Every city has its own walking rhythm, it’s own choreographed set of steps that let you get from point A to point B without obstructing traffic, or getting mashed by your fellow pedestrians.
In Copenhagen, as a friend and I strolled down the Strøget, or pedestrian street, we could not figure out why time and time again, these graceful Danes (because really, as the Paris of Scandinavia, how could they be anything but) kept on crashing into us. And then my friend came to a sudden screaming realization. PIVOT, she shouted. She had observed the Danes, walking towards one another, and just as strong shoulder was about to brush strong Scandinavian cheekbone, they would swing to the the side in a kind of dos-i-do, with the do (meaning back) replaced with the front side. So enthralled with her pivot was my friend that she walked dangerously close to the residents, a veritable pivoter with impunity. And time and time again, she would pull it out at the last minute, and remain unscathed. I could never really get the hang of the pivot, and just did the duck and dodge, and together we pivot-dodged through the crowds to yet another konditori (pastry shop) with its upside-down pretzel bearing sign to nibble, what else? a danish, here called viennese pastry (wienerbrød)
In Tokyo my main walking problem—aside from the insanely long distances which I chose to traverse stemmed from the fact that the Japanese drive on the opposite side of the road from the one I’m used to, and thereby walk on the opposite side of the sidewalk. I’d be blithely one-foot-in-front-of-the othering when out of nowhere, a girl in giant shoes in Shibuya would appear before me and almost take out my shins. I tried the pivot, but it turned into a dance. I was afraid she would turn her ankle, and tried to run away, turning headlong into a stream of people headed into the subway, a convenience store and most of importantly, straight towards me. If Japanese culture didn’t dictate that they be generally conflict-averse, I’m certain I’d have been trampled.
So what’s the secret to walking in Santiago? We don’t sashay, and we don’t pivot. We just sort of clomp along the cobblestones or the paved streets or in between buses in front of ususpecting cyclists traveling at 15 kph (oh, have I got a story about that one!). On the metro escalators you can forget about one side for walking and the other for standing, like in my once-hometown of Washington, DC. It’s standing room only, on the escalators, and to insist otherwise earns you derisive looks and the occasional “¿Qué onda?” (what the h…?) or at least “tranquila,” (calm down!)
No, the secret to walking in Santiago is to leave the house anywhere between five minutes to a full half hour before you think you need to. The goal here is to go with the flow, move at the ¾ speed of a Washingtonian, ½ speed of a New Yorker. If you give yourself enough time, you won’t need to weave in and out of the traffic like a Boston bike messenger, or a slalom downhill skiier. You’ll be tranquilo (calm), and arrive like everyone else does, just about ten minutes late to work. ¿Qué onda?