Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Way of the Walk

The woman walking in front of me has the polished, metropolitan look down: the well-tailored suit, all-purpose black handbag, her Jimmy Choo heels pound the pavement with an authoritative click and clack. She looks like any other young Boston professional on her way to work: stern and determined, looking ahead, but careful not to make eye contact with any passers-by because, as we Bostonians know, you just don't know who has the ability to turn you into stone nowadays.

We both stop at the intersection between Charles St. and Boylston—a particularly tricky one since there is no less than three lanes of traffic all trying to merge onto one and take out as many stragglers as possible. Ten points for getting anyone carrying Luis Vuitton luggage.
True Bostonians are undeterred by this. In fact, crossing the street is a finely-honed skill in the city, a sport unlike any other, a sort of Frogger for the sophisticate if you will.

We both look at the fiery red, blinking hand that's supposed to scare us into submission—a little hand I like to call "the tourist's bitch slap," as tourists are the only ones who seem to actually fear the hand. I look to my left at the approaching traffic. The two lanes closest to me are clear, the farthest is not. I quickly cross to the median, a city walker's version of a kid's "safe" in tag. Seconds later, the third lane is clear, and I dart across, stepping safely onto the sidewalk.

I look back to see what I once thought was a native Bostonian fearfully clutching her handbag for dear life every time she dared inch one of her Jimmy Choos on to the road. I almost want to run back to aid her across the street, like a seeing eye dog guiding the blind, but alas, I need to make good time.

My Charles/Boylston St. victory was short-lived, as I approach the Boylston/Arlington intersection. I stop at a blinking red hand, no doubt in a moment of guilt out of not helping the hapless woman still stuck on Charles and Boylston. Nevertheless, I stop at the light as about ten people whiz by me, one with a walker, one with a seeing eye dog, and all looking at me with disdain, like I'm a hick from Kansas, or worse, Canada.

I feel guilty, like I let the team down somehow. To add to my embarassment, the Jimmy Choo woman walks up next to me, gives me a snide look as if to say, "You risked your life to get across the street in good time and now look at you! You're at the same point that I am, wimpy country bumpkin that I am--eh?"

Desperately, in an attempt to redeem myself, I fling myself in to oncoming traffic, relying on my 6 years of Boston city-walking skills to guide me safely to the other side. I look to my right: a truck is barreling toward me, honking loudly, but not braking. I dart out of its way, feeling a whoosh behind me as the truck, making good time, rolls on its way. I seem to have drawn a crowd. No matter that they are simply waiting for the light to change. Ha! Amateurs. I'll show them who's a Bostonian.

My next challenge is a motorcycle--no wait, it's a motorcycle with a side-car! Dear Lord, do they still make those? I quickly take a step backward into the now truck-free lane; the motorcycle zips past me, the guy in the side-car gives me the thumbs up sign with his middle finger.

I take a step forward, only one lane to go! The people at the other end of the street are cheering me on, in their own way, meaning they aren't throwing things at me or yelling, "Loser!" really loudly.

The last lane is the trickiest of all. An elderly person is behind the wheel of a huge blue Buick. This could be rough--there's about zero chance the old man's going to see me with his bottle-thick glasses that barely reach the dashboard. It's like Mr. Magoo on wheels--he swerves to the left, swerves to the right; I am bobbing from one foot to the other, in an odd I'm-about-to-be-crushed-by-an-old-geezer dance, not knowing where the car's going to end up. Hopefully not over me.

I make a blind dash for it. Thank goodness I put on my sneakers this morning, or there definitely would be some high heel road kill left behind. Wheels screech. I smell burning rubber--I look down and realize it's from my sneakers hitting the pavement at an absurd speed. I lunge for the sidewalk and mercifully make contact without losing my balance. Victory is mine! I pump my fist in the air in triumph, then quickly lower it as I remember I'm in Boston and we don't show emotions here.

I look behind me--the woman with the Jimmy Choos is staring (glaring?) at me. It was all worth it. I wave at the woman with my middle finger. It's the Boston way.