I do a lot of walking in Georgetown. I've got the bruises to prove it. I'm even tempted to telephone home to see if my parents have kept my high school football shoulder pads.
Times have changed, and it's gotten a little dangerous out there. Not very long ago, it seems, reasonable folks managed to negotiate crowded sidewalks with instinctive courtesy. As others approached, shoulders were unsquared and collisions were deftly avoided. If even the slightest brush had occurred, a "pardon me" was usually uttered.
These days, more and more people seem to think they own the sidewalk and that everyone who gets in their way is an insulting inconvenience. The evidence of this decline in manners can be found among people of all ethnic and racial groups, from all levels of income. There are self-absorbed and fashionable groups who go into the "maximum spread syndrome" on the sidewalk. If there are four people in the group, they walk four abreast, and they appear to be oblivious to all underlings on the street. When some people actually step aside to let them pass, they say nothing, as if society had always intended for it to be that way.
There are "Type A" people who are thinking about that next meeting or salary review, totally unaware that they've just trampled someone.
Then there are the military types who have applied that old armed force recruiting slogan, "It's not just a job ... it's an adventure," to walking on the sidewalk. "Oh, excuse me. Did I just shoulder you into that lamppost? Sorry, must be that hand-to-hand combat training." Can't we find a war somewhere for these guys?
The streets also seem to be overpopulated with young people who have had a lousy day, or who are just plain angry about something. They march with one thought in mind: "I'm walking straight through here, and woe to anyone who gets in my way." They seem to take particular delight in shouldering their way through crowds and even between couples who are holding hands. And if anyone does not get out of their way, that person is the offender and may be threatened, insulted or worse. After a few trips up and down the avenue, having left footprints on several pedestrians, they appear to feel better about themselves.
Women tend to be above displays of macho walking. Among men, even normally civil types tend to be drawn into these little forms of urban warfare, particularly if they happen to be accompanied by wives or female friends. You can't exactly allow yourself to be belted off the curb, and you surely can't be so submissive as to yield to all of the sidewalk buffoons. So, stand your ground. Heck, lean into a few people, and then don't say excuse me. That seems to be a big part of all this. The women who accompany such men tend to suffer most at these times. It happened to me once. I refused to get out of the way of three surly types who were shouldering their way toward us. As I continued past them, talking to the woman friend who had been right beside me, I noticed that she was several paces behind, having been swept into a bush on the tree lawn.
We stopped driving into Georgetown because street parking is nonexistent and because tickets are handed out with a vengeance. The rates at the private parking lots are also outrageous. We stopped taking cabs because we were tired of arguing with drivers who were lying about the fares.
So, on Friday nights, we would wind down from the work week with a leisurely stroll over to M Streets and Wisconsin. We weren't there to bar hop or to shop, just there to walk. Now, I'm considering a change in tactics: biking to Georgetown. I'll take my chances with the cars, buses and trucks on the street. I'm more likely to get hurt on the sidewalks. -- Ronald D. White is a member of the editorial page staff.