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.]