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Often it makes sense to ease off and back down

Column/Simson L. Garfinkel

The traffic light on the cross walk at 77 Mass. Ave changes from yellow to red, the pedestrian light from "Don't Walk" to "Walk." A student eating a banana begins to cross. A few steps later, a taxicab drives through the red light. The student is infuriated. He throws the peel from his banana at the taxicab. A direct hit. The cabbie slams on his brakes, parks right in the middle of the street, jumps out of his cab and chases the student up the stairs into Building 7. It is noon.

Some readers feel that I have something against cabbies. Perhaps so. But about three weeks ago, the same sort of scenario happened to me. Nothing ever changes except the names:

It was 2 am, and I was walking back home after a late night at The Tech's office. The streets were empty. As I walked across Mass. Ave., I noticed a speeding car approaching the cross walk on which I was standing. The light was red. As the car approached, I realized it wasn't going to stop.

I also realized the driver was aiming straight for me.

At the last instant, the car veered and I jumped. Luckly, we went in opposite directions.

I slammed my saddle bag into the car's side window as it sped past me. Thunk! I had a dictionary in my saddle bag. The car screeched to a stop.

"You almost ran over me!" I yelled at the driver, who was by now getting out of her car. She was carrying an umbrella. As she got out, she began to curse me. Then, this roughly 35-year-old woman attacked me with her umbrella.

Clearly, she was having a bad day.

I visited a friend at Bowdoin College last weekend. Maine drivers treat pedestrians very differently than do Massachusetts drivers. If a pedestrian starts to walk across a street in Freeport, the car on the road stops.

Really.

Living in the greater Boston area for over a year, I've learned that the only way to cross a street is to dart out in front of traffic and hope to get to the other side. When I tried to do this in Maine, the drivers in the cars took all the fun out of it by stopping and waiting for me to cross.

After the traffic stopped for me a few times, I stopped running out into the street in front of traffic, and started waiting for the traffic to pass. It just didn't seem fair to the cars to do otherwise.

The drivers backed down, and I soon followed suit. The result was a much more relaxed -- and safer -- environment for all of us.

A lot of times it makes sense to ease off and back down. Not many conflicts are worth the aggravation, the wasted time and energy. Often, open hostilities are the culumination of an ongoing escalation in which neither party left the other a way out. Usually, there's more to be gained from backing down than there is to be won in a war.

If only ProFemina and LSC, Russell Karlberg and Sharon E. Perl, Ronald Reagan and Congress and others could learn the lesson Maine drivers have to teach.