Residents of Fort Lee, New Jersey have been well and truly put on alert this week, with their police chief re-issuing his warning that people caught texting while crossing a street would be fined up to $85. An increase in car accidents involving pedestrians prompted local law enforcement to crack down on people paying too much attention to their phones, and not enough attention to where they’re walking. Since the start of March, 117 people have already been fined.
I just hope that Mayor Bloomberg isn’t too inspired by this money-spinner (I mean, life saving measure), because if it finds its way onto New York streets, I will be in big trouble. Sure, jaywalking is illegal in the US but it happens so often that I’m sure the police just turn a blind eye. They could never keep up with all the pedestrians committing the offences left and right anyway. By and large, New Yorkers don’t cross at pedestrian crossings and if they do, they don’t always wait for the little green man, preferring instead to play chicken with the cars and just get where they need to go. I’ve only ever seen one girl get hit by a car, and she did a spectacular stuntwoman roll across the hood/bonnet, barrel-rolled on the ground and sprang up, totally unscathed. As she ran the rest of the way across the lights, she breathlessly reassured all of us horrified bystanders that she was “fine, totally fine”. It was pretty awesome.
In truth, I’m not much of a walk-texter; it requires a level of dexterity that I have never possessed. But if I’m guilty of anything just as dangerous, it’s walking through the streets while listening to my iPod. I’ve got the sound turned up just enough to drown out city traffic noises but not too loud that people can hear the truly terrible 1980s tunes blasting my eardrums. I do sometimes get busted for public dancing (aka absent-minded grooving while waiting for the lights to change) but I’d like to see New York’s finest try and fine me for that! And besides, at all times I do try and keep good spatial awareness, so I don’t step out in front of people, or otherwise cut them off. Public courtesy and whatnot. And I do tend to pay more attention to traffic signals if I’m listening to my music so I'm doing all I can not to get squished by a car.
Nine times out of ten the iPod is a good deterrent against conversations with weirdos, which is good. But as I discovered last night, not wearing my iPod encourages the chatterbox in me too. While I waited at the bus stop after work, I hadn’t had time to put my iPod in before I struck up a conversation with two tourists from Virginia. A little older than my parents, they were on their first visit to NewYork ever and were a little puzzled about how the bus ticket system worked, and how they were going to get back to the Port Authority bus terminal. Before I knew it, I had brought out my street map and commenced an elaborate show-and-tell charade worthy of any city tour guide. The woman latched herself to me and blathered away about all the sights and attractions they’d seen that day and I was powerless to resist. We compared notes on the corned beef sandwich at Katz’s, the sombre beauty of the 9/11 memorial, and the sensory overload that is Chinatown. Any minute, I expected to be invited to their Christmas dinner, but it didn’t happen. When we got on the bus, they befriended a retired Army sergeant who stood about 6’3”, was as bald as a bowling ball, and had lived in New York all his life. As we stop-started through Times Square, he jabbered away to them about Broadway musicals. He knew a staggering amount about them, and he was entertaining all of us at the front of the bus with his showtime stories, and my Virginia friends were also lapping it up. When they got to the bus terminal, I let them know it was time to disembark and the husband – a man who had said very little up till now – patted my shoulder and told me I was a “darling and very helpful young lady”. Damn straight.