The first time you get stopped for jaywalking - and it's happening to the best of us these days - you pay up five bucks and figure you have a good story for the office. The second time you're downright mean, you lecture the officer on what kinds of criminals he OUGHT to be arresting and fork over another fiver. The third time, well, you throw in the towel and beg the cop not to put a Denver boot on your foot.
At the current rate, twice as many jaywalking tickets will be served up this year as last year to two-legged offenders in the District. That would be some 12,000 offending walkers. Crime in the streets has taken on a new meaning. No longer can you play O.J. Simpson-for-Hertz mid-block from curb to curb. No longer can you store that one block of energy for the three-martini lunch.
Although no jaywalker has yet made the 10 Most Wanted, it's clear that the Washington police department is out to clean up the streets.
And the jaywalkers are angry. With every passing ticket they kick up thier heels and berate the gendarmes with less than Aristotelian logic.
"When I'm driving and a cop stops me for going too fast, I can always say I wasn't speeding. When a cop stops me for walking, I can't tell him I wasn't walking."
"The cop stops me and asked for my driver's license. Why should I need a driver's license to walk?"
"What are you doing her when right now someone's being killed or raped?"
These pedestrians are waving the tickets as though they are the "pink badge of courage" against motorists.
Jaywalking has become the unpopular fact of life and the most popular topic of conversation in D.C. social circles. Ambassadors, corporation heads, jurnalists all talk about their recent walk-in with the police. The only people who won't talk about it are the police when they serve the ticket. "All they do is give you a hard time when you stop them." says officer M. M. Johnson, so he just won't talk to jaywalkers.
The police have their own logic to their jaywalking mania. They want to protest pedestrians from cars, cabs, bicycles, buses, motorcycles, trucks and lately, skateboards. Tickets might save lives.
In 1977 there 1,093 accidents involving pedestrians, resulting in 1,140 injuries and 29 deaths in the District. Nationwide the pedestrian accident rate has increased 30 percent since 1963.
To push the safety program, the local police have allocated $30,000 this year, up from $10,000 last year, and so far there have been fewer injuries and deaths. Next year even more money will be set aside for the program.
The First District around Capitol Hill is a heavily patrolled area, as is downtown D.C. between 20th and 14th streets from K Street to M Street from 7 to 9 a.m., noon to 2, and 4 to 6 p.m., but you can get a summons anytime anyday.
In my early days with all the warnings planted firmly in my head I decided to try jaywalking one day on the way to school.
Chancing to dash across a busy street to save walking to the corner, I misjudged the speed of what I thought was a slow-moving car.
We made contact, he with his right fender and me with my left buttock. Knocked off my stride, I rolled over into the gutter and up onto the sidewalk. The driver stopped his car and I got up and ran reasoning that the nuns would bestow some medieval punishment upon me for having crossed before the corner.
He chased me through two alleys, across a creek, the railroad tracks and gave up at a freight train siding. I guess he figured that the speeding kid may not have been injured.
Fear not, jaywalkers of the world, you CAN walk across the street at ANY time at ANY place. You won't get hit and you don't have to get caught. Herewith a few handy tips for the feet from The Pedestrian's Manifesto.
Act like a happy-go-lucky galoot. The Happy Hoofer will never be stopped. Carry a white, puffy hat in your pocket. When the policeman stops you, just tell him you lost your ice cream cart and you just had to check the obvious spots first. Or tell him you just heared Steven Martin's Happy Feet routine for the first time and "honestly, officer, my feet just run away with me. Nothing I could do. Go aead, arrest my feet but, please, let the rest of me go." Or just point out to the law that you're a conscientious, taxpaying American with an artistic bent and you wanted to see if the stripe painters did as good a job in the middle of the block as they did at the ends.
And always remember when you're jaywalking that jay - as in jaywalker - means "a provincial loon."