I do a lot of walking. After bussing downtown, I walk about a mile to school each day, but the vast majority of the walking I do is in and around campus. My classes are often in various disparate locations, and it is not uncommon for me to have to go from the fourth floor of the Broadway Edison building, to the third floor of the Fine Arts Building, then to the fourth floor of the Science and Math Building, and back to the fourth floor of the Broadway Edison building to Collegian HQ. Not to brag, but with all those stairs, my glutes are in good shape.
It is arduous, frankly, to navigate so much walking, given the fairly short ten-minute passing period, and the distances I have to travel between classes, often punctuated by a bathroom break, or quick trip to the library for occasionally necessary printing. I am usually frustrated as I walk across campus, my face in an ever-present scowl that adds to my social armor in ways I neither need nor desire. There is one reason, and it is constant:
You people don’t know how to move in a society.
I am walking up the stairs in the SAM building, and I don’t have much time to get to the fourth floor. I stay on the right-hand side of the stairwell as I take stairs two at a time, cognizant to stay out of everyone’s way as I ascend. As I pass a landing, there is a helpful sign that says “Traffic: Please keep to the right.” A student ascending more slowly (it can be a lot of stairs) is stepping up the right-hand side, close to the wall, and I easily flow past them on their left, returning to the right-hand side of the stair case once I have passed. Another landing, another sign, “Keep to the Right.”
As I turn, there is another slow student. This one is in the center of the stairwell, clearly exhausted, and staring at their phone. Students coming down the stairs are having to slow down in order to find some way around them. As I get close, there is nowhere for me to go, as there isn’t enough room to pass on their right or left. I (and several others) am stuck behind this one student, until we reach the next landing, where they peel off, slowly, to walk through the doors. I am impatient, like a racer at a red light that is about to turn. As soon as my way is clear, I pass another sign, “Keep to the Right.”
Now, on the next set of stairs, there are three students coming down, standing next to one another, talking and moving slowly. They are completely blocking the entire stairwell, and concerned only with the conversation they are having. There is no way for me to pass without at least one of them stepping out of the way, even if I stop entirely to let them pass. They never look at me once, as the outermost member scrapes their body across mine, clearly content to force everyone else out of the way to maintain their conversation. They never break formation despite the humanity they sweep before them. They are so slow, I wonder to myself if they ever make it to class on time. I look up at the next sign, “Keep to the Right.”
Finally, on the fourth floor, breathing a little heavier, I attempt to pass through the right-hand door. There is someone standing there. They were entering the stairwell through the wrong door (my right-hand door as I exit, their left-hand door as they enter), but as they did, a friend caught their attention for a conversation, and instead of re-entering the main floor, they just stopped in the middle of the door frame, completely blocking anyone else who may try to enter.
“Pardon me,” I say after a moment of waiting, mustering every bit of patience I can.
Their head whips about at this gross intrusion of their private conversation. They look over at the other side of the door as if to say, why don’t you use that one? I don’t because it is the wrong door. That door is for people trying to get off of the floor, and into the stairwell.
I am not going to put myself into a position where I am in someone else’s way, especially not to appease someone who is erroneously in my way.
The person moves ever so slowly, and I pass as soon as I am physically able, my stride lengthening to make up for lost time.
I walk down the hallway, and there are a group of students standing about in front of a locked classroom, the instructor obviously a little behind schedule. Most of the students are along the walls, out of the way, but there are some sticking further out into the hall in order to face people they are having conversations with, their backpacks jutting out into the middle space. Usually, this is tolerable to a degree, as there is some space in the very center of the hallway to navigate, but this particular group is just large enough that a small number of students completely block the entire hallway.
I increase my gait, the heavy clicking of my boot heels on the floor announcing my presence, and the speed of my steps indicating my intention to travel past their position in the hallway. I’m hoping these tiny social cues might induce them to make enough room for me to pass.
No one moves. I come to an abrupt stop in the center of the hallway, just before one of the offending students. It is clear I mean to pass. I am clearly not one of the students in their class, and I’m not standing here for my health. The wait for recognition seems interminable.
“Excuse me,” I say, finally, with a coating of indignation and a judgmentally arched eyebrow.
Again, I appear to have transported my obstacle out of some pleasant reverie, as if I have somehow offended them. After a painfully long period of gaining situational awareness, they move the smallest distance necessary to allow me to pass, and I resume clicking down the hallway. I’m sure they think I am an asshole, somehow.
After class, I walk down the rear stairwell to the first floor. It is devoid of anyone else, and yet I still walk on the right side, just in case. I hope that most students fail to discover this secret stairwell’s existence. I enjoy having the freedom to move.
I walk out of the SAM building, and there is a couple making out on the stairs leading up to the front door. The press of students is forcing me into them, as the large group mills about like a river’s white watered agitation around an offending rock. I want to think their display is somehow sweet, but it is not. It is damn annoying.
“This is not a good place for this,” I say calmly but firmly.
They break for but a moment, to look at me and acknowledge that this joyless fun-killer has interrupted them, but, determined to let love win through, they continue their PDA, somehow for the world’s benefit. They do not move. Eventually, the river’s current allows me to flow past them.
I quickly walk up to the Broadway Edison building, careful to dodge around several students looking into their phones with headphones on, oblivious to the world around them and weaving in unanticipatable squiggles, because I need to stop by the library on my way to the third floor of the Fine Arts building across Pine to the south.
It is a bank of four doors. I go to the rightmost one, and attempt to enter. There is a group of people trying to exit. There are three other doors, all to their right, my left. They are coming out the door I am trying to enter, because I have now conveniently opened it. I am forced to stand still as they flow around me, walking slowly and giggling, never once looking me in the face.
I make it to the hallway, walking along the right-hand side, as close to the wall as possible. I pass slower students on their left, then return to the right-hand side… just like driving a car. There is a large group of students coming the other way down the hall, all standing in a line to talk to one another. Their phalanx stretches the entire hall, and they are entirely unaware of the other students performing veritable feats of gymnastics to get around them. I walk as close to the right-hand wall as possible. There is a small opening, but in order for it to fit a human being, one of the members will have to drop back and form a second rank, if only to let me pass.
They hold the line like a disciplined regiment, and I am dashed into the wall. They never break rank, or even acknowledge their actions. They are an unaccountable force of nature.
I walk further down the hall, and there approaches another wave of reinforcements in strict phalanx. I stand close to the right-hand wall, but this time, I am determined to maintain my position. I have given them as much room as I could possibly be socially expected to afford them. They approach, and never once look in my direction. I do not move. I brace for impact.
The blow of my shoulder knocks the outermost student out of line; their first indication that their group might not be the only one extant on the Earth. They look about frantically as if trying to process this new input, and finally they find me. I am already on my way, along the right most side of the hall. I’m sure they think I am an asshole, somehow.
As I get close to the library, tables are set up along the corridor, with displays for some student group or other. Pizza Eaters Anonymous and the League of Foosball Aficionados draw ever expanding crowds, no member of which seems to realize that this is taking place in a narrow school hallway during a preciously short passing period. The way is entirely occluded, like a sclerotic artery in a cheese lover’s heart. I can almost visualize Gandalf the Grey bellowing “you shall not pass.”
But I have things to do, papers to print, planets to conquer. So, as I draw near, I wait to see if someone notices, and starts to make a way for me. They do not. So, with a mighty intake of breath I say:
“Excuse me,” at a very reasonable volume.
One person, one kind soul, turns their head my way, realizes that I may not have an interest in pizza addiction or table soccer, and graciously steps slightly to the side in an attempt to allow me to pass. It is like a single chip out of a boulder. My way is not clear.
So, I slap my hands before me like a diver, and walk forward, parting the crowd like Moses. Part of me is concerned with appearances… but a lot of me doesn’t care at this point. Maybe some of these students will learn to keep some space available for others, but probably not. I make it to the other side, having thoroughly ruffled a large portion of the crowd. It flows back together behind me. I’m sure they think I am an asshole, somehow.
I make it to the top of the stairs to the library, and walk towards the right-hand door. Just inside the door, there is a detection apparatus for library materials. There is someone walking out the ingoing side. Just as they enter between the device and the door, a friend calls their attention, and they turn, glued to the spot. I stop just before entering the doorway on the right side.
This person is small, maybe five feet tall and ninety pounds, yet they still fill the entire entryway so that no one could get past them politely. I am not a particularly large individual, but I could walk through this obstruction without much trouble, and easily continue on my way.
But, that’s not polite.
“This is not a good place for this,” I say quietly. It is a library, after all.
Suddenly startled, the person quickly tries to squeeze past me in the doorframe. The other door, the door on their right, the correct door for exiting, has been open and clear this whole time. I’m sure they think I am an asshole, somehow.
I frantically print my documents after silently cursing the infernal library printing station payment machine, and manage to make it to the Fine Arts building across the street, vaulting up the three flights of stairs to class without further obstruction.
After class, it’s back to the Broadway Edison building to meet with the Collegian staff in their fourth-floor roost. As an able-bodied person, I try not to use the elevators in deference to the community that needs it; also, when they work, they are ADA non-compliantly slow, and it’s generally faster to take the stairs. However, today I have bounded up and down probably 20 floors worth of stairs, and as time is not as critical, I elect to use the elevator on the first floor.
I try to be polite, and allow others to get on before me, which means that once the elevator is full, I am closest to the door. I frown internally when a group of apparently able-bodied people get off on the very next floor, but I try not to judge. Maybe they don’t know where the stairs are. After a few more get on, the rest of us travel up all the way to the fourth.
As the elevator, still quite full, opens its doors, a person waiting to get on starts charging with purpose into the full elevator, right at me.
“You will have to wait until we get off before you can get on,” I say, trying, yet likely failing, to hide my condescension at the obviousness of this observation.
They look at me as if they are sure that I just made that up, as if that is not how elevators, or indeed any box containing people, has worked since forever. I’m sure they think I am an asshole, somehow.
At this time of day, the halls are fairly empty, so I feel more comfortable walking towards the center of the hall, though I still walk slightly to the right, just in case. I get near to a corner where I have to make a right turn, and because I don’t know what’s around the corner, I hug the right wall as closely as possible…
The pain is immediate and intense. Internally, all I feel is a singular, hyper-explosive rage. When I open my eyes, there is another person, clutching their forehead in mirror image to myself, obviously in similar pain. The difference is that this person didn’t stay on their right side of the hallway, and cut the corner turning left. My only solace is that my erstwhile attacker is equally pained, and, like Ahab, I think, “for hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.”
Melodrama aside, I nurse the egg growing on my forehead, and press on past yet another person who leaves their interaction with me likely certain that I’m an asshole. I walk down the center of the of the hallway, yet again favoring right. I look up past my hand and see that in the distance, there is someone walking toward me down the center of the hall. I adjust slightly right, so we should easily pass, like ships in the night. Only they have adjusted to their left… putting them directly in front of me again.
So, again… I adjust right. They also adjust, and they are in front of me again. I am certain they intend to get out of my way, but as they are continually adjusting in the wrong direction, we continue pressing toward each other.
I am literally touching the wall now. There is an entire hallway to my left, devoid of any other soul but we two, and yet they drive on, inexorably, toward me. I am close to my destination, my head is pounding, I have been dealing with this ignorance all day. My store of politeness is used.
“Move to your right.”
I am gruff, commanding. I have no use for pleasantry at this point. It is the simplest of societal norms, how to walk down a hall. It’s just like driving a car, something I’m sure these folk also do, or at the very least are familiar with.
One wouldn’t drive down the left-hand side of the street, or park their car in an intersection, or turn left into the oncoming lane. Why do they do these things as pedestrians?
I make it to the table at my meeting, and slump into my seat, still clutching my forehead, but trying not to call obvious attention to it.
“So, next item on the agenda, we are looking to add op-eds to the paper. They can be on any topic really, just as long as it’s pertinent to the school. Does anyone have an idea for an article you think would be useful for the student body?”
My hand raises, “I can think of one.”