He’s an ornery looking guy. Grey hair, furrowed brow, maybe late 60s. White earbuds tucked stubbornly into his ears, the common LL Bean jacket and knit watch cap are his uniform. He appears to be muttering to himself as I peer at him from under the brim of my hat. I’m heading directly toward him. He’s on “my” side of the trail.
Ah, I think: another game of Trail Chicken. One day last summer, a woman and her leashed pup were walking toward me on “my” side of the 8′ wide pavement. We both had our heads down, were lost in our own thoughts. When were about to collide, I suddenly became aware of her and I leaped to my left. We smiled at each other as we passed and I danced back to the right, reclaiming my rightful lane. Well, now that was a bit awkward. Maybe she’s British and used to traveling on the left side of the road. Maybe she was training her dog. Could she be sight impaired? No, she looked me in the eyes.
The remainder of my two-mile walk that morning was consumed not with being in the moment, nature along the trail or enjoying the fresh air, but with the curious existance of the convention of walking, riding or driving on the right side of the path. Or more exactly, with what happens when that agreement is disregarded. Because of the smile we shared and my crazy “Whoops!” as I veered around her, the brush with this person was lighthearted and comical. The encounter with Mr. Earbuds left me scratching my head.
We spied each other on that common vector from many yards. I wondered when he was going to realize he was on “my” side and switch back to “his” side. Every few steps I glanced up. Yep, still coming. Still muttering. As we neared, I could hear his voice. Closer, I could hear what he was saying. “Is she gonna move? I don’t think so. She gonna go??? Not yet…. There she goes. Good girl!” That muttering, was he betting with himself whether I would yield? Amazing. I laughed and said to him, “You didn’t know if I was going to move, did you?” The guy tossed his head at me, conveying he’d put me in my place! I felt like stamping my foot and shouldering him, claiming my space. Of course, I didn’t. I walked on. But not after tossing off my own editorial snort in his general direction.
For a few minutes my thoughts were tinged red. I was not curious or compassionate about this guy’s story. I was pissed. He might as well have shoved me like I wanted to shove him back. That toss of the head he gave me was downright rude! I was blind to the frosted leaves beside the pavement. The chilly morning air moved in and out of my lungs without the usual deliciousness. As I neared my turn-around point, I realized his problem wasn’t about me. I could have been anybody and he’d probably have done the same thing. Well, maybe not if I’d been a tall male capable of intimidating him to sweep out of the way…
There was no encounter on the flip side. Mr. Earbuds was nowhere to be seen on the mile back home.
But I did see him again this morning. He was just entering the trail as I stepped out of the breezeway. Ah ha! I walked down the driveway and entered the path. He was about a tenth of a mile ahead of me. I gauged my gate to keep my distance, not close enough to hear if he was muttering. He was traveling on the left side of the trail! I switched over to see how it felt to be a trail scofflaw. I kind of liked it. About a half-mile later, he meandered toward the middle of the trail. Lingered there for a few dozen steps. Then, by God, he angled over to the right and walked on the right side. A woman and her dog were coming toward him and he’d done the conventional thing and allowed them to pass without confrontation! I was beginning to look forward to his turning around to go back and getting my chance to claim my horizontal personal space (stupid, stupid, I know.) When he reached my usual half-way turning spot, he looked both ways, crossed the road and continued onto the next leg of the paved trail. I rounded the bollards, tossed my head and took a deep, intentional breath of relief. Anticlimactic, but the best all-around outcome for the situation.
If I see him tomorrow, I might have to move over to avoid him again, but I’ll be walking on the right side.