in which i look both ways before dashing madly across the street

It has been said that you are not a real New Yorker until you have

a)      Stolen a cab from someone who needed it more than you

b)      Cried on the subway and not cared who saw you

c)      Killed a cockroach with your bare hands.

All true.

I would like to submit that you are not a Chicagoan until you have crossed a busy street against the light, then stood on the island in the middle waiting for traffic to slow while you get honked at.

Crossing the street in Chicago is like playing Russian roulette: one in six times, you will probably die. I’ve been told all my life that drivers from my home state of Utah are some of the worst in the nation because of their ineptitude. Which is true. I’m fairly certain a large chunk of people behind the wheel in Utah often spontaneously forget how to drive. However, I would like to submit that Chicago drivers are equally as dangerous because of how skilled they are. They skid, then swerve, they shimmy down alleys, they parallel park like a boss. They make impossible turns, drive at impossible speeds, and sit on their horn behind anyone who dares to not drive as well as they do.

Chicago driving is awesome. It is also perilous, particularly to pedestrians. Which is mostly what I am.

How people cross the street is a great way to spot who is from Chicago, and who is not1. The tourists will stand on the corner and patiently wait for the light to change. Chicagoans cross at the first opportunity, not matter the color of the light. They sprint as traffic speeds towards them, dodging between cars and narrowly avoiding being flattened like the pizza they take so much pride in2. They will cross if there are cars coming in only one direction, then stop half way, and wait in the middle of the street, even if there is no island on which to wait. It’s fine, they’ll stand in the turn lane. Anything so that they get across the street fourteen seconds sooner.

Being of sound mind and rather cautious instincts, when I first arrived in Chicago I was immediately overwhelmed by the driving. Crossing the street felt like a footrace against death, even when I was in the crosswalk with the little white man3 signaling to me that it was my turn – my turn taxis, not yours, MINE! Even when I looked both ways and saw nothing coming, I wouldn’t cross unless the little white man told me it was okay. Even if all the other people around me did, leaving me standing on the corner looking like an idiot, I would not cross.

At all the crosswalks in the city, there are countdown clocks, which tell you how long you have to get across before the light changes. When I first arrived, if the clock was anything less than ten, I would wait. Even when other people sprinted across with two seconds or less and made it. I would stop. Like a good upstanding citizen that I am.

You people are crazy, I thought. I will never be like you.

But as I have become more practiced at navigating Chicago’s landscape, I have started crossing the street more and more like a Chicagoan. I don’t always wait for the little white man to blink at me. Sometimes I run across with three second left on the countdown clock.

And then yesterday, I found myself standing on that little concrete island in the middle of Michigan Ave., with a green light and cars speeding by me.

And I thought, I have arrived.

Though whether I had arrived at true Chicago assimilation or a state of pure idiocy is yet to be decided.

  1. Fanny packs, giant cameras, and socks with sandals are also good indicators.
  2. Though it occurs to me Chicago-style pizza is anything but flat. ‘Robust’ would be a better word for it.
  3. How has there not been a racial discrimination lawsuit over this yet?
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4 thoughts on “in which i look both ways before dashing madly across the street

  1. Ah, you’ve gone from German* to Chicagoan, and now you’re ready to become a Bostonian as well! I recently had to tell some (obviously out-of-town) pedestrians that it’s OK to jaywalk here. The only difference is that I don’t race traffic; my philosophy is that if they make me run, they win. (I am considerate, however. I would never just saunter across the street if someone were waiting for me to cross. In that way I am not a real Bostonian.)

    *In Germany one DOES NOT jaywalk. Even if there’s no traffic as far as the eye can see. One who jaywalks not only sets a bad example for the children** but risks the German Look of Absolute Disapproval, and believe me, you do NOT want to be on the receiving end of the German Look of Absolute Disapproval.

    **This is a cultural phenomenon I found all over Germany, from northern Deutschland to Bavaria. People would tell me in all seriousness they had nothing against jaywalking personally, but “it sets a bad example for the children.” The anti-jaywalking signs at every crossing even say “Nur bei GRÜN–den Kindern ein Vorbild!” (“only on green–be an example for the children!”). (It is perfectly acceptable, however, to smoke while biking.)

  2. Bill says:

    I’ve only been to America twice and both times i went to New York, the first time I was 16 the second this year. I was amused by the “traffic lights” since they seemed more like they were suggestions than actually guidelines, I tended to have to cross the street at a reasonable pace to avoid any possibility of getting made a bonnet decoration. I think I jay walked once which i looked for any cops first if only because i was expressly told that it wasn’t like in England where if you had an empty or traffic lulled street you crossed. But you know that Mackenzi since you have been to our jolly old isle.
    I think it is a constant war between pedestirans and drivers when crossing the street. At least in busy cities like London and such. Again this was a laugh and I enjoyed your writing style greatly.

  3. Toot says:

    Clearly, your father is so disappointed in you.

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