So you’re walking down the street, all calm and cool-like, when suddenly you find yourself face to face with an intersection. Not a busy intersection, not like anything bursting with traffic, in fact there isn’t too much traffic at all. Not too much, but a little. Enough that your parents would hold your hand when you were a kid. A moderate to low risk of death. So you decide to wait for the little white man to show up. You’re not in a hurry, you can obey.
But then this random dude comes along the other way and, without even looking into the street, he crosses the road, completely convinced that nothing big and on wheels will come along and make him a fruit roll-up. He’s an adult, and fears nothing; he is important, and he knows it. There’s nothing to indicate that he thinks of you as a lesser being, but there doesn’t need to be. You feel the shame. You are a coward, and not confident around roads.
But only a second later you bury that shame. That guy wasn’t cool. He was just a regular-old dickish man-man who thinks he owns the world. He thinks he’s above the rules. Well, wait until the roof crashes down around his head someday and see who’s strutting. You’re not in a rush. Maybe you’re more Zen than he is. That’s right. He’s just a punk. It takes true patience to wait for the walk light and what do you know? It’s changed. If that guy had waited thirty seconds he could have crossed safely.
You walk on, marveling at the world and its many vibrant sights and sounds. Cities! Giant collections of poverty and excess, horror and paradise. A cocktail of life. Oh-ho! What an age to live in.
You reach a new intersection. This one’s even more dead than the last one. That recent glimpse of shame comes to mind, and you think “At that last intersection I proved my inner peace, so at this intersection I can prove I have places to be.” There is a mother and three young kids at the other side, huddling together for safety. You are not like them. You don’t need your mom’s protection from traffic, you are fully grown. You could stop a car with one finger if you wanted. You cross the street, even though the light says not to.
The mother peers in horror at the lesson being taught to her kids. Maybe she sees, for a moment, what her children will become in you, and she doesn’t like it one bit. You try to imitate the look of someone unaware they are a badass. But you don’t need to try. You are a badass.
This little situation, even changing from intersection to intersection, happens to me all the time. I think how people react to crossing signals says a lot. If they are a rule follower or breaker, or if they just overthink things, like me. Is it better to break this rule? Does ignoring the light make the person a rebel? Does following it make them a sheep? Does doing both make them in some way confused? Are these important questions?
Probably not, but it’s fun to think about.
What causes uncertainty at the crosswalk? Is it even fair to call it uncertainty? Is it patience? Do these rules of when to cross and when not to cross make things more organized and orderly and safer? In some places obviously they do. But when I was in Rome for a vacation, there didn’t seem to be many walking signals. People just crossed at courtesy crossings. Does this make pedestrians and drivers more aware? It would be interesting to look at the statistics. But not interesting enough to go look for them (one day I’ll care more about research, but not today).
It’s more interesting to think about the kind of people that will refuse to j-walk even when there is no traffic coming. I’d say that these people are a little too tightly wound, but there are people who genuinely fear traffic and they’d much rather wait for the light to change. I find that most of these people come from the country; I was the same way when I first moved to the city, to some extent. It’s funny to think of crossing the street as an acquired skill, but it definitely is. Also, do these guys who never seem to obey the light get a kick out of it? A little rush? I get a little one whenever I do it. It can make me feel like I’m a rebel, while at the same time knowing that a real goer-against-the-grain has nothing to do with how they cross streets.
The problem in this case probably comes from thinking too much about it. If every time I ignore the signal and worry that I’m compensating for something, trying to look tough, and every time I wait for the signal it feels like a fear of taking risks, who’s really losing here? That’s my answer, it seems. The best way to approach the stoplight problem is whichever you can do unconsciously, without being bothered by what you’re doing, whether it’s crossing early or being patient, whichever you can do without writing a blog post, really.