JUDGE NOT, DAMMIT
The coolest cities, to my mind, are the ones that care least about the little rules, that bend convention to so everyone can get along. That's what cities are, after all -- vital experiments in mutual tolerance. Take traffic lights. This picture is of Manhattan, where the idea is to pretty much ignore lights along with all other signs, which suits the pace of the place and is strangely sensible, given pedestrian volume. The idea of 50 people waiting on a corner for a single light to change so they can cross a near-empty street makes no sense, given that 50 more people are going to arrive every few seconds. In Vancouver, on the other hand, the idea seems to be that rules are rules. Lights are there FOR A REASON and you cross against them AT YOUR PERIL. Not that you'll get run down -- drivers are mostly polite and attentive -- but you will be JUDGED by fellow pedestrians. I have received dozens of outraged sniffs and head tosses from Vancouverites who stood next to empty streets waiting for the light the tell them to cross, while I walked towards them against the light. There'd be a large red J on my forehead if they had their way. Maybe I'm doing them a disservice. Maybe they want to jaywalk but lack courage -- like Chuchundra the muskrat in "Rikki Tikki Tavi," who longs to run out into the center of the room but can't bring himself to do it. But they don't look scared. Mostly they look accusatory. Like the blonde lady with the baby carriage. This was last week. She stood opposite the Dufferin Mall, frowning at me as I ran towards her. "The light's red!" she hissed. Dufferin can be busy so I'd waited for a break in traffic before hustling across the four lanes. "Sure is," I said. Then I got it. She was judging me for jaywalking. This is not a usual attitude here. Toronto is mostly full of folks trying to get from A to B as fast as possible. She looked into the stroller in front of her, then back to me. Big dark eyes in a well made-up pretty face. One of those zippy moms. "But -- the children!" she said. As if this invoking of our most precious resource would make me break down and promise to sin no more. "If they see you crossing illegally, they'll get the wrong idea. I don't want my --" she said her baby's name here but I confess I've forgotten it "-- to cross against a light someday and get run over." I should have laughed and moved on. But I had a fast reply, and the words were on my tongue before I thought them through (and if I had a nickel for every time that's happened...). "What do you think is more likely to hurt your baby in the long run?" I said. "Me jaywalking or you smoking cigarettes?" Yeah. I know. I walked off, feeling not at all like a hero. Now I was a judge too. And, you know, I didn't like it.