I had two chance encounters with strangers, recently--one pleasant and one traumatic.
Around 10:00 pm one evening, I was walking to my car downtown, alone. I heard footsteps behind me--a woman's footsteps--and she seemed to be purposely matching her pace to mine. I wondered if she felt safer, walking close to me and then I wondered if she was trying to protect me. Perhaps both. She got to her car first and she called to me, asking if I was OK and did I need a ride to my car. My car was only a little further on, so I thanked her and said I was fine. I got to my car safely, but I appreciated her kind offer.
I was walking home from work last week and was in the crosswalk at an intersection. At this particular intersection, cars approaching the crosswalk have a stop sign, but in order to be able to see well enough to proceed, they need to pull way forward of the crosswalk. Anyway, I was in the crosswalk and a car was approaching, at a fairly high speed. I was directly in the path of this car and he didn't slacken his speed at all, but did come to an abrupt stop, at the exact margin of the crosswalk--or about eight inches from me. So I made a gesture. Not the gesture you're thinking, but a frustrated, both arms extended, palms out, half shrugging sort of gesture as if to say, "What the hell, dude?"
I have to interject here and say that as a pedestrian, this is one of my pet peeves -- drivers who approach pedestrians in crosswalks at a high rate of speed without slowing down or acknowledging in any way the presence of a human being in their path. Considerate drivers will slow down a bit. It's a way of letting you know that they're paying attention, of acknowledging your existence, a reassurance that they're not going to flatten you three seconds hence. Because drivers, here's the thing: I CAN'T READ YOUR MIND. I don't know if you see me in the crosswalk or if you're texting or daydreaming or homicidal. I really can't fucking tell. Therefore, it's not okay to speed at a crosswalk when there's a pedestrian in it, even if you fully intend to stop. Also, I refuse to scurry out of the way of approaching cars, like a god-dammed rat. I have absolutely as much of a right to cross the street as a motorist does to drive on it.
Back to my situation. I had made my frustrated gesture, reached the sidewalk and the guy in the car rolled down his window and yelled something at me. So I yelled back, calling him a fucking asshole. I had turned down the street he'd approached me on, and I didn't look to see which way he went. I was shaken up. I don't usually yell at strangers on the street, although maybe I can say in my defense that it had been an even shittier day than usual at work.
I walked a couple more blocks and turned down a different street, when all of a sudden the same car pulled up and honked at me. This driver had actually looped around and had come looking for me. I had considered this possibility, so I was ready for a fight. I've said before that I have a lot of pent-up rage from my cumulative experience as a pedestrian on the streets of Charlottesville, and this was the moment when it exploded. We had a big, loud, shouting match in the middle of Blenheim Avenue. He thought the fact that he stopped just short of hitting me meant that I had no right to be upset. He simply could not understand why a person might have a problem with his car speeding at them with no indication that it was going to stop. "BUT I STOPPED!" he kept shouting. DO YOU WANT A MEDAL?
There I was, in my best go-to-meeting outfit, brawling in a public street with some guy. He finally gave up and drove away and I walked the rest of the way home, too traumatized to even tell Jon or the kids what had happened.
I'm not sure if the point of writing about this incident is to illustrate my hyper-reactive state of mind lately, or to point out how much it sucks to be a pedestrian in Charlottesville. I've heard it said that Charlottesville is a pedestrian-friendly town, and I guess it is if all you're doing is walking for leisure or strolling the downtown mall. There is, however, a HUGE difference between walking for leisure and walking with a purpose. I walk to get to and from work, which means I must cross Avon St., Cherry Ave, Ridge St. and West Main St. There is no way to avoid them and I frequently have difficulty crossing these streets.
I've been splashed head to toe with icy water by drivers who speed on without a glance. I've stood in the pouring rain while driver after driver ignores me as I stand at the crosswalk. I've been nearly killed by turning drivers more times than I can count. I've had drivers pull into the shoulder to go around cars that have stopped for the crosswalk, and try to kill me that way. Last year, I was in the crosswalk at the intersection of Ridge and Cherry and a car ran the red light--I estimate his speed was over 60 mph-- and came so close to hitting me, my life flashed before my eyes. He lost control of his car, jumped the curb, finally stopping on the sidewalk by the tennis courts. These are the things I've had to tolerate as a pedestrian in Charlottesville and I'm sick of it. I know it's insane to gesture or call strangers fucking assholes, but it's time for pedestrians to start fighting back.