Street Walking

The following piece was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ monthly genre event–Reflections: A Reading of Memoir Vignettes. Please enjoy.

I have lived in the metropolitan New York City area for more than fourteen years and every day I walk the city’s streets. Over the years I have been pushed and jostled. I have been stepped on and nudged. I have jumped over piles of garbage, been knocked down by a bike messenger, and poked by umbrella tips. Each day it seems harder than the last to get around, and recently, I have felt safer on the rugby field of my youth than walking the NYC streets.

Rugby, from which American football is derived, is a violent and full-contact sport. Similar to American football, the goal is to score points by getting the ball into your opponent’s try (ie, goal) zone. However, it is unlike football in that there is no forward passing, no blocking, and, of course, no padding. While you come off the field battered, you are always provided with a beer, and, more often than not, poured by the opposing team. The New York streets are not so civilized.

Over the years I have tried to develop a few strategies for dealing with the city’s streets. One strategy I stole from American football. Like a running back with the ball, I find a blocker, which isn’t allowed in Rugby, someone to run interference and clear a path for me. This morning I walked behind a 5 foot, middle-aged Asian woman. She wore determination as she clutched her purse and bag in her right hand. Her left hand swung back and forth in a manner that was reminiscent of a soldier’s goose-step. I hurried behind her as others scurried out of her way.

Another strategy is for me to be the aggressor. I walk straight and dare people to walk into me. Inevitably someone does and is surprised by me standing my ground. Some curse at me while on other occasions we stand nose-to-nose as if we were characters in a Dr. Seuss story. Stubborn like the Zax that live in the Prairie of Prax, we stand waiting for the other to move. In those instances, I curse de Blasio as only I feel that only Bloomberg, the man who limited the amount of soda New Yorkers can drink and force mothers to breastfeed, would try to tame these chaotic streets. I have faith that Bloomberg would stop tourists from such foreign countries as Nebraska and New Mexico from holding hands and pointing at buildings. He would not allow the elderly to mosey or meander down the streets during sidewalk ‘rush hour.’

A third strategy, while it seems counter intuitive, is that I act distracted by pretending to walk and text. Since my fellow street walkers think I am preoccupied and not looking where I am going, they will actually step out of my way. The success of this strategy amazes me every time.

My best strategy, which only works when I am in the correct frame of mind, is what I call my “Leaf in the Wind.” I stole the concept (and probably bastardized it) from the cult-tastic yet underrated Sci-fi-thriller Serenity. The concept can be boiled down to four little words – Go with the Flow!

In essence I ride the currents of the streets. Like a leaf caught in Zephryos’ breath, I glide with the great unwashed. I twist and turn away from obstacles such as out of town business men with their carry-on bags in tow. I step around the teen who stops dead in the street as she yells at her boyfriend on her cell phone. I twirl out of the way from the people who are actually texting or reading books (Yes, books!) while walking. In a Zen-like state I embrace the chaos and act without reacting.

On those rare days, I can get home happy, healthy, and bruise free. Then I pour myself a beer!


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