On my third day in Dublin, I almost went home early—on the freight deck of a jumbo jet in a body bag. Regarding mechanical competencies, I’m pretty well-endowed. I can fit more suitcases into a car trunk than most people would ever dare try. When my children need help with their car and catapult models, it’s me they come to, not their father. I’ve driven 14-foot trucks up and down the hilly streets of San Francisco and across the U.S. I even have an internal GPS that works so well people have threatened to steal it when I’m asleep. You would think that mastering this “other” side of the street traffic flow thing wouldn’t be so difficult.
First, let me give a shout out to the Dublin City Council and Road Maintenance Services for the fact that I am not dead. Those “look left” and “look right” on-pavement directions have saved my life repeatedly. And I am getting better about looking the correct way first now, although some part of my brain refuses to acknowledge that I am safe with only one look, so if you see a short woman turning her head 6-8 times like a lateral cuckoo clock as she’s crossing the street, that’d be me.
The odd thing about this problem is that it’s only the street crossing. I have driven successfully in Ireland. In the west. On a manual car. I stayed out of the ditch (common landing spot for right side roadsters). I have sped along the narrow roads from Kerry to Clare, and nary a scratch on the car. I was even fingered politely (a la Des Bishop) in Clare in appreciation for my skilled driving.
Dublin is another matter altogether. Because it’s not only the traffic, it’s the jaywalking. Being from New York City, I am a consummate jaywalker. As pedestrians, we have no use for red lights. We have no time for them either. I’ve tried to curb this habit while in Dublin, but being a social creature, it’s quite difficult, as it’s very lonely to be standing alone when everyone else has gone on ahead.
In my own defense, I would like to point out that when I’m here, I’m always working. I don’t mean that I’m sitting at a desk typing, but that my brain opens up like a sieve, sucking up all the music and accents and colors, igniting new story ideas and characters. It gets very busy in what is already a small space and my brain has its outer limits.
The night in question, the one that almost found me sprawled beneath a monster yellow bus, was rainy and very dark. My head was under an umbrella and swarming with writerly thoughts. And the driver didn’t use his turn signal. Heading out of town on Aungierwexfordcamden Street, I stepped off the curb at a very small, un-traffic lighted and un-zebra-crossed street, only to find a bus nano-seconds from swallowing me whole. I’m a bit ancient but not quite so old that I didn’t manage to jump back on the curb just as the bus careened down the street.
Shaken, I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong. I’d looked to the right to make sure there was no traffic coming up behind me and turning left, as I often miss that one. Not until I’d settled my shakes a few minutes later did I realize what had happened. The bus, heading into town, had made an ungodly fast left turn, and of course, because the street was so narrow, banked left to the far side. The same side I had stepped off of.
Jesus F. Christ. Now I have to worry about fecking bus-banking angles?
I managed to sleep it off, but the next morning, when I saw I had put on my underwear inside out, I quickly switched it around. Remember your mum’s advice? I could just hear the emergency medical technicians as they sliced off my pants to treat my broken leg: wasn’t just the head the American girl had on backwards, it was her fecking knickers too.
Unfortunately, inner jaywalkers do not go gently into the night. Exiting the Tara Street station I saw a group getting ready to cross against the light. Safety in numbers, right? I followed behind, and next thing I knew, they were up on the curb about two feet in front of me while a very angry taxi was ready to take out my left hip. A friend later pointed out that probably they were tourists themselves, not the best group to attach myself to if I wanted to avoid becoming Dublin road kill.
The following day, near O’Connell Street, amidst traffic so heavy, no one dared jaywalk, a disheveled bearded guy stepped out into the middle of the stream and unbelievably, one by one, the cars stopped for him. They didn’t honk. Not a single driver shook a finger or fist at him. I was stunned. I was sure it was going to be a bloodbath. In fact, some people already had their phones out to snap a photo of the impending carnage.
But no. The cars parted as if he were Moses with his staff at the Red Sea. Later, it occurred to me that maybe I was onto something there, and in fact, this guy was the messiah. Perhaps Jesus had returned and he was here. In Dublin. Sorting out the traffic mess. After all, he’s going to have to start somewhere when he returns.
Alas, further efforts to find the fellow were fruitless, and I was back to my Mad Mary head-shaking routine, until finally, one evening, more by accident than intent, I hit on a strategy that seems to be keeping me alive. I was crossing Georges Street just behind a pack of big men, and suddenly found myself inside the huddle, which turned out to be a cozy place indeed. So now I simply seek out those groups of big men, preferably local, and preferably sober, and insert myself as if I’m part of the crowd. It’s a fair assumption, I think, that any bus or car will get them first, and, based on their size, also a good bet they’ll take out a bus before it takes them down. It’s my own form of pedestrian insulation. Most of the time they don’t even notice I’m in there. And if they brush up against me, instead of giving me a dirty look, this being Ireland, they turn around and say, oh, sorry, sorry love, sorry there, very sorry, really sorry.
It’s a bit heartless, I know, almost English-like, to be sacrificing Irish lads to save myself, but then again, it’s not as if I TOLD them to jaywalk.
Last Christmas, my family and I were visiting relatives in New York City when my son received an invitation to spend New Year’s with a pal in New Jersey. Seemed like a fine plan; the house was only an hour or two out of the way on our route home to Washington D.C. Except that the forecast was for the frozen wet stuff, and to put it mildly, our groovy, ultra light, low emission, gas efficient, aerodynamic PC little Honda absolutely sucks in the snow.
Not wanting to spoil my son’s New Year’s, we headed out anyway, convincing ourselves that the forecast was probably nothing more than hype from a bunch of weather forecasters trying to bring up the ratings. About an hour into the New Jersey hills, we were slipping and sliding all over the place, but we’d passed the halfway mark and it was too late to turn back. Hunched over the steering wheel like the little old lady I will someday become, I mentally willed the car to stay in the track and not skid in front of some massive 18-wheeler—because this does happen more than you would think on the roads in America. And as much I enjoy singing along with Bruce about suicide machines, I most certainly did not want to be driving one. The whole way home, my knuckles bone-white around the steering wheel, all I could think was: I did not come this far in life to die on the goddamned New Jersey Interstate.
Hell. I’m from New York. I’m not even supposed to frigging BE in New Jersey.
And so, back to road risks of Dublin: while I do feel like a bit of an idiot having to use escorts to cross the street, I recognise that part of growing up is accepting one’s limitations.
So there you will find me, jaywalking with the big Dublin locals.
Because, same as that day in New Jersey, I did not come this far in life to die under a Dublin City Bus.
Although, God almighty, think about the crapload of books I’d sell if I did …
Diana Friedman visited the Irish Writers’ Centre in August 2012 and visited again in February 2013 where she became an honorary member for a week in return for writing some insightful blogs! She was born and raised in New York City, and corrupted at college in California and upstate New York, where she got a few degrees, none of them in writing. After doing the east coast-west coast leap a few times, she landed outside of Washington D.C. in 1996 and has been there ever since. To keep bread (and butter) on the table, Diana works as a science editor/writer, but her true passion is creative writing, particularly fiction. About seven years ago, she passed through Ireland on her way back to the States, and, finding herself compelled to write a novel partially set in Dublin, discovers herself here quite a bit. She’s lost track of whether she now visits to work on the book or to holiday, but as these two activities are equally fun, she no longer bothers with that distinction. Except for the taxman.
Her work has received several awards, including being selected as a finalist for the Howard Frank Mosher Fiction Prize, a top 25 pick for Glimmer Train’s Family Matters Contest, third place in Bethesda Magazine’s Annual Short Story Competition, and as a finalist in Sport Literate’s essay contest. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in various publications, including Sport Literate, Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment, Whole Earth Review, the Baltimore Sun, Newsweek, Bethesda Magazine, Stone Highway Review and the Legendary, among others. An excerpt of her novel will be published in a forthcoming anthology of Washington, D.C. writers, Defying Gravity, available from Paycock Press in 2013. www.dianafriedmanwriter.com and to keep up with her newest writings or hang out with her in cyberspace, you can “like” her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DianaFriedmanwriter or follow her on Twitter @Dfriedmanwriter