Lessons from a Snowy Sidewalk

Is there anything more awkward than trying to navigate snow-narrowed sidewalks?

There probably is, but that definitely ranks in the top ten.

For those of you from more mild climes, the problem, you see, is this: a sidewalk of once predictable width, formerly capable of allowing two strangers to pass unperturbed, now forces a level of intimacy which is most unseemly in many parts of the world.

That is, the side walks are too narrow for two people to pass.

Forced with such a conundrum, the pedestrians options are this: wait, claim the right-of-way, or try to pass anyway.

Waiting might seem like the safe bet, but it is not without risks: for one thing, this approach is untenable if you are in any sort of a hurry. It will take you forever if you are always yielding the right-of-way. For another, you occasionally end up in the awkward wait-off: who will strike out upon the narrow sidewalk first?

And, of course, choosing to wait can be awkward in itself: age, race, and gender norms all come crashing into play as busy pedestrians try to gauge the best way to interact.

I imagine that in Victorian Boston gentlemen always yielded passage to the ladies.

Which, of course, always makes me want grant first passage to the men. (Though I have been known to play the occasional game of narrow side-walk chicken with self-absorbed bros who don’t strike me much as gentlemen.)

Being somewhat old-fashioned, I tend to yield to my seniors – though having heard stories of embarrassment from grandparents who’ve been offered seats on the T, I’m not sure that’s actually the best way to go.

In fact, I’m fairly certain I once caught a look of surprise and distress from a woman who I let pass – I might have well just yelled “old lady!” at her, for all that old-fashioned habit was worth.

If both parties try to pass, that some times works out. Other times…well, I hope you’re okay getting to know strangers.

In the end, I suppose, we all just do the best we can.

I try to yield some of the time, claim the right-of-way some of the time, and only try to pass on walkways that seem like they can handle the two lane traffic. But sometimes I misjudge.

And I try to be equal in the types of people I wait for and the types of people who wait for me.

Sometimes, I misjudge, but overall – it’s like the snowy, narrowed sidewalks are this great equalizer. It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter where you going. Only one person can go at a time and we all need to treat each other with respect and patience if any of us are ever going to get anywhere.


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