The benefits of playing in traffic.
Truck drivers flip me the finger. Car drivers scream and swerve away. SUV owners encourage me to engage in disgusting acts with close kin. Hate pours out their exhaust pipe.
It's the joys of jaywalking, flagrantly crossing in the middle of the block, and it's one of my favorite hobbies. Because fuck those cars. Because fuck walking half a mile down to the crosswalk. Because jaywalking is the best way to go about being a pedestrian. Because what are they gonna do? Hit me? They ain't gonna hit me.
Because jaywalking isn't just a fun way to make enemies, it's your civic duty. If pedestrians push their way into the street, a city becomes more walkable, and a more walkable city isn't just good for walkers, the whole city becomes healthier and happier. It does more business, because people window shop. It attracts more tourists, because they want to walk. It disseminates and stimulates ideas, because folks meet by accident and collaborate. Do you want Watson not to meet Crick, Lennon not to meet McCartney, Ben not to meet Jerry just because they were stranded on opposite sides of Main Street?
And, besides: Jaywalking is a small front in the historical battle between human and machine. Ever since Archimedes invented the screw, machines have been disturbing our peace of mind. And, since that day, assholes like me have pushed back: Julius Caesar, a notorious dickpuncher, banned horse-drawn carts in Rome during daylight hours. Hannibal's elephants, I believe, weren't allowed to double-park. Later, Luddites smashed looms; John Henry raced the steam engine; the guys in Office Space baseball-batted their fax machine.
Of course it's mostly futile, and of course machines and cars are winning, for the same reasons heavyweight boxers kick the shit out of featherweights. Nearly 5,000 pedestrians die in America each year. The only way to get across the street in Houston is to have been born there. "We can all agree that there are some roads that pedestrians don't belong on," Wave Dreher, spokesperson for the Colorado AAA, confidently told me.
What I don't get is the drivers. "I hope you die!" they yell at me. "I hope the next car hits you!" Fucking turncoats. Fighting for the fat, hot, stinky, metal machines when I'm clearly their same species. "You don't belong in the road!" they yell at me. "Roads are for cars!"
But au contraire, my dickish friend. According to my research, roads actually existed before cars.
"People think of it as clear cut, that roads are for cars, not people," Peter Norton, author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, told me. "A hundred years ago, they would have said the exact opposite."
On any street, for ten thousand years, it was nothing but kids and dogs and dads and drunks and horses (and horseshit). When cars showed up to cities, they were pariahs. Kids threw stones at em, police shooed em off, and newspapers called em Grim Reapers, Juggernauts and Molochs. A Juggernaut is a demon-driven wagon in Hinduism that runs over people; and Moloch is the god who the Ammonites sacrificed their children to in exchange for prosperity, which is a pretty accurate description of a car.
Then, people started to get confused about how to react. In his book from the '30s called Be Glad You're Neurotic, Louis Bisch describes three dudes who cross against a red light as a speeding vehicle bears down. The First Dude dodges it just fine. The Second Dude, "accepting the situation with calm and resignation," gets plowed, and becomes a personal hero of mine. The Third Dude, indecisive, hops back and forth, back and forth, and runs headlong into the oncoming car.
By the 1930s, cars had started to take over. One way drivers took the upper hand was getting "jaywalker" into the lexicon and onto the law books. A "jay" was a hick, a rube. The modern Colorado word is "gaper." "It was this notion that if you're walking, you're a failure," Norton told me, "and if you're driving, then you're a success."
If you wanna see how totally the cars have won, not just physically but psychologically, watch from your car as a pedestrian crosses in front of you at a crosswalk. They'll put their head down and scoot across with an apologetic little gait.
Or sit on the sidewalk on West Colfax, in the Muffler Shop, Cheap Pizza and Tweaker District. For wheelchair people, trying to cross is a high stakes game of Human Frogger. Bike riders dart and jump unsteadily, like a cricket in the middle of a train tracks. For grade school boys, it's a Suicide Sprint. The cars feel like lions, like pointed handguns.
Inside Hall #501 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the vets vent to me that, even though they invaded Normandy and crossed into Poland, they can't get across the street to the fucking 7-Eleven. "I'm 89," a vet named Gilbert Martinez told me. "The light's liable to change three times before I get to the other side."
Three pedestrians have been killed on Colfax just this year. And, in general, cops take the cars' side. In January, a man named David Washington Jr. was for some reason lying down in the street on Colfax. I don't know why. Maybe he was studying the local insects. Maybe he got confused about the location of his domicile. Maybe he sleeps better on concrete. Anyway some lady in a Crown Vic ran over him and killed him. The cops dutifully investigated the tragedy, interviewed the driver, and issued a citation — to David Washington, Jr., for "pedestrian on highway." Washington hasn't paid the fine, due to being all crushed to death.
But shit may be changing. Jaywalkers are pushing back. When the government doesn't do anything to help pedestrians — and it usually doesn't — people are starting to act on their own.
Since there aren't enough crosswalks, and paint is apparently too expensive for the government to afford, "guerilla stripers" are painting crosswalks in the middle of the night. This has happened from New Haven, Connecticut to Seattle. Cops rarely catch the bandits. When they do arrest em, it often backfires. A dude in Vallejo, Calif., painted zebra stripes in front of his house and cops jailed him for it but some anonymous donor bailed him out and he returned to the neighborhood to a hero's welcome.
There's even a passive-aggressive pushback in polite, bougie neighborhoods like Denver's Highlands and Wash Park. Joggers don't always run on the sidewalk anymore; they run in the street, and the cars have to slow down. You can feel the drivers get huffy, even through the windows. Between a school and Wash Park, for a long time, there wasn't a crosswalk, so the kiddos had to walk 100 yards out of the way to a crossing. Which they didn't always do. They jaywalked. And I'd've liked to have seen the cops issue all 50 kindergartners citations. But, recently, somebody helped the kids out by painting a guerrilla crosswalk between school and park — in the shape of a hopscotch. Civil disobedience for helicopter parents.
So if you care about your city, it's your civic duty to jaywalk recklessly, to be a total dick to drivers, to cross out of nowhere. Don't be one of those wusses who jogs across crosswalks with a supercilious hop. Slow your gait, maybe add a little swagger.*
It isn't even just about people. On Highway 50 in Delta county, a colony of prairie dogs unwittingly dug their tunnels under a highway. So now when the critters pop up out of a certain hole they're separated from the majority of the colony by four lanes of blacktop. Instead of backtracking underground, they try to run across the highway. It's now splattered with the guts of dozens of prairie dogs. But I admire each and every one of those hairy bastards.
At least, for a while, they had guts.
* Rooster Magazine assumes no liability when you get smushed.