Zombie Pedestrians

Once upon a time in a land called America, schoolchildren were taught how to cross the street by their parents or their older siblings. Red light means the cars stop, and green light means the cars go. Wait for the red light and make sure the cars have stopped, look both ways, carefully cross the street. For decades, first graders across the nation successfully crossed the street without tens of thousands of dollars' worth of flashing lights and annoying beeping and counting and pictures of a cute little walking man at every stinking intersection.

Those early pedestrians understood that the cars were bigger than they were, and that they needed to pay attention to the traffic and what was going on around them; a grasp on reality that many of today's pedestrians have not yet achieved. As more and more laws are enacted on the pedestrian's behalf giving him the 'right of way', fewer and fewer pedestrians are taught what the right of way is or how it works. The phrase itself is frequently reduced to a weapon, something righteous for disgruntled have-nots to hold on to and disparagingly yell at those they perceive to be the haves.

Being granted the right of way means the legal right of one entity to proceed with precedence over others in a particular situation or place.

Here are some things that having the right of way does not mean:
  • It does not mean that cars can't crush you and bikes can't run you down and that you are invulnerable.
  • It does not mean that you have no-fault insurance; that you can't be held liable for an accident.
  • It does not mean that it is OK to dawdle your way across a six lane highway while twelve cars are waiting in the left turn lane, eight of which will have to wait for another light cycle because you are poking.
    Pedestrians expect drivers to be courteous toward them but seemingly never consider returning the favor. Hustle across the street when you can! It is OK for pedestrians to be considerate too.
  • It does not mean that you can stop paying attention to the world around you. Walking down the street staring at your phone, crossing intersections and parking lot entrances without ever looking up is both dangerous and stupid.
A wise man once noted that the only thing you know for certain when you see another driver's directional blinking, is that his directional is blinking. Similarly, the only thing you know for certain while blindly walking down the street empowered with the right of way, is that you are entitled to the right of way. You do not know if every driver and biker sees you and is willing and able in that moment to accommodate you. It is reasonable for pedestrians to expect drivers to be paying attention and it is just as reasonable for drivers to expect pedestrians to be paying attention.

Pedestrians are a part of traffic, not above it.

Not everything that looks like progress automatically is. Do the crosswalk lights and timers make us a safer society, or just lazy? Or worse? Early in the morning in Any City, USA you can find people waiting for the little walking man to give them permission to cross the street, though ten minutes have passed since the last car did. Is it a fear of getting caught crossing against the light that maintains them on the corner like zombies, or more frighteningly, did crossing against the light never even occur to them?

Perhaps the issue is neither safety nor laziness, but conditioning. Law enforcement and government routinely use tricks like pulling drivers over for not using their directional to change lanes although there was no other driver behind them to see it, to turn citizens into less thoughtful beings.

Always use your directional.
Always wait for the walking man.
Don't think.

Pedestrians have the right of way.
Don't look.

Always do what the officer says.
Don't question.

Question everything!
Look around and around!
Most of all, think, think, think!

Cross when it's safe.
Blink when it is necessary.
Enjoy the right of way and be considerate.

We're all part of the same big traffic jam. The sooner we stop honking at each other, the sooner the traffic will clear.

I Don't (k)NO(w)

What do you have to do to get a straight answer there days? Oh, the politicians are bad enough, but when was the last time you needed help from a retail clerk?

Just for fun, go into a big box hardware store and ask one of the employees, "Do you carry elephants?" The employee will surely look at you with curious eyes, and repeat, "Elephants?" Nod affirmatively, and the employee will begin to answer with the correct response, which is no, and then remember that they are prohibited from saying no to a customer! Smoke may begin to wisp from their ears as a response is formulated, and eventually something along the lines of, "You may want to check with the zoo" may be mumbled out. If it wasn't sad it would be funny.

Not saying no to customers, as part of 'good customer service' has become more and more prevalent over the past ten-or-so years. Since company after company has imitatively adopted this policy, it has become nearly ubiquitous. As an extension of this 'no to saying no' policy, companies from Your Concierge Connection to Disney now also prohibit employees from saying I don't know to customers and clients.

Instead of no, employees are expected to offer a positive suggestion and instead of I don't know, employees are expected to create a response along the lines of, "Let me find our for you" or "Let me ask Dan about that". The gist of this - and it seems like the logic of someone that took Psych 101 and didn't bother with the reading or the lectures - is that never having a negative word uttered to you constitutes a positive customer experience. There aren't enough BBs in a shell to create as many holes as there are in that logic.

Nothing is more frustrating than asking the same question over and over and getting non-answers; just look at how little collective hair the WH Press Corps has left. And forgive me for saying it out loud, but with the exception of the retirees who are working to keep active and are likely to be more qualified to run the store than the people running it, with minimum wage jobs you get minimum wage education and minimum wage intelligence. Hey Lowes! We know they don't know. Don't you? It's OK - we just want a straight answer.

When asking, "Do you know where the buffet is?", the response, "I don't know, but I will find out for you" provides better customer service than, "Let me find out for you" because:
  1. it is honest, and
  2. it lacks the underlying irritation caused by not getting your question answered.
Whoever is writing these employee handbooks seems concerned about feelings, but does not account for actual feelings. They are trying to bully you into having a positive experience. "We did everything right and didn't say anything wrong, so we want you to go online and take your time to do our manager's job and rate my performance as very good - because you had a positive experience … Right?"

These policies are among the stupidest ever. "No, we don't carry elephants, and I don't know where you might find one" is a reasonable answer. "I don't know how to get to the Nook & Cranny Bookstore from here, but there are lots of ways to figure it out" is a reasonable answer. Why harness these hard-working employees with the task of dreaming up ways to not answer questions while irritating customers with non-answers and no help? Someone needs to take Psych 101 again!

A graduate of Portland State University, Steve (Reeno) Kloser is the author of Beginning Band - A Guide to Success and Let's Make Music - Classroom Recorder Course. He is also an accomplished teacher, conductor and composer, having penned numerous pieces including La Vida and Fly With Me.

Teacher, web developer, Packers fan and proud American, Reeno's usually slanted outlook often presents an unlikely perspective on issues old and new.
Reeno currently lives in Portland, OR.

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