SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
October 1, 2017

Crossing the Street

 

I’ve mentioned several times in the past how insistently, aggressively goddamn helpful the people in this neighborhood can be when it comes to dealing with a blindo, but here are two recent examples of what not to do while attempting to perform your good deed for the day.

            One of the most popular questions I get while tapping around the neighborhood is, “How do you know when to cross the street?” Very simple—if the traffic is flowing parallel to me, then I have the light. If it’s flowing perpendicular, I don’t.

            I had just left the grocery store carrying two heavy bags of beer, soup and what all else in one hand while trying to maneuver down the sidewalk with the cane in the other. It was slow and hesitant going. When I reached the corner of the four-lane parkway, I stopped. The traffic was with me, but I never have any idea how much time is left on the light. Given the mad fool way people drive around here, I’ve found it’s best to wait it out through another cycle until I’m certain I’ll have enough time to make it across the street. A few seconds after I’d come to a halt to wait, the young Hispanic guy next to me on the corner said, “You can go, papa—you got the light.”

            Well okay then, I figured. I thanked him and ventured out into the street. Halfway across the first lane, those grocery bags nearly pulling my left arm out of the socket, I heard this same guy behind me, still standing on the corner. “You got ten seconds, papa!” He shouted. “Nine!…Eight!…Seven!…”

            Yes, well, I survived, though I was nearly clipped by two garbage trucks rushing to beat the yellow light. A few days earlier I was just popping over to the bodega across the street. It’s a regular morning errand to get the day’s beer and smokes, and usually takes about five minutes. Fifteen yards down the block to the corner where my reasonably quiet one-way street feeds into the avenue, then across the street to the store and back again. That morning, however, a massive city truck of some kind was parked across the crosswalk. Getting around it meant stepping into the busy avenue, where all the drivers seem to have that drunken, murderous twinkle in their eye. Best thing to do, I figured, was stick close to the truck, just feel my way around it until I got to the driver’s side door, then continue across the street to the bodega. But only after getting around the cab of the truck did I discover the entire intersection was a mass of vehicles, some moving, others parked. Christ, so I decided to give it a try anyway. It was only a single lane street, for god sakes. With cars trying to turn onto the avenue around me, others parked in my path, and the traffic on the avenue whizzing past a bit too close for comfort, I soon realized I had no idea where I was or what direction I was headed.

            “Hold it!” A man screamed. “I’ll come and help you!”

            Well, that was a relief. So I stood there in the middle of the street waiting for this guy to squeeze himself between far too many cars to get to me. “Where you going?” He asked as he took my arm.

            “Just across the street,” I said, gesturing with the cane.

            He walked me around several moving and stationary vehicles, then dropped me on the sidewalk. “You all set now?” He asked.

            “You bet,” I told him. “Thanks. That was pretty harrowing.”

            “Yeah, we’re just doing some work here,” he said with no further explanation.

            He left, and I turned to go into the store. Only to find there was no store there anymore, just a brick wall. The wheelchair ramp was gone, the coin-operated horsey ride was gone, the gumball machines were gone. What the hell? What the fuck happened to the store? At moments like that, the brain starts spinning in crazy illogical circles. Had the store closed down since yesterday morning? I don’t just mean someone pulling down the metal gate out front, but had it been completely dismantled and removed, only to be replaced with a brick wall? No, of course not. That’s stupid. I would have heard something. So where the hell was it? In all the confusion, had that helpful sort run me across the avenue and deposited me on the opposite corner without my realizing it? That made more sense, I guess. But if that was the case, which way do I need to go? I was completely turned around. Which street do I need to cross to get to the damn store? I had no landmarks, nothing at all to go on apart from this brick wall. I suppose I could just methodically start crossing the streets from corner to corner until I found the store. That made sense, but given the traffic and the drivers, it would likely mean getting killed. Best to just wait until some other (more) helpful pedestrian came along to point me in the right direction. I put on my best “lost and confused” face and waited, occasionally reaching out to feel the brick wall again just to make sure there really wasn’t a bodega right there behind me.

            About ten minutes later a middle-aged woman strolled past with her dog. “Do you need help crossing the street?” She asked.

            “No, but I would appreciate it if you could tell me where the hell I am.”

            She told me I was on the southwest corner of the intersection, facing north. I thought about this a moment, pulled up a map in my head to figure out those specific coordinates. Realizing where I was at last, my shoulders slumped. That fucking do-gooder who’d helped me across the street through all that traffic had dropped me off back on my own corner.

            Oh, and here’s one more tip to file away. If you’re in a car and you see a blindo on the corner waiting to cross, do not try and communicate with him by tooting your horn. A lot of people do this, but from a blind perspective, a horn toot can mean one of two things, and it’s never clear which. It either means, “The light’s changed, the coast is clear, and you’re free to cross safely, sir.” Or it can just as easily mean, “You better stay right the fuck where you are, because I’m coming through and I’m not stopping for a goddamn thing! You got me, pops?”

            As one woman at the corner of 81st Street succinctly put it, after telling me there were no cars coming so it was safe to cross, “You shouldn’t be walking around.”

            “Yeah, I know,” I told her. “Normally I’d be driving, but this morning I couldn’t find my car.”

 

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