Washington, D.C., seen from the proper perspective, in Arlington, Va.
Contributor’s Note: The day finds me on business in New York City, writing this post (and sharing my images) during a welcome reprieve from our city, Washington, D.C.—M@, publisher of Animal Mind.
Recognizable to patrons of the National Zoo might be similarities not only among species of the kingdom but between inhabitants and visitors—those animals in the primate house peering at one another from opposing sides of the glass.
Outside on the street, the observer loses this perspective, dissolving once again into his persona, only partially aware of the “intraspecific” territoriality that mirrors the behavior of those great apes incarcerated here by the zoo or the D.C. Department of Corrections further downtown.
Years ago, the walk down Columbia Road in Adams Morgan proves a visceral experience, my head bobbing in a fast-moving river of bumping shoulders, dirty looks and bad karma. A black midget stands on the corner by the bodega, smoking. “Fuck you lookin’ at?”
At 18th Street, a small crowd gathers on the far side of the intersection around a mound covered with a white sheet—fresh road kill—and I wonder if he’s Hispanic, imagining the funeral dirge. Ave Maria, mi amigo. As a former speechwriter for the U.S. Department of Transportation, I can tell you the annual pedestrian death rate here remains unparalleled in the nation at 62 per 1,000 residents, according to 2006 data. Most of those killed are Hispanic. Is this racism? I don’t speculate.
Independent traffic safety engineers, however, call the problem “multi-factorial,” citing a litany of problems including poor lighting, outdated infrastructure, speeding and, notably, racist drivers. Yet, a full 84 percent of pedestrian deaths in the District may be attributed to one simple causal factor, the failure to utilize a safety device standardized on the automobile in the mid-1960s—the turn signal.
Worsening the problem, the government advises visiting motorists to refrain from using their turn signals so as not to confuse locals, prompting the inevitable question, “But what if there’s a cop there?”
Answer: Especially, if there’s a cop there—because you don’t want the cop to think you’re a dork.
Click to enlarge: D.C. Pedestrian Algorithm exemplifies the most common interactions on the city's sidewalks.
Yet, however brutal the manifestation of our territoriality on the road, the sidewalks and pathways of our city prove that much more personal, filled with angry Homo sapiens dismounted temporarily from their vehicles. As I trot through Georgetown along the rain-slicked path by the Potomac River last Thursday, inane thoughts bubble randomly to the surface of my mind, evincing within me a deep hunger for embedded wireless connectivity, always.
I wonder how tall Muhammad Ali is?
My feet pound the ground.
I guess I could just ask someone.
My feet pound the ground.
It probably doesn’t matter though.
My pace quickens as Peter Gabriel fades into T-pain and I swing around the corner onto Arlington Memorial Bridge, careful not to slip on the pavement, heading back to Virginia. A throng of runners approach me in the dark night, some two dozen members of a running club, lights affixed to their baseball caps—looking like coal miners fleeing a ceiling collapse. As I move to the far right, four run abreast and I stare into the face of the man running toward me, who looks askance, pretending he doesn’t see me.
T-pain, give me strength.
Lowering my left shoulder, I brace for the impact, him for the worse but me spinning around as I lose my iPod, another runner flashing me an accusatory look, branding me the transgressor, the interloper on their bridge.
What the fuck?
As I continue along the bridge, a young woman, too, comes straight at me and I think of Ralph Ellison and his Invisible Man and wonder why they cannot see my white skin gleaming under the towering lights. She comes straight at me in a game of chicken I cannot now lose, bad karma emanating from my left shoulder throughout my body and into my mind. Stopping short, I catch her in my arms, her body glancing off my chest and spinning around, seeing me now, shock and bewilderment coloring her face.
And she’s just my type: thin, pretty, white with brown hair. A feeling arises in me hitherto fore unknown. I want to rape her.
In my animal mind, I force her against the railing and push into her, afterward tossing her over the side, burying her in the cold and the wet and the deep—satiating, for now, my love for the city, my hatred.
Click to enlarge: This diagram makes abundantly clear what happened on Arlington Memorial Bridge at approximately 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 13.
Posted by M@ at 8:09 PM