washingtonpost.com  > Metro > Columnists > John Kelly
John Kelly's Washington

A Mere Pedestrian Complaint

By John Kelly
Wednesday, December 1, 2004; Page C11

Dear Mr. Chrysler Pacifica Driver:

You might recall, sir, that you almost ran me over the other day when I was crossing the street.

_____Children's Campaign_____
Washington Post columnist John Kelly is raising money for the Children's National Medical Center, one of the nation's leading pediatric hospitals. You may make a tax-deductible contribution online anytime between Nov. 29th and Jan. 21st. Thank you for your support.
_____By John Kelly_____
The Careful Path Into a Boy's Brain (The Washington Post, Nov 30, 2004)
Answer Man: Much More Than a Building (The Washington Post, Nov 29, 2004)
Dreaming of a Megawatt Christmas (The Washington Post, Nov 28, 2004)
Home Sweet Somewhere (The Washington Post, Nov 19, 2004)
More Columns
_____Live Discussions_____
John Kelly's Washington Live (Live Online, Dec 3, 2004)
John Kelly's Washington Live (Live Online, Nov 19, 2004)
John Kelly's Washington Live (Live Online, Nov 12, 2004)
_____Michael Kelly Columns_____
Not a White-Lights Person (The Washington Post, Apr 5, 2003)
Across the Euphrates (The Washington Post, Apr 3, 2003)
Limited War, So Far (The Washington Post, Mar 30, 2003)
About Michael Kelly

I think that you somehow found me at fault for this near-collision. I think you felt that there was something audacious about my desire to cross L Street NW while you were trying to turn onto it from 16th Street.

The misunderstanding arose, I think, in the brief glance that we exchanged when the light turned green. You took my look to mean, "Please, after you." Whereas I, fool that I was, thought that the circumstances (a freshly illuminated walk sign) and my own body language (stepping into the crosswalk and placing one foot in front of the other in an action that we bipeds call "walking") made it clear that I was going to go first.

In fact, we exchanged two looks, didn't we? One when the light first changed and I started to cross the street and another when I saw you bearing down on me.

This second look, I think, is actually the more interesting one, because with it you telegraphed your impatience. With just a look, you said, "I know you are in the crosswalk, but I don't think you want to argue with my 4,000 pounds of steel, rubber and imitation wood grain."

And yet I kept walking, didn't I? And there was a brief instant when it looked as if you intended to turn me into a pinstripe-suited, black-raincoated, Kenneth Cole-shod, fedora-hatted smudge on the asphalt.

Did time seem to stand still? No, that would be an exaggeration, for just when it looked like I might be a goner -- my expense-account Cobb salad barely digested in my stomach -- you stopped. You didn't look too happy about it, but you stopped.

That's when I wanted time to stand still. I wanted to pull from my raincoat a table and chair and teapot and then sit down in the crosswalk and have a cup of tea while idly looking at my watch.

I would have sat there for the entire time that the walk light was on: 12 seconds. That's right: 12 seconds. (I went back and timed it.)

Count with me: one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi, four-Mississippi, five-Mississippi, six-Mississippi, seven-Mississippi, eight-Mississippi, nine-Mississippi, 10-Mississippi, 11-Mississippi, 12-Mississippi.

It seems an eternity, doesn't it? But in fact it's only one-72,000th of a day. I think you would have been able to make it up by simply depressing the accelerator pedal a tad more after allowing me to cross.

I've been trying to think where you could have been going in such a hurry. Had you been bitten by a Gaboon viper, and were you desperate for the precious antivenin? Did you have human organs for transplant chilling in a Coleman cooler on the seat next to you?

I know it's inconvenient to have to wait for pedestrians. I feel it myself sometimes when I'm car-bound and I want to make a turn: C'mon, all you pedestrians.

Part of the problem, I think, is that word: pedestrian. It means ordinary, dull, lackluster. I think we might all have more respect for pedestrians if we used a different word or phrase, maybe something like, oh I don't know, "American heroes."

"Please yield to American heroes in the crosswalk."

Would that make you more likely to wait for a few seconds and let us pass?

Or -- and I'm just brainstorming here -- we could come up with another definition for the term that describes you: "SUV driver." It could have another meaning, the way "pedestrian" does. I'm thinking something like, "Watch out, you almost stepped in some SUV driver" or "Ugh, this lasagna tastes like SUV driver."

I think it would help level the playing field.

But I digress.

Do you remember how after I scooted past your fender, I turned toward you and said, "No, no, no, no, no!"

This wasn't very articulate, I admit. My only defense is that it's not what I wanted to say. I wanted to, as the expression goes, "let loose with a stream of invective." And then I wanted to pull from my coat pocket a balloon filled with brake fluid and throw it at your vehicle, secure in the knowledge that it would eat away at your paint job.

But I didn't do this because:

a. I was returning from lunch with my new assistant, and I didn't want her to see me on her first day behave like someone who routinely lets loose with a stream of invective, and

b. I didn't have a brake fluid-filled balloon in my coat pocket.

Well, I think I've said enough. I hope that from now on you'll be a little more careful.


The Guy You Almost Ran Over the Other Day

© 2004 The Washington Post Company