Don’t walk July 11, 2008Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
My road rage, or, more specifically, pavement rage, knows no bounds. I wanted to write this post for the benefit of your minds and well-beings four days ago but I accidentally popped out for a pint of milk which involved crossing the road, which took four days.
It can take so long to cross the road here that you can witness whole lives play out before your eyes, as long as they’re the type of life which happen at a different speed. As I waited six months to cross the road on one of my recent expeditions – see how it’s pointless ever leaving the house – I saw a couple get married, have their first baby and start divorce proceedings, all at a junction. I saw a child finish school and graduate from university. I saw a toddler clamber down from her father’s back when it became embarrassing to be there with the body of a teenager. Royal dynasties came and went. A putsch occurred but was put down and order restored. People changed from summer to winter dress and back again. Continents moved apart and new seas formed.
All in the space of time it took to cross one street. The only plus side of this forced immobility is that I allow myself to have torrid affairs at traffic lights. I confess all to the Russian the second I get in, so relieved to discover him still alive after such a long separation that infidelity seems trifling. “I don’t know if I’m free, Wolfgang,” I’ll say to Wolfgang who was a bit immature at the start of our relationship but had developed into a fine, respectable citizen by the time we parted some years later. “I think I’ve got a husband. I haven’t seen him for some months because I had to go to the post-office and buy a new belt, which involved crossing three streets, so he might easily have run off with the raggle-taggle gypsies by now, or established a cult, or become Bundeskanzler. No way of knowing.” Wolfgang and I part, him having aged terribly. The cruel, cruel injustice of it all.
All cars’ fault. Not surprising in Germany, perhaps, that cars should be kings of the road. The Germans make every car on earth and they don’t need them held up at traffic lights because how else will they get exported quick enough to make room for new ones? Types have probably worked out, knowing types, how long, ideally, for the cars, pesky pedestrians should be given to cross the road. It was awfully complicated, no doubt, and the formula used every letter in the Greek alphabet and even had to make some new ones up but it was decided that, for traffic to flow optimally, pedestrians should be given one eighteenth of a second every 43rd leap year. The joyous moment, when it comes, releases a rush of such emotional turmoil and civil unrest that the formula is revised.
Yet don’t you think, if you are without Germany’s borders, that our moment, when it comes, is ours alone. Pedestrian joy is not only short-lived. It is shared. With cars. The types worked out that not only should we be given one eighteenth of a second every 43rd leap year to dash across the street but that, for traffic flow to go unhindered, the cars should be able to weave in and out between us. We have the moral authority. But it’s also crystal clear who’s going to blink first if there really is a showdown.
I am always unsure of how to react in such moments. I get home and write a road-crossing manifesto. But so much time elapses between one car-avoiding sprint and the next that all principle goes out the window. But I wonder whether to stand my ground and walk at a smidgen below regular speed, the car nudging ever closer, and defend my pedestrian rights, which makes me feel like a bit of a tosser. Or whether I should up my speed a little for the driver’s (and traffic-flow’s and, thereby, the German economy’s) benefit, worrying the whole time it’ll only encourage them. Or whether I should walk at a very fake normal speed and hope the driver doesn’t realise that my mind is turbid with worry that I’m holding him up, he’s going to run me over and, in attempting to appear normal and unconcerned with external appearance, I have adopted the gait of John Merrick.
Civil disobedience is called for. For I’m only quite sympathetic to a Berlin motorist’s need for perfection on the roads. Our public transport is a dream. I can take a tram from my computer to the bathroom and there’s a price reduction for short-hop journeys. It’s that well-planned. (Though it’s annoying that ticket inspectors have access to my home.) I have some moral objection to travelling underground, like some rat in a tin-can, but bite my lip heroically if needs must. Folk can whiz around this not-too-hilly city on bikes. We have big fat overground trains and some excellently well-appointed railway stations.
The motorists need some mayhem in their life. All this perfection is no good for them. A traffic-jam or two will do them good. The odd low-speed pile-up never did anyone any harm.
If we can just seize control of the traffic lights…