It’s common knowledge that New York is a city of walkers, which helps keep us, arguably, a little less prone to the obesity epidemic that obsesses our multibillionaire mayor. It also helps give us those smaller individual carbon footprints we read about (no play on words intended). We walk to our errands, and when anything’s too far away for that we get to it by public transportation. It’s good, all this walking, all this not-driving.
But since I was struck with a visual impairment, walking (and crossing) the streets of New York has become more challenging, especially since I refuse to give up my habit of walking fast. So I’ve put on my grouchy-old-man hat a couple of decades early and compiled a list of the five most hazardous annoyances, or annoying hazards, facing city pedestrians. In no particular order:
Human children: These small, unpredictable creatures can pose hazards to adults in almost any setting, but on a busy sidewalk their sudden and seemingly random runs left to right and back and forth combine with an ability to go from zero to 60 in Maserati-like time to turn them into looming death threats. It’s not their fault; small children haven’t yet learned to look before they dart, to watch out for other people, to project the adult body language that, at least in the days before cell phones (see next item), used to signal a pedestrian’s intentions much like turn signals and brake lights do a driver’s. (And that’s not even counting those vorpal scooters kids zoom around on. What sadist invented those?)
iPeds: I know not all smartphones are from Apple, but “iPed” is a handy term for anyone committing the dangerous sin Oprah Winfrey (see below) forgot to condemn: the sin of texting, checking email, or even just talking on the phone while walking down a heavily populated sidewalk. iPeds are rather like large, slow children (see above), or like detached specters visiting the earthly plane they know not why: Bereft of the traditional polite adult awareness of their environment, these beings have let their electronic devices divert their attention and cut them off from the (now terribly depleted) flow of social consciousness that used to course up and down city streets. These aimless forms slowly drift to one side and then the other or decelerate unexpectedly without looking where they’re going, in the process – and without noticing a thing – driving the goal-directed pedestrian off the curb or into the side of a building.
Dogs being walked on those telescoping leashes: This is a way city dog owners have of turning their cute little companions into deadly weapons. The dog owner keeps to one edge of the sidewalk while the dog happily zips to the other, sniffing whatever lies at the curb, say; and that way-too-generous leash becomes an almost invisible trip wire ready to entangle and topple to his doom any passerby marching the other way. Please, people: Go back to leather.
Hyper-friendly cause promoters: These creatures, usually youthful humans working an avenue in pairs so one can “greet” pedestrians approaching from the north, one from the south, leap at you like the Hammer-Heads of Oz. Their trick is to be so smiley and friendly that once you’ve made eye contact, you’ll feel too guilty to just dis them and walk on. Your trick is to not make eye contact. But the emotional attack is the real danger: your recoil may project you into another passerby, a building, a patch of cobblestones, off the curb, or down an open sidewalk door (see next item). Beware.
Open sidewalk doors with no traffic cone warning: Store and restaurant workers aren’t supposed to leave these deathtraps open and unattended, but when they do, a trick of the light or a momentary lapse of attention is all it takes for you to step off the precipice to your doom. Sure, you can then sue the store owner – if you’re still alive. Otherwise your family members, now more annoyed than ever, will have to take care of it, and haven’t they had enough of you already?
The above are by no means the only hazards facing the old-fashioned non-electronically-distracted pedestrian. Honorable mentions must go to mid-block parking garage entrances, invisible inclines in the pavement, shrieking teens just out of school (the startle factor can be a killer), and Oprah’s self-satisfied smirk blaring at us from the side of payphone shelters. (“Encouragement: Pass It On.”) I’ll encourage you, Oprah, to please take your know-it-all smile off my streets. And speaking of knowing it all, now you know one more thing: it’s not always smooth sailing for the walkers of New York City.