Walk this way

Several months ago I wrote about my routine of commuting downtown for my internship. In that particular column, I mentioned the “commuter shuffle” – the type of supersonic walk that I, and many other morning pedestrians, take to and from work. Now that my internship is winding down, I thought it might be entertaining to examine some of the major obstacles that retard the twice-daily jaunt to my internship.

Metra

I used to think that Metra was reliable. Then I started using it regularly. I am a captive rider three days a week, making a total of six rides. In a single week, the first four of those six rides were late. I was on my way to the fifth ride when the train, with its oh-so-fickle sense of humor, decided to show up five minutes early, leaving me sprinting to catch my ride.

On any sort of tight deadline? Don’t expect to make it. Last week, I had an important audition on campus at 6:45 p.m. The train was scheduled to arrive in Lake Forest at 6:30 which left me 15 minutes to walk to campus. What happened on that trip? The engine broke down in Evanston. After finally arriving in Lake Forest, I was left sprinting… again. I’ve probably exercised quite a bit by taking Metra, but the mental burdens healthily outweigh the physical gains (pun intended).

Now, Metra delays the commuter shuffle from even happening. Once my feet hit the ground and I start traveling at warp speed, there is an entirely different set of obstacles to face.

Slow Walkers

Walking east on Madison Ave. at 8 a.m. should be like joining a school of turtles from Finding Nemo and riding a smooth current. But instead of yelling “Gnarly!” like the elder surfer turtle, I’m left wishing I had a shell to smash my head on because I get stuck behind slow walkers. These businessmen or women chat on their cell phone or email on their Blackberry, not caring who they’re holding up. It is for this reason that I would like to institute a standard pacing speed (SPS) for all urban areas.

It’s easy enough to pass someone not at SPS by weaving through the crowd. That is, unless there’s five or six of them abreast walking to a common destination. At these times I feel like playing a modified game of “Red Rover” and gaining enough speed to break through their barricade.

Zig-Zaggers

A zig-zagger is a special type of slow walker. Albeit less common, he or she is far more irritating. I can handle zooming around a slow walker. But a zig-zagger, as the name implies, unknowingly weaves left and right on their lethargic trek, thwarting me every time I try to pass. I’m left looking like Bugs Bunny tailing behind Elmer Fudd as he goes hunting, except somehow the comic effect is lost on me at the time.

Hot-Shot Traffic Cops

All pedestrians invariably must cross streets at some point. In order to assist in this process, the City of Chicago has employed a legion of traffic management officers. I don’t have a problem with most of these men and women; they do a fine job. A few, however, really know how to stall my engine.

At the corner of Washington and State, when the north-south traffic light turns green, the corresponding pedestrian signal delays before the red hand turns into the little walking man. This allows the northbound traffic to turn right before we walkers take the street.

Unlike others, I am a law-abiding person when it comes to this rule; I wait until the little walking man appears before I sally forth. On several occasions, however, the traffic officer sees it fit to allow traffic to turn right, and then continue to turn through the pedestrian walk signal. And when I attempt to lawfully cross, he blows his whistle and makes the “Moses parting the Red Sea” gesture, meaning both sides of pedestrians should stay on their respective corners.

Talk about abuse of power. I’m not sure what fiefdom he’s presiding over, but the last time I checked, pedestrians have the right of way in the state of IL. Especially in crosswalks. Especially when there’s a ‘walk’ signal. Sometimes I think I should make a citizen’s arrest.

Since these hot-shot traffic cops like controlling pedestrians so much, maybe they should be put in a position where they could do it more often – like enforcing the SPS. Then I’d have a solution to most of my problems.

That is, of course, if Metra doesn’t derail.

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