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CAGED IN THE CIRCUS OF CIVILIZATION

“Everyone starts out as an individual and wants to remain one but usually it’s beat out of them by the time they’re thirty”.
                                           George Orwell

“Seattle’s a city where everyone on their twenty-ninth birthday crawls into their coffin and waits”.
                                Karen Bramsen

I don’t expect you to recognize the name of the second quote.  My ex-girlfriend Karen said that in 1995 before she convinced me to get out of Seattle and move to a real city, New York.  How bad is the conformity in Seattle?  A few years ago a man named Stamper became Chief of Police.  On his first night in Seattle he and his wife checked into a downtown hotel in the middle of the night.  As he looked out the window at his new city he called excitedly to his wife “Look at those people standing on the corner”.  What were they doing on that freezing, night without an automobile in sight?  They were waiting for the WALK light to go on before they crossed the street.  Chief Stamper couldn’t believe his eyes.  Welcome to Seattle, city of sheep.  My only hope is that the great city of New York doesn’t follow Seattle’s lead and turn its citizenry into people who think it takes more than looking both ways to safely cross a street.

Now to a little of my personal history of Jaywalking in Seattle.  One night in the 1980’s I drove with my girlfriend Elizabeth and a couple of friends to have a meal about eleven o’clock at night.  We parked across the street from a cafe and jaywalked across the street.  Elizabeth was the last across and I waited for her in the empty street.  Just then two cops came out of the cafe and obviously needed to start writing tickets to make up for the ones they missed while lingering over coffee and donuts.  They nabbed us.  Unfortunately Elizabeth had a nasty temper and started to loudly berate them.  She said to one of them “What do you need that gun for?  I’m from England and the policemen there don’t carry guns.  You must need one to compensate for your obvious lack of virility”.  The upshot?  I got thrown in Jail. Elizabeth had her state  issued picture ID, and I only had (I wasn’t driving) my picture-less U of W student ID.  Not being able to prove my existence and stung by her mouth they trundled me off to the Hoosegow.  I was booked, fingerprinted and during the process the guard leered  at me and said in a menacing voice “Know what they got ya in here for?  I said no, imagining an endless list of Kafkaesque charges.  In the same tone of voice he spit out “Jaywalking! , and you know what the bail is?” Again I imagined unbelievably punitive amounts. He cut off my thoughts with a sneeringly triumphant “Thirteen bucks!”  Shortly I was put into a surprisingly comfortable cell with six bunks and three other hardened criminals.  A few hours later my bail of $13.00 was paid by my friends and I was sprung.

Several years later I told this story to my lawyer (Who was later dis-barred and died).  He asked “What did they charge you with, failure to control your broad?”

Not long after that I was walking down the main street in the University District and Jaywalked across to enter the JC Penny store.  Out of nowhere a cop appeared and asked for some ID.  Just as I reached for it a young man burst out of store and started running up the sidewalk.  The cop turned his head and took a step in that direction and I started running as fast as I could in the other direction.  I almost got hit by a car sprinting through a busy intersection, ducked into a store and exited out the back door. Nobody shot me and when I stopped un-apprehended several blocks later  I’d never felt so exhilarated before in my life.  If a cop tries to give you a Jaywalking ticket you should try it, although now they just might shoot you.

Last summer I was visiting Seattle.  Around ten o’clock I was walking up the same University District street reading a book.  As I crossed a street against the light a prowl car stopped and the cop said to me “Why’d you cross against that light?”  I said “I live in New York, I didn’t know it was a problem here”.  Wrong answer.  Both cops recognized me as a dangerous bolshevik and approached me warily with their ticket books in hand.  Not being as young or as fast as I used to be I reached for my wallet.   While one of the cops was in the car checking the computer to see if I was dangerous felon (an obvious assumption considering my apparent lack of respect for authority) the other cop asked me “Just what do you think we’re doing out here?”  I replied “Wasting both of our time”.  He nodded and said “Yeah, you’re probably right.  So you live in New York?  Don’t pay the ticket, we’re not going to come after you”.   The second cop got out of the car and handed me the $47.00 symbol of fascism and I left.  Just for laughs I decided to contest the ticket and see what it would get me.  Within six weeks I had an appointment with a magistrate and told him the whole sordid tale.  All he could say was “You have two choices,  I can’t do anything for you,  you can either pay the ticket or request a court hearing”.  I said “I’m going back to New York next week and can’t wait months for a hearing, but I do have another choice”.  He played straight man and said “What’s that”.  I replied “I could just walk out of here and ignore the whole thing”.  He looked at his computer screen which had my whole history of un-paid parking tickets dating back to 1984 (the city wants more than a thousand dollars from me) and said in a judicially derisive voice “I see you won’t have any problem doing that”.  I gave it one last shot.  “Look, if I walk out of here the city will never get a nickle out of me, but if you’ll reduce the fine to ten bucks I’ll pay that and the city will get something for your time”.  He said “I can’t do that” so I left without paying.  Later I got a letter from a collection agency demanding $113.00 for the ticket which must be growing like Topsy.  It appears Seattle isn’t going to take this lying down.

Forgive me if I now offer some personal thoughts on the dangers and benefits of Jaywalking.  Seattle, with its draconian enforcement measures and sheep-like citizens has a serious problem with pedestrians being hit in cross walks.  Recently they enacted a new ordinance to prevent this.  Simply put it said that a car had to stop whenever a pedestrian entered a cross walk and  not just when they would be walking in front of you.  The ordinance said that if the pedestrian enters on the left and you’re on the right you have to stop even if you would miss them my twenty feet.  Also if they enter on the right and you’re on the right you have to remain stopped until they reach the left-hand sidewalk.  Motorists howled and the ordinance is now largely ignored after an initial flurry of citations.  What do I think is the real reason pedestrians in cross-walks are in such danger in Seattle?  It’s because they have surrendered the roads to motorists.  In New York drivers are used to people crossing the road everywhere and are not surprised when it happens.  Drivers in Seattle take it as an affront to their manifest destiny to proceed when someone crosses a street.  Whether in a crosswalk or not they seem to take gleeful joy in buzzing them as closely as possible.  In New York pedestrians approaching a blinking don’t walk light blithely ignore it even when they know they can’t reach the opposite side before the autos have a green.  They continue ambling across like it was the most natural thing in the world.  I am continually amazed by this and marvel at how brazen they are and how patiently the lead motorist at a green light waits until the last straggler is past.  In Seattle when the light turns green the motorists are off to the races and the odd-ball laggard would usually be nailed unless he leaps out of the way.  After all, the car owns the road. There is one more reason why so many pedestrians get hit by cars in a tightly controlled city.  Too many times the pedestrian is busy looking out for the cops when he jaywalks and is distracted from the serious business of looking out for cars.

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