Walking the streets of San Francisco has become my favorite weekend activity. There is something about the sounds and sights of a busy city that serves as a welcome contrast to the normally quiet atmosphere that makes up my workday. I especially like the afternoons, where there is an interesting mixture of native San Franciscans and tourists clogging up the sidewalks. Crowded streets are an adventure. It is a great opportunity to people-watch and to observe the flotsam and jetsam of the human condition. It is also one of the few times I can apply geometry in my everyday life.
In my last blog, I confessed that I am a big guy. It would be more impressive if I was also a tall guy, but I am not, so I am just wide, which might still be impressive, but not as impressive if I was six feet tall. Somehow, those missing five inches of height make all the difference in self-esteem and bachelorhood status. Admittedly, I am ill proportioned. From a body mass index point of view, everything would be considered "normal" if I was close to seven feet tall. It is said that one of the signs of having a proportionate physique is to have a V shaped torso. This is where your waist is lean and tiny and your shoulders are broad. Well, I can tell you that I do not have a V shape. It is more like a W. And, it's not even an upper case W. I am definitely shaped more like a lower case W. I have a low center of gravity and a wide base for balance. My right leg is little shorter than my left leg, so overall balance is also an issue. I guess I am not just a lower case W, but one with a comma at the end.
For the sake of political correctness, do not think of me as "overweight." Rather, think of me as "under height." As a card carrying member of the elite UH class, I am constantly challenged to fit in with everyone else. As far as sidewalk navigation goes, this usually means that I need to stop moving and rotate my body in a way that will avoid colliding with another person. In fact, when I walk the sidewalks on weekends, I am not so much a pedestrian as I am a highly evolved pinball. I rarely get the opportunity to walk in a straight line going from point A to point B. I spend most of the time sliding around and spinning my way thru the crowd. I discovered that the best way for me to cut thru a crowd is by walking between two people who are consistently spaced out for several steps. Cutting in between people is where I apply the geometric concept of bisecting a line segment. Both people represent end points on my imaginary line. I approximate the middle of that line, and then walk right thru it. Usually, this method works out fine, and no one gets knocked over. Sometimes, the end points are moving in opposite directions, which throw off my timing. There are times when I say "Screw it," and just walk around everyone on the edge of the sidewalk. However, during times of heaviest congestion, I find myself constantly stopping, spinning, turning, and sliding for many blocks. At one point, I realized that I was the only person working hard not to knock anyone else over. I did not see anyone else working as hard as I did. In fairness, I usually walk a lot faster than everyone else. I move pretty well for a lower case W, let me tell you. Alright, so the differences in speed create its own issues of spacing. But, don't you think that it would be easier for the skinny person to just slide over and make space for the big guy? It's not like they would have to move very much. With a big guy, all that spinning and sliding around doesn't really create that much more space, but just enough to get by. Think of the difference between a flat toothpick and a round toothpick. The skinny person is a flat toothpick. The big person is a round toothpick. Pick up that flat tooth pick and make a one quarter turn. See? It's thinner! You have more space! Take a round toothpick and make a quarter turn. No difference. So, skinny, before someone loses a game of "chicken," do us both a favor and make like a flat toothpick.
The situation is made even more complex if the big guy is carrying something. Shopping bags are the worse. Carrying shopping bags on either side automatically increase your body's width. Suddenly, the lower case W with a comma is now enclosed by parentheses. Even worse, these bags are way below most people's line of sight. I cannot tell you how many times I've had people bump into my shopping bags when I am walking down the street. I don't care if your shopping bags are made of that industrial strength paper. Sooner or later, all the colliding will cause a tear, and then you will really have a shitty day on your hands. The only solution I've been able to come up with is to lift my bags so that one set of bags is in front and the other is in back. See? Still spinning and sliding. Have you ever tried walking down the street carrying all those shopping bags? And, did you add the constant lifting and lowering during the entire trip? The fatigue that is generated is incredible. Geez, it felt like a HeavyHands (http://www.heavyhandsfitness.com) workout.
And rainstorms! I've had the most frustrating time trying to walk thru a congested sidewalk during a rainstorm. The main problem is the presence of all those umbrellas. By their very nature, umbrellas increase *everyone's* width. And, if that wasn't bad enough, I have to use an extra large umbrella in order to full protect myself. Those little cute things they sell in all the stores? Yeah, that prissy little hat on a stick is not going to do it for me. I need the big umbrella to keep me dry. That thing *really* increases my width. The lower case W is now an upper case W. And, nobody likes it. Once again, I am the only one working really hard to avoid collisions. That big umbrella is constantly pumping up and down, like a pop bumper in a pinball game (I bet you thought the pinball metaphor was silly. Nay nay, I say!) I bet you are thinking, "Geez, you complain a lot. How about not doing all that work, and just keep that umbrella still? Surely, everyone will avoid it?" I already tried that. I put both hands on the umbrella and held on tight without moving it. Bump! Bump! Bump! No one else wanted to move their umbrellas out of the way. I heard exclamations and curses. Sigh. Well, it's back to being a pop bumper. In a rainstorm, we are *all* round toothpicks.
BTW, have you every played the game of "who's walking behind me?" I think all of you know what I am talking about. When two people are walking in the same direction by themselves, the lead person either accelerates to stay in front of the other person, or the lead person will purposely slow down so that the unknown sinister person walking behind can be identified and allowed to pass thru. I guess it depends on your personality. If you are an alpha type, you will want to stay ahead. If you are more conservative, you will slow down and allow the other person to pass you. Either way, you will lose your wallet. (Don't make a sound, and give me your cash ...)
The last thing I will discuss is in dealing with a large group of people. Now, it is almost impossible to walk past or thru a family, and it is totally understandable. The parents need to keep an eye on their kids, and teenagers want to drift off on their own, but they have to hang close by. This really spread a group out. It is the same thing with friends who are just hanging out. Couples are not bad, even if there are multiple couples walking together. The one group of people I cannot stand is the one that spreads out unevenly in the middle of the sidewalk. Bisection is not even an option because the endpoints are too close and unevenly spaced. You cannot go around them because their imposing presence in the middle of the sidewalk is funneling all other traffic around them. And, excusing yourself in the middle of the group would be viewed as rude and invasive. My advice is to either wait for a street corner and veer off into another direction, or just follow them. What have you got to lose? Your day may turn out better than the one you planned. Or, they will allow the sinister unknown person to walk past them. See? It's all good.
So, until next time ...
... Look out, here I come ...