Mattapoisett is a pleasant waterfront town on the north shore of Buzzards Bay, eight or nine miles from Woods Hole. It's a year-round town whose population inflates in the summer just as the Vineyard's does. The harbor, reasonably well protected in the summer from the prevailing southwesterlies, is no place to be in the winter when the stormy weather comes from the east. We were visiting there the other day, and we drove along the main street that rims the open, expansive anchorage. At the head of the harbor, the spacious public wharf is adjacent to a bandstand, at the foot of a small park. In the summer, the town hosts dances on the wharf. It's been a municipal habit for years, and years ago, I went to some of those dances.
Don't get the wrong idea, this is not the beginning of a personal reverie. This is about a real life, everyday problem we all face, all of us who are drivers, that is. It's about pedestrians, Vineyard pedestrians. But, when one sets out, as I have in mind here, to develop a taxonomy of pedestrian types and their treatment of even the most accommodating drivers, dancing comes to mind. And the two big dances at the Mattapoisett wharf sock hops in those days were the Twist and the Stroll. The Twist was Chubby Checker's hit, with thanks to Hank Ballard. Checker made it the most popular dance in the world, briefly, in the early sixties. But, we weren't just twisting. It was a decade of new dance steps. There were also the Watusi, the Frug, the Monkey, the Swim and the Mashed Potatoes. We did them all, and more. (It wasn't pretty, except in retrospect.) And, don't forget the Peppermint Twist, Joey Dee and the Starlighters. Really big. And, unforgettable, one of the best, the Stroll, a 1957 song by the Diamonds. When I was sock hopping, it probably turned up as a kind of recent hit on the dance card.
I was reminded of all this the other day as I stopped to let a pedestrian cross Water Street in Vineyard Haven. My sense of self worth usually inflates virtuously when I give a walker a by-all-means like that. But, this guy didn't just hurry across. He did the Stroll - a little crossover half step to the left with his right foot, then the slide with his left. Then repeat, but in reverse on the other side. He was talking to a companion all the while, turning and strolling across the road, while I and 50 other drivers, coming from or going to the ferry, watched. I think he wanted a round of applause. We offered none.
But the Stroll is only one of the pedestrian dances people do in the middle of the block, no crosswalk in sight, while the traffic stalls and the drivers fume. Some of them do the Twist. The Twisters want you to know they don't trust for a second that you're going to stay stopped. They Twist one way just to let you know they fully expect you to rev your engine and run them down, then the other so the opposite line of traffic gets the message too. Suspicious nags, that's what they are.
I don't know if there ever was a dance called the Nob, but that's the dance done by another species of crosswalker. The Nob steps off the curb before the traffic has committed itself to stop. He never deigns to use a crosswalk, which is where the law requires drivers to give way to pedestrians. He proceeds straight across, wherever and whenever the mood strikes him, chin up, nose sampling the jet stream airs, with nary a glance at the drivers standing on their brake pedals.
Or, how about the Flick. The Flick is an airy step, employing an elevated, careless wave of the hand, a gesture such as a justice of the Supreme Court might use to communicate an utter indifference to the views of some troublesome companions. The pedestrian dancing the Flick across Main Street is saying to the oncoming drivers, I've got the law on my side, and if you hit me I'll take you for everything you've got.
And everybody has watched someone doing the Shuffle. That's when a pedestrian, maybe a little stooped and elderly, forges ahead, not looking one way or the other, never offering a thank-you wave, or a glance, (maybe thinking whatever happens happens, and if I die, well, the miscreant will have it on his conscience forever), and just, well, shuffles along. The Shuffler is as unenthusiastic about getting to the other side of the road as your kid is when you tell him he's going to sit at the table till he finishes at least two of those Brussels sprouts.
And don't get me started about the Turkey (formerly the Turkey Trot, but it's done a lot more slowly these days), or the Guinea Hen. Both of these are non-human members of the pedestrian species that make frustrating contributions to the plague of traffic flow interruptions, no so infuriatingly common. And think about it, summer's coming, and with it an immigrant class of crosswalkers with a whole repertoire of dance steps all their own. We'll never get to work on time.