Saturday, March 24, 2012

Walk Unafraid... and Unstupid.*

I've mentioned before that I work retail.  More specifically, I work retail in a mall.  This means that I spend an awful lot of time dealing with crowds of people.  This means that I spend an awful lot of time being really really frustrated at the appalling percentage of people who have no idea how to conduct themselves in public.  Somewhere along the line little things like etiquette, situational awareness, and the capacity for simple thought went out of vogue.  I miss them.

But today's rant/helpful guide is focused on one specific thing: walking.  Sounds simple, right?  One foot, then the other.  But my day-to-day has taught me that an appalling number of people are either unaware or unconcerned with the greater nuances of walking in a public space.

And so I bring you:

How to Walk In Public Without Being a Moron

Rule #1:  Watch where you're going, dammit.

Does this seem obvious?  I thought so too.  But experience has taught me otherwise.  Do us all a favor.  Put your phone down for a second (or at least don't get mad when we laugh at you if something like this happens to you).  Stop reading the receipt from whatever you just bought or searching through your purse for your keys or whatever the hell you're doing and look at where you're going and what's around you.  We'll all be happier for it and you'll be less likely to wind up in a fountain.

If you need to do something that diverts your attention for more than a few seconds, stop walking.  Which brings us to...

Rule #2:  Watch where you're STOPPING, dammit.

Places that are not OK to just stop suddenly and have a conversation/look for your keys/drool on yourself:

• entrances, exits and/or doorways of any kind
• the middle of the sidewalk
• any aisle or walkway not wide enough for people to easily get around you
• the top or bottom of the escalator
• right outside the elevator

Would you just stop your car in the middle of an intersection?  No.  Because your car would get hit and you would wind up in a neck brace paying for someone else's car repair.  But the fact that pedestrian collisions don't (usually) end in fiery balls of twisted metal is no excuse to act like an idiot.  Take a few steps out of the doorway or past the end of the stairway.  If you're in the middle of a mall, step to the side of the foot traffic area.  In short, get the hell out of the way.  Other people have places to go and having to suddenly change course because you are unaware that other people exist isn't fun.

Rule #3:  It's a small world.

You're out with your five best friends.**  You're walking.  You're each about a foot away from one another and you're weaving together and apart like some sort of semi-sentient giant amoeba.  You're doing this at a glacial pace.  I HATE YOU.

I know we all like our personal space, but sometimes you have to suck it up for the sake of not being a jerk.  Other people will want to move around you, and you taking up as much space as possible and moving to and fro in weird, unpredictable ways makes that annoying, if not impossible.  Be aware of how much space you're taking up.  (There's actually an old Goofus and Gallant strip that deals with this, but I can't find it.  Oh well.)

By the way, this goes for those enormous monstrosities we call strollers nowadays, too.

Rule #4:  Watch your kids.

Kids are fast.  Kids do not understand (or much care for) logic.  Kids, while aware that other people exist, often don't give a shit because they're laser-focused on any one of 400 other things at any given time.  So if you're in charge of a kid in a public place, keep them close.  Hold their hand.  React in some way when they dart out in a random direction suddenly, trip someone, or just up and run away from you.  (Honestly, I wonder how more kids don't wind up kidnapped or accidentally falling into meat grinders with the way parents seem to ignore them, but that's another post for another day.)

Sure, you're not going to catch them every time.  But even trying means that you're teaching them how to exist in public, and that would really do wonders for the next generation since so many adults ambling around now are basically a lost cause.

Rule #5:  Passing lanes aren't just for drivers.

There's sort of an unwritten rule of escalators:  walk left, stand right.  Some people like to walk up or down the escalator for extra speed.  Some people like to coast.  Obeying this simple rule makes both kinds of people happy.

Do you like to walk slow?  Do you just mosey along, letting your mind wander as you saunter along?  If so... well, I just don't understand you.  But more importantly, be aware that not everyone shares your zen world view and open schedule and please get to the side.

Are you a speed demon?  Do you zip to and from your destinations like you're training to be the first carless NASCAR champ?  (This is more like me.)  If so, be aware that not everyone is in such a rush.  Look for courteous opportunities to pass slower walkers, and don't bump people as you zip by because you're too busy rushing to pay attention (remember Rule #1!).

There are probably a million more ways we can all be less annoying to our fellow bipedals, but these are sort of my top five.  These are the things about which I mutter under my breath while zipping and weaving through the crowds on my lunch break.  Got any other suggestions/pet peeves?

*Post title is a bastardized R.E.M. song title. I'm sorry, Michael Stipe.
**You clicked that?  You fool!  You're welcome for the earworm.


  1. I have a few additons
    1) realize that some people may be going in the opposite direction of you in a narrow area (34th street entrance to LIRR is an example of this) Do not hit people with your bags, lay your shoulder in to them, just because they are trying to go the opposite direction you are and are trying to get by a mass of people, being polite, etc.
    2)add in top or bottom of stair cases as a bad place to stop
    3) staying to the right on stairs, not shoving by people going one direction, when they are staying to the right side, just because you are in a rush. Chances are, if it is during working hours, so are they.

    As for #1 on your list, oh gods yes please. When I want to look at my phone, I stand off to the side, near a pole or wall where I am not in the way to look at my phone, then I go back to walking.

  2. My number one pedestrian pet peeves are BFFs (both males and females do this) who pretty much walk with their shoulders touching in a space only wide enough for two people, and couples who REFUSE to stop holding hands in order to allow others to pass them- you really can't stop touching and go single file for ONE minute so I can get by without doing something drastic? I have frequently considered stopping and telling these people what's wrong with what they're doing, but I have places to be- that's usually why I'm walking.

  3. can you please come over to London and explain this to the vast majority of idiots over here? I have a terrible confession, if I see someone walking towards me with their head in the phone and not looking where they're walking.. .. I will suddenly take that moment to crouch to the ground to tie my shoelaces. That USUALLY grabs their attention, and if it doesn't well gravity usually does very shortly afterwards.

    Jerk? I am .. probably.

    1. London is better than many places for this, if only because they DID write that rule down on the Underground.

  4. "You're walking. You're each about a foot away from one another and you're weaving together and apart like some sort of semi-sentient giant amoeba. You're doing this at a glacial pace. I HATE YOU."

    THIS. A thousand times THIS. Chicagoans and suburbanites here are the worst when it comes to this.

  5. Re kids: one time I was standing in the queue at McDonalds and I felt a thing roughly "football" density and size hit my leg. My immediate response was to draw back said leg to kick it. Noticing the weirdness of a football in McDonalds I looked down to see a stunned Nigerian baby of no more than two years old sitting on the ground. His mother knew what I had been going to do, and apparently this reflex was my fault. Not important enough for her to stand up though, oh no.

    Also I think Irish people really are so good at that whole Guerilla Warfare thing due to some genetic quirk that allows us to find vital choke points and occupy them. I once saw a woman in Boots manage to block THREE aisles with ONE buggy.