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|Safe on the Sidewalk
Are there others, I wonder, who feel as I do about crossing the street? There must be. Now I, when I cross, say Market street at Third, I run. I take my life and my bundles in my hand and run, darting swift glances to the left and to the right. It looks "hick." I know it looks "hick." And I care. But I prefer to be alive and countrified than sophisticated in an ambulance and so I run.
At corners, too. I think corners are worse. For there the machines may turn around and chase me, which they often do. It's a horrible feeling.
There must be others who feel as I do about crossing the street, but they never betray it. I watch to see and when they cross, they just cross - that's all. Not with nonchalance exactly, but with ease and assurance. Once I actually saw a man, a native son, I'm sure, roll a cigarette as he crossed at a point where even the traffic cop looked nervous.
No one ever gets killed or even injured. But always everybody is getting almost killed and almost injured. They like it. It's a sort of sport. I've noticed it more since the city's gone dry. The game is, if you are walking, to see how close to a machine you can come and not hit it.
Street cars, machines and people all go straight ahead and they all come out right. It's the only city where it's done with such abandon. They never stop for anything except taxis - not even fire engines.
The secret of it is, I think, that no one ever hesitates. This is understood by all San Franciscans - that, no one is ever going to hesitate. That's why there are no accidents. It's the unexpected in people that makes disasters and creates a demand for traffic cops.
I try to cross the street as others cross. I choose a chalk mark and, pretending I am a native daughter, launch out. I get on fine - suddenly a monster machine is on me. Or would be if I did not jump back. I shouldn't have jumped back it seems. But how was I to know? In the jaws of death you don't reason, you jump. In jumping back I hit another machine and it stops. And that stops a street car. That stops something else. And in a minute Market street, the famous Market street, is all balled up because I jumped back. Drivers, red in the face, swear at me, not because they are cross, but scared-more scared than I.
Next time I am more careful. I look to the traffic cop for attention but, being a handsome man, he thinks I'm trying to flirt. Policemen should be homely. So I wait until the street is entirely empty. I wait a long time - it is empty - I run like a steer - and suddenly out of nowhere a machine is yelling at me individually and I know no more until, breathless and red, I reach the haven of the sidewalk.
Once I heard a horrible story of a man who lost control of his machine and ran up on to the sidewalk.