Tuesday, July 1, 2008

New Trends in Pedestrianism

In 1985, it became stylish to cross the street really slowly in front of oncoming cars. I caught this early on, driving in places like Roosevelt, Long Island and Jamaica Queens - the sort of African-American neighborhoods where so many trends are born. Slow-crossing-in-front-of-cars eventually went mainstream, but is finally starting to fade (or perhaps all practitioners have been run over).

The new pedestrian trend is to walk in straight lines, never deviating. Other pedestrians may or may not choose to step aside. That's their issue. Straight line walkers have no part in that. These are the spiritual descendents of the people who walk, chin high, through doors held by strangers without a word of thanks or glance of acknowledgement (a trend which has also increased, but not exploded into viral popularity like straight line walking).

Straight line walking is not to be confused with bullying - i.e. intimidating other pedestrians by forcing them out of your way (what's commonly termed "owning the sidewalk"). Bullying is a power play, a sort of social engagement. Straight line walking, by contrast, involves no engagement whatsoever. It's about self-image rather than intimidation. Since a critical mass of the citizenry now walks around accompanied by their own musical soundtracks, many have come to believe themselves to be starring in music videos. And people in videos don't step aside. They stride, purposefully, in straight lines. As if down fashion runways.

Again, these aren't bullies. Get in their way, and you won't be sneered at or shoulder-bumped; the straight line walker will transparently recover by veering off at a slight angle, as if that was intended all along. Really get in the way, actually breaking the rhythm, and a snarl of disgust will be directed to the four winds (again, you don't exist, you aren't engaged with, you're not in the video). The stride quickly resumes, with an angry, indignant lilt. It's just another section of the music video. Continuity has been preserved and face has been saved.

It's not about walking in straight lines, per se. It's about buying into a self-image as someone who cuts a smooth, powerful line through life. And hey, who couldn't use more of that? I keep trying to straight-line walk, but can't resist the impulse to get out of people's way. I am, alas, clearly not a winner.

1 comment:

pat said...

I'd like to try straight-line walking, but I couldn't pull it off. I don't think one can straight-line walk and lollygag at the same time.

I think you should keep at it!

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