Remember when you were a little kid and you learned, “Look Both Ways Before You Cross the Street”? Or perhaps you were taught “Stop, Look and Listen Before You Cross the Street.” Sound familiar? Every child knew that, and we would sometimes chant them to each other as we walked to school three blocks away.
I was reminded of these while I was in Berkeley these past couple of weeks. Evidently these old sayings that the constant reminder to be careful, don’t apply in Berkeley. Or probably all of California. The laws of common sense apparently have been replaced by the laws of entitlement.
Of course, in California the pedestrian has the right-of-way. And this makes sense when you look at the difference between a 150 pound person and a 1800 pound car. Naturally drivers should look out for pedestrians. But in Berkeley, this right-of-way has been taken to a ridiculous length.
Pedestrians in California act as though they were bullet-proof. Of course if they were hit by a car, the driver of the car would be thrown in the lock-up for the foreseeable future. The fact that said entitled pedestrian would probably end up in the hospital — if not the morgue — doesn’t seem to enter into this.
What bothers me most is that parents are actually teaching their children NOT to look as they step off the curb. Hang the traffic — it’s the driver’s responsibility to be aware. Case in point was the woman who stepped into the street looking straight ahead as she strode on, dragging her child with her. The child at least had the common sense (soon to be culled out of her, no doubt) to look somewhat alarmed as I slammed on my brakes. The child hesitated slightly and the mother — never looking around — gave her a slight tug as one might to a dog on a leash, to hurry her along.
A couple of days before that, I’d had a similar, but not as disturbing, experience when I was following a mail truck. At an intersection a car on the right started to cross the road although he had a stop sign. The mail truck slammed on his brakes and leaned on the horn, barely averting a collision. The car — suitably abashed and realizing he was in the wrong — backed out of the intersection. Since I was following the mail truck and watching the car to make sure he realized I was on a through street and didn’t have to stop, I neglected to make sure the crosswalk was clear. Sure enough, there was a woman crossing the street. She was still on the other side of the yellow line so in no actual danger, but I shouldn’t have been driving through the crosswalk. I held up my hand and sort of cringe-shrugged in an apologetic gesture.
The woman — who looked as though she had just eaten a lemon — glared at me. No softening here. No acknowledgement that people make mistakes. I was wrong and she was right and that’s all there was to it. I actually felt sort of bad for the old crone, because that is what she looked like. Her mouth was turned down and her face set in lines of permanent disapproval. I doubt she often smiled or found joy in life. A sad soul indeed.
That very same afternoon I had a similar experience, only with a young woman. In Berkeley — at least the part where I was staying — the streets are narrow and steep and lined with wonderful old trees. There are also bushes and vines that grow abundantly in that climate. The trouble is, some of that vegetation can make it difficult to see stop signs and I’m always watching to see if the cross traffic is going to stop. On this particular street, I’d had a stop sign and after I stopped, I checked both left and right for approaching cars. None. As I pulled into the intersection, a young woman stepped off the curb to my left. No way I was stopping in the middle of the intersection. Again, I shrugged in what I hoped would be an apologetic gesture. She clamped her lips together and grimaced in a gesture of disgust. I wanted to stop and tell her that if she wasn’t careful, her face would freeze that way and she would soon look like an old crone.
And don’t even get me started on the University students. Driving anywhere near there is taking your life in your hands — or someone’s life anyway.
I love California, but the people there seem to live in another universe where they are always right and essentially bullet-proof. Must be nice.