Irate offenders (or, inversions of the natural order)

Yesterday the Doctor and I went to the V&A Waterfront, expecting it to be relatively peaceful, given that the vast majority of Capetonians were expected to be watching some SA sporting triumph or another. In the end they weren’t, and it was apparently no triumph either, but that’s besides the point. After an unsuccessful shopping attempt and some lunch (Sevruga sushi, decent), we walked out towards the car, where locals would know of the two pedestrian crossings before you reach the parking garage.

The first was successfully navigated, with the drivers doing the typical (hence, expected) thing of slowing/stopping to allow pedestrians to cross. The second was less so: I had my first foot on the crossing, and as I moved my other leg (plus attached foot) towards the “planted on crossing” position, a young woman in a blue Fiat Uno sped up to get across the crossing before I could impede her progress. So I kicked her car.

Now, I was not wearing my steel-capped boots, and I didn’t kick her car with any force. So there was no issue of an assault on her car, or of any damage to same. The force was just enough that she’d hear a sound and notice, as I was pissed off at her opportunism and her endangerment of our safety. She also of course violated the law, but I was less concerned about that issue. Her momentum (and the cars behind her) carried her out of earshot, so I have no idea if she had any words of advice to offer me.

We arrived at the parking paypoints, and the Doctor detoured to the bathrooms, leaving me to handle the transaction. As I waited my turn, an irate voice over my left shoulder shouted: “Did you just kick my car?”. My first thought was “how the hell did she park and get here so quickly”, but I later realised that she most likely just stopped her car in the traffic or somesuch, given what I already knew of her character. As the Doctor later said, my response should have been “No, your car drove into my foot”, seeing as that was what happened (or, what would/could have happened if I had been walking a little faster, or if I was an offical at the Ministry of Silly Walks).

What I in fact said was less interesting, but incontrovertibly true: “yes”. She of course proceeded to yell a bit, and I proceeded to calmly inform her of the basics of pedestrian crossings, and of how they are not intended as a race between ped and car (wouldn’t be fair, you see). Her response, delivered in an angry and accusatory tone, was (I kid you not):

But I was looking the other way!”

Ah, that makes it all okay, then. In fact, she was reminding me that I was lucky to still be alive, and that she could just as easily have killed me, if she had sped up a little bit later, or perhaps pretended to stop, and then sped up as I was in front of her car, or somesuch. The thing (I think) is: isn’t this the point of pedestrian crossings, that we eliminate these variables, and count on the typical interaction being that the people in the fast heavy machines allow the fragile animals right of way? I know peds still need to be careful, but surely we shouldn’t expect malice (well, I might expect that in future from blue Uno drivers) or the sort of incompetence involved in looking the other way while crossing a pedestrian walkway at one of the busiest shopping centres in the country?

She was no doubt (or, hopefully) lying about looking the other way, and was instead speaking from some unacknowledged embarassment. But this exchange was all about the errors of my ways, and her parting shot was “I’d expect you to have learn’t some manners at your age”. Indeed, I said, “likewise”. As I remarked to the Doctor on recounting the story, one hopes in cases like this for her to go home to tell the story to a partner/family member, looking for them to share in her outrage at this moron who kicked her car, only to find them asking “sorry, did you say that you sped up crossing the walkway, while looking the other way? And you didn’t hurt anyone, at the Waterfront?”.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.