Kamikaze Ballet: the art of daredevil jaywalking

Pushing a stroller cured me of the jaywalking habit. Before that, I abided by the unwritten law of New York City: pedestrians rule the roads, drivers beware. Crosswalks and the accompanying signals were mere formalities, flimsy social constructs consistently toppled by local citizens’ genetically programmed desire to get where they needed to go via the most direct route. Traffic be damned. Just one more example of the borderline-anarchic state of the city in the nearly lawless 1970s and 80s: I’m not nostalgic about any of this, by the way. But I’ll never forget when crossing the street was a constant challenge. And for an adventurous few, jaywalking was an aesthetic and athletic event, both extreme sport and demented ballet. They seemed to relish crossing in the most snarled fast-moving traffic imaginable, bobbing and weaving between delivery trucks, dodging bike messengers, pirouetting past taxicabs, spinning around station wagons and vans, engaging in obscene debates with horn-honking drivers and occasionally splaying their bodies across a vehicle’s front hood for dramatic effect. Seeing them reach the other side of the street was a relief, and anti-climatic.

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