Howling Pedestrians Unite and Do Something. Anything.

I am normally pretty good-humored. But I’ve recently become quite testy about almost getting run over on a regular basis on the streets of downtown Austin. I know I have my faults and all that, but I do think I deserve something better than ending up as roadkill, plastered on the front grill of some moron’s pickup truck.

I seem to be in the minority when it comes to this view, however. Texas’ driving motto is, “Drive friendly,” for God’s sake, and I have no idea what’s so damned friendly about scaring the hell out of hapless pedestrians.

But who am I to judge? That’s right. I’m not here to judge. I just want to get even.

Twice in the past week, I’ve watched as a couple of tons of steel has roared and throttled toward me, only braking grudgingly at the last minute. I’d love to say I maintained my equanimity and zenlike serenity through it all, and uttered some memorable exit line that might make it into Bartlett’s.

But, oh no. The pathetic truth is, I froze and screamed bloody murder both times. (It’s not bad enough to almost get creamed and smeared on the asphalt, is it? No. I also have to humiliate myself in the process.)

Maybe, I think, if I start carrying something large and weapon-like, I will begin to get some respect from drivers. (I don’t think my purse — although large and heavy enough to cause me to list permanently to one side — will do the trick.)

An umbrella? Nobody in Texas carries umbrellas for the sun and, since it hasn’t rained here in 600 years, people might think I am certifiably deranged and will avoid provoking me. A woman of a certain age, trudging in triple-digit heat with an umbrella and a preemptive scowl on her face, might frighten some people, no?


I consider and discard other promising objects to carry, such as a shotgun or a lifesized, cardboard cutout of that preening dolt, Rick Perry or a placard reading, “Warning, I am litigious and my lawyer is sleazy.” No, no and no. I’d like to maintain a little dignity.

I am thinking about all of this — pedestrians’ rights, the murderous negligence of Texas drivers, the merciless heat, the cruel Darwinian streets — when I realize I am late to a meeting at a nearby civic center. I jump in my car and barrel down the street.

Two blocks away, the left-hand turn lane is backed up and I wait impatiently. Finally, traffic begins to move. I make my turn directly in front of a bicyclist opposite me who’s trying to go straight. He has the right of way, but the rest of us in our cars are bigger.

As I pass directly in front of him, I glance at his face. He’s stopped in the middle of the road, letting us all pass in front of him, his face a mixture of impatience and withering contempt for our swinish behavior.

Withering contempt! I’ll have to remember that expression for the next time I occupy the moral high ground. It stings for a couple of seconds, but I move on. After all, you see, I’m in a hurry.

(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)

To learn how to handle a crisis badly, read crisis is my middle name







14 comments… add one
  • Okay, you made me think of a video I saw a long time ago. You need to rethink that big bag accessory. It has some extra-special attributes you may not have considered.


  • ruthpennebaker Link

    That woman is my new role model.

  • Loved the video! As we get older we can get away with a lot…

  • As a reluctant cyclist (I need to more rather than run because of bad knees), it never ceases to amaze me how people pass you on a country road. They seem offended if they need move an inch over the yellow line. Normal people get weird behind the wheel. Or maybe their hidden anger comes shining through.

  • Mark Link

    It is the utter contempt most Texas drivers have for pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, etc. Actually, the entire slogan is “Drive Friendly, Walk only in cases of extreme emergency.” And this week I got an email from our state senator declaring that he will work hard to make traffic move faster on Lamar Blvd. As one who crosses it regularly, I know that’s the last thing we need.

  • Sheryl Link

    Yes, cars usually win out against pedestrians since they’re bigger. But once in a while, I’m amazed when someone actually STOPS at a crosswalk and waves me across.

  • I would absolutely not want traffic to move any faster on Lamar Bolulevard either. the only thing I’ll say is that there are worse cities than (most of) Austin while being on foot. Savannah, anyone? and there’s always Dallas…

    Ruth, you know, I think that carrying the umbrella thing might have possibilities, though –perhaps an orange one, as football season’s here.

  • Susan Link

    I’m a city girl who didn’t drive for eight years (it’s been even longer since I was on a bike), and now I drive in constant fear of hitting a bicyclist (I saw a guy get through from his motorcycle by a car right near my house).

  • What a breath of fresh air your blog is! I always come away with a smile.

  • The 600 years bit made me laugh out loud (though I’m sure you’re not laughing down there, so I apologize for that). Maybe you should get one of those Southern parasol thingies. The black feathered one here is pretty cool:

  • I too have thought about wearing some sort of neon placard reading “IT’S THE LAW-STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS” when I take my life into my hands walking to the train every day. Not that it would do any good.

  • Having done my M.A. in Austin, I know from experience it takes a certain kind of nerve to be a pedestrian there. Nerves of steel and a willingness to stare someone down with a look that says “Hit me. I DARE YOU. I’ve got a thesis due in a week and I NEED a good excuse for it to be late!”

  • We have car-pedestrian issues here too–despite cones and crosswalks and yellow signs that tell cars to stop. They still almost run us over. It’s sad. Then I go somewhere like Denver where they practically stop all day to wait for you the cross the street and I am in heaven.

  • Some towns set up police traps and ticket cars that don’t stop for pedestrians–maybe you need to give them a call. Hey, how are you holding up with the fires in your area?

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