When I asked my new Bollard colleague Al Diamon why the triumphant return of Outta My Yard didn’t merit a mention in his Media Mutt column, he replied via e-mail: Annoying people in parking lots isn’t journalism.
Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Diamon. Just because I don’t bother with a lot of mind-numbing numbers, dull facts and boring quotes by boring people, you think my column is less tilted toward the public good than yours? You think because you bother to ask questions and listen to the answers (the latter’s always been the tricky part for me), your content carries more credibility than mine? Just because you buy the Maine Sunday Telegram to read instead of for the coupons and to look at the Your Turn photograph section, you think your words carry more import than mine? Huh, Mr. Smarty Pants? Well, do you?
Just an aside here: Al Diamon and I were colleagues from 1993 to 2002 at the now-defunct Casco Bay Weekly. First, he wrote for me when I was the arts editor. Then, he was my editor after I left that post and started writing Outta My Yard’s predecessor, Outta My Way. (I still want him to return the 40 gross of commas he kifed from me during that time.) In lo these 20 years, have we always — nay, ever — seen eye to eye? Hardly. Even when we agree on something (like beer), we manage to find a reason to quibble and squabble. (“Green Flash is better than New Guy IPA.” “No it’s not, unless I say it is.”) Our most famous battle happened when we collaborated on the CBW cover story “Where To Go In Portland,” a roundup and review of bar bathrooms that has since gone down in the annals (sorry, couldn’t help myself) of CBW history. Let’s just say the process was not entirely smooth. In fact, a close examination of 561 Congress St. (formerly CBW’s digs, now Salt Institute) might reveal traces of beard fur and Doc Marten boot leather imbedded in the walls.
At any rate, I take umbrage that he doesn’t consider what I write here journalism, despite the fact I have been appearing in magazines, newspapers and, yes, journals (OK, my private journals) all my adult life. So to prove I’ve got chops, I’m now going to cover some public safety issues regarding Portland streets. Who knows — by airing them, I might impact city policy, just like a real journalist. And if not, then at least I’ve had another chance to vent and possibly annoy people. It’s a win-win.
Now, as someone who bikes and walks as frequently as she uses her car to get around town, I have an observation to make: There are so many hazardous, dangerous and downright idiotic traffic situations in town, it’s a miracle we’re not all roadkill. Need an example? Can anyone say Longfellow Death Trap (LDT)? Honestly, whose brilliant idea was it to position a blind crosswalk, part of which is obscured behind the curve at the crest of the hill, on one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city? Oh, you say, but we’ve put up a blinking light to warn you there’s a pedestrian crossing there. Yes. And while my eye is drawn up to look at the pretty flashers, that’s just about the time I’d be mowing you over.
Please don’t get me started about pedestrian crosswalks. Well, OK, do. People. Listen up. Just because you have the right of way and are within the “safety” of the stripedy white lines, that does not mean you should charge out into traffic without looking. If I can’t see you, I don’t stop. Conversely, when I stand and wait patiently (with dorky reflector strips on my jacket) on the edge of a crosswalk, waiting for someone — anyone — on Washington Avenue to stop, and 20 or 30 cars (if I were an actual journalist, I’d would’ve counted them) go by, it makes me want to grab a branch and chase you all up to the next light and beat in the hoods of your cars. What, may I ask, has happened to common civility?
(Actually, I have a theory. I believe the source of all this pushy-grabby/me-first driving and road rage can be traced to Dunkin’ Donuts. America does not run on Dunkin’ – it’s jacked up on it. Don’t believe me? The next time you’re being run off the road by a Chevy Suburban or Ford F-150, check out the drink holder as you dive into the ditch. Bet you’ll see those pink and orange letters winking back at you.)
And while I’m at it, what brain trust decided to pave the roads through Payson Park to the standards of an autobahn and still expects vehicles to maintain the 15-miles-per-hour speed limit? You know everyone uses the park as a short cut, right? (I’d call City Hall and ask, but I’m afraid someone might answer the phone.) When I walk there, I make it my duty to admonish drivers who are about to sideswipe me. I push my hands toward the ground as though testing the firmness of a mattress and mouth the words “slow down.” Very effective. So, Portland Public Works, how about bringing back a couple of those frost heaves and potholes, OK?
Next: While I know the Back Cove Trail is intended for a mix of uses, I can see no reason why anyone (aside from kiddos and the infirm) should feel the need to ride a bike on it, thereby imperiling pedestrians, when there are perfectly good bike lanes on Baxter Boulevard. (That is, of course, when the city remembers to sweep them.)
The only exception to my objection is the portion of the trail on Tukeys Bridge, which is a major commuter route for cyclists. But that means bikers darting and weaving through the stroller moms, who like to walk three astride; the dog walkers, who may or may not have their dog on a leash; the joggers with earbuds in and the world tuned out; the socializers and amblers, who veer all over the place — all of which creates what I call the Tukeys Cluster. And I ain’t talking candy bars.
Well, there’s more (like the ridiculous stop sign everybody runs at the bottom of Free Street in front of Arabica Coffee), but writing about this stuff is starting to feel like, oh, I don’t know, work, so it’s time to call it a day.
But keep this in mind, Mr. Diamon: Maybe your column can take down a corrupt selectman from Emden, but the next time you’re here in the big city and find you can use the new underground passageway that’s replaced the LDT to get to LFK, know that the life I’ve saved with my non-journalism may be your very own.
Elizabeth Peavey lays rubber here every month. For a full schedule of fall performances of her one-woman show, “My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother,” and other speaking engagements, go to elizabethpeavey.com.