One of the difficult parts of walking down a sidewalk is figuring out what other people will do, handling the different things they end up doing. Last year I reinjured a quadricep muscle, and I've relearned a lot about trying to get along smoothly with other pedestrians.
Some of the problem types:
- "Centerwalkers", people who walk precisely along the centerline between any obstructions on the sidewalk, and who do not acknowledge the presence of other carbon-based lifeforms
- Crowds who are more conscious of the inter-group bodyspace boundaries than of people who are not in their group
- Weavers, those hypnotized by electronic devices, and those who aren't sure where they're going and change course as they think of it
- Those entering the sidewalk from a car or building, and who don't quite look ahead to see what's already going on, and who take awhile to process the scene when they finally tune the sidewalk in
- Groups standing on the sidewalk talking... this isn't as bad, because they're not moving as much, but drawing their attention to their surroundings can be tricky
I don't really need to use the cane indoors much, but I'll use it outside, for both support and for crowd control. Others will not try to walk through a stick as readily as the will try to walk through a person. The physical object helps in clearly defining personal space.
Most of what I do for crowd control is verbal:
- Top thing I say, hands-down, is "Thank you". Any small courtesy, I want to reinforce; even the appearance of someone offering a courtesy is worth reinforcing.
- Second most frequent verbal comment is "Awright, thank yew!" and variants. This is used more when I need to verbally acknowledge that I understand their body language and intention. (I'll use "thanks" more when someone has offered a courtesy, and "alright thanks" when they offer but might renege.)
- "Please, after you", "Go ahead, you're faster than me" and so on... I defer on the sidewalk more than anyone else I've seen. My main incentive is that I don't want to be in a situation where they can change their mind and cause a problem, so I won't rely on someone overtaking me to slow down within a constriction of the sidewalk... I'll give it to 'em before it could risk a problem.
- The above are most frequent, but when someone is not attending and risking a collision, I'll usually start singing. Anything, doesn't matter. I use earbuds for language study while walking, but they don't know that I'm not singing along with recorded music. What I'm doing is not sending a particular message, so much as drawing attention to myself (sometimes as a potentially strange individual), so that they can't space out that there's someone with limited mobility on the sidewalk with them. I force their awareness by singing.
- An escalation tactic is to sing with conscious wordchoice... again, I'm not talking to them and challenging them, but am instead apparently lost in my own world, yet still I'm able to say things germane to the situation. Examples: "Uh oh, what's she going to do next?" "I can't guess where he's gonna go, I should stand on the side until I know" "I'm big I'm wide I'm half a mile across I am" "You cannot walk right through me; it breaks the laws of physics" and so on. One of my favorites, when a young woman with a fast nervous stride and loud heels is slowly overtaking me from behind, is "I hear sleighballs jingling, ting-ting-tingleling too, come on it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you." (I can never tell whether they get it, though. ;-)
- Sometimes I'll talk real with the person -- "*That* was dangerous!" or whatever -- but that's rare. Someone that strange is already on the edge, and a lot of San Francisco's strangest are likely carrying knives or guns (SF has outlawed guns, so those committing crimes anyway are incented to carry).
Some of the cane-specific tactics I use:
- I'm almost always along an edge of the sidewalk, ceding the center. If the cane is towards the center I can give a slow Chaplin-style twirl to catch their eye... people rarely walk into objects, particularly clearly moving ones. If my weak leg is towards the center I'll bring the cane across my chest, diagonally from shoulder down to the injured knee and about 3" from my body... doesn't expand my bodyspace, but just clearly defines it with oak.
- The Blind Man's Tap is a way to slowly sweep the space I'll walk into with my next step. I won't touch the ground (a white cane for visual assistance is about five feet long, while a hook cane for body support is three), but people visually understand the sweeping motion. It's effective at persuading a centerwalker or a weaver to share the sidewalk.
- The Waggle is a strange little move to get through a crowd. I won't use it unless I'm sure that they're choosing to pay less atention than they're capable of paying. It's like the Japanese way of using an a thumb-up open palm to move through a crowd, except the cane extends this by three feet and (for pacing) is usually angled down to knee or thigh level. "Ah, excuse me please, may I pass through, all right, thank you thank you" are necessary verbal cues, because some people are startled to see an object near them while they're standing around in the middle of the sidewalk.
- If my weak leg is on the outside of the sidewalk, sometimes I exaggerate the sweep of the cane when it moves forward... instead of the tip being twelve inches from the side of my strong foot, it may sweep twenty-four or so inches out. It just subtly changes my width, and the exposed part is wood.
- The Cagney Walk is useful, particularly at a distance... I've been doing lots of patterns of a poke every four strides, then alternate pokes and twirls... but I'm not always doing it, and it's hard to start up when someone gets inappropriately close, so the tactic is only occasionally useful.
- An emergency move, which I unfortunately have to use a couple of times a month, is to just stop, spread feet outwards a bit and bend knees to brace, and hold the cane horizontally with both hands between me and the oncoming pedestrian. Sometimes people react to that, but if they had given the good cues by not walking unnecessarily near to people, then they wouldn't have caused us cautious types to respond as if they might be even more unnecessarily dangerous. A brace is a full stop, and relies on them moving off their line through the caneholder. I will avoid verbal contact with such a strong physical statement.
- One dangerous situation is in a sidewalk constriction (a construction walkway, cars parked on sidewalks, etc). If there's only space for one, I will wait for them to pass through first. If I'm nearly through and they try to enter, I will be assertive with the stick: "You do not need to keep your previous pace regardless; you need to look at the situation around you. Just wait a second and the pathway will be clear." (That isn't what I'd say, but what the stick would be used to say. Verbally, if anything, it would be "Just one second please, ah there, it's all yours.")
- One move I'd really want to nail is for bicyclists coming up the centerline, at speed, behind someone walking with a cane. This happens to me maybe once a month. Get the feet at 45 degrees with knees bent, change the grip, and put the hook of the cane where my shoulder was. It's not as aggressive as stepping outside my previous path and extending my arms, but if he thought my shoulder was a target, then it's actually his neck that he's endangering. But if I see him in time I'll usually just stop and stand aside (ceding the sidewalk to a biker!), and when I need the move he's usually too fast for me to react.
- While waiting for a traffic light I used to choose one edge of the curb, with one side protected by a lightpole or whatever and the other protected by the horizontally-held cane. But I've seen a bunch of people just walk into the damn cane... unbelievable. Now I'll usually choose a position away from the curb, and wait and follow the one who will plow through opposing traffic most obliviously. I don't use curb-protection techniques much anymore... I'd have to be doing full-arm figure-8s at speed to catch the attention of some of these folks.
I'd like to attend to the trees, the weather, the birds, the people. Instead I end up paying a lot more attention to those who are paying far less atention themselves. I try to travel off-hours. The cane can be used to make things easier, in many subtle ways.