If you’ve ever driven a car around a modestly populated area, you’ve probably encountered this: you’re driving, you happen upon a crosswalk, you see a couple of pedestrians eager to cross, you let them. Then, in a turn of events that has no logic outside of itself, they cross at a pace that does an injustice to the word. This person has responded to your courtesy of not killing him or her by flaunting their air of “Fuck you, I always deserved this” right in your angry face. These are some of the longest, angriest seconds of your life. You’re forced to sit through the entire thing because to gun the gas now would be far too difficult to prove as an accident in court. The associated feelings push through your head like antsy commuters on a Friday: confusion, impotent rage, hate. Then, a flurry of questions that never rise passed an angry mutter: “Are you fucking serious?”, “Wait, did you really just SLOW DOWN???”, “Do you know what hell looks like?”.
Let’s back up. It’s easy to let emotion win here, especially when you happen to one of the parties involved. Say you were driving the car and stopped and allowed this person to cross, you have implicitly invested yourself into what happens next. If you’re in a rush and allow them to cross, only to get pissy when they don’t move fast enough, doesn’t that make you kind of a dick? Maybe, but going the other way with it, let’s say you’re the pedestrian. If someone gives you the high-beams or the “move” fingers, you do have the option of responding with the “No, YOU move” fingers. If you accept the driver’s concession to let you cross, the texture of your role here changes.
How does it change? I think that depends on traffic context. If the first car off of a red-light is holding up traffic by 1.) letting you cross and 2.) not killing you and whoever you’re with, I’d say you should haul ass across that street. Sprint like Tom Cruise in every-Tom-Cruise-movie. Even if you’re on a date, you should grab your date’s hand and run her ass across the street.
Of course, that’s not always possible. I understand that not everyone is capable of hauling ass. Some pedestrians may have gout, arthritis, shin splints, or boners that haven’t been properly positioned or drained. Here’s where speed matters less than appearance. As long as you make it look like you give a shit about crossing in a reasonable amount of time, you’ll look like less of an entitled prick and you’ll also spare the psychological health of the driver who would otherwise use your slow, almost spiteful walking as emotional ammunition for a future meltdown, probably directed at somebody who isn’t you.
The psychology of a pedestrian who takes their sweet ass time to cross doesn’t even make a whole lot of sense. If you take away physical ailments, what other reasons might one have for not at least attempting to cross the street in a reasonable amount of time?
“I have right of way”. Yes, you do. That’s why you’ve been allowed to cross the street in the first place. Why would you want to take advantage of that? And don’t get it twisted, you have the right of way LEGALLY. However, in the simple relationship of strength/weakness, have/have-not that governs the world, you have been granted a brief courtesy by the driver. Yes, a courtesy. You aren’t owed this. You aren’t entitled to this. You, with your sweating and breathing mass of soft pink flesh has been granted permission to cross the street by the man or woman wielding the two-ton machine of steel and gas and death.
“Because fuck you, that’s why”. I normally attribute this one to the people that seem to slow down. I can begin to appreciate this one socially or racially. Like if a group of black guys slow down while crossing in front of me, I’ll be pissed at the time. But I can use my liberal white-guilt after the fact to rationalize that maybe this was their little way of saying “fuck you” to The Man. But am I projecting grander social significance on something when they’re just being self-absorbed, entitled pricks like the white people that do it? Either way, the implicit message when someone does this is “My time is more important than yours” and if you don’t at least pretend to give a shit about crossing the street so they can go about their day, you’re only part of the problem.
[Not available]. Meaning this question hasn’t even occurred to the pedestrian. They enjoy such a disconnect from thoughts and worlds that aren’t their own that the idea of articulating a reason for not moving across the street a little faster is a mathematical impossibility. They see a car flash headlights and if you asked them if a human being was in that car, they’d obviously say yes. If you pulled over and said respectfully, “You know, I let you cross and you literally paused in the middle of the street to finish your text message and then continued”, they’d probably become extremely humble and apologetic. But in that moment, your car with you inside of it is just another disembodied prop in the movie of their life.
Next time a car lets you cross the street, remember that vehicle can kill you. Respect that. Remember that there’s a human being in the car. Maybe the person in the car is a piece of shit but for these few seconds, they’ve elected to put your time ahead of their own. Appreciate that. Also, that vehicle can kill you.