Social Security and the Economic Crisis
Watch Your (Ageist) Language

Traffic Survival in Portland, Maine

Yesterday, Crabby Old Lady had reason for a short visit to the Maine Mall in South Portland which is about seven miles from Crabby's home. The trip involves driving over city streets, a major highway for four miles or so and several connecting roads.

During the course of the drive to and from the mall, the following happened:

  • A man (who Crabby had seen from two blocks away) standing on the corner as Crabby's car approached an intersection waited until his light turned red to cross the street.

  • A few blocks later, a woman with a kid of about four suddenly strolled out from between parked cars and, looking neither left nor right, sauntered across the street.

  • On a narrow, two-lane street with parking on both sides, a man suddenly opened the passenger car door wide and stepped out not more than ten feet from Crabby's approaching car.

  • As Crabby's car entered an intersection when her light turned green, a car going the opposite direction sped up to cut in front of Crabby for a left turn.

Crabby's brake foot got a heavy workout yesterday.

None of this is unusual. Every time Crabby drives somewhere, a combination of at least two of these events and/or others occur. It is as if the entire population is begging to die in traffic.

When Crabby moved to New York City, she owned a car and because she lived in Riverdale in The Bronx for the first couple of years, she drove to and from Manhattan daily. With that experience and walking in the city, she quickly learned that at any and every moment, someone will do something in traffic that could maim or kill her.

Once that is understood and internalized, however, driving and walking in New York is frustrating but not frightening or even dangerous. It just takes a different kind of alertness than Crabby had known in other cities.

What makes it work is that everyone knows this. No matter how much pedestrians cross against the light or in the middle of the block, you can trust they know where every car, truck and person is and they know to the nanosecond how to maneuver without being hit.

Similarly, drivers can be trusted to know their part in the unwritten rules (although drivers and pedestrians need to be wary of drivers whose license plates indicate they hail from farther away than New Jersey or Connecticut and have little practice with New York traffic.).

Not so in Portland, Maine. Crabby has lived here for nearly three years and her sense that her life and everyone's else's is at risk each time she steps into her car only increases. And what she resents is that if something happens, the odds are it will be caused by a pedestrian, but she would surely take the rap.

Crabby is not talking about children chasing a ball into the street which all drivers are cautious about. Every incidence of oblivious behavior Crabby has encountered has been by an adult and, not infrequently, an adult with a child in tow or in a baby carriage.

And that guy who waited until his light was red to cross the street? He's not alone. That is the most frequent scary event Crabby runs into (no pun intended). They never look and they always saunter, as though they think city streets are country paths.

It is particularly frightening at night. Streets here are not as well lighted as in New York and almost everyone wears blue or black coats. In the dark, Crabby slows at every intersection, but she cannot do more than cross her fingers that no one will walk out from between parked cars.

The size of Portland, Maine, compared to New York should not require unwritten survival rules. But these people don't even follow the written rules. It's not aging drivers who will kill people here. It is the stunningly mindless pedestrians.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins slips in just under the seasonal change wire with Winter Poem.]


My guess is you lived a charmed life in NYC. It is pure hell to be a pedestrian, slightly less so to drive a car.

Two groups of bicyclists who bedevil those on foot: Chinese take-out guys, all bike messengers and the "entitled"--who believe fancy bike outfits and/or a child aboard give one special rights to wheel on sidewalks.

New Jersey autoists [I made it up] are the very worst--along with ALL who gab on cellphones while turning corners.


City bicycles are an entirely different matter about which Crabby Old Lady could (and still may) write volumes.


Living now in both Brooklyn and Portland, I believe the unwriiten rule in Maine is: stop the car if you see a person waiting to cross the street no matter where the person is waiting. The only exception to this rule is at an intersection with a green light. Otherwise, in Maine, a pedestrian waiting to cross has the right of way.

I kind of like it because it makes the driver much more cautious in Maine than in NYC

It happens here all too often, too, and as our population grows (we are the fastest growing metro area in the US) it will only get worse. A 71 year old man was killed here 2 weeks ago; a hit and run by an illegal alien who was later caught. Crossing the streets here - you take your life in your hands.

Does memory serve me correctly or not? At one time, was it not the pedestrian who had the right of way but the vehicles themselves? I guess we all deal with what Crabby is talking about. Whenever I read of yet another pedestrian hit by a car on roads I frequently travel, I’m not at all surprised. Not only do we encounter daily those who just mosey along crossing a street, but also those who walk diagonally across with a cell phone in their ear or, even worse, are texting while looking downward. I talk a lot when driving alone in my car and much of what comes out of my mouth would not be suitable for the grandchildren to hear.

Steve G...

I'm talking exclusively about pedestrians at corners with lights. Of course you are correct otherwise. But here, I've watched pedestrians - regularly - wait through their green light while I, in my car, am waiting for my red light, and then, when the lights change, they cross the street.

It's just nuts.

This is off-topic, but... I had a light-bulb moment when you said "Crabby is not talking about children chasing a ball into the street which all drivers are cautious about."

I'm am increasingly alarmed at the vacant streets during off-school hours. Evidently, kids in Sweden just don't play outside anymore. They're all inside on their computers, I suppose.

And you just provided the ONLY up-side to that that I can think of... fewer of them will be hit by cars on the streets.

I just don't know if that's the good news or the bad news. Of course, no one WANTS them to get hit... but... well... you know what I mean.

Atlanta would give Portland a run for its money, I'd bet. And my town is worse than Atlanta. It's as if everybody was raised in a cow pasture, and the widest road they had to cross was a hog trail. Pedestrians don't know what a traffic light is, and if they chance to cross at one, they don't know what the colors mean.

My dear departed Dad gave me this advice when I was learning to drive: "Everybody else is a fool." That means **everybody** -- in a car or walking. This attitude has kept me from plowing over people (to continue the rural metaphors) for several decades, knock on wood. I just assume that **every** pedestrian is about to jaywalk, and **every** person sitting in a car is about to open the car door.

Of course, that has me driving like the proverbial twitchy grandpa that everybody hates. Seems like you can't win for losing.

Who has the most heedless drivers and pedestrians in the Northeast? Boston. No contest.

Of course the examples Crabby cited are frustrating at best and certainly not a laughing matter. However, Hubby often points out to me that every outing brings forth a different phenomenon. One day it could be a staggering number of big-breasted people about, whereas another day might bring out all the drivers to whom your car appears to be a stealth car as they come so close to plowing into you. Crabby's mall drive must have brought out all the careless pedestrians of the day whereas, had she gone the day before or waited 'til next week, the annoyance could have been quite different. It's one of those mysteries . . .

Welcome to New England, Ronni. Outside of Europe (Italy and France, in particular), New England has some of the worst drivers that I've ever encountered. Even though I was born in Massachusetts and have lived here most of my life, the stunts that pedestrians and drivers pull never cease to amaze me. You'd think that after all these years I'd be used to them, but people seem to be getting more and more stupid and self-absorbed.

Having a life-long attitude like Mike Nichols (expect people to do what they shouldn't) has saved my bacon countless times. This was especially true when I was younger and used to ride motorcycle. Any motorcyclist who didn't ride near the center of the street was courting disaster, because inevitably someone would fling their car door open right into the traffic lane. And the laws of physics dictate that in an encounter between a motorcycle and a car door, the motorcyclist always loses.

Unfortunately, today it doesn't matter what type vehicle you're driving, every time you venture onto the roadways you're facing an increasing risk of being involved in some sort of traffic mishap. For that reason, I drive only when necessary or when there's someplace I really want to go.

Ronni, remember this for your next relocation and move to a low-driving zone! I hate to drive and am constantly trying to duck it, so I know how hard it is to bring off in America. But imagine if you could do most of what you needed to do in life without stress of driving! We'd all live longer--even if we never hit anything.

Crabby would have some interesting driving adventures here in Los Angeles!

We used to call the intersection nearest our home "Girl on Cellphone in SUV Corner." I can't tell you the number of times that we saw a driver of that description so preoccupied by what she was doing that she ran the stop sign and was oblivious to any pedestrians who happened to be crossing.

Pedestrians cause the most trouble for me in parking lots. So many of them seem to wander diagonally across the lanes without even glancing up to see if a car is nearby. And they're often on their phones, too!

Do you have pedestrians who walk into the path of your car when you are backing up? Do they think it won't hurt if the car is in reverse? We have lots of clueless pedestrians, some who lead with their kid in a stroller, here in the San Francisco area, too.

Opening the car doors into oncoming traffic!...Decades ago as a young trainee for a mass transit company...We were cautioned to look for this possibility...One day it happened to one of the bus drivers downtown...The "flinger" of the car door...None other than the bus driver's Union President...What a hoot...

I am always amazed when I see women - and yes it usually women - standing at the kerb side with the baby buggy (I think you call them strollers) projecting out into the road. It gives me nightmares.

Also those pavement (sidewalk) parkers. I remember almost having my daughter knocked out of my hand by a woman who bumped up her car on the pavement, ignoring all the pedestrians and then unleashed a string of abuse at me - in front of her own child too - when I pointed out her dangerous behaviour.


Pedestrians in Portland ME are retarded!

I do not understand the lack of eye contact or awareness or blatant stupidity of crossing a street against the light, forcing moving traffic to screech to a halt. This isn't 1908 and we're no driving Model T's. No one wants to hit you! But if you get hit and don't make it perhaps halting the spread of your gene pool wouldn't be the worst thing that ever happened.

Open your eyes people.

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