Herb Ringer drove a succession of Ford cars and trucks over a period of 60 years; by his own estimate, he covered about a million and a half miles and not once, did he ever run over anybody. Or at least anybody who didn’t deserve to be run over. And yet, if there was ever anyone worthy of being run over by a fast-moving automobile, it’s me. As long, that is, as everyone plays by the rules of the road.
I am, and always have been, an unhesitatingly consistent, even dedicated, jaywalker. I’ve been doing the jay for decades. My wife can’t believe I’ve lived this long. I maintain that the shortest distance between two fixed points is a straight line (mathematicians will support me on this) and I have adhered to that rule for most of my life. I still do.
Though as recently as last week, one of my readers gracelessly noted on a public comment page that I am “no spring chicken,” I still retain extraordinary, even lightning-quick reflexes that would make a man half my age drool with envy.
Also, I have always lived in small rural towns where not only crossing a “major” street never posed a risk, one could lie down in the middle of it and rarely tempt bodily injury. When a few of these communities became busier and the risk increased, I simply moved.
So last week, during a brief visit to Salt Lake City, we attempted to negotiate North Temple Street, from the hotel parking lot to our accommodations for the evening. I boldly suggested we avoid the unnecessary detour to the corner and the stop light and, instead, make a beeline for our destination. It may have been near rush hour.
When we arrived at the opposite curb, several minutes later, it appeared my marriage might be in jeopardy. “Are you crazy?” Ms T implored. “You almost got us killed!”
I thought she was overreacting—making a mountain out of a near-miss mole hill as it were. True, on a couple occasions, the blast of compressed air from vehicles passing very close to our bodies almost lifted us off our heels and threw us into their wake. And indeed, it was a bit dizzying for a few moments, but we made it. It was an adventure in its truest form, in that neither of us REALLY knew if we’d survive the 105 foot journey. This is a significant difference from the faux adventures that have become such a popular component of 21st Century recreation. No zip lines for us. This is REAL danger.
(NOTE: In Moab, well-meaning recreationist/capitalists are spending a million dollars on a tunnel UNDER the river road, because its proponents believe bicyclists lack the intelligence and the skills to negotiate two lanes of traffic. I laugh at such meek behavior. Where, I ask, is their gumption?)
Besides, had the drivers of those vehicles on North Temple simply adhered to their rules of the road, there would never have been a problem in the first place.
I do not mean to sound contemptuous of “good behavior” and recognize that trying to be helpful can, in some circumstances, be a good thing. But well-intentioned drivers are almost getting me (and now my wife) killed. I’m referring to those ill-advised Good Samaritans who, when they see me standing on the yellow stripe or negotiating a lane of traffic, feel compelled to suddenly brake in the middle of their lane and benevolently and generously gesture for me to proceed.
These selfless saints are a menace to the road far more than I am. Automobiles and the people that steer them are only obligated to brake for pedestrians at designated locations, like crosswalks and, of course, at stop lights and stop signs. Otherwise, they have every right to run over people like me. And, in fact, it’s safer for everyone, including the pedestrian, for them to abide by that rule.
It is easy to be seduced by the generous faces of drivers motioning me to proceed. And in my early jaywalking days, I was mesmerized by these benevolent acts. But on a four lane road, the kindness of a driver in just one of those lanes increases the pedestrian risk in the other three. I have almost been flattened by drivers who failed to notice or comprehend why a car had stopped suddenly in the adjacent lane and proceeded at full speed, as they should, to their destinations.
This, in fact, is what happened to Tonya and me as we sprinted across North Temple. A man in a Volvo stopped, smiled and waved us on. You could see the compassion in his eyes. He was already patting himself on the back for his Good Deed of the Day when a plumbing truck in the next lane shot past him and almost snipped our toes. It was a close call. I glared at the kind man who had urged us onward and he seemed perplexed, as if he could not grasp the magnitude of his crime. Or that he had committed a crime at all. He’d almost got us killed and we were failing to display the proper level of gratitude.
Please understand, my words here are not meant to encourage more jaywalking, and only those pedestrians who possess the same lightning reflexes as I do should attempt this ‘adventure’ at all. This is intended to enlighten drivers more than walkers anyway. Any jaywalker who can’t negotiate multiple lanes of busy traffic simply cannot cut the mustard.
Finally, when it comes to doing good deeds, I encourage it, but I insist that drivers re-direct their energies. If you’re traveling down the road and you want to make somebody happy, find a little old lady and help her across the street. But ONLY at a designated crosswalk.
And only if she REALLY wants to cross it.
Jim Stiles is the Founder and Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.
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