Walk/Don’t Walk

Although Fairhope is a small town (population about 15,000), it is not so small that we don’t have traffic signals. Indeed, some residents might say we have too many “stoplights.” We also do a very nice line in tree-shaded, flower-bedecked sidewalks and handicap-accessible crosswalks. What we do not have, however, even at the busiest intersections, is pedestrian crossing signals. So it was a novelty, when walking in Portland, Oregon, to encounter the latest high-tech version of these Walk/Don’t Walk lights.

There is probably no reader who has not seen some version of such a signal, whether it had just the words WAIT (red) and WALK (green) or icons (uplifted hand vs. “walking man”). To tell the truth, I hardly noticed what sort of icons the signals in Portland had, as I was so distracted by other phenomena. One is evidently intended to aid the vision-impaired. When the way is clear, not only does the light change, but a speaker somewhere begins to blast, “The walk light is ON! The walk light is ON!” This continues for a (very) few repetitions, invariably ending, “The walk light is—”

Despite all Portland’s accommodations for the disabled, only the fleet of foot should attempt to cross a street while the walk light is ON. The cycle is quite short. To make matters even worse, some signals almost immediately begin a countdown from 10 to 1, the numbers displayed on the signal. One might argue that this gives one fair warning of the time remaining, but it just made me more anxious.

Even a walk signal doesn’t ensure complete safety for pedestrians since there is always the chance that a motorist will be turning right or left across one’s path. Fortunately, however, as mentioned earlier, Portland motorists are (as they are legally required to be) considerate of pedestrians. And of course, even in Portland, pedestrians will chance a crossing against the light when traffic is clear (bringing to mind the adage that in New York City “Don’t Walk” means “Run”).

Here in Fairhope, the walk/don’t walk decision has a different meaning for me: Do I walk today or not? I’ve already said that I don’t walk when it’s raining. I could state that I don’t walk in inclement weather, but that would be foolish, as no reasonable person would consider the weather here “clement” in summer (approximately May to September). With temperatures rising into the high 90s (F.) during the day, it behooves one to get out early, but even that doesn’t help when the overnight low is 80° and the air outside feels like soup. The inside temperature may be exactly the same but feel ten degrees cooler because of the reduced humidity. One can break a sweat just going out for the morning paper (and yes, I know that horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies glow, but here on the Gulf Coast in the summer, everybody sweats).

It was a relatively mild 75° when I got up this morning, but I will not be walking today anyway. I try not to slack off for trivial reasons, but I paid $70 for a new permanent yesterday, and I don’t want to spoil it. Although my hairdresser knows how I feel about hairspray and usually uses a light hand, yesterday she lacquered my new do into a stiff shell that I can hardly run a comb through, and I am not inclined to mash it down with a cap or inundate it with “glow.”

So my new perm will make a more or less undamaged appearance at my Rotary meeting today, my ballet class tomorrow morning, and a Microsoft Word Q&A session at the library tomorrow afternoon, and then I’ll get back to the morning grind on Friday. Perhaps that will give me something new to report here.

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