I haven’t owned a car in over a decade. Living in New York City makes the lack of one possible and actually rather easy. Without the responsibility of a vehicle, one can avoid the worries of the hefty insurance payment, the threat of theft or vandalism, alternate side of the street parking, or the reserved spot in the garage for that matter which can cost close to five hundred bucks a month. At times however I do miss having a car, so much that when I go home to visit my family I actually jump with wide eyes at a chance to sit behind the wheel and take a drive. To my sister this and my whole driver persona are hilarious. Once the ignition is on and the wheels are rolling she stares at me in utter confusion as if my body has been taken over by someone else. The girl who moments before was thrilled to be driving is suddenly nowhere to be found. Rather than race down the open road with the windows down and the wind through my hair, zooming past leisurely drivers in fits of impatience, there I sit with a gentle foot on the gas like a anxiety-ridden teenager taking her road test. Parallel parking is a riot, and yellow lights are taken with the utmost seriousness; I am never the dare-devil to speed through them. Worst yet might be my tendency to wait for half-mile clearances when making left-hand turns across oncoming traffic lanes. Even my mother tells me “ya know you could’ve gone three times already. You’re driving like a grandma.”
I haven’t forgotten how to drive by any means. Not at all. And I still have a valid license in my possession. I drive this way for the sake of caution. Like with anything you’ve had on the back burner for some time, starting again means having to warm up to in response to the natural rustiness that results from being away. With driving, I suppose it’s fair to say that sometimes it feels to me a little foreign.
I am a pro on the other hand, at the game of pedestrianism.
Everyone who lives here (and most everyone who’s visited) knows that New York is the queen of pedestrian cities. At any hour on any day of the week, there are thousands of people out and about on foot. In a rush or inclement weather the public transit system is the way to go, but if you have the time, I say do your buns the favor and walk. There is so much to see and hear that the act of traversing twenty blocks (even in 4-inch heels) is entertaining; and even though the subway is full of its own collection of spectacular visual stimulants, by being underground, you miss a lot. But as elementary as the act of walking is, in New York, it can be complex and worthy of a strategy. Problem is, many of those with whom I share the sidewalks of New York have failed to develop strategies of their own. Then if I happen to be the unlucky soul caught next to one of them in foot-traffic, my pedestrian adventures turn out to be more exasperating than exhilarating. After too many run-ins with clueless city-strollers, my friend Nicholas (who alone deserves an entire blog-post) and I vowed that one day we would write a New York City pedestrian guide to enlighten everyone on our thoughts regarding this topic. So here it is…or at least the beginnings of it…
Rule No 1 – NO DIAGONAL WALKING. An example of this is when you are walking along and from behind your left shoulder another pedestrian who is walking with a slightly quicker pace comes along and cuts in front of you on a diagonal path. This happens all the time, and the fallout is always the same. As the diagonal walker crosses over your path, they are inadvertently setting you up to run into them. Not fun. Should you happen be holding a hot latte or otherwise piping hot bev the outcome is even less fun—but in truth, the diagonal walker would not be allowed to raise a complaint.
Rule No 2 – NO STOPPING SHORT. Whether in a car or on foot, this is never a good move. I remember being in Driver’s Ed class in high school on the driving lot in a car with my team of classmates. Eric, who was one that always seemed to get picked on, was behind the wheel, terrified even despite our maximum allowed speed of 15 mph. As he was mid-turn, another classmate pulled the emergency break up in a prank and the car came to a horribly abrupt halt. Eric nearly had a heart-attack. Every time someone decides to stop short in front of me this memory comes to mind. There you are walking down the block enjoying the hot sun shining from above and the person in front of you stops dead in his tracks. Why? Maybe to tie his shoe, or look at a map or check a text. Sure these things need to be taken care of, but remember the effects a stunt like this has on the person following behind you and have the courtesy to move off to the side out of everyone’s way before taking a sudden pause in the middle of the sidewalk.
Rule No 3 – NO DOUBLE STROLLERS. And by strollers, this time I am referring to baby carriages. I know this might sound harsh and to be honest it may very well be a rule I decide to later omit once I have children and understand what a feat it is to tote around the little ones and all of their most important belongings. But for now, I say buy a Baby Bjorn or comparable substitute and carry one tot like I carry my backpack and push the other in a single carriage. The double strollers are a pain in the neck for all of us trying to pass you taking up four feet of the sometimes already narrow (and always crowded) sidewalks. We will not even discuss how I feel about people taking double strollers on the subway at rush hour! Now if of course my friend who is expecting twins ever decides to visit NYC and bring her double stroller, I would love for her to do so. Nevertheless, this rule is still going in my guidebook!
Rule No 4 – LEAVE THE MELROSE WALK FOR THE BEACH. This is related to Rule No 3 in that again I am referring to a tendency of unknowing peds that absent-mindedly take up the entire span of the sidewalk. We call this the Melrose walk thanks to the prime time soap we all know and love from the nineties, Melrose Place. The intro shows the cast of seven or eight walking in a line, at each others’ sides. You might remember this walk from 90210 or Friends. They all do it…but here in NYC, there’s no room for it! As suggested, save this for the beach or the park, or some equally wide-open space with large expanses of ground area on which to roam free. On the sidewalks, choose your favorite in the group and walk by his or her side in a sidewalk-friendly pair.
Rule No 5 – NO READING WHILE WALKING. I know you just can’t get enough of the gossip-packed pages of this morning’s New York Post but once again, save it for the train. When you are on the sidewalk, eyes should be focused on the sidewalk, not on the teensy text of your newspaper! Believe it or not, I always see people reading while they (try to) walk. Unlike chewing gum and walking, these two actions cannot and should not be performed at the same time.
Rule No 6 – STAY TO THE RIGHT. It was in dance class at about age ten that I learned about staying to the right when someone is walking in your direction. It should be an easy enough rule to remember since here in America we drive on the right, but many do not seem to know this one. So many times I’ve encountered another pedestrian that is heading straight for me but when we break out of our paths and I go to the right, they go to the left, and subsequently, we crash. We stand there tangled up as if doing a clumsy dance until finally we are able to break away and continue along separately. Remember Mama Fratelli in Goonies yelling “Stay to the right.” NOTE: The only reason one should ever intentionally break this rule is when the oncoming traffic is a cute someone you’d love to “accidentally” bump into!
Rule No 7 – TAKE IT EASY ON THE HAND-HOLDING. We know it’s nice to hold hands when you’re lovey-dovey with someone, but ease up on crowded sidewalks. How many times have I come face to face with a pair off in la-la land whose fingers are interlocked in the tightest of holds and their arms pose a barrier that I can’t get through? I walk alone towards the two of them, with every step wondering if they are going to let go. When I realize there’s no chance of them budging and I have no choice but to plow through them, I end up stepping to the side as they walk by in bliss. In their dust I want to shout back that they don’t automatically win just because they are two in love and I am one…although I guess technically they just have!
Rule No 8 – WHEN USING YOUR IPOD… Walking down the street with ipod in ears? Remember to stay tuned to your surroundings. It would be pretty awesome if there was a universal soundtrack that played in the background of life for all of us to hear and whichever tracks played made all of us equally happy people. But since there is no such thing we shall keep to our individual music players – ipods or their substitutes. The number one rule when wearing such a device on a crowded street is to remember that just because you’re lost in your own music video, the traffic around you is still moving. Limit the dancing and twirling when in the company of other pedestrians and if there’s a chance your inner songstress might break out into a serenade, try at least not to sing off key. I have to admit it can be rather fun to witness one who is off in her own world, belting her heart out ‘cause she thinks she’s Shakira; but when her flailing arm whacks you in the face she might want to watch out the you don’t yank her earplugs out and toss her ipod under a passing taxi!
Rule No 9 – THE “INVISIBLE” DOG WALKER – Face it, New York City will never measure up to be the ideal place to own a canine—the tiny apartment, the lack of a backyard, and on the sidewalk, limited space for Fido to roam freely. It seems, though, based on the sidewalk culture I’ve grown to know very well, that many dog-owning pedestrians don’t let the issues with our sidewalks deter them. By “invisible” dog walker, we mean the owner/guardian that carelessly unwinds the leash so far from their hand that their dog is more or less walking himself but with a ten-foot nylon cord attached to his neck. Sure you’re giving Fido his independence, but you’re also creating a serious tripping hazard for the two-legged friends with which he shares the sidewalk. Bad dog! Or better yet, bad owner!
There are many more that I could note on this list and others my partner in crime and I still haven’t come up with. At the end of the day, I know that even if we published a real guide, complete with diagrams of proper walking patterns, glossy photos of perfect pedestrian examples and a bonus edition DVD where Nicholas himself demonstrates (in his full bitchy glory) each pedestrian faux pas we’ve noted, we wouldn’t be able to correct the situation. New York is New York and those that live here and even those who pass through for a day walk their own way no matter what any rule book has to say and I will admit, that is part of what makes NYC beautiful.