Thursday, April 17, 2008

flippant flipping

The reaction to jaywalking may help explain how Germany is different.

I think I commented before that jaywalking is far less common in Germany. In crowded public areas, a red halt signal at a crosswalk actually makes pedestrians stop. This produces a crowd on the curb waiting for the light to change. In Manhattan, red lights are purely decorative. Regardless of the light, you look both ways, then dash across the street. If traffic is at a standstill, no need to dash, just make sure no taxis are about to jump into an adjacent lane.

A month ago, I was waiting on the curb by Bremen Hauptbanhof waiting for the light to change. I tend not to jaywalk there since that region has lots of cops. One skinny short guy, with tiny horn rimmed glasses and a face wrinkled by glowering, started jaywalking. He thus caused a truck to slam on its brakes and honk. He flipped it the bird and kept walking across the street. Sirens blare. A police car pulled up behind him. The cop in the passenger seat got out and confronted the man. He argued emotionally and jumped up and down twice, which looked quite funny. I wanted to explain to him that, while I appreciated his consideration of the Urban Hop maneuver, he had it wrong: short people should be the hoppees, not the hoppers. But I thought, he's getting a ticket right now, maybe he would not appreciate it.

2 days ago, a similar situation began on the corner of Market and Stockton in SF. A jaywalker crossed the street, blocked an SUV (the American equivalent of trucks), got honked at, and flipped off the driver. A beat cop walking the street saw the whole thing, and did nothing. Just not a big deal here.

But hopping a running cable car is. A few days ago, I wanted to get from 335 Powell to the corner of Kearny and Broadway, since I had to meet David Leland, Jon Nelson, and Flavia Filimon at Tomasso's magnificent Italian food. There was a cable car heading up Powell, so I ran after it and jumped on the back. Great fun. And I thought this is part of the fun of cable cars - they are open, slow, and friendly. I expected a welcoming ding ding, and perhaps some Rice-a-Roni. (Whatever happened to that Rice-a-Roni ad campaign? It still sticks with me today, 20 years after they stopped running that ad.) None of the above for me. The cable car conductor chewed me out and told me to leave. I tried to plead my case, not really because I cared, but because the longer I argued, the closer I got to my destination. After 3 stops, he relented and said, OK, you can stay on the car but you must buy a ticket for $5. Um, can I just leave? Yes, he said politely.

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