment to capture the photo. I received no honking horns or other admonitions from drivers.
"Dead Man Walking" is slang used by prison guards when escorting death row prisoners from their cells to the execution chambers. Dead Man Walking is also the title of a 1995 film starring Sean Penn.