In case my previous post about Medellín wasn't lengthy enough for you, here's an entire post dedicated to the art of pedestrianism in Medellín.
Forget the Venezuelan tanks massing on Colombia's border, or Rafael Correa's General Hospital-ish scowl at accusations of ties to the FARC. The true threat to all of Antioquia's fine citizens comes from within.
In my travels as a mainly bike-riding, trail-hiking, city-walking spectre, I've come across more than my share of close calls with close cars. During my bicycle tour of Cuba in 2005, an oncoming, swerving 50s Chevy narrowly missed sending me into a drainage ditch at the side of the carretera central at 6am. In Budapest, for the World Science Forum last year, the narrow streets and confusing signage had me hugging the sidewalks more than usual, and I'm sure I've annoyed more than one London cab driver by not looking at the right side of the road while crossing, but instead trying to read the faded paint signage on the asphalt instructing me to ``Look Right ->''.
Ahh, London cabs. The kind of car that only looks cool if someone is leaning out the back window firing off a Tommy Gun. Otherwise, they're just lame. The identical-looking drivers who all dress like not-so-distance relatives of Mr. Peanut don't help.
Perhaps I'm just spoiled because I live in Quebec... home - along with the United States - to some of the most courteous drivers you've ever met. Or maybe there's something about the Colombian driving psyche that gets lost in translation when you try to understand why they speed up instead of slow down when a pedestrian appears on the horizon. Whatever it is, the fact of the matter is that your average Colombian driver makes a monster truck demolition derby look like a canine fashion show.
If it's not clear enough by now, let it be stated plainly - Medellín drivers are, by leaps and bounds, the worst drivers I have or will ever come across in the entire known galaxy. They completely ignore crosswalks. They incessantly jackrabbit their vehicles - even tractor-trailers or small diesel cars - away from stop signs and red lights. They do not use the brakes unless it is a last resort after all else has failed. They swerve and speed while changing lanes at an intersection while adjusting the radio while fixing their makeup while drinking coffee while playing Sudoku. And they never, ever, under any circumstance, give pedestrians the right of way. If you're crossing the street at a crosswalk, and a girl is speeding towards you in her SUV at 90km/h while listening to crappy music and talking on her cell phone, she will not bother to swerve, slow down or otherwise make any effort whatsoever to avoid the unpleasant inconvenience that will inevitably occur later on, when she has to impatiently shrug off a bored police officer's questions while they clean you off her Toyota with a shovel and a bucket.
Make no mistake - Colombians are awesome people, as I wrote before. These are among the friendliest, most sincere, most courteous people you will ever meet. However, take the kindest, sweetest paisa couple and put them behind the wheel of a car, and suddenly they become the unrelenting fifth horseman of the apocalypse, trailing a bloodthirsty path of twisted metal, broken glass, screams, pain, and possibly fire, from their suburban apartment all the way to the Exito supermarket. It's as if Colombian cars have a hidden sorcerous screen where the doors are, to prevent Colombians from bringing their souls with them when they get into the car.
As with all others, there are different ways to approach this particular problem. There's David's way, which is to convince yourself that a battle between a 4000lb speeding SUV and 170lbs of skin, muscle and bones would be a fair one. The man would walk in front of any approaching vehicle - even in circumstances where he wouldn't technically have right-of-way - and stare down the driver with the same icy stare that they would look at him with. Against all odds, and despite the implicit pussification process undergone by anybody living in SoCal for any amount of time, he would manage to cross the street quicker than anyone else relatively unscathed. I had come to admire his boldness and resolve. The man showed cojones - ever so useful in helping him get to the other side of the street. And when he did get challenged by a vehicle, he'd show his contempt by slamming his hand hard onto the back of it as it passed when it cut him off or came too dangerously close to him. I'm totally fucking serious. He bitch-slapped the shit outta cars, honest to God.
Another coping method, this one employed by the otherwise stalwart Eddie, involved the opposite reaction - waiting until there were absolutely no moving vehicles within visual range or earshot in order to begin considering the possibility that it might be safe to attempt crossing the road. Betraying his roots, he viewed oncoming cars with what I imagined was much the same look on his face as that of indigenous natives in the Americas several centuries ago, seeing white Europeans with their strange clothing and boomsticks for the first time. As great a guy as Eddie is, I would always cringe when we'd approach a street crossing together as I knew we'd be there for a while.
Then, there's the measured, rational approach - mine, of course. Somewhere in between attacking cars in a blind rage with my bare fists (David) and running away from them in sheer terror (Eddie), lies the Zen, balanced method of mentally, instantaneously calculating the trajectory of each piece of oncoming traffic and extrapolating their positions in time and space relative to how far along I would be crossing the road. It's a bit like bullet time in The Matrix; I don't expect many of you to understand. You look at the other side of the street, slowly turn your head to look at the stream of oncoming cars, time slows down a little, some white doves take to the skies behind you in slow-motion as the camera pans around your face, and then you just go. It just happens. It's another state of consciousness. I stick out my palm, look directly into the eye of the beast, and - in a Jedi-ish display of raw power - make my way through them. "These are not the droids you are looking for." David calls it ``The Hand'', which I suppose is an apt name. I'm told I look rather heroic when I'm doing it too:
Oh, and when I call them ``pieces of oncoming traffic'', I'm not kidding. Traffic in this city is not composed of individual cars - rather, it is a single, devastating entity, like some perverted Transformer Decepticon.
Motorcycles are just as bad, if not worse than, cars. On more than one occasion a motorcyclist nearly swerved into another vehicle instead of slowing down to let me cross the road, since the opportunity to save 300 milliseconds on your way home from work is worth any risk you might, you know, die horribly under the tires of a pickup truck and stuff. Actually, motorcyclists are definitely worse in my eyes because they are far less protected by their vehicles than anyone else on the road, and you can easily see them making eye contact with you while continuing to challenge your right to exist, so their temerity is that much more insolent. It often took all of my willpower to stop myself from savagely clotheslining a speeding motorcyclist passing me too closely.
Believe me, the temptation to do so was very fucking strong at times.