January 2009

A stroll through Cortez

By Gail Binkly

I often think that being a pedestrian in Cortez is somewhat akin to playing a board game — the kind we used to play as kids, where you roll the dice and try to progress along a path to some goal. Along the way you would encounter unexpected obstacles and perils, but with luck and perseverance you could make it to your destination.

I’m a compulsive walker. As far as I’m concerned, walking beats all other forms of exercise. No gear, no hassle - you put on your shoes and go. So, because it’s maybe a mile and a half to my office, I usually walk to work. But along the way I frequently have to deal with annoyances and problems. Here are a few:

Loose dogs (detour 20 spaces). The minute I set out my front door, I face a decision: Which way to go in order to reduce the odds of encountering hostile dogs? Free-roaming, unfriendly canines are more common than you might think in a city with a leash law — especially after dark and on weekends, when the animal-control officer isn’t on duty. I’ve been menaced by Labs, a pit bull, a chow, and numerous mongrels. My “defense” is to stay still and remain calm, then slowly back away. Sometimes this results in my taking very circuitous routes downtown.

At times I consider carrying Mace, but would I be able to worm it free in time if an animal actually attacked? I’ve also considered toting a baseball bat, but it surely would make me conspicuous. So I use my intuition to try to guess what route will be safest, and hope for the best.

Icy sidewalks (go straight to the hospital). Obviously this isn’t a problem most of the year, and I understand that some folks can’t shovel their walks and not every path will be snow-free.

But city workers do need to coordinate with each other so the sidewalk on the west side of Mildred Avenue along Centennial Park stays clean. When there’s a good snow, workers come along with a machine and scrape the park sidewalks. Unfortunately, the snowplow then goes up and down Mildred and sprays snow from the street back onto the sidewalk — which becomes a lumpy, bumpy, icy mess.

And there is no reason that the entire stretch downtown along Main between, say, City Market and Slavens should not be shoveled.

Cyclists (step aside two spaces). In warmer weather I frequently have to dodge folks — and they aren’t always kids — riding a bike at breakneck speed along the sidewalk on Main Street. Although there are signs posted on Main saying, “No bicycles or skateboards on sidewalk,” the rule is widely ignored. Maybe it’s because the signs are so high up, you aren’t likely to notice them while riding a bike.

I certainly understand why no cyclist wants to pedal on Main Street itself, and I wouldn’t mind sharing the walk with them if they would just go slowly. If a cyclist ran into a pedestrian full force, somebody’s ribs might get broken, and they wouldn’t be the cyclist’s.

Motorists (leap backward five spaces — fast!). The real danger isn’t cyclists, it’s motorists. That’s because many are playing a game of their own called “Beat the Pedestrian.” Someone driving along Main and wanting to turn onto a side street spies a person on foot crossing that same side street. The driver thinks, “Oh, my gosh! If I slow down, I’ll have to wait four seconds for that person to cross and I really want to get to that thrift store!” So he/she careens around the intersection just in front of the startled pedestrian. A minuscule miscalculation and woops! biped soup.

Drivers also consider it their Godgiven right to shoot out of parking lots or alleys straight across the sidewalk without glancing to see whether a pedestrian might be in the area. And they hate it when they’re trying to turn onto Main from a side street and there are pedestrians in the crosswalk. They’ll nose so close to you that you can thump their car with a fist, something I’ve done innumerable times. (Where is that baseball bat when I need it?)

You feel a lot of ineffectual rage when you’re a pedestrian. Yes, I know we should smile beatifically and turn the other cheek lest someone pull out an AK-47, but it isn’t always easy. When I have to jump backward to dodge a big dualie, I’m so enraged I think of calling the cops, but if I started doing that, I’d be registering a complaint every day. The police have better things to do with their time.

I have yet to detect a clear pattern as to which drivers are rude and which are considerate (for I should note that some are very polite, waiting and waving me across. Thank you, thank you!). People in big trucks do tend to be ruder than people in passenger cars, and teenage girls and old men are the rudest of all, but there are always exceptions. In general, middle-aged drivers of both sexes seem the friendliest and most patient.

I have to admit that there are rude pedestrians too, lazy jokers who want to waddle across the street in the middle of a block, dodging traffic like the hapless “Frogger” in that old video game. The difference, of course, is that rude pedestrians aren’t likely to kill any motorists.

Why keep walking, with all the hazards? Well, besides being great exercise, it saves gasoline. And there are many pleasant aspects to being a pedestrian in Cortez. You encounter familiar faces; you smile at the fat ducks and geese in the duck pond; you arrive at the office invigorated. After dark there will be more perils — Low-hanging tree branches! Lose one eye! — but you just have to chance it.

And maybe tomorrow I’ll pick up that baseball bat.

Gail Binkly is editor of the Four Corners Free Press.