There are fewer places more awkward to run into a person than the middle of a crosswalk. The parallel white lines are an overpass for pedestrians. Those on foot are afforded a transient right-of-way, and have little time to lolly-gag, let alone get caught up with the lives of the passersby.
As an awkward person myself, I dread the random run-in with an acquaintance. Sometimes these encounters occur on sidewalks, in restaurants, parking lots, cafes, etc, and I remain at a loss on whether to stay and chat or simply pay my fare and move on with my life. When greeted by an acquaintance in a crosswalk, however, I am forced to continue with little more acknowledgement than a polite nod and a ‘hiya.’
On one instance, in particular, I was on a first date (not a pre-date, mind you; the real deal) with Alex, a lady I worked with. We strolled up Coventry Rd, were afforded a window and crossed the thoroughfare briskly. This was a busy time in the evening and, like the travelers perpendicular to us on the road, we had places to go. Around the midway point of our crossing, we looked up to see another co-worker (let’s call him Ahkmed) approaching opposite us; he was the Stage Left to our Stage Right. Ahkmed fancied himself a ladies man, and had a fine-looking bird in tow. He smiled wide, looked marginally surprised that the lady and I were on the town together.
‘Hey guys,’ said Ahkmed, ‘how you doin?’
‘Hiya,’ my lady said.
Ahkmed turned back to us. ‘Where you guys going?’ he asked. He was obviously flaunting his man-about-town status to his broad.
My lady and I cringed. Alex said, without turning, ‘Out.’
We went our respective directions. Traffic recommenced its ebb and flow.
A few days later, Alex informed me that Ahkmed gave her some flak for not stopping to chat.
Her excuse was, in my mind, perfectly logical: ‘We were in a fucking crosswalk.’
The social mores of the crosswalk encounter seemed set in stone, as far as I was concerned. But tonight, I experienced it with a new variable. My old friend Charles P. was up to visit from the Southwest. The two of us, fresh from some window shopping at the used bookstore on Coventry, were about to make the crossing for some Thai grub -- we were famished. As we stepped into the intersection, I saw Alex and her friend Mary approaching from the other side. Six months removed from our first night on the town together, the lady and I are what some people may call ‘an item.’ I knew that she and Mary were going to be on Coventry at the same time that Charlie and I were, but we couldn’t have stepped into a more inconvenient place to meet.
We both looked marginally surprised to see one another.
‘Hiya,’ I said.
‘Hey,’ Alex replied.
‘Where you going?’ she yelled back to us.
‘Dinner,’ I said. ‘Where you been?’
And both parties were across. Later, I ate my Pad Thai and listened to Charlie’s stories of the Southwest and became incredibly racked with guilt. Why couldn’t my special lady friend and I just stop to chat in the middle of the road? Where had she and Mary eaten? Had it been Thai? Had they dined at the very table at which Charlie and I were sitting? These are the questions that can’t be asked in a crosswalk. When you’re there, you can really only think about where you’re going or where you’ve been.