The Good, The Bad and the Oblivious*

Combine one part self-absorption, one part 21st-century apathy and one part urban burnout and what do you get?  You get a Way-blocker.

If you want proof that courtesy is on the wane, all you have to do is to observe the increasing number of pedestrians who fail to notice that there is someone else endeavoring to use the same sidewalk.  Whether it’s a clump of people who have chosen the middle of the sidewalk to hold some kind of social gathering, a person walking at a snail’s pace because he is on the phone, or a family of four who have decided they need to walk abreast--their arms entwined in an impassable human chain--it appears as though New Yorkers are more and more oblivious to the fact that there are others behind them who may actually have somewhere to go. 

To different types of way-blockers we can assign varying degrees of culpability.  Awe-struck tourists who stand in the middle of the sidewalk looking up may be irritating when you are late for work, but might perhaps be forgiven for their dazed and dazzled condition.  Pet owners who are focused on their pooping poodles to the temporary inconvenience of passersby may be annoying, but ultimately understandable.  Parents who block store aisles and crosswalks with their super-duper-deluxe double baby strollers do sometimes appear to have a sense of entitlement about their procreative right to slow up the world; but still, one has to take a deep breath and let them off the hook.  (We must always remember that most of them are majorly sleep-deprived.)  Even people who are talking on cell phones, impervious to all human movement around them, can be seen as distracted more than destructive.  Slow walkers, people who are window-shopping or lost, people with poor shopping-cart control--these are minor obstructors who can be frustrating, but for whom we all have to muster a little patience.

However, there is one form of offender that, in my book, can not be acquitted—or even, for that matter, comprehended: the person who stands smack in the middle of a doorway. 

What can these people be thinking?  To me, the act of standing still in a public doorway of any kind is a complete mystery, except for in the case of an immanent threat of an earthquake.  I mean, a doorway is like a faucet, a highway or a digestive tract.  You can’t just stand there, unmoving, in the passageway without being aware that you might be causing some kind of a stoppage.  And while the blocking of subway doors is probably the worst form of door-blocking, I admit I am also perplexed by people who stand around chatting away in the doorways of apartment buildings and stores.   (Let’s not even talk about folks who hold up the elevator while they chat.  I may get mad and press the Emergency button.)

Of course, because a doorway is a transitional space, it may seem to some to be a desirable place to have a “short-term” conversation, a non-committal exchange.  After all, you are ostensibly on our way in or out, so you do not have much time to talk, right?  You can be on the brink, with the words “Okay, gotta go” on the tip of your tongue.  You are in a great escape position.  Who cares if someone else is trying to get by?

As a society we are becoming less and less considerate about the needs and feelings of others around us (and yes, I am so often on this particular bandwagon I am eligible for Frequent Complainer Miles).  But way-blockers especially seem to me to be a symptom of this deterioration.  Why must I go through my day saying “Excuse me, excuse me!” when it’s not me who needs to be excused?

Maybe I am not seeing things from the blockers’ point of view.  After all, there are always two sides to everything.  Maybe I need to slow down and chill out, not judge people so harshly.  I mean, stopping to chat in a doorway is really not such a big deal.

On the other hand, it is also not such a big deal to just get the heck out of the way.

*Published in The West Side Spirit August 24, 2011

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