So I almost killed this guy the other day. I was heading inbound on California at dusk, still adjusting to the change in light, when he darted in front of my cab.
The second I saw the figure in my periphery, I slammed on the brakes. But I was on the cable car tracks and my tires slid a little. I stopped about four feet from his kneecaps as he bolted past me without a lick of concern for his safety or my blood pressure, which hit triple digits in the process. I immediately rolled down the passenger side window and let the expletives fly.
We were both lucky. Him more than me, obviously. Still, I really do not want to cause anyone, even a moron, bodily harm.
I often joke that my job as a cab driver in San Francisco isn’t about driving so much as it is not hitting anything or anyone. You have to be hyperalert to keep track of all the movements in the street.
While searching for the increasingly elusive street hails, I’m constantly on the lookout for double-parked Uber-Lyfts. I anticipate the erratic maneuvers of out-of-town drivers, most of whom are also Uber-Lyfts. I navigate various sink holes and construction zones. I maintain a safe distance from bicyclists. I dodge suicidal pigeons and cantankerous seagulls. And most of all, I try not to hit the omnipresent jaywalkers.
It’s no wonder my eyes get so sore after my shifts.
Yeah, I know jaywalking is a San Francisco tradition. It’s part of the pedestrian culture of The City.
As a native Angeleno, I’ve always marveled at the differences between the two places when it comes to walking.
In L.A., you don’t jaywalk. Period. Besides a potential ticket, you’ll get run over. Walking in L.A. can be a blood sport. You have to look both ways 50 times before even crossing on the green, in case some douchebag in a Porsche is trying to outrun oncoming traffic. Everyone knows cars have the right of way there.
In San Francisco, the accepted practice used to be crossing once there were no more cars coming, regardless of whether the light was red or green. The stoplights here are brutal. Not a single car will be on the road and yet the signals continue to play out their lazy patterns. Plus, it’s usually chilly. Standing on a corner waiting for a green light in the cold is absurd.
These days, though, Vision Zero is being interpreted, literally, as the right to not look before stepping off the curb. Or to casually stroll into crosswalks with two seconds left, staring at a phone. Or, like my guy on California, to just walk in front of moving vehicles with the assumption they’ll stop because, “Hey, I’m walking here.”
Jaywalking isn’t confined to one demographic or one part of The City either. Whether driving through the Tenderloin, where swerving around zombies in the streets is par for the course, or the Marina, where people are like squirrels on a country road, jumping into traffic, freezing up for a second as you slam on your brakes and then carrying on like nothing happened. You need to have an eagle eye for wanton perambulators at all times.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Of course the cab driver wants to blame traffic-related injuries on the victims. And it’s true I’d like to see most major streets in this city restricted to commercial vehicles only. But as bewildering as jaywalking is to me, at the end of the day, who am I to judge people who wander into traffic? I am the king of poor life decisions.
Recently, I thought it was a good idea to get drunk, work on my laptop, talk on the phone and text at the same time. Now I’m facing a $1,200 bill from Apple for replacing the vodka drenched logic board. Without a computer, I’m writing my column on a manual typewriter and dictating it over the phone to my friend Stasia, who is a medical transcriptionist, and she emails me a copy to send right before my deadline.
And that’s just one example of my stupidity. I have a long list of regrettable activities over the past two months as my life has taken the drastic twists and turns of separation and inevitable divorce.
But I stay out of traffic.
As reckless as I may be, I don’t want to end it all splayed out on the hood of a Prius. I still have some dignity left.