Friday, February 13, 2009

Walker, Texas Ranger?

In which Aviatrix is frightened by an ATM and the car culture.

This town, despite being fairly compact for an American city, seems to be inhabited by people who do not walk. I mentioned a couple of days ago that kids don't walk to and from school. I present as further evidence a bank with a sign "24h ATM".

I walked up to the bank, but the front door was locked, and there was a sign giving the opening hours of the lobby. And those weren't twenty-four hours. I followed the walk around the corner, looking for an exterior wall-mounted ATM, but the walk dead-ended at a dumpster. There was no sidewalk on the other side of the building, but I tried going that way anyway, and found a drive-up ATM. I pushed the buttons and got my money, feeling a little insecure as an SUV pulled up in line behind me, and then I went back across the parking lot to the hotel. I looked again at the sign, and it definitely did not say drive-through. Apparently ATMs here are drive-through by default. And have no sidewalks.

Two blocks the other way was a Wal-Mart. My coworker made that sidewalkless trip for groceries and reported someone in a pickup truck turning around in a parking lot in order to come back and ask, "Are you okay? Did your car break down? Can I give you a lift?"

It was 16 degrees celsius. Not raining. Pretty much perfect walking weather. After three days I have seen no pedestrians or cyclists here. There were people riding bikes in Montreal at twenty below. You could tell they were their winter bikes, not their good bikes, but they were riding.

Now I told you I was irrationally scared of Texas. This is the sort of thing that makes me scared. It makes me wonder if this is a bad neighbourhood. But all the families are rich enough that their kids have cars. So people aren't going to be mugging me for my shoes. Are there poisonous snakes? I don't think so. Not on the street anyway. I intellectually know that no, there's no danger: people here just don't walk. It's in the culture. But the creepiness of seeing no one walking triggers my 'something wrong here' reflex. It's like when all the water goes away at the beach and you know it's time to run for higher ground before the tsunami crashes in.


Anonymous said...

Cue the twilight zone music...

Anonymous said...

If you walk, the zombies will get you.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the US; nobody walks. As for being in a bad vs good neighborhood evidenced by nobody walking, I don't think it matters. Even in bad neighborhoods, nobody walks. They will use the family car, have friends come pick them up, etc.

Lastly, this sentence is really telling: "You could tell they were their winter bikes, not their good bikes, but they were riding." The fact that you have "winter bikes" is astonishing. I ride bikes all the time. I have 2 bikes and put 2,000 miles on them annually, but I don't have a "winter bike".

Aviatrix said...

Your winter bike is the one that won't make you cry when the rims rust through from salt, and the bottom bracket is half gone anyway. You can put those big stupid pedals with spikes on so you can ride in boots, and use "Deflector Shields" instead of fenders so they don't get clogged with snow.

People who have expensive cars even have winter cars. They leave the fancy one in the garage until the snow and ice are all gone.

Anonymous said...

In response to "Welcome tot he US, nobody walks" How about 'welcome to Texas, nobody walks'?

There are many places in the U.S. where that isn't the case, but there aren't enough of them. Aviatrix, you should visit Portland, Oregon, or other progressive cities some time :)

Aviatrix said...

I've been to Portland and I know! I'm looking for a photo I took there.

Greybeard said...

Re: Portland Oregon...
Panhandlers walk there, and some of them scare me to death.

Aluwings said...

re: "triggers my 'something wrong here' reflex"

I've had this same reflex leave me uneasy for no reason many times just due to cultural differences. Once in Port of Spain, Trinidad, when visiting a friend's brother, I was driven into a neigbhorhood where I was the only white face and there were cars up on blocks in the street and in some driveways. The homes were rather small and "ramshackle" to my Canadian eyes and if this had been a city in the southern USA (especially during these years), I'd have had reason to be nervous.

My new acquaintance's home was beautifully kept and clean and he served up a wonderful, home-cooked supper. This was just a regular neighborhood in POS. I became much more comfortable as I learned to concentrate more on the people, less on the surroundings. But I immediately recognized your meaning in that phrase above.

Thanks for sharing your insights on your travels. Always enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

Amsterdam is the most bike accessible city in world. It actually has more bikes than people. I wonder what happens to locked bikes when people move... or die? Are there traffic police that take note and take the bike?

Anonymous said...


The best panhandlers are in Santa Barbara, CA. Home to Oprah, Nancy Reagan, Michael Jackson and many other rich and famous folks.

There you'll find tanned, shaggy, healthy young folks with their baskets or guitar cases holding up signs saying "Help me see the world," or "I want to travel." True story.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the people are overweight with all the riding in cars?
Just a thought. :-))

Anonymous said...

Best panhandler line ever, heard in San Francisco: "Spare change for a sex change..."

Callsign Echo said...

Bill: you wondered if Texans are overweight. All of America is laughing. Not at you, at Texans. Because the Southern states are known for THE WORST food. Delicious, yes. Cheap, as Aviatrix said. Abundant, my goodness, yes. But if we CAN fry it, we will. We fry SANDWICHES for God's sake.

And then we refuse to walk anywhere. But in defense of my fellow Americans, everyone had a car in the very rural area where I grew up because it was essential for getting around. Everything was AT LEAST 30 miles from everything else. Walking 45 miles to school seems a little third world-y to me.

Anyway, that's our reason. I don't know what excuse urbanites use.

Anonymous said...

So true. To me, being European, the feeling might be stronger because a lot of people walk or ride their bikes almost everywhere in Europe. And it always seems to me that the most friendly places have a lot of pedestrians and bikers (oh, how do I like Nijmegen, Utrecht and Amsterdam!) and the seemingly scary ones have none (Lake Havasu City, AZ). It definitely has to do with culture, therefore places in the Netherlands tend to rank high and desert cities tend to rank low, but within the U.S., a college town like Bloomington, IN with a lot of bikers also seems friendly and some streets an NYC that have a bad reputation didn't scare me at all, even at 2a.m., because there were people walking in the streets and subway stations.

Up the bike punx, oi.

The above phrase really is funny, because

bike = punks

is true in some places in the U.S., and you really can go as far as negating this logic which yields

(no bike) = (not a punk person)

and still finding it true when observing the streets. It would never work in Europe, though, where, for instance, elderly folks on bikes are a common sight not because they don't have the money for cars but because they enjoy riding their bikes.