Walking speed is something you can only be marginally better at than other people. Consider how fruitless being a fast walker is: three miles per hour pace is a comfortable pace. Four is hoofing it. If I walked my ass off for an hour, risking plantar fasciitis, and you leisurely strolled behind me the whole time, I’m likely to still be within earshot when time expires, and you yell, “Was it worth it?”
I don’t know my exact walking speed, though I’d guess it’s somewhere between being late for an appointment and being two centimeters dilated. But I know it’s too fast, and I know where it comes from. My foible is impatience. I’m not a “the journey is the destination” kind of guy. I ignore the journeys, rush to the destinations, get frustrated because a delay keeps me there, then get anxiety because now I must start my next journey—one I’ll also ignore—later than anticipated. It’s insanity.
Now, you wouldn’t think walking fast results in enemies. But it does. People get upset when you pass them on the street. They give you dirty looks. Sometimes they make rude comments. And they should, because walking fast is inconsiderate. By passing you, suddenly I’m creating a ripple in your ether. And the whole thing feels a bit like one-upmanship.
Move it or lose it, bozo, my calves say as I blow by. I’ve got places to be and you’re in my way.
So to mitigate negative responses, I’ve developed a system for passing sidewalk saunterers. Its main objective is to spread out our interaction, to lengthen our time together, so my passing you doesn’t feel like such a violation. It’s a three-step system, governed by one law: the law of commitment. You’ll see why you must commit to passing someone once you initiate the process.
But first, let’s talk about my system. Step one: at a distance of approximately five yards, I will scrape the bottom of my shoe against the ground intentionally. Seven out of 10 times, that gesture is enough. You’ll hear it, turn around, and see me—I’m closing in, but at a safe distance. Soon after, I’ll pass you. No enemies are made.
If you don’t hear my shoe scrape, I get uneasy. Our distance has shortened. If the gap between us were a third down in football, you’d feel confident about your team converting.
This is usually when I implement step two: I sniff. Though quieter than the scrape, there’s something inherently human about a sniff. If you’re one of the three people that doesn’t hear my shoe scrape, you’ll probably hear my sniff. And when you hear it, you turn around and see me—I’m a little too close, but not close enough to startle you. Still, no enemies are made.
But there’s always one guy or gal who doesn’t hear my sniff. And at this point, I’m close enough to be nervous for both of us. My instincts tell me to just slow down, but experience has taught me otherwise. Never violate the law of commitment. Speed reduction or lateral movement to create separation between you and a stranger is riskier than it seems. Because if, God forbid, she hears that, then turns and sees you, her assumption will be that you’re trying to be elusive. That, my friend, is how innocent men get pepper sprayed.
And another reason to not slow down—though it depends on time of day and weather—is that my shadow may already be in your shadow’s territory. The only thing more terrifying than a stranger elusively walking behind you is seeing his shadow in your peripheral vision, then watching it disappear.
That’s why, instead of slowing down, step three is a Hail Mary pass—a last ditch effort to alert you of my impending pass. Step three: I clear my throat, loudly. And there’s no sense in sugarcoating this: if you don’t hear me clear my throat, I won’t feel bad for scaring the shit of you. I’m also going to start making assumptions about what type of person you are. How could you walk the streets so carelessly? Don’t you know people get hurt out here, stranger?
I’ve now scraped my shoe, sniffed, and cleared my throat. I’ve done my part, and you aren’t doing yours. But fast walkers know: the 10% is comprised of daydreaming morons with their gym playlist on full volume.
Recently, I deployed my sidewalk passing system on one of these characters. As I passed, he ripped his headphones out and yelled angrily, “Hey asshole, how about a little warning next time?”
Understand his rage and cuss words doesn’t make him my enemy. Not yet. At this point, we’re still strangers. How I respond is what makes him an enemy, and there are options. I could be a dick back. I could give him a piece of mind. But I’m in Boston. You can be a dick to strangers in Boston, just have good dental insurance. On a sidewalk in Southie, giving someone a piece of your mind is more likely to give you opponents, not enemies.
Making an enemy requires total role reversal. You must become the victim of a heinous crime. You must truly believe, at least in that moment, that you’re a good person and he isn’t, wholly dismissing the truth of your interaction—that this stranger is only giving you lip because you were an impatient jerk to him first.
Finally, you must leave the sidewalk, and take the high road in your mind—recall the extreme measures you went to to make this person feel comfortable. You faked flu-like symptoms for his comfort. Cite your elaborate system’s success rate to give yourself courage.
Turn to the stranger, now enemy. Look him in the eye, and say, “Sir, I warned you best I could.”