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16 February, 2005

Advice: Walking Tips for the New York City Visitor

“It was a Monday, a day like any other day, I left a small town, for the apple in decay, it was my destiny, it’s what we needed to do, they were telling me, now I am telling you….. I am looking out for the two of us….”Long, Long Way from Home: Foreigner

“Sprung from cages…” like in Bruce Springsteen’s song, that’s what it feels like alighting on the streets of the city every morning. When you first learn to drive, they teach you to maintain a panoramic view of that which lies ahead, to be alert and aware of whatever lies in your peripheral vision and to be considerate of those who are right behind you. Great lessons to learn for new drivers but who would have thought this applies to walkers!

I never would have imagined that there would come a time in my life when my mindset would have to morph into that of a motorized vehicle! It seems all the rules that apply to driving, apply here to walking, in equal measure. For instance, strong peripheral and panoramic vision, quick pace, never falling below the speed limit which the natives actively enforce through a few choice expletives, such as the ever popular, “Bonehead!” An unfortunate utterance to which my very suburban better half has on occasion been subjected, much to my considerable amusement. You see he tends to be one of those people who wear the scarlet letter “T” for tourist rather prominently on their person. These unfortunate souls tend to stop mid-stride to tilt their necks at a ninety degree angle, to the vertical plane of the rest of their body, just to gaze all the way up at one sky-scraper or another!

After nine long years of being a frequent traveler to the city I am finally confident that I have my New York navigation, as a pedestrian, down to an exact science. Keen observations and studied analyses have led me to find the paths of least resistance that help me get from the Port Authority Bus Terminal to my destination, my place of work, in 12 minutes flat, every morning.

The chess-like calculation and forward planning really needs to start as soon as you emerge from your bus or your train; your gaze intent, aiming for the double doors that have a steady stream of people exiting. This way you don’t have to push open the doors and if you find the right space between the exiting mass of bodies, you won’t even have to hold the doors for the people behind you!

Once you are out on the streets you need to demonstrate an obvious determination in your stride, pulling the proverbial blinders on and gazing at an indeterminate space at least two inches above the eyes of all approaching strangers as you start walking, looking for gaps between oncoming walkers and looking out at least 15 yards ahead of you. If someone appears to be coming straight at you, you need to visibly turn your feet either to the left or the right, forcefully signaling your blatant intention of not colliding with them. Of course, if the approaching person takes a step to their right, as you take one to your left, desirous of the similar avoidance outcome, the collision may still happen. So minimal eye contact may be necessary after all!

The other lesson to be learnt and internalized to the extent that it becomes a natural reflex is the art of jaywalking. Jaywalking finesse is what separates the true, dyed-in-wool, New Yorker from a bumbling tourist. Get ready to become an elbowed, bumped, possibly stampeded outsider, if you are waiting for the sign with the little walking man to start blinking. Instead you need to be watching the intersection light. You must time your “avenue” crossing such that the light is about to turn yellow, so that as soon as you cross to the other side of the avenue, the light at the “street” crossing has just turned green for you, enabling you to cross the street and the avenue in one smooth L-shaped maneuver; experts here choose to traverse the imaginary hypotenuse connecting the two points of said L, in the interest of saving precious incremental seconds. .

Lastly, one must acquire the craft of “car thumping” as a pedestrian. This rather focused show of ire is reserved for those unfortunate cars that are attempting to complete their left or right turns or have advanced too far into the crosswalk before managing to stop at the red light. Several angry fists are sure to descend on the hood of the spotless suburban vehicle bearing New Jersey or Pennsylvania plates. The hapless driver sure to be told, in no uncertain terms, “Go back to Joisey!!” while he cranes his neck over his steering wheel to discern the extent of denting on his hood. It is the pedestrians’ uncontested right, after all, to discipline and keep in check these wayward strangers who have foolishly strayed into their Big Apple!

So all you intrepid travelers, in a mood to take on the Big Apple, in the near or distant future, learn these lessons well, they will hold you in good stead. And, while you are here please don’t forget to stuff a few greenbacks into the alligator boots of the Naked Cowboy in Times Square!

© Pragya Thakur, February 2005

8 Comments:

Blogger SPECKLED_BAND said...

Said it elsewhere, but to paraphrase: You ought to write The New Yorker's Vade Mecum!

16 February, 2005 21:40  
Blogger Geetanjali said...

:-) Well-written, humorous, tongue-in-cheek and informative too. This was a pleasure to read!

16 February, 2005 21:56  
Blogger khuto said...

Hi!!! I have some experience with the NYC pedestrian's perceived right to thump vehicles.... but from the other side. Off and on for many years, I have been learning the fine art of coming from out of town and driving into big apple's one-way grids, and yes, I have had my hood thumped on once...

As for the walking speed, you really put it well. The pace of life is governed by an intense ambition that leaves very little time to stand and stare. Sometimes I have just stood at a crossing on Broadway and wondered at this purposefully busy stream of
humanity, where all this energy is going to... There is something ugly and mercenary about this relentless purposiveness. You feel some of this energy also in Tokyo - if you are at Shinjuku when the ped xing lights turn green, say, but it does not last into the evening. And in the European metros like Paris, such a leisurely pace rules life in the rive gauche... My personal theory is that the longer a civilization has been around, the more people realize the value of serenity and peace...

But then, maybe it is this very energy, almost inhuman at times, that has made the US so dominant in the world today? I wonder if it is also our future ...

Anyhow, great piece...

16 February, 2005 22:17  
Blogger khuto said...

Great piece!!

I have some experience with the NYC pedestrian's perceived right to thump vehicles.... but from the other side. Off and on for many years, I have been learning the fine art of coming from out of town and driving into big apple's one-way grids, and yes, I have had my hood thumped on once...

As for the walking speed, you really put it well. The pace of life is governed by an intense ambition that leaves very little time to stand and stare. Sometimes I have just stood at a crossing on Broadway and wondered at this purposefully busy stream of
humanity, where all this energy is going to... There is something ugly and mercenary about this relentless purposiveness. You feel some of this energy also in Tokyo - if you are at Shinjuku when the ped xing lights turn green, say, but it does not last into the evening. And in the European metros like Paris, such a leisurely pace rules life in the rive gauche... My personal theory is that the longer a civilization has been around, the more people realize the value of serenity and peace...

But then, maybe it is this very energy, almost inhuman at times, that has made the US so dominant in the world today? I wonder if it is also our future ...

Anyhow, thanks for a thought provoking reflective piece...

16 February, 2005 23:32  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This article,written on avery common day-today thing shows your keen sense of observation. It would be of great interest to people living in N.Y.C, and other big cities of the world. But imagine how a rural or sub-urban reader would conceive this picture of walking in N.Y.C.
Good job Pragya, kee it up.
wanderer.

17 February, 2005 02:09  
Blogger abha mishra said...

I think I will sit in a corner and watch the world go by,instead of walking in n.y.c. May be I will take tips from your beautifully written piece. It's very amusing and interesting writing. You really have the way with words.

17 February, 2005 02:27  
Blogger raindanseuse said...

This is quite a humourous piece. It keeps you hooked right through to the end. And the descriptions are so vivid you can actually feel the bustle of NYC pedestrians about you even as you read. Lovely writing!

17 February, 2005 11:55  
Blogger Dan Husain said...

so i had my theory lessons in jaywalking in new york... when will i get the practical lessons oh great jaywalker! :-)

24 February, 2005 07:59  

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