First, Wisconsin weather can stick it where the sun don’t shine. Which was Wisconsin, yesterday. Oh sure, Spring starts tomorrow – but that wouldn’t stop the fair city of Madison from welcoming another blizzard yesterday afternoon that featured blowing winds and damp, sticky flakes which later colluded with tumbling temperatures to form, quoth the weather channel, “ice pellets.” Spring? These days, my neck aches from sullenly shaking my head.
But to the point. I had a chain of remarkable events in the midst of yesterday’s meteorological affront. The first was the sort of miracle every pedestrian dreams of – the magic of moving in perfect timing with the changing of walk signals. Drivers dream of streets full of green lights – I fantasize about a string of bright white figures lined up like paper-dolls in a chain. And it happened. I was on a roll. All morning as I walked to class – bam, bam, bam, like a charm I hit each curb just right.
I took a break at lunch for a brown bag discussion and figured I’d worn out my luck – but no! Heading out of Union South, I strode toward Charter Street, and just as I was about to slow down and pause at the intersection, that little diamond man lit up before me, beckoning me across the safety of a quiet thoroughfare. I reached Mills – the forbidding orange hand dissolved, the brilliant crystals illuminated once more. I reached Brooks – again, victorious! It was as though I’d unwittingly made some sacred offering to the Patron Saint of White-Pixels-Arranged-Into-Ambulatory-Hominids and this was my thanks. My neurons chimed happily as I pressed boldly onward.
I should note that I walk pretty fast. This is not, as some have assumed, because I am late or in a rush or want to get where I’m going faster than everyone else. It’s simply because I like the feel of a proper stride – the energy of it. Besides, if you walk briskly enough and fix your eyes on certain, particularly artistic elements of your surroundings, you feel like you’re filming a catchy intro scene for an indie film. It’s in those moments that you can detect the movie-ness of your own life and grasp for a second the grand storylines that always await our discovery – or our creation.
So I was very much enjoying the whole physical and philosophical experience of my fortuitous promenade, until…. the girl in the red coat. There she was, a laggard pilgrim sluggishly wending her way to a Mecca she wouldn’t see this century. The lurid red of her winter jacket goaded the eye as I slowed to avoid running into her.
Now, on the best of days, it can be tricky to navigate the pedestrian slalom that clogs UW’s sidewalks when classes change – but in winter, it’s infinitely worse. The snow has caked on in unpleasant ways to the curbs, and plows have clearly declared their vehicular loyalty by flippantly pushing their muddiest flotsam onto the foot-way All this is to say that there isn’t much room to maneuver without slipping to a grimy, icy doom – so when you get stuck behind someone, you get stuck. And I got stuck behind the girl in the red coat. Soon I too was forced to plod along at what one might generously term a leisurely amble.
I was not pleased.
I tried to calm my mind – you can’t hate this stranger just because she’s taking it slow and you’re high on the Miracle of the Recurring Walk Sign Diamond Man!, I told myself. That’s not fair.
Well, the hell with fair – I was STRIDING, damn it, and she is in my way!
So I seethed internally for the next block, then reveled at the fact that we still managed to get to the next intersection in time for the walk signal. I hustled past her in the street, and took the final block at my accustomed pace. With perhaps a grim smile to boot.
Now, I may have visited some Ambulation god’s shrine in my sleep, but even the best karma runs out. Especially when you start to act… entitled. And sure enough, as I prepared to cross the final street in my journey, after rushing past this strolling red-coated innocent, I hit The Amber Hand. It might as well have been giving me the finger. So I glared at it for a few moments. Then I nestled my feet right up next to the curb, just so that sign would know I was undeterred. And I continued glaring as it obstinately remained orange and cars began to zoom their way towards me. I heaved an angsty, impatient sigh –
and promptly took a front-full of car-splash as a Honda dove wheels first into the GIANT puddle right in front of me.
I was so shocked it took me a moment to process the two realizations pumping alongside the adrenaline rush in my brain –
1) … I JUST GOT TOTALLY SPLASHED BY A CAR! Like in the MOVIES! I won’t lie, the freezing bitter cold sensation and damp skirt aside, I was pretty giddy at the prospect. I’d never been so fully doused before, in such a manner! It was pretty exciting.
2) As I was starting to laugh in surprise, I was joined by another voice right beside me. The girl in the red coat.
So, just as I was letting one story line carry me into a fury with a girl I didn’t know at all (not to mention a world full of rage at an inanimate don’t-walk sign), I received this gift of a moment that made us comrades in arms against the muddy shower of life’s infelicities.
We looked at each other and laughed with each other, exchanging a few generic yet bonding remarks about the obliviousness of automobile drivers, the poor judgement of waiting too close to the curb on a wet day, and the superiority of shock over caffeine for waking one up of an afternoon. During which conversation we of course got hit AGAIN (this time by a Prius, I think). After that, I felt I had to introduce myself, so we shook hands. Her name was Nicole.
We parted friends of a unique sort, and I walked to my next campus duty with a heart made a little lighter – thanks to successful striding, an industrial-age-distressed-damsel experience, and the cosmic sisterhood that returns her incidental enemies to their natural place as fellows on the road of the ridiculous life.