There are advantages to living in the jungle. You can walk wherever you like, at your own pace, and stop any time you want, for as long as you want, provided there aren't hungry lions nearby.
But the problem with living in the jungle is that so few of us do. For the rest of us—particularly we who live in highly populated cities—walking is an activity that often requires a bit of collaboration with fellow citizens. While you may simply be focused on getting from one place to another, there exists an unspoken, mostly unconscious organizational consensus that generally remains unnoticed until some nitwit goes rogue and sends the whole flow of things into chaos.
Nowhere is this truer than in New York City where (in a glaring flaw of city planning) locals with things to do and places to be are haphazardly blended in with visitors who have no particular schedule and no awareness of our ways. The result is somewhat akin to forcing Chihuahuas and koalas to share the same pen.
And so this week, we explore one small aspect of the unspoken pedestrian contract: stopping. If you're like most people, you walk facing forward. From that vantage point, it's easy to forget that there may very well be people behind you. Rather than constantly checking (which is not only inconvenient and uncomfortable but also creepy looking), the Curmudgeon highly recommends mastering the rules of the sidewalk, which are remarkably similar to the rules of the road we follow while driving—one of which is knowing when and where it's safe to stop, and how to do so without causing an accident.
First rule of stopping? Don't. Keep moving. Stop later.
If you must stop while walking down the sidewalk, for God's sake, pull over. Duck out of the flow of foot traffic so as not to impede the trajectories of others. Texters, social media addicts, GPS users—this one's for you. Don't make us late for work because you have something cute to share with your Instagram followers, or because you're trying to figure out where you're going while going there. Pull over and decide what you're doing. You're in our way and we don't like it.
And never ever stop abruptly. We're stacked up four hundred to a city block here. We're like one of those domino chain reaction things just waiting for the slightest trigger. One sudden stop can cause a ten-person pileup. So either get out of the way or risk getting to know your fellow walkers more intimately than you'd planned as they trip over you one by one.
Never stop at an entrance to or exit from anything. Entrances and exits are for entering and exiting. See how it works? If you're not using them for one of those two purposes, guess what: you're in the way. (If this remains confusing, I refer you to my first entry, How Doors Work.). Turnstiles are not the appropriate places for counting out your fare or searching for your entry pass. Do that on your own time. There are people behind you who planned ahead.
In particular, please don't stop at the entrance to an escalator. You're now blocking the only way onto to this thing. If you haven't quite decided whether or not to take the journey on the magic staircase, please find a nice quiet spot where you can weigh your pros and cons privately, rather than making us all participate in the process. Even more importantly . . . unless you have a death wish, don't stop at the exit from an escalator. Those behind you are literally on a machine that is propelling them irreversibly in your precise direction. There's no way this ends well. Please have enough basic sense to get to the landing and move out of the way.
Less dangerous but equally aggravating to others is the bizarre act of stopping at the tops or bottoms of stairways, or in the middle of active hallways, Surely, there are better places to take up residence while you sort yourself out. Again, if you're unsure about whether you've found a good place to stop walking, the rules of driving prove a reliable reference. Would you stop your car on a freeway off-ramp? How about in a garage entrance? Or, what the hell, why not just stop in the middle of a well-trafficked street? A ridiculous idea, isn't it? And yet, some will think nothing of committing the pedestrian equivalent of these inane maneuvers.
Learn the pedestrian rules of stopping. After all, it's a jungle out there.