Yesterday was a crappy day. I don’t mean that in the I-was-feeling-depressed-about-life way, but rather in the it-was-windy-and-rainy-and-freezing-and-yes-it-actually-hailed kind of way. And since it was so unnaturally unpleasant outside, I naturally crossed all streets without thinking about whether any cars were coming who may technically have had the right of way.
I say naturally because, as everyone in the 617 area code knows, pedestrians rule the streets of Boston. Yeah, Massachusetts drivers may have a bad rap for being a bunch of Mass Holes, and many of them are, but no matter their level of rage, Boston roadsters know that if they’re driving up Com Ave, they better be on pedestrian lookout. It doesn’t matter if you have a green light. It doesn’t matter how many cars are behind you. If pedestrians want to cross, then they’re going to cross. And you’re going to wait.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about this driver-pedestrian dynamic is not that the cars don’t hit the pedestrians—after all, who really wants that weighing on their conscience?—but that they usually don’t even honk. Do they throw their hands up in an agitated fashion? Sure. Swear under their breath? Probably. My father definitely does. Except not very under his breath.
But no matter how frustrated they may appear, the drivers hardly ever pound on their horns because they know and accept the jaywalking rule of the Boston roads: Green means go, unless there’s a fleet of BU kids who would like to walk in front of you first.
New York City is another place that, like Boston, has an excess amount of foot traffic. And since I have spent substantially more time in New York in the last couple months than in the other months of my life, I can now authoritatively say that the jaywalking rules in these two cities are not equal. While New York pedestrians certainly get in the way of cars on the regular, they don’t jaywalk anywhere near as often as they do in Boston. And with good reason, too. If they did, then they would die. Trust me, I know. Sometimes I forget that I’ve left the pedestrian safety net of Boston and entered the mean streets of NYC—and then the cars remind me. Oh and that ‘no honking at pedestrians’ rule we have here in Boston? It is not in effect in the City.
The New York City jaywalking rule is not as short and sweet as that in Boston, but I think I can still sum it up clearly with this 3-situation response: 1) If no cars are coming, feel free to cross. 2) If you see a car coming, but it’s far enough away that you’ll be finished crossing before the driver can distinguish whether you’re a human or a hedgehog, go ahead and cross. But know that said driver will probably still honk. 3) If you see a car coming and there is even a slight possibility that you’ll still be crossing the road when the driver nears the intersection and thus you’re counting on him/her to slow down and let you cross, stop counting. Stay on the curb, or leave at your own risk.
And finally, I’ll take my pedestrians studies to West Coast—to Pasadena, California to be exact. This rule is easy, no situational summaries required: No one jaywalks there. Ever. End of Discussion. It’s really pretty remarkable.
In defense of these spineless pedestrians, I will say that only twice in my life have I seen people get ticketed for jaywalking, and both of those times I was standing on California soil. I wasn’t in Pasadena, but still, this knowledge makes even me pause before crossing whenever I visit.
Once I do pause and check to make sure nothing—car, police, or anything else problematic—is around, I see no reason not to cross. However, that is not the mentality of the Pasadenites (Pasadaneans?), or at least not those that I have seen. Those people do not budge from the curb even if no other living creature has been seen for the last 20 minutes. There is no walking until the orange “Don’t Walk” becomes a white-lighted “Walk.”
Truly, I think these people should be studied. That level of blind, law-abiding obedience even when no danger is present is fascinating to me—in the most unbelievable way. But what I see as unbelievable others see as enviable. And by others, I mean my friend Debbie. Debbie has lived in New Jersey, Boston, and New York. Needless to say, Debbie knows a thing or two about jaywalking, even if she’s never established herself as an expert by blogging about it.
When I told Debbie about the walking habits of the Pasadeans, she started spouting philosophies about the symbolism of the situation that I, the English major, was almost ashamed not to have thought of myself. How content, how happy must these people be, she mused, to patiently wait on the curb for the “Walk” signal, never feeling as if losing two minutes could mean losing your entire day?
I must admit, this response had quite an effect on me—other than the aforementioned ashamedness. Does the East Coast desire to walk against the light demonstrate not our free spirits but rather our general dissatisfaction with our lives? Does an inability to jaywalk directly correlate to a happier life?
Until yesterday happened, I was willing to buy Debbie was selling. But now it’s today, the day after yesterday, and I have another theory to present: The Pasadinos don’t have better lives; they have better weather. And if they ever found themselves walking in the cold, yucky, windy, rainy, what-did-I-ever-do-to-deserve-for-it-to-be-hailing-on-me? mess that I found myself walking in yesterday, they’d throw patience to the wind and start jaywalking, too