I write a biweekly column for the Washington (Pa.) Observer-Reporter. If you're a subscriber, you can read the columns for free. Otherwise, you will be locked out of the site after 9 columns. To circumvent this for those who wish to read my columns but don't want to subscribe, I'm posting columns here beginning in November 2017.
It’s a jungle gym out there
Everyone said Whitey threw harder, ran faster and hit better than any of us. It didn’t matter that we said it only because if we didn’t, Whitey would grab us, one-by-one, in a headlock and force our faces into the dirt. Like Lola in “Damn Yankees,” whatever Whitey wanted, Whitey got.
Explore the abandoned coal mine? I’ll bring a flashlight, Whitey! Dig up a grave in an ancient, abandoned cemetery in the woods? Allow me to carry your shovel, please, Mr. Whitey, sir! Had the internet been around in those days, Whitey would have been a cyberbully — not because he taunted you via social media, but because he bopped you over the head with your own laptop.
One summer, tired of having Whitey dangle me by the ankles over a porch railing while the other kids laughed, I challenged him to a footrace. We lined up side-by-side. Someone counted to three. I put my head down, took off as fast as my little legs could carry me … and ran straight into a jungle gym.
That’s why, today, I don’t text while walking. And that’s why, today, we need more Whiteys.
Had Whiteys taught more people to keep their heads up since the invention of the smartphone, pedestrians today might not bump so frequently into others, step headlong into traffic or tumble down flights of stairs while staring at a mobile device screen that contains the latest earth-shaking text message from a family member:
“HLP! I WLKNG N I CNT LOOK UP! :0”
Around the world, from hamlet to metropolis, people described as “Smombies” (smartphone zombies) are being injured in record numbers – five times more frequently than pedestrians who aren’t distracted by a phone screen while walking. So pervasive is the phenomenon that city fathers have taken steps to discourage the practice.
On Oct. 23, Honolulu city police were empowered to fine pedestrians up to $35 for viewing electronic devices while crossing streets. In a pilot program, the small town of Bodegraven, Netherlands, has embedded LED strips in curbs at either side of crosswalks at one busy intersection, directly in the line of sight of pedestrians staring down at cellphones. When traffic lights turn red or green, so do the strips, signaling distracted walkers when it’s safe to cross. Salzburg, Austria, approached the problem differently: city officials had airbags installed on lampposts to at least minimize injuries to Smombies who engage in what I like to call Bumper Fool.
Although I applaud these efforts, I have a plan that would both discourage distracted walking and create millions of job — and here’s where Whitey comes in.
I would hire millions of neighborhood bullies, at $1 above minimum wage, to stand at every major street corner in America. When a distracted pedestrian stepped off the curb into traffic or was about to bump into a lamppost, Whitey would leap forward and slap the offending device from the walker’s hand. If this failed to impress, Whitey then would pick up and dangle the offender by the ankles over the nearest storm drain while others laughed.
Now, I know that some will brand my idea as draconian, while others say it’s perfectly natural to text while walking, citing the biblical precedent that Joseph, while on his way to Bethlehem with Mary, was on his cellphone the entire time.
Ignore them. Walk with head held high.
There may be a jungle gym just ahead.