Voices | Nicole Cammorata

Cross talk in the crosswalk

How did a meeting between a friendly pedestrian and driver quickly devolve into a heated argument?

By Nicole Cammorata
October 11, 2010

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‘Am I really the type of person who gets into screaming matches with strangers?’’ I recently wondered after an incident in Davis Square.

It all started innocently enough — two people trying to be nice. So how did trying to be nice turn into something ugly?

While crossing the street during my morning walk to the T station in Somerville, I stopped at the curb to allow a man taking a right turn to drive past me. He had already turned into the crosswalk as I approached, so I motioned, “You go ahead.’’ I was feeling sunny and generous and figured on this busy street, it’d be a nice gesture to let him complete his turn.

He countered with the wordless, universal gesture for “No you go ahead’’ by kindly waving his hand out in front of him. Then I waved my hand in front of me. “No you go ahead.’’ Then he waved his hand again. Then I waved. Then he did. Then I. Then he.

It’s no secret that Boston drivers and pedestrians have long had a love-hate relationship. As a driver in the city, I’ve always hated it when people dart across the road in front of me — particularly near T stations and in the areas of town near college campuses. As a pedestrian, I try to be conscious of this, following the rules not only because I know how annoying it is when people don’t, but also because I don’t want to be hit.

So after the back and forth with this particular driver, I finally thought, “Oh, this is just ridiculous.’’ I walked across the street, remarking as I went that he was “already in the middle of the crosswalk.’’

This is where things went wrong.

The man called out to me, in an angry tone — scolding me for making a “rude comment.’’ I turned to look at him. He was an older man, perhaps in his 60s, wearing a button-down shirt topped with a black fleece vest. There were slight wisps of gray hair poking out from the red baseball cap he wore on his head. He looked like the kind of guy who had a golden retriever. Who liked fly fishing and late summer baseball games at Fenway Park.

What I should have said was, “I was just trying to be helpful. Sorry about that!’’ and laughed it off. In a perfect world I would have thanked him for honoring the pedestrian’s right of way (how many people just buzz past, almost clipping you in the process?) and learned his name. I could have offered to buy him coffee, find out what he did for a living, and asked what had brought him to this particular spot on this particular morning. That’s what I should have done.

But no. Caught up in the emotion of confrontation and irritated and embarrassed that a stranger had yelled at me, I yelled back (in a particularly haughty tone), “Well you were the one in the middle of the crosswalk, sir.’’ Then he yelled back to me, equally angry, admonishing me to “not be so stupid.’’ Emphasis on the stupid. Ouch. I was enraged, and so was he. I stormed away then, my shoes click-clacking louder and louder on the sidewalk.

I replayed the scene in my head again and again that day. It really bothered me. I had so many questions: How did something that began as two people trying to be nice end up as a screaming match? Why did it escalate so quickly? Are we that impatient? That stubborn? Will pedestrians and drivers in Boston ever get along, if the two of us couldn’t? Or are we in such a rush that when someone else’s agenda bumps up against our own, it turns us into the type of people who yell at strangers? I didn’t want to be that person.

I walked past the T station that morning and kept going until I hit a coffee shop. A group of people walking slower than I was tucked themselves to the right to let me pass. I smiled at them, and they smiled back. At the door of the coffee shop, a man was walking out. I held the door for him, and he smiled and said, “Thank you.’’ It didn’t make up for my behavior a few moments before, of course. But I made a promise to myself that never again would I be the person yelling at a stranger. Even if that meant keeping my mouth shut when someone else hadn’t.

I’d still like to buy that man a cup of coffee, though. If he’ll let me.

Nicole Cammorata can be reached at