To the young man walking down the middle of the road without a care in the world: I’m sorry if my wildly waving hands startled you you.
I really didn’t want to flip you off, because it wasn’t the appropriate gesture (Pro tip: it never is). I wasn’t mad. Confused, appalled, saddened, but not mad.
Confused by your decision to just take a path from the parking lot entrance to the coffee shop using an angle that put you in the vehicle travel lanes of a busy side street for a fairly lengthy part of the stroll.
Appalled because the entire time you were looking behind you and not at the street in front of you or where you were going.
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Saddened because you got all the way to Carolina and yet no one has taught you to look both ways before crossing a street.
Instead of waving my arms as you sauntered past I would have said something, but I could tell that the jams you were cranking through your earbuds were far too important.
If we had a minute or two to talk, after telling you that looking both ways before crossing a street is a basic survival skill, I would have explained that as a reporter and editor in this community for longer than you’ve been alive, I have written of the accidental deaths and serious injuries of brilliant young people, inspirational professors, dedicated researchers and beloved parents and co-workers.
Our one encounter in life – me in a large, moving, metal object; you sauntering without a clue – could have gone a lot worse. I really hope you got that.
As I drove into town that day, like almost every day, I was in a pack of drivers with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a cell phone. It’s probably safe to assume that several times a day someone rounds that same corner near the coffee shop while texting away.
Since you were coming from a parking lot, I’m going to assume you have access to a car. I hate to think your disinterest in safety as a motorist is anything approaching your behavior as a pedestrian.
We may have a lot more cell phones and earphones at play, but the dynamics of this community this time of year are a constant. There are a lot of drivers and pedestrians who are unfamiliar with the streets and the flow of traffic. And a lot of locals in a hurry because school is starting up.
In the course of covering one of the many awful pedestrian deaths of the past few decades, I came across a study that found that early fall in Chapel Hill and Carrboro is the most dangerous. Car and pedestrian and car and bike accidents get even worse as the amount of daylight fades.
I think I’ve written a column about this time ever since. I wasn’t going to this year, thinking the impact of the legislative session or the rising cost of tuition and the decline of financial aid would be much more important subjects.
And then you walked right into traffic looking the other way with ear buds blasting and I flashed back to that grad student who jogged off the curb right in front a bus a few years ago. I thought about her family and friends and all the hopes they had for her.
So pardon yet another annual reminder to drive and walk and bike with an extra layer of caution. It’s obviously still needed.
We can revisit the follies of government and the price of college some other time. Right now, let’s all concentrate on keeping each other alive.
Kirk Ross is a longtime North Carolina journalist, musician and public-policy enthusiast. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org