Learning the ABCs of PSE

August 29, 2002

La dee da. Just strolling along the sidewalk hugging Kennebunk Beach. La dee da. Beautiful evening. Warm sun, cool breeze, blue sky. Just my wife and I enjoying an after-dinner walk. La dee da.

Oh, and here comes another couple, hand in hand, breathing in the salt air, walking toward us, enjoying the view and each other’s company, smiling and chatting away, not a care in the world. La dee da.

They’re within spitting distance now (not that I have any intention of spitting on them – yet), so, as custom dictates, I speed up a couple of steps so that Diane, my lovely spouse, can fall in behind, the two of us forming a single line on the right side of the sidewalk. You know, so that the other couple, likewise narrowing their ranks, can stay on the sidewalk and pass by without incident. La dee da.

But what’s this? They’re still walking side by side, forming an impenetrable wall of really nice clothing. Clearly, if anyone’s going to sidle on over, it’s the guy, but this guy ain’t budging.

La dee

“Crap,” I mutter to Diane. “Here we go again.”

And that’s when it happens: yet another inexcusable breach of sidewalk etiquette. My wife and I are forced to step down into the parking lane to avoid a head-on collision with Mr. and Mrs. We Own This Sidewalk. No “pardon me” or “oh sorry.” They just keep strutting their arrogant asses down the sidewalk, still not a care in the world.

PSE (Poor Sidewalk Etiquette) is on the rise, my friends, and it’s an ugly thing. Don’t believe me?  Take a walk – anywhere – and be aware of how many times you have to move for somebody else, even though it’s both parties’ responsibility to demonstrate chivalry and decency.

There are a handful of PSE scenarios (and these do not include expectorating, littering, talking loudly into cell phones, or scrawling graffiti):

  • Large group of people outnumbers you; mob mentality supersedes niceties; you are plowed off the sidewalk;
  • Person in the position to move out of the way does so, but only a few inches, creating an oncoming diagonal line, which has the same effect as two people walking abreast;
  • Single person wavering side to side as though intoxicated;
  • Couple pretends to be so involved in conversation that they don’t see you; only until you’ve been pushed out into the street do they act as though they’re sorry; you catch their conversation as it is resumed, and it has something to do with hogging the sidewalk.

Victims of PSE are easily recognizable. We’ll be approaching a couple, and when we’re 50 feet away they’ll scurry into the road or dive into the ocean to swim around us. That’s not excessive politeness; that’s PSE burnout. Rather than anxiously await the outcome of a sidewalk encounter, they give up right out of the starting gate.

The silver lining in PSE is that it has given Diane and me ample fodder for conversation, something other than what are we going to have for dinner and are we going to be bad and go to DQ again. We get to curse people in new and colorful ways, and pass really harsh judgments on pedestrian transgressors.

While taking a solo walk a few weeks ago, Diane did something that is bound to join the ranks of urban legends. When it became apparent that an approaching mother-daughter team was not going to make way for her, Diane resolved to stand fast and not leave the sidewalk. So unexpected was her resoluteness that Diane received a look of shock from the daughter, who at the last second – as Diane stopped walking and stood motionless – avoided bumping into her by stepping in behind her mother. She’s my hero.

So, to recap:

You’re strolling along the sidewalk with your mate, a 3-foot-high seawall to your right and, to your left, the street with a parking lane, when you are approached by another couple. As you get within 25 feet of the oncoming pedestrians, you:

A. Climb up on the seawall and wait for the others to pass;
B. Step down into the parking lane, provided no cars are there;
C. Form a single line to the right, assuming the others will do the same so you can pass by each other easily; or
D. Keep walking side by side because, after all, la dee da, YOU OWN THE FREAKING SIDEWALK.

We all know the answer is C…right?

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