Friday, September 2, 2016

Clearwater County Fair: The pedestrian’s revenge

By Andrea Dell

One year, while walking home from the fair, I encountered a chalk drawing of a human outline, in the street.

It was in the middle of a crosswalk beside the old Orofino Junior High—the intersection next to First Christian Church. It looked like the type of outline drawing crime scene investigators make around a murder victim’s corpse.

My first thought was a little evil: An Orofino pedestrian bites the dust.

Obviously no one died there, or any such thing. No doubt it was drawn by someone having a little fun.

Still, being a pedestrian in Orofino isn’t easy.

Clearwater County’s Fair and Lumberjack Days weekend is the one time of year when pedestrians rule the streets in downtown Orofino. You can step casually off the curb and know you aren’t in danger of being run over, because everyone else is doing the same thing.

Normally, this is not the case.

Like me, you’ve probably been to communities where cars will basically slam on their brakes to stop for you.

In Orofino, you don’t often see such a thing from motorists. To be fair, when you attempt to cross the street, it doesn’t usually take more than a few seconds before someone will stop for you.

Even so, most pedestrians know to be extra wary if there is any traffic when they’re trying to cross the street.

Often, a couple of drivers in either direction will breeze on by as you stand there waiting. It’s hard to say if they weren’t paying attention, or simply didn’t want to spare that three to five seconds it would take you to cross their lane.

Sometimes, a driver will speed up when they see you. Perhaps they think they’ll be out of your way faster if they hurry, plus they won’t have to stop. Everybody wins!

When you’re the driver, and perfectly willing to stop for pedestrians, it’s tricky for you, too. Cars behind you may not notice a pedestrian even if you do. Do you try to stop, and risk getting rear-ended, or do you cruise on by, leaving the pedestrian to wait on someone more curteous?

The larger issue for drivers is figuring out what the heck a pedestrian is trying to do.

Because pedestrians here are conditioned to be extra wary of traffic, the way we handle that wariness is fairly confusing to motorists.

For example, one species of Orofino pedestrian you’ll notice is the timid lurker. You’ll find them hovering shyly on the sidewalk, a body length from the edge of the curb.

They’ll be tentatively glancing back and forth, hoping the traffic will clear, or at least figure out what they’re wanting and slow down.

Maybe they’re even rocking back and forth a bit, the way you do when you need to use the restroom pretty badly. It’s difficult to tell that they even want to cross the street.

When they do cross, they break into a fast walk, or even a jog, as if they feel it’s only a matter of seconds before the vehicle that finally slowed down for them decides to floor it and mow them down.

Another type of Orofino pedestrian is the one a driver does see, and does stop for, because they are standing at the edge of the curb, clearly waiting.

In this case, instead of crossing, they wave the driver on by. Do they not want to cross after all? Or, do they want to be free and clear of all traffic before they cross, so they can take their time? Perhaps they’re just being courteous.

The only way to know is to glance in your rearview mirror after you’ve driven past. Sometimes they’ll be right where they were, leaving you to wonder why they’re just standing there.

More likely, you’ll see them step into the street and cross, or waving on some other vehicle that showed up.

During the Clearwater County Fair, this timid pedestrian business doesn’t exist, particularly on Main Street (only a block from where the fair is set up).

Pedestrians march boldly into the street whenever and wherever they please, sparing barely a glance at any motorists who try and brave downtown Orofino.

Sometimes droves of pedestrians pass in one giant pack. Other times, there are just a couple of people, or small groups, spaced just far enough apart that cars can’t simply speed by without running over someone.

If you’ve never noticed it before, or never thought about it, take a minute to check it out at this year’s fair.

And, enjoy it while you can—once things wrap up on Fair Sunday, you’ll be back at the bottom of the food chain, Orofino pedestrian!

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