Security guards have been hanging out at the corner of Blackwell and Pettigrew streets in Durham all week, tiny steno pads in hand, their pages crammed with hash marks.
Yesterday I overheard one of them discussing the problem of jaywalking with some passersby.
“Can you get in trouble for jaywalking?” one pedestrian asked.
“Sure you can. The police can ticket you if they catch you,” the guard replied, eyeing me as I was, well, jaywalking toward the American Tobacco Campus.
Ever since I heard that police were ticketing people who trespassed on Norfolk Southern property—for months, I had been climbing the old wooden stairs up to, and over, the railroad tracks— I’ve been traversing Blackwell and Pettigrew. And every day I jaywalk.
The guards have been instructed, by whom, I don’t know, to count the number of pedestrians crossing legally and illegally. So far, the tally is running heavily in favor of “illegal,” the guard said.
I learned about the rules of crossing the street in kindergarten, although I admittedly was confused, since I lived in the country where there were no stoplights. Then, jaywalking felt like a cultural abstraction, as foreign as the rules regarding the navigation of gondolas in Venetian canals.
As an adult, I’ve always considered jaywalking not a crime, but a sign of independence. Walk when there are no cars coming. Don’t walk when they’re are. I’m capable of deciding.
Some of us, admittedly, are not. One man crossed in front of a car just as the light turned green.
In the two minutes or so that I stood there, waiting to cross legally—I was not looking for trouble, no, not me—at least five people jaywalked. And the guard drew at least five hashmarks in the tiny steno pad.
I told the guard that since the Durham Bulls opening night is this evening, and the Full Frame Documentary Festival starts today, that hundreds of people would be crossing that intersection. A second steno pad might be necessary.
Two more men sauntered across the intersection, although no cars were coming in either direction, so they were not in harm’s way.
“Don’t be jaywalking, now!” the guard advised a man who crossed while the red hand on the sign was blinking. “Wait for the white man.”
“This is America,” he replied.
The editor’s blog documents life in the Triangle in photographs, conversations and stories. Reach Lisa Sorg at firstname.lastname@example.org.