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Take It Easy
By Robert Warren Cromey
Recently, I made a decision not to hurry anymore. Driving fast in the city, zippy walking, dashing hither and thither made me anxious. I was not any more on time than I used to be. I am one of those guys who is always on time or early. By not hurrying, I find I still am seldom late. So I choose to take my time. The same amount of work gets done. I am still hardworking, goal-oriented, successful. But I don't hustle.
It is a great relief. On Franklin Street, I now enjoy a red light and a stop sign. It is a moment to rest, watch, and listen. I feel self-righteous. People in their cars zoom ahead and ignore the lights and signs. "What's the hurry?" I wonder.
I notice I often catch up with them at the next signal. Not always. Sometimes I see the red-light runner a couple of blocks ahead of me. "I hope she gets what she wants," I murmur piously to myself.
Sometimes on Gough Street, I get honks from behind. Instead of the finger, I give them a friendly wave. I look at them in my mirror and smile, after uttering silently the usual expletive. Often I wave them on to pass me. Sometimes I delay just a bit to annoy them, and then I look at them in a friendly manner. I am not perfect, you know.
Other times I look up when honked at and put on my shocked, surprised look. That usually brings on a sneer. But I smile and wave. That may be what Jesus means by turning the other cheek, though I am not sure of that.
On Dolores Street, I wave pedestrians to pass in front of me at stop signs. I am told this may be a dangerous act, as the pedestrian may be hit by other cars who may not stop. I'd rather err on the side of helpfulness, assuming pedestrians are cautious while crossing. I am polite and let them go first.
In my new life of not hurrying while driving, I let Muni go first and give them the right of way. After all, they are carrying 5 to 50 people on the bus. I am usually alone. They deserve the go-ahead.
A retort to my style would be: "If everybody drove like you do, Cromey, the traffic would be slower than ever!"
That may well be true. It also may not be a bad thing. Too many people drive too many cars and trucks too fast in this city, and too many people are killed or injured on our streets. One hundred and twenty people every day are killed in auto accidents in the United States. Since January, there have been 11 pedestrian fatalities in San Francisco alone.
I suspect that the traffic will only get better after it gets a lot worse. Perhaps by not hurrying we can make it worse sooner. Nowadays, cars and trucks dominate the city. Pedestrians are no longer our chief concern. I am one who thinks we should have no more garages, street widening, or freeways coursing through San Francisco. We should do everything we can to have fewer cars. Better public transportation, more walking and biking, and slower traffic patterns will make the city a more human and humane place.
Now I must confess that I often do walk fast. We are told that 30 minutes of brisk walking every day will bring us better health and longer lives. I admire men and women who walk to work wearing proper athletic shoes, carrying more formal wear for when they reach the office. I do some hard walking from time to time.
However, I also enjoy the stroll. I like what I call urban hikes: going through interesting neighborhoods. Twenty-fourth Street has babies and coffee. Castro Street boasts same-gender affection in black leather jackets. West Portal is calm and sedate. Union Street has stores like museums. Chestnut is full of lively employed young adults sitting on the sidewalk. Haight Street has unemployed young adults lounging on the sidewalk. Clement Street is crammed with Asian shops, and with a Russian bakery and competitive restaurants. Mission Street has the barrio air with a red and yellow piñata for all. Chinatown is another world, a magnet for tourists. These streets are meant for strolling.
Sadly, these excursions are marred and made dangerous by speeding and honking cars, taxis, buses, and the abomination of bikes on the sidewalk. But the walks are still worthwhile.
Swimming is also more enjoyable when I go more slowly, stretching my limbs. The Koret Athletic Center at the University of San Francisco has a delicious gleaming swimming pool. I get the feel of the green-blue water enveloping me. The rhythm of breathing feels good. On my back for several laps, face down in the water, up for breathing every fourth stroke...the swim is sensuous as well as wet. I don't have to hurry.
When I bike along the Great Highway, other bikers whiz by me at zip-along speeds. I don't mind. I bike for pleasure. I watch the gray waves and blue sky. The green of the park and the magic of Stow Lake are places to enjoy and not race by.
The old cliche is "stop and smell the roses." I look at people's faces, clothes, and bodies. Listen to the sounds of voices, accents, and languages. Notice the delicious racial and ethnic mix of people strolling the city -- Asians, Irish, Italians, African-Americans, WASPS.... Smell the food cooking and perfumes in the air (and grunt at the ugly smells, too).
No need to rush. Not all life is big business, the fast lane, making a buck, and hot sales. I enjoy my life a lot more since I have stopped hurrying.
A Noe Valley resident for 15 years, Robert Warren Cromey is the author of In God's Image: Gay and Lesbian Rights in the Eyes of the Church, published by Alamo Square Press. He has been rector of Trinity Episcopal Church on Bush Street for 18 years. His wife Anne teaches English at the Convent of the Sacred Heart High School, making her, he notes, "an ex-Mormon, married to an Episcopal priest, who teaches at a Roman Catholic school." Cromey's three daughters and six grandchildren live in New England. He enjoys strolling along 24th Street as well as following the J-Church tracks to Dolores Park.