The group Missing Persons sang, “Nobody walks in LA.”
Lots of people walk in New York.
I recently went to Manhattan to see my sister, Tina, conduct her women’s choir. Tina and other faculty at Oregon State University conducted three university choirs first at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle and then at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
My wife and I had a wonderful time. As a pedestrian I was struck… Oops, let me rewrite that. As a pedestrian, I quickly found out that in Manhattan there is a certain rhythm to walking. Red lights, green lights, walk and don’t walk signs served more as suggestions than absolute rules.
At red lights taxi drivers and other motorists revved their engines while waiting for the chance to charge ahead. During that time, streams of walkers flowed across street in spurts and dribbles. A red light for oncoming traffic along with a Walk sign for foot traffic was a pretty good clue that you’d be able to cross the street without getting run over. But it wasn’t a certainty. Taxi drivers in particular would sneak through when there was a break in the action.
A green light with a Don’t Walk sign wasn’t a promise to vehicle drivers that walkers would not step into the crosswalk. Native New Yorkers were able to time how to cross in front of oncoming traffic with inches to spare, which, of course, did not mean tourists could safely repeat their actions. I tried. Once.
I also discovered any time I came to a corner, whether I wanted to go ahead, left or right fifteen to twenty people came at me walking at various speeds singly or in groups. I had to sidestep and move forward at the same time. It was sort of like driving a bumper car when actual bumping was discouraged. In groups larger than three it was very difficult to keep tabs on the people I was walking with. Individuals move at individual speeds paying varying amounts of attention to others in the group.
I admit walking in Times Square can be distracting. I saw the singing cowboy dressed only in his underpants, Elmo, Darth Vader, Hello Kitty and multiple interpretations of Lady Liberty. That could have made a difference. My wife stopped to help an inebriated woman push a woman in a wheelchair up onto the curb and I temporarily lost track of her.
Nancy Pickard does a wonderful job of describing New York in her But I Wouldn’t Want to Die There. Pete Hamill makes New York come alive on the page. What descriptions have you read that rang true?