Monday, May 17, 2010

The Springtime of our Discontent

On Saturday, Tamar and I walked to breakfast, intending to break our fast at a trendy cafe maybe two miles from our place. We walked along a busy street on the way to the cafe and a quieter street on the way back -- after finding that the line at the restaurant was far too long to endure.

As we walked in both directions, we'd approach intersections and find that a car would come to a stop at the corner directly in front of us, blocking the marked or unmarked crosswalk. The driver would wait for traffic to clear, ignoring or pretending to ignore us standing there, and proceed just as if we had never existed.

The same thing happened four or five times: the same thing. A couple of times we waited for the car to vacate the crosswalk. A few times we walked around the car.

We were not scofflaw urban cyclists nor were we outlaws of any stripe. We were a couple walking to breakfast on a Saturday morning.

I'm sure the same thing has happened to me dozens or hundreds of times in the past, but it struck me especially that day -- it was so blatant and so frequent.

Not one driver halted his or her imperial progress to let us walk across the narrow street in front of the car. Not one driver bothered to back out of the crosswalk so we could pass.

Rudeness is the default. Defensiveness is the default. Sharing roads is a fantasy. Merely acknowledging the presence of others in "your world" is rare good manners.

Maybe this is just 21st Century human nature. Maybe it's urban America in decline. Maybe it's individual rudeness multiplied a million times. How did we get to this place?


Big Mikey said...

I feel your pain. It's bad enough that one feels out of place walking down a sidewalk in a US suburb, like one is doing something wrong by not driving.

The trend of car-first is spreading to Canadian cities as well. We've had a rash of pedestrian deaths due to motorists lately in Toronto, which is historically a pedestrian-friendly city.

This notion of me-first is apparent throughout American culture, from the stick figure families pasted on the back of enormous SUV's to the pervasive consumption mentality to the warped views on raising children we've developed.

All that said, just wanted to comment also that I (and I'm not alone) appreciate the (generally) optimistic view of the world and cycling which you present on the blog. I am consistently rewarded with a good read when I stop by. Thanks for the effort.

Khal said...

Same here, Maynard. Its the me-first mentality driving (pun intended) all this.

Not just motorists are obnoxious, either. While riding the Santa Fe Century yesterday on our tandem, Meena and I were overtaken while climbing "like slugs" (as she says) by a pack of about 20 or more very fast riders. Meena nearly panicked as we were elbow to elbow on both sides with the peloton while they were blowing past us with inches of clearance. Having raced USCF back in my younger days, I merely kept my line (and my temper) but I would not advise such rude behavior--as the organizers say, its not a race. The vast majority of motorists are never quite so rude. Its all about selfishness. Back when I was a kid, I would have gotten my ass slapped for such behavior. Nowdays we reward it.

Larry and Heather said...

It's "Los Angeles @ 5000 ft." a city of motorists who don't care at all about anyone else, let along anyone NOT in a car as they must be poor or homeless to be walking or riding bike, no?

Steve Courtright said...

I believe Malthus would have something to say about this!

Things are the way they are because we no longer have to cooperate to survive, and in fact, we have to compete like never before just to get by.

addison said...

an individual carrying a twelve gauge pump no doubt would get a different result,
sad that it would take that to make a difference!

Khal said...

"...we no longer have to cooperate to survive, and in fact, we have to compete like never before just to get by..."

That is more assertion than proof, Steve. I think the jury is still out but would like a more convincing discussion if you disagree.