Home > 2011 Posts > Street Decorators vs. The Master Race

Street Decorators vs. The Master Race

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Motor Mania is a 1950 Walt Disney cartoon about Americans’ Jekyll and Hyde cultural take on the automobile. In it, Goofy plays both Mr. Walker and Mr. Wheeler. Hilarity with a moral ensues.

Mindful of that, some recent time in both Rome and Amsterdam made it clear to me that a stroll in Mr. Walker’s shoes can provide insight into most any culture.

You reach most of Rome's smaller treasures, like the Arch of Janus, as Mr. Walker (and Ms. Metro)

In Rome, for example, many a crosswalk seems to be a broad oasis of safety marked with a pattern of inviting, meter-wide, white stripes that run parallel to the flow of traffic. But friendly Romans are quick to educate visitors. “You may think that this is a crosswalk,” they will advise, “but don’t be fooled. It’s really just a decoration on the pavement.”

There is more, though. After some time in Rome, a traveller learns that when you cross a street alone in one of these decorations, traffic often does not stop and seldom slows down. However, as long as you walk on with a steady gait, you are pretty much safe. Drivers make smooth adjustments around you.

I should point out that this may not long be the case. Cell phones and texting have changed things for the worse in recent years.  Distraction is still distraction. But the point here is about the drivers’ intent: no mutual delay thanks to skill and flexibility on both parts.

Then there are the sidewalk bicycle lanes of Amsterdam. And the people who ride in them. Caring Amsterdamers will give you fair warning that they themselves call these bicycling Mr. Wheelers The Master Race.

Sidewalks in Haarlem are much less harrowing.

This uber-species of cyclists will neither slow, nor adjust course, nor stop for a Mr. Walker who inadvertantly strays across the Line of Death. “Don’t you know, there are RULES?” they mutter, teaching inferior beings another lesson by clipping Ms. Walker hard in the ribs with the handlebars, and adding a little elbow for good measure, then zooming off into the distance.

It seems to me that, by putting this together with other obsevations, a whole panorama of cultural landscape could be revealed as a result by Ms. Walker, should she survive.

Perhaps on a related note: during the same trip, I learned that the Dutch are, on average, the tallest people in the world. It seems logical. The tallest people have a better chance to see lines of cyclists over a crowd, and thus a higher liklihood of living long enough to reproduce.

Don’t you think?

  1. March 1, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Seattle could use some that drive smooth and fast. Be it on bicycle or otherwise.

    • March 1, 2011 at 1:57 pm

      Yup. It seems to me that the difference may have to do with more people in the U.S. only thinking about the tail lights of the car in front of them, rather than the traffic situation around them. Or not. In any case, Seattle folks sure don’t drive like Italians.

  1. April 11, 2011 at 12:45 pm
  2. April 21, 2011 at 6:40 am

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