Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Rules of the Road

There are plenty of places in Manhattan where casual, pleasant, even aimless strolling is completely appropriate.

The financial district at rush hour is not one of them.

Why is it so hard for people to figure out how to walk in crowded public areas? To me it just seems like common sense, but apparently some people need common sense spelled out for them. Therefore, I call upon the City of New York to issue regulations for proper sidewalk behavior and to issue citations for flagrant violators.

The key is simple self-awareness. If you are slower than average, stick to the building side of the curb, and stay there. Especially in lower Manhattan, where the layout dates to colonial times, sidewalks can be narrow. There's plenty of room for people to pass if you stick to one side; if you insist on meandering right down the middle, there's not.

I recognize that I am tall and have long legs and can take longer strides than most people. I'm also very type-A when I walk: I know where I'm going and don't like to waste time getting there. If I wanted to stop and smell the roses, I'd hurry to an appropriate place to do that. So I don't mean to discriminate against pedestrian Yugos, but please be courteous to people like me (that would be most of Manhattan) and get the hell out of my way.

Sidewalk etiquette is almost identical to the rules for driving. Think of Manhattan sidewalks as urban freeways, with multiple lanes, frequent exits, high traffic and high speeds that require concentration and quick reflexes. It also helps to know where you're going.

When you're driving a car on a freeway and decide you're unsure of which way to go, you don't just come to a screeching halt and stare at the exit signs. If you must, you pull over or take the next exit to study your map. The same goes for walking. Standing right smack dab in the center of a sidewalk corner is akin to halting your car in the middle of a four-way intersection. Stand up against the wall of the building, instead.

When merging onto a busy sidewalk, be sure to check for oncoming traffic, particularly if you don't have a lot of horsepower. I am forever tripping over people who just step out of buildings in the same cavalier manner as I step out of the bathroom when I am home alone. If you see a Type-A barreling along, merge in right behind him. Trust me, you won't be tailgating very long.

Walk single file, especially during busy hours and on narrower sidewalks. Walking four-abreast and maintaining a conversation is as rude as putting your feet up on an empty subway seat during rush hour.

Stairs, escalators and revolving doors: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON'T STOP THERE. I love when people stop at the end of an escalator and try to decide which way to go, and then give ME a dirty look when the escalator dumps me out on top of them with a hundred people behind me. Just go through a revolving door? Keep moving, or someone's getting decapitated. (Also, if you stop right in front of a subway turnstile and start looking for your MetroCard, then I promise you that you are going to end up in the Ninth Circle of Hell, which distinctly resembles the Rockefeller Center station on the BDFQV lines during rush hour on an August afternoon, except the train never comes. This is still better than the 11th Circle of Hell, where you stand for all eternity at the turnstile getting the "PLEASE SWIPE AGAIN" message while a thousand demons stand behind you and yell.)

Here's a tip for Type-A's who find themselves having to maneuver through tourist hordes in Times Square and other places. Simply throw your hands up in the air and say in a loud voice, "Homosexual coming through!" Seriously, they are so surprised that they part like the Red Sea.

I write this post because I had something of a fender-bender last night. First off, I was in more of a hurry than usual because I had evening plans. The Fulton Street Station was closed for some unexplained reason, so I had to walk to the next stop at Chambers Street, about 15 minutes away by foot. (Well, 15 minutes if you're me.) So I was irritated.

The entrance to the station is at the downtown-end of the train, but I like to ride in the first car because it's much less crowded and that's where my exit is, anyway. So I was strolling briskly down the platform intending to reach the front before the train got there, when I encountered the worst of all sidewalk offenders: The Drifter.

How, in a city of 8 million people, folks can walk around as if they are all by themselves, I have no idea. But I got stuck behind this little wisp of a thing who nonetheless prevented my passage by going slowly and refusing to move in a straight line. She'd drift a little to the left, then back to the right. She was actually semi-rhythmic about it, and so just when I thought I'd figured out her timing, I floored it, as it were, and tried to pass her on the right.

Of course that's when for no reason she changed course and collided with me.

"Hey, watch where you're going, you fucking asshole!" she shouted.

Me, watch where I'm going? I recognize that I have a particular talent for sidewalking that exceeds most peoples' abilities. I can dodge strollers and maneuver around scaffolding and toddlers as nimbly as Fred Astaire. Me, watch where I'm going? I'd watched this bitch go NOWHERE for yards, analyzed her gait and seized my opportunity. I make a virtual science out of watching where I'm going, and this little wench has the audacity not only to collide with me but to accuse me of her own breach of public etiquette.

Just to show off, I proceeded to shower her with a few choice words without messing a step, walking backwards at full speed and not bumping into anything. "You walk like my blind alcoholic grandmother drives!"

Now, in the interest of fairness, I will confess my own sidewalk faults: I speed and have been known to walk while intoxicated. (But I still manage a straight line, honey.)


Anthony said...

Oh, I like you ... Finally someone who agrees with me about the horrors of negociating your way through hoardes of people. It's like an obstacle course in perpetual motion.

I abhor crowds.

Jere said...

Amen...you are absolutely right in everything you say here. EVERYTHING.

My theory about Times Square (which might, perhaps, apply to the entire city) is that visitors are under the mistaken impression that they are in a Colonial Williamsburg-style recreation of an environment that is there solely for their own amusement and entertainment. People are so used to Disney-esque "fake" realities that they no longer have any sense of how to behave in the real world.

Whenever people complain to me about how rude New Yorkers are, I always ask them "Well, did you get in somebody's way? How would you feel about someone who came to your neighbourhood and blocked your driveway with their car or wa weaving all over the road?"

The city needs to adopt a new motto: "NYC: We Love Your Tourists Dollars, But Please Stay Out of Our Way."

Esther said...

I totally know what you mean. I hate it when I get stuck behind those people who switch sides constantly so that you cannot pass them. I have come up with similar rules for walking in my spare time. However, I do have an addendum. Sometimes it's hilarious to walk down the left side of a path or sidewalk (not a busy one) and watch what people do. I've seen people squish themselves against walls because they are so used to walking on their own right that they can't just move to the left to keep from hitting me.

Matt said...

Amen, especially about the "drifters."

I am also a Type-A sidewalk person and hated those narrow sidewalks when I lived down in the Financial District. But now I live on W 8th St; i.e. the shoe-store-street, where people constantly stop to look at window displays and impede the flow of sidewalk traffic.

little-cicero said...

Thank goodness I don't live in Manhattan, but I can sympathize as I walk through the halls of school every day. There is always that group of girls that creates a human chain across the hallway through which no individual who just needs to get to class.

Anonymous said...

have you ever really shouted "homosexual coming through"?


Myackie said...

Oh I remember this all too well (left NYC about 6 years ago) I used to refer to the "drifters" as the "weavers" but the ones I hated the most were the ones who would just stop right in the middle of the sidewalk...just stop there as if they owned it. A close second were the ones who came out of a store/building and just moved without looking in both directions. This is one of the things I DON'T miss about NY.

Robb said...

Ditto. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who thought that sidewalk choreography was all that difficult to comprehend and was continuously flabbergasted by those who failed to grasp its basic concepts. Now that I'm back in the suburbs and driving again, I have similar problems with drivers. The point of the freeway game is to drive in the lane farthest to the right that is going at the speed you want! I go crazy when someone veers all the way into the far left lane and then putters along at 5 miles under the speed limit. What are you thinking?!?! I almost never drive in the "fast" lane unless it is to get around someone slower. Walking, driving, its all the same, just be aware of people around you.

Anthony said...

You set me off on a tangent of my own, Andy!

My father had a line about never walking more that two abreast on a pavement. I didn't quite get it at the time, but now I agree wholeheartedly.

Andy said...

Here in America we have people who can walk three-abreast all by themselves.

And yes, KH, I have actually shouted "Homosexual coming through!" I'm serious, it works great!

Kard said...


I can feel for you there Andy. It's the same here during rush hours in the morning, lunch and evenings. They do all the things that you say they do. Including the "stop at the top of the escalator" and shooting that dirty look. That's Singapore during such hours at neighbourhood shopping centres, the central business district and town.

Didn't try what you said but I used my own version, "Scram, bitch coming through." Works too. :)

little-cicero said...

I know it's late for this, but I owe a school paper article to this post.