Little Sucker

An unusual break in the action at our local crosswalk

Thing #2 threw open the front door of the house we’re renting here in Victoria and announced, “Some old lady in a convertible Mercedes just called me a little sucker.”

Our second-born-son has given me many opportunities to call him something similar—though the old lady in question pulled out the stops and used an F in place of the S in sucker.

“Really? Why?”

Bare-chested—other than the straps from his backpack — and with his thrift-shop wetsuit rolled down to his waist, Thing #2 affected a pained look. 

“I was walking across the street when she zoomed by and yelled something about the crosswalk rules.”

I paused and tried to envision what an older driver not accustomed to our son’s unique approach to fashion, and rights-of-way, would think. The F-bombing seemed a bit strong, but perhaps she wasn’t Canadian. 

Canadians are, generally speaking, polite. Particularly after four years in Central America, where streets resemble Frogger, we’ve enjoyed the idea that an oncoming driver will stop at a red light. The novelty of some dashes painted across the road compelling cars to yield to mere pedestrians is still sinking in.

Canada is great. Our new neighbors have all been wonderful, helpful, patient, and kind. This is not a society, a people, that tolerates boorish behavior. Like any people anywhere, however, the edges begin to fray when driving is involved.

The closest thing to an insult I’ve personally experienced on a Canadian roadway came two blocks from our house. That particular street, already skinny, lacks the room for cars to pass each other when parked cars line each side (which they normally do). I was slowly, carefully, driving down that road when the driver of one of the cars that looked parked screamed, “You’re welcome!” at me before turning into the open road behind me and speeding away.

In terms of road rage, “You’re welcome” is pretty far down the scale. I had not witnessed the other driver pulling over so I could pass, so his umbrage at not being thanked seemed like his problem. I proceeded with the confidence that I could handle the Canadian version of road rage.

There is, however, one aspect of driving here that pushes even the most polite Canadian well past a sarcastic–but clean–exclamation. That thing, as Thing #2 can attest, is crosswalks.

We live a couple of hundred meters down from the main road in our area. This lovely street is lined with beautiful trees, interesting shops and restaurants, and a regular stream of pedestrians. The closest stretch of the main road has three official, painted crosswalks within a 100 meter stretch. Each of these crosswalks has a corresponding crosswalk on the side street that intersects it. Yes, I would say we have a plethora.

It’s been explained to me that the pedestrian always has the right of way. Cars must come to a complete stop when a pedestrian sets foot in the crosswalk and stay stopped until that pedestrian has reached the opposing curb. NOTE: I did an extensive search to try and get the final word on whether or not this “completely left the intersection” element is in fact always required and found that this is NOT actually the law in this province, though many believe it to be so. It depends

To reach our home using the main road I have to deal with two of these three crosswalks. I am happy to come to a stop and let someone pass (I do a lot more walking than driving these days so it’s nice to pay it forward). Things get tricky when the pedestrian enters the road from my left, crosses the crosswalk in front of me, then pauses at the corner as if they’ve just had a thought.

Did I leave the oven on? Long pause. Guess not.

I, being the driver, am in limbo. I can’t enter the crosswalk in front of me because half the time this same pedestrian will regain their momentum and enter the crosswalk for the side-street (my street). If I pull forward and they enter the side-street crosswalk I’m now blocking the crosswalk on the main road. This, I can say from experience, brings out the worst in every pedestrian who wants to use the crosswalk on the main road. Dirty looks, sneers, and muttered variations of the word sucker emit from these otherwise placid people.

There is no winning for the driver in this situation, and the pedestrians know it. A few days ago I watched as a gentleman driving a large truck stopped at the crosswalk and waited patiently for a couple to make their way across the main road. They reached the opposing curb. Just as the truck driver took his foot off his brake a very, very old lady (with babushka) decided that she would go ahead and cross as well. The driver of the truck, to his Canadian credit, went back to his brake pedal and waited for the babushka lady to cross. It took a while as each of her steps almost equaled the length of her tiny feet. As she drew close to the truck the driver chirped his horn, wagged his finger and said a variety of unkind things (I’m guessing here as his window was up but it was clearly not praise). If his thoughts mattered to her it did not show in her pace, or demeanor.

Do pedestrians have to let a car that has already waited for one set of walkers pass? I don’t know. The truck driver definitely had his opinion. How does all of this work with bike lanes that appear and disappear with no warning and the fact that every intersection is considered a crosswalk even if there is nothing on the street to declare it? Throw in constant road construction and a few million tourists showing up by cruise ship who couldn’t care less about the local rules of the road and you end up with a lot of grumpy Canadians.

Inspired by the number of senior citizens I’ve encountered on the road, I looked up the average age in Victoria (44+) and, for kickers, the average age in our neighborhood (49 — with a median age of nearly 54). For a neighborhood that still manages to support an elementary school and a high school that’s a really high number–and a testament to the spirited throngs of babushkas crossing our streets at a pace only slightly faster than standing still.

Thing #1 has a plan to avoid the controversial crosswalks: he will stay in his room playing video games. I will keep working with Thing #2 on his pedestrian etiquette as not every driver shows the almost-patience demonstrated by the truck driver with the babushka lady (I’ve had a couple of near misses with BMW drivers who avoid eye contact and just speed through the crosswalk— perhaps it’s a German car thing).

Wish the little sucker and me luck.