Saturday, June 16, 2012

Slow and behold

Sure, Los Angeles is dense with traffic, gridded with freeways and long, long boulevards on which cars are king and lane-changing is a full-time occupation. But in quieter suburban streets a different ethic seems to prevail. Our jaws dropped the first time a driver slowed to allow us to cross the street in front of him, even though no pedestrian crossing was in sight. Before long we were experiencing many examples of driver courtesy to pedestrians—unlike New Zealand, where you daren't step off the pavement without making sure the road is clear a long way on either side, and drivers automatically assume the right of way, often quite aggressively. In LA, away from main roads, drivers frequently if not invariably slow and/or stop for walkers. They drive more slowly too. I wondered if this was just a phenomenon confined to Venice Beach, where we have been staying, but have just read this in Ian McEwan's novel Solar: 'The country [the United States] had lived en masse with the automobile longer than any other. People had wearied of the car as a racing device or penis or missile substitute. They stopped at suburban crossroads and politely negotiated with glances who should go first. They even obeyed the fifteeen-mile-an-hour limit around schools.' Who knew? Inexplicably, Hollywood action movies have given no hint of this automotive amiability.

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