You know what drives me crazy, but shouldn’t? People who wait for the “Walk” signal.
Many a poor soul...has lost his or her life on the dirty, city streets, simply because he or she had stopped suddenly to take a photo of a skyscraper, or maintained a pace of barely one mile per hour...
I work in a big city—a BIG city. And in such a jungle, one must adapt quickly to the environment, or suffer his or her painful demise. You may think this is just literary talk, the fancy way in which an author will decorate and embellish facts in order to instill the emotion and atmosphere of a scene for a reader—but I’m totally serious. Step out of line, literally, and we savage rat racers will figuratively—though it may seem literal in the midst—carve out your intestines. I’ve seen it! Many a poor soul, typically a tourist, has lost his or her life on the dirty, city streets, simply because he or she had stopped suddenly to take a photo of a skyscraper, or maintained a pace of barely one mile per hour, or had the audacity to think it might be neighborly to pass a warm smile and a hello to their fellow human as they raced by with coffee and briefcase.
Security is paramount for rat racers. They’re already immersed in the smelly, dirty product of the pursuit of happiness—the last thing they want is to feel any more violated than they already do.
When you work in a city like the one in which I work, it is imperative that one learns the ways of the herd. First, no talking. Never, I repeat, never speak to the person walking beside you. To do so opens the door to two things, the first of which is the descending of a tidal wave of fear upon the recipient of your injudicious remark, which immediately places said recipient on the defensive, so much so that should one select the wrong person—and by wrong I mean more wrong than just any person—one should be prepared to get a handbag or thermos to the kisser. Security is paramount for rat racers. They’re already immersed in the smelly, dirty product of the pursuit of happiness—the last thing they want is to feel any more violated than they already do. They must focus. Focus is key, and that brings me to my second point.
The other door unto calamity through which talking will lead one is the perception by onlookers that one is paired. It really is better to travel alone. Meet your partner at your destination—don’t walk and talk with them. Why? Because talkers, by scientific rule, walk slower and lose track of the key: focus. It has been proven—scientific theorems have been confirmed as facts, and professionals are in agreement, more so than they are about the spherical nature of the Earth—that when one picks a partner with whom to walk, one not only, by virtue of the social scientific principal of common courtesy, wags his or her chin in conversation, but also and in turn—and this is of capital importance—slows his or her pace. And they do this to conserve air for gabbing. Rat racers know this well, and when a walker is seen talking to another, whether or not the chatter recipient is a willing one, or if said recipient is presently oiling his or her arm to hurl a brick-toting handbag into the dome of their assailant, it is automatically assumed that the pair will be slow. And when such an assumption arises, so too does the resentment for the extra space the duo has occupied upon the walkway, and for the precious seconds of lost time suffered by those who must track behind them until the waters part wide enough for passing.
Much like the auditory nerves of a mother of ten or a daycare worker, rat racers have developed the ability to drown out the incessant and cacophonous barrage of [the city].
And that’s another thing—the walkways. In big cities, the noise is unbearable; but rat racers have trained ears. Much like the auditory nerves of a mother of ten or a daycare worker, rat racers have developed the ability to drown out the incessant and cacophonous barrage of car horns, emergency sirens, bicycle jingles, roadside peddlers, and screams from the needy and injured, who bleat after a herd of Priests and Levites, hoping one among them might be a Samaritan. Because I have lived so near to and have often since my youth visited this city, my senses were dulled long before I took my first job in the belly of the beast. However, I have seen many tourists and timid, naïve newcomers cringe, cower, and even cry at the barrage of human insanity personified in sound. We tenured rat racers hear only the clicks of heels (a tool of gauging others’ pace), the music in our ears, and the voices in our heads. But, while trained ears are great for getting one into the commuter’s bubble, and temporarily muted olfactory nerves serve to stave off the vomit-inducing smells that run rampant through the streets, one’s greatest asset is the combination of spatial awareness and predictive calculation, using data provided through prior experience and keen ocular organs.
Since we’re all protagonists in our own stories, and no one can come to a consensus regarding which of us is the most important, we adopt and impart these rules on all those who are not we.
The city streets are like a highway, and, as with any other highway, rules must be obeyed, lest disaster befall the nation. There are no speed limits—some mosey, some speed walk, and some sprint. There are no lanes. As we are a western collection of people, hoping one day to don the title of civilization, we occupy the right, because it’s right. Most walkers understand that there is a right side of the walkway and a left side. But without lines, there are no rules regulating passing or lane usage. Some anarchists walk on the left side! Others, the Guy Fawkes types, use both lanes at a whim! And, if you’re on the All-American-Founding-Father-level of rebellion, you’re the kind who weaves in and out of lanes, using both, AND using the street to gain speed and jaywalking advantages. For legal purposes, in the spirit of avoiding self-incrimination, I shan’t divulge which of the latter, if any, I am.
Did I say there were rules? Well, I guess I didn’t make the best argument for that—but there are rules! They are as follows: 1. I have the right of way; you do not. And 2. Get out of my way. That’s basically it. Since we’re all protagonists in our own stories, and no one can come to a consensus regarding which of us is the most important, we adopt and impart these rules on all those who are not we. What follows—well, I’m sure you can guess.
In the rat racer’s mind, it matters not where everyone else is going or why they’re going—they’re in the way!
Rat racers expect that those around them know and are sympathetic to the fact that they, personally, have someplace to be, and that because they (rat racers) are the only ones who know what he or she is doing, and all others are clueless, their very presence demands and deserves all walkways to, like the Red Sea, part that they might have smooth sailing to their destination. And why not? In the rat racer’s mind, it matters not where everyone else is going or why they’re going—they’re in the way! And my way, says the rat racer, is the only way that matters. It’s my story. I’m the protagonist. And you’re all just players who come and go, signifying little to nothing in my grand story.
One must check his or her humanity at the door or train terminal before diving into the raging river of the American Dream.
So what does this have to do with the “Walk” signal? Everything. Of course it does—why else would I have subjected you to the reading of a one thousand-word preamble? What I sought to establish with the above is the fact that we rat racers are totally insane. One must check his or her humanity at the door or train terminal before diving into the raging river of the American Dream. It’s true—I’m a total jerk when I make my 1.5-mile trek from the train station to my building. I get furious—literally fuming mad—when I get stuck behind a person walking slow, or a group of foreigners trotting along with their faces in maps or behind camera phones. I hate when someone brushes up against me as I walk; I have an internal meltdown when someone cuts me off; and I consistently justify my bouts of cutting others off and the vouchsafing of various other inconsiderate actions. But the thing that gets my goat more than anything else is when people—probably people who value being alive over being on time—wait, wait, and flipping wait for the red hand to turn into the white, walking man.
It’s bad—it’s a sickness. I hate seeing people standing on one side of the street when the “Don’t Walk” signal is up and there are no cars in sight. For someone crazy like me, the “Don’t Walk” signal is more of a suggestion. I have the system down. A “Walk” signal simply means that the cars going your way have the green light. But, there are times, either when no cars are visibly on a collision course with your path, or the turn lane has been gifted the right of way, when a daredevil like me can slip across, never breaking stride (because breaking stride means at least three seconds added to the commute), before the white, walking man ever appears.
Those who wait for the [walk] signal look less like good stewards of the greatest gift, and more like pretensions snobs, who sneer at we lowly rodents scurrying to and fro, heedless of the rules.
And yet so many people prefer to wait for that walking man! To me, someone who is in the midst of a temporary bout of insanity, those who wait for the signal look less like good stewards of the greatest gift, and more like pretentious snobs, who sneer at we lowly rodents scurrying to and fro, heedless of the rules. I see them as long-nosed, high-chinned, drinks-their-coffee-with-a-pinky-in-the-air elitists, who take pleasure in knowing that others have seen them obey the law. They’re like the kid in school who constantly reminds the teacher that they had listened well, while the other, naughty children disobeyed. What, you want a gold star, or something? Get off your high horse and start breaking the law like the rest of us! Sheesh!
Working in the big city has its ups and downs. I like it there, but I much prefer quieter places, where one needs not compete for the very air one breaths. Opportunities in a metropolis are unmatchable, and the cultures and environments one finds in a skyscraper workplace are simply amazing. But it all comes at a price. For me, that price is ten minutes of loathing every person who steps in my way or waits to get that darned “Walk” signal.
This is not a complaint—just an informative piece, detailing my, as the saying goes, first world problem. And if this is the worst thing with which I have to deal on a daily basis, I am more than thankful.
©2016 by C. K. Conners