Car Zombies

by Loolwa Khazzoom • November 27, 2015 • Keeping It Raw

I drove up to the polling drop-off van, excited about my first voting experience as a Washington State resident. I parked in the lot, walked over to the ballot truck, and asked the representatives to look over my ballot – to make sure I had dotted all my i’s and crossed all my t’s, Washington State style. With their thumbs-up, I turned to walk back to my car. A minivan was approaching, but I thought nothing of it, assuming the driver would stop – me being a pedestrian, and us being in a parking lot and all. I was wrong. She kept on driving and nearly hit me.

“Can you stop?!” I yelled, exasperated. “I’m still in front of your car.” Even with that, the woman kept inching forward, apparently hell-bent on making excellent time with her drive-up/drop-off synchronized ballot casting – which, clearly, was the most important objective here.

Since moving to Seattle last year, I repeatedly have witnessed drivers failing to stop for a pedestrian at a crosswalk or, alternately, stopping for five seconds, then driving again, before said pedestrian has cleared the bumper (never mind crossed the street). Another local favorite seems to be waiting just until the pedestrian has cleared, then zooming forward, a scant three inches from the pedestrian’s ass.

I have avoided going on walks I love, and have avoided walking at certain times of the day, simply because of the heightened anxiety I experience crossing busy intersections in Seattle. I simply do not feel safe. Fishing around for a solution, other than lobbying for a traffic camera at every damn intersection in the city, I recently began filming cars on my cell phone, while crossing the street. Lo and behold, with my lens pointed squarely at the license plates of the cars, drivers have accessed their inner Zen and patiently (or begrudgingly) waited for me to cross.

Apparently I need my cell phone at the ready at all times, in all situations, because you never know when a car might ram into you – voting polls included. Perhaps I should just walk around town with a giant camera perched on my head.

I was busy contemplating this sorry state of affairs, when I found myself pulling up behind the minivan of the driver in question. With a yellow school bus blocking the parking lot exit, she was stuck. I simply could not help myself. “Why don’t you drive into the yellow school bus, too?” I yelled out the window. “You’ll make great time!”

She flipped me the bird, following which I flung open my car door and marched up to her open window, schooling her on the dangers of driving into people. She acted as if I were hot under the collar for nothing and entirely dismissed my concerns. “What if it was a child walking in front of a car?” I persisted. “Would you think it’s ok for someone to drive forward then?” She must have children, because that’s when she said, “Sorry, I didn’t notice you.”

Still, her tone sounded more like a complaint than an apology, and as I huffed back to my car, she yelled, “You shouldn’t have gotten out of your car in the first place! You didn’t need to! You’re stupid!”

And here we come to the essence of this issue: When people get into cars, they cease being people; they cease seeing people; and they cease recognizing that people have the right to be doing things that people do, like walking – which is viewed as the annoying interference of the forward motion of cars.

We are a speed-obsessed society, with the cost of an extra few seconds being anything from people’s comfort to people’s lives. All of it is unnecessary, some of it is downright tragic – as in the case of between about 350-525 people who, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation, were killed or seriously injured when struck by cars in Seattle each year, over the past decade. That adds up to thousands of people whose lives were brought down or cut short, and for what?

When a car is coming toward a pedestrian, it is impossible for the pedestrian to know if the car is going to stop in time. Our world is filled with people who drive drunk, enraged, stoned, exhausted, and so on. In addition, people with the best of intentions and skill can misjudge things like distance and speed. Then there’s the inconvenience of Reality, where the timing of a situation may not quite work according to plan – for instance, if someone trips, drops something, or gets a cramp while crossing the street. Which all goes to say, when a car is both close to and moving toward a pedestrian, that pedestrian is at risk. Given the crosswalk culture we have right now, something as simple as walking around town becomes a potentially life-threatening hazard.

To this end, I have witnessed many pedestrians bolting across the street, presumably anxious about not receiving ample time or space for crossing. Bolting, of course, makes crossing even more dangerous and is therefore not the solution here. I also have seen pedestrians barely clear the edge of a bumper, before cars have lunged forward. I still remember the hurt and distress on one man’s face, as he turned, shocked, watching one such car speed off into the distance after nearly clipping this man.

As for me, I may not be able to change the world, but when I am in the driver’s seat, I can change my world. That’s why, when I see someone approaching the corner of a sidewalk, I stop not only at the crosswalk, but a few feet away from it, giving the extra space that allows someone to cross without feeling pressured. I then wait patiently until that individual crosses not only my lane, but most or all of the next lane as well – even as the driver behind me exhibits signs of irritation (like inching toward me).

My intention is to honor the living being who is crossing before me, doing my part in ensuring that individual crosses with a sense of ease, peace, and grace. The many looks of surprise and gratitude, and the big smiles and hand waves I have received in response, have indicated that I just might be onto something.

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About Loolwa

Loolwa KhazzoomLoolwa Khazzoom has worked with leading media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and ABC News. In addition, she has published two books and has lectured at prestigious venues including Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harvard University. Loolwa is passionate about health, music, dance, multiculturalism, and Judaism.

Holistic Media, Marketing, PR

Loolwa Khazzoom is a a public relations manager specializing in holistic media, holistic marketing, holistic public relations, and holistic promotions. Her services include branding and messaging development, image and communications management, website content development and optimization, social media management, traditional media campaign management, book development, and in-house writing and editing.

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