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Pedestrians

Monday, February 02, 2009 by Michael Reynolds

We've been in California for a couple of months now. I love the weather. Today, February 2nd, I spoke with my friend Alex by phone. Alex was walking home in Chicago where the high today was 17 F. 17 and windy, which translates to a windchill factor of Nicole Kidman.

Meanwhile, I was sitting at an outdoor cafe in a t-shirt. Gazing up at a palm tree. I could have been drinking a Frappuccino. I wasn't because I'm not a girl, but I could have been.

I'm looking to meet more people I can talk to in places like Minneapolis, Bangor and Denver.

So, the California weather? Lovely. The California landscape and landscaping? Terrific. The California pedestrians? Cattle. But dumber.

In Italy the rule is if you didn't actually hit a pedestrian head-on, you're cool with the law. (Law in Italy being a series of suggestions.) A smack with a side mirror? That's only to be expected. You want to walk? You're going to need to toughen up.

The Italians are particularly sensible when it comes to this matter, but even in the rest of the United States it's understood that pedestrians are a barely-tolerated nuisance. It's clear that you should not actually hit a pedestrian, or even (sigh) come close to hitting a pedestrian, but it's fine to scare the living shit out of a pedestrian. Not okay to hit, but okay to make them think you might.

But here in California not only can't you hit a pedestrian, not only can't you cause a pedestrian to leap in pants-wetting panic toward the curb, you are not even allowed to imply that you just might be thinking about gunning the engine and mowing them down.

This is taking things too far. There is a natural order to the universe, a Darwinian order. At the very bottom of the food chain are skateboarders and bicyclists. Slightly above them, pedestrians. Atop the food chain, the drivers. The masters of the wheel. The men on horseback. We drivers have a sort of 21st century droit du seigneur. We cannot deflower your bride (like a pedestrian would have a bride, hah!) but we are, or at least should be, entitled to demonstrate our superiority by daring you to step out into the sidewalk, refusing your impudent attempt at eye contact, and racing toward you in an effort to make you drop your bag of loser goods from the loser store.

But here, in California, all is topsy-turvy. It's madness. Here, the pedestrian rules. It's bizzar-o world! Here, a pedestrian, a frail, watery, flesh-made creature, a sack of goo hung from a toothpick frame, has the legal right to step out in front of even a fine German autobahn monster.

It's koyaniqatsi. (Really? Spell-check recognizes koyaniqatsi and not Frappuccino?) World out of joint. (That's the Rastapocalypse, by the way: world out of joint.)

Pedestrians here need only indicate an intention to enter a crosswalk and the entire street comes to halt. A pedestrian need only cast a sidelong look in the general direction of the street and we all have to hit the brakes. My God! They want drivers to be psychic!

And there will be no slipping the transmission into neutral and gunning the engine. Nor will there be the sudden forward jerk. Nor will you adopt the crazy-ass smile of the psycho killer and grip the wheel as though you are merely waiting for the fools to step in front of you.

It sucks. It takes forever to get through the parking lot of a strip mall. I mean, goddamn, I have chicken to buy. Get the fuck out of my way.

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