It is perfectly justifiable that we place so much importance on the first, wobbly little steps we take in our dribbling years of infancy. The fact is this: we are the bipedal overlords of this earth, so we should certainly celebrate the upright ability that affords us our supremacy over other species. However – the simple act of walking is not without its problems. Growing to become a responsible pedestrian requires a fundamental understanding of the risks and hazards to both body and ego. Not every walk in the park is a walk in…the…uh, park. Nevertheless – here is a short guide to just some of the most common dangers facing the modern pedestrianist.
Directional Confusion Syndrome (DCS)
A displaced pedestrian will often succumb to this dire affliction. Usually affecting a tourist or newcomer to town, an unfamiliar environment will confuse a brain’s geosynchronous functions – particularly when strong magnetic fields are present (i.e. souvenir shops stocked to the hilt with tacky fridge magnets). The body is therefore thrown into a state of directional disarray. You can see it in the face of a pedestrian suffering DCS, a face committed to an expression of gormlessness, or frightened bewilderment. They also seem completely oblivious to their other symptoms, among which include: unexpected sudden changes of direction; abrupt deceleration; and violent 180-degree U-turn.
This causes great disturbance within a crowd, particularly during commuting hours. While locals with finely-tuned directional instincts can safely travel in a large group with the collective-awareness of a school of Atlantic cod, the rogue DCS-suffering element acts as a disruptive, cancerous cell – unhinging others with their erratic behaviour.
Attempting to pass by a DCS pedestrian is very risky. On a narrow sidewalk, gaps that open up on either side can quickly and suddenly close, and you may find yourself pushed onto the street or through a shop-window. Travelling too close behind, meanwhile, will often result in a direct rear-end collision. The bad type. In isolation, DCS pedestrians are relatively easy to negotiate so long as you remain wary. Two or more in a small group, though can really ruin your day. So on weekends and in popular tourist areas, please exercise caution.
Malfunctioning Collision Detection System (MCDS)
Perhaps the most common of all the awkward situations facing a pedestrian, a failure in your normally-reliable collision detection system will often align your trajectory to an imminent crash course with an oncoming pedestrian. This then forces a manual override to return to a safe path of travel. This happens often, but on rare occasions, two opposing pedestrians will suffer the same directional malfunction and each realise they are bound to crash if something isn’t done. So, both parties will manoeuvre onto new paths, repeatedly and unintentionally foiling the other – this is better known as that most-awkward ‘get-the-fuck-out-of-my-way’ dance. You shift left, they shift right, you shift right, they shift left. So continues until you both finally negotiate safe passage and mumble a pissweak ‘sorry’ from beneath your breath, and/or exhale an embarrassed false chuckle.
This wounds the pride of both parties – and is made exceptionally worse when facing an attractive member of the opposite sex. Unless you are the charming, suave sort who can effortlessly diffuse the awkwardness with a quick smile and a witty quip about something like the need for pedestrian traffic lights (haha, chuckle chuckle)… but for the rest of us normal people, the eyes-down, mumbling Hugh-Grant reaction is the unavoidably awkward truth to this scenario.
So, the solution? Although it may run against your instinctual grain – pick one side and stick to it – no matter what the other party does. This is the key. Hold fast your ground and let them figure it out. Each twist and turn only multiplies the embarrassment – so avoid the dance and stay put to one side of the path.
Awkward Same-Speed (ASS) Situations
Often in cities filled with laneways and sidestreets and the like, you’ll find occasions where two separate paths converge into one. A fork re-morphing to a chopstick, as it were, when two streams of pedestrians must organise into a single lane. At pedestrian speed, collisions are not the dangers at hand, but rather the deathly awkward chance of emerging alongside a stranger and finding yourself to be travelling at exactly the same speed.
With this, you become entangled in a tricky ASS situation, not a pleasant place to find yourself at all. Walking directly alongside a complete stranger is to enter a vortex of awkwardness. The safe zones of personal comfort lie in front or behind the unmet fellow foot-walker, but not alongside. That spot is reserved for friends, family, acquaintances and bodyguards only…not you, outsider. But, you can rest assured the other party is in the same dilemma.
The solution is only achieved by making a difficult call. You (or the other guy) must subtly (and unnaturally) increase or decrease your pace to get ahead or behind. Deciding to pass the other pedestrian requires additional effort and you will probably look like one of those silly, stiff-arsed Olympic walkers as you stride past. Sowing down, however, will more likely leave you fuming in the frustration of having to drop down to a more dawdling gear.
There are other solutions to the ASS problem, but all will require you to break your stride in some fashion. ASS situations are unfortunately an unavoidable part of pedestrian life. The best advice is, as soon you find yourself walking alongside a complete stranger – make a decision and fast. Unless you play ASS chicken until they make the move. It’s your call. (hehe, ASS chicken).
Unexpected Geriatric Encounter (UGE)
Remember, pedestrian paths are for everyone to use and enjoy. Roaming the sidewalks are people representing each extremity of the local demographic spectrum. Young, old and of, course the very old. You’ll find a large number of the elderly ambling about, their driving licenses freshly revoked from the previous week’s Toyota Camry excursion through the local pre-school’s front reception office. Whilst generally harmless, the senior pedestrian does possess a surprising talent for materialising, ninja-like, directly in front of your path. Like a motor vehicilist swerves to dodge the scurrying rabbit, so too will you swerve to avoid toppling over Nana Jenkins and sending her back to St George’s Private for a third knee-reconstruction.
A UGE is near-impossible to predict, but you should always be on your guard – particularly when the scent of Denka-rub or Werther’s Originals is on the wind. Travelling in certain areas should also prompt a heightened state of awareness. Cake shops, antique stores, pharmacies, Spotlight outlets, fruit markets, plant nurseries and liquor stores are such places all the more likely to spring a UGE – particularly nasty ones as they are often drunk and carrying large, dangerous cacti. Be on guard.
Umbrella Avoidance Tactics
When the drizzle sets in, the sidewalks become a wet, glimmering cornucopia of hoisted umbrellas. Brilliant as an umbrella is at keeping your head dry, there is a crucial design flaw that is decidedly antisocial. This would be the series of sharp spokes that protrude out in all directions and threaten to impale the corneas of anyone within a metres’ range. Umbrellas are a selfish tool that disregards the safety and eyesight of everyone else around the user, at its worst when some halfwit moron wields an oversized golf umbrella on a busy urban street. What’s worse is that umbrellas greatly reduce field of vision and even amplify the sound of the pattering rain so those underneath cannot hear the screams of the maimed, eyeless victims they leave bleeding at the pedestrian crossings when the lights turn green.
So, what do you do when you are caught, umbrella-less in the rain? How do you keep yourself from harm and still maintain a decent stride so as to minimise the length of the journey and reduce the risk of water seeping into your shoes leaving you with damp, squishy socks? The answer comes from the good old school of pugilism: duck and weave, (Also, dodgeball). As you bravely scurry through the throng, always keep a guard up, so as to block a potential wild swoop from someone bending down to pick up a 20 cent coin. Remember, too, to duck and weave from the knees and waist – it’s crucial to keep your head up (as counter-intuitive as that seems). This is so you can instantly see where the next hazards lie. Watch only the umbrellas, not the people and if the imposing sea of pointy umbrella ends begins to overwhelm you, immediately drop and adopt the foetal position until the crowd disperses. Some damp, dirty clothes are better than a life with no eyeballs or worse, a punctured jugular.
The Japanese have ingeniously tackled this problem by utilising clear plastic umbrellas that ensconce the user, keeping them not only dry but at all times aware of their surroundings. The bell-shaped design means the pointy bits are unlikely to blind anyone but small children and Tom Cruise. They save their golf umbrellas foe the links, not the crowded arcades of downtown Tokyo. Hopefully other nations will follow their example and we can all live dry, happy and with eyeballs.
Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”
He also called himself an ‘immoralist’ and unknowingly influenced some of history’s worst extreme right-wing dictators – buuuuut anyway, his views on walking were pretty astute. After all, he was a great thinker himself.
Walking is therapeutic – well, depending on where you are. Your mind probably won’t hatch a golden little moment of Zen whilst walking across burning coals – but in a nicer, less agonising situation, there really is nothing like a good ol’ walk.
In fact, it was whilst walking when I pondered the ‘walk’ and how the wonderfully nuanced language that is English, bestows many a name for the simple act of natural transportation. The word ‘walk’, though is so plain… Why not go for a ‘walk’ in Blandsville to get a vanilla ice-cream on a non-waffle cone? Here’s how to get around…
Wander – To wander is to embark without any real idea of where you are going, or where you are hoping to go. At no point during a wander can you whip out the phone and check Google maps, because you’ll instantly spoil the romanticism of being blissfully lost. Wandering, though, can carry a more negative connotation – like how escaped mental patients will not ‘walk’ the streets, but they will ‘wander’…
Traipse – Traipse evokes a sense of whimsy – a free-spirited journey that kind of goes nowhere, but you don’t care. It’s a little effeminate, but ideally applied to quaint travel situations – such as a traipse through a Tuscan vineyard. NEVER traipse in an urban setting. Traipsing through the streets of NYC makes you sound weird and a bit dangerous, in that weird way that fully-grown men wearing frilly dresses are dangerous.
Meander – Similar to wander, but with a bit more purpose to it. It carries the same explorative/introspective quality of wander, but won’t make you sound like a wayward senile. It’s also applied to speech to describe non-brevity, but when it’s your feet doing the talking – there’s nothing wrong with meandering about.
Stroll – A stroll is the classic variation of a walk. It’s quite apt for a walk where you aren’t necessarily on a mission to get from a to b; but you know where you want to go – you’re just going to enjoy the trip there. A stroll is cruisey and confident – but not cocky, where it becomes more of a strut. A stroll is really, the ultimate walk-lover’s walk.
Scuttle – A scuttle is great for when you are sweeping the seabed for tasty algae and dead plankton – or if you are just off for an afternoon of sightseeing in the coral reef. Admittedly, this is a little more conducive for members in the crustacean world than humans… but it’s a cool word.
Strut – It’s almost impossible to see the word ‘strut’ without the groovy falsetto harmonies of the Bee Gees resounding in your head. The strut is a cocksure, ‘look-at-me, i’m-pretty-amazing-yeah?’ walk designed to make the journey from one hotspot to another hotspot as cool as possible. Also seen on catwalks, the strut is, almost literally, sex on legs. This means though, that there is massive risk. Should you falter during a strut and shatter the illusion of cool, you cannot strut again. Now, you must shuffle meekly.
Leg-it – There’s an intentional sense of urgency here… which makes sense because you’d only really leg-it if you’re late for a train but have too much pride to run in public, or perhaps after cutting a big fart in a crowd and you need to escape the scene before the search for the smelly culprit commences.
Jaunt – A jaunt is somewhat frivolous, possibly mischievous. Technically-speaking, a jaunt is a quick, pleasure-seeking trip. Make of that what you will.
Frolic – Frolicking is a perhaps closer to skipping, or bounding than walking, but whatever. The ideal frolic is a joyful romp through something Monet would have delighted in painting. Flowers, wheat, babbling brooks – all that shit. It’s difficult for a man who has passed through puberty to frolic in a non-ironic manner. Unless it’s at a beer factory, then it is perfectly acceptable – in fact, it’s all but required.
March – A march is militaristic walk, literally referring to the movement of armies of foot soldiers, as well as the shouting, stomping, synchronised walking they also seem to do in movies (where someone always falls over and is picked up by the main characters, building character-bonds and respect for the protagonist). In the civilian world, a march retains its combative connotations. You’ll only ever march up to someone (always up to them, never down) to give them a brutal vitriolic spray – or, if you are 60, to return to the grocery store to confront the checkout staff as to why they overcharged you for the frozen peas.
Saunter – Brief, but wonderful, a true saunter is rare, but when it happens, you’ll know. You’ll just know.
BONUS Dad joke!
Q. What do you call a fly without any wings?
A. A Walk!