Robert vs. Traffic

No matter what city you live in, people complain about drivers. There seems to be a true cliched belief that every city can proudly claim the most reckless and incompetent. So I’m not going to say Philly has the worst drivers, but my experience with them has always been tense. Especially since I don’t drive any more. My feet are my main mode of transportation and being a pedestrian, I feel like I am literally at war with those who sit behind a wheel. The main battle ground- stop signs. The drivers in Philly seem to resent the idea of a stop sign. It’s a suggestion, or a warning that they may have to slow down, just a little. But I’m stubborn and always in a rush. Constantly screaming, “Pedestrians have the right of way” at people who see the ton of metal backing them up as proof otherwise. The result has been my being clipped by cars rolling through the streets on a near regular basis. I have learned not to jay walk after cutting through gridlocked traffic once, only to get laid out by a bicyclist zipping along the jam of cars. But walking to the corner doesn’t guarantee anything. After a dozen grazings, my reconditioning from polite south westerner (polite only by east coast standards) to transplanted south Philly resident has escalated me into a walking public altercation, always ready to scream obscenities, kick fenders and punch doors as I limp away from the car that’s rolled me onto it’s hood.

Now one would say that my irrational, even violent knee jerk responses are inappropriate, certainly one could say that I should just stop and wait and let the cars blast through the stop signs and stop playing a game of chicken that only has my life at steak. But at this point it’s almost a vendetta against the drivers of this city. I think the grudge stems from the fact that out of the ten times I’ve been clipped at a stop sign, never once has anyone stopped and politely said, “I’m sorry.” Now I freak out and menace the cars who hit me with mixed and comic results.

There was the suit in center city who was talking on his cell phone and literally bent me over his hood as he was rolling along. I slammed my fist and screamed, “What the fuck??” He looked up with a terrified expression on his face, then dove down into the passenger side. I mean, he just disappeared. I brushed myself off and walked around the car. He was gone. I peered into the window and he was hiding like some urban possum who thought that if he just crouched down, I would think he was gone. He looked at me with a panicked expression. Then sat up and threw the car in reverse and tore down the block backwards, leaving me shocked with laughter.

Then there was the mini van that turned a corner and grazed me, bouncing me back on the sidewalk, popping the lid off my fresh cup of coffee and half the contents onto my jacket. Two fat South Philly house wives screamed out a warning, preventing a far worse impact. The mini van stopped a few feet past me. The women were off their stoop bellowing insults at him and waving their fists in my defense. Two Asian toddlers were in the back seat with their hands and faces pressed against the glass, staring with wonder at the spectacle outside. The car sat there for a moment, and at the women’s behest, I winged my coffee against the window. The children didn’t flinch at the impact but the van tore off while the women continued to scream. I think they just needed an excuse.

Strangely, the meat heads and tough guys never seem to respond with more than a “fuck off” or giving me the finger. Chest beating is a way of life and everyone does it. They’re more likely to fuck with you if you don’t respond like they would. The one altercation that nearly went violent was from an old woman. She was rolling through a sign with her head turned away from me to look for traffic down a one way street. She rolled so close to me that I literally fell into her open window. I screamed “Jesus Christ” inches from her face and she looked up terrified like her car was being invaded. She never let off the gas. As she coasted across the intersection I screamed “moron” at the top of my lungs. She screeched to halt as I started to walk down the street. I turned back and the 65 year old woman was our of her car, banging a baseball bat on the street and waving it over her head. She was screaming the most amazing string of obscenities at me and challenging me to come over and get some. I thought it best to keep walking.

My wife says I’m going to get shot someday. Maybe I will. I should probably buy a bus pass.

(originally written circa 2006-2008)

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