Learning to walk the streets of Manhattan means learning how to jaywalk. When we first moved here, several years ago, from California, I was amazed at others and then at myself for jaywalking even while under the gaze of police officers. Crossing the streets in New York means looking and betting on yourself to outrace the oncoming traffic. I am a jaywalker.
On the other hand, I haven't become used to crossing with the light and having cars, trucks, and buses cut me off. I'm offended and usually curse when a car turning left through the crosswalk races to cross ahead of me, often leaving me to slow down or stop while the driver completes his turn, occasionally followed by two or three more vehicles on its tail. It is my crosswalk!
I do think it's fair that there should be a double-standard for pedestrians: (1) if we can cross we cross; (2) if we have the light, then the motor vehicles had better stop and observe the traffic law that forbids them from entering the crosswalk while pedestrians are in it, anywhere from curb to curb. That is, the vulnerable should have as many rights and protections as possible, and the powerful as few.
I was walking north on Broadway one recent afternoon, and I happened to have the light when I was crossing. A driver, hardly slowing, turned right off Broadway, saw the space in front of me and an oncoming pedestrian, and split us as neatly as a plow. I kicked the back bumper with my sneakered foot and cursed. Not fifteen yards onto the cross street the car came to a jolting stop. I remained where I had been standing, cursing, and the driver got out, leaving his door open, and hustled to the back of the car, apparently to check for damage.»
Then he ran at me, his arms raised in disbelief, and cried, "You kick my car! You kick my car!"
"Yes!" I shouted, amazed.
"You no kick my car!"
"You nearly ran over me!"
"Where! Right here!" I stamped in place for emphasis, and he jumped in outrage.
We were both hopping mad. After I swore at him, he swore back, and said, "You kick my car, I call the police!"
"Get them!" I said.
I did not want to fight the man (I had not dented his car), and I turned my back and started walking off. A sandwich board, which a moment before had been advertising the street-corner book-sellers, came to a crash beside me and slid past.
I looked over my shoulder, and he was shaking his fist. There were three or four cars honking for his car to be moved, and I stood watching him for a moment.
"I kill you!" he called out.
And then he ran away, back to his car, and I kept walking, checking both ways before I jaywalked at the next intersection.
Bob Blaisdell teaches writing and literature at CUNY's Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, reviews books for the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor, and compiles anthologies for Dover Publications.