I’m a regular listener to the NPR radio show, This I Believe. I’ve never met the founder of the show, Jay Allison, but we have many friends in common. I believe in This I Believe, but that’s not what this essay is about. I also believe in voting, the Golden Rule and Murphy’s Law, and commonsense principles like What Goes Around Comes Around. I could write essays about these subjects and easily fill 500 words. I also share Chris Lydon’s belief in the Emersonian Ideal of self-reliance, the power of thought, the power of the individual. In many ways I have dedicated my life to these ideas, but that’s not what this essay is about.
I was listening to Chris’s interview with Jay while on my daily walk yesterday. I like to take NPR podcasts with me on my walks. It’s my time every day to fill my mind with new ideas from the brilliant programmers at NPR. The This I Believe essays are frequent companions. Yesterday it was an interview with the man himself. As I settled into my stride, I saw a woman ahead with a dog, the dog was doing his thing and the woman was bending over to pick up the prize. I thought to myself “I’ll just cross the street,” and luckily there was a cross-walk. Berkeley, where I live, is like Cambridge, when it comes to the rules of the road. The law is the same everywhere, the pedestrian has the right of way as long as the pedestrian is in a crosswalk, the traffic must stop. But in places like New York, New Orleans, St Louis or Denver, the law is ignored, and pedestrians must wait until the traffic clears, whether or not there’s a crosswalk. But Berkeley is one of a handful of places where the pedestrians risk their lives and step out into traffic regularly.
And regularly the drivers keep on coming as if we weren’t there. You then have a fateful choice, stand your ground, don’t run to get out of their way (and risk tripping and getting run over anyway), or chance losing a game of chicken and become righteous roadkill, having stood for your rights, having it become your last stand.
I’ve stared down many a driver, and I’m still here. I’ve actually broken one windshield and one headlight. When the drivers stop, always outraged to have their space invaded, I try to keep my cool, and ask them to think about it. How did I get so close that I could break a piece of your car, if you weren’t breaking the law? And you just lost a headlight, I might have lost my life.
Female friends say they never challenged this way. Do people think that a strong male body would crumple any less completely when hit by a multi-ton SUV or pickup?
When I end up staring at the grill of a car that didn’t want to stop, but was forced to, being an engineer and inventor, I think for the rest of my walk, how can we solve this problem? Maybe walkers could carry an indelible paint, and mark the car as an offender. Let the person explain to the husband or wife why there’s this mark on the grill of the car. It could lead to some interesting talks at home. Honey, that could have been blood or bone.
Me, when I’m driving, I always stop, and the pedestrians almost always grin with gratitude. Everyone likes to be respected, and this is a very nice way to show respect. A mother crossing the street with a couple of small children deserve your protection no more than an aging man listening to a podcast. We all need to be heard, and the law is there for a good reason, to make walking seem safe. And walking is such a good thing, it saves the atmosphere, protects against disease, and it fosters the kind of thought we need more of.
So this is what I believe, when you see a human body crossing the street, as you approach in your car, don’t treat it as an obstacle or a slalom pole. Remember, this is a person, someone’s son or daughter, husband or wife, aunt or uncle. Obey the law, stop, get a smile. Feel good about yourself.
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