Service of My Space: Am I Invisible?

July 18th, 2016

Categories: City Living, Etiquette, Walking

I don’t require a lot of space when I walk through Grand Central Terminal [photo above] or on a crowded sidewalk—no more than an average pedestrian. Even when I’m pulling a large bright red suitcase-on-wheels, I wonder if I’m invisible.

In NYC there are no more unwritten rules-of-the-road for pedestrians that respect the space of others. Nothing’s changed in years: The city has always been crowded with thousands of tourists from here and abroad, all with unfamiliar walking patterns that bungle the pace of natives. But it worked before. Today we are increasingly unaware and unconscious of others.

Red suitcase turnedI’ve previously mentioned a friend who was knocked off her feet on Lexington Avenue in front of Grand Central. She’s short and the business man, engrossed in conversation with a colleague, neither realized he’d hit her nor noticed her tumble, she said. He continued on. Another pedestrian helped her up. Thank goodness she wasn’t hurt. [Over years I’ve also been slammed by angry, clumsy and sometimes nutty pedestrians—or their backpacks, shopping bags and brief cases.]

I’m not small; I know where I’m going so I don’t dawdle or hesitate.Yet at least once a day, especially in midtown, I wonder if someone—old, young, middling, doesn’t matter–is going to slam into me, especially at crosswalks. I find the solution is to stay alert but I am irritated that it’s up to me to defend my space and I miss a time where we respected other pedestrians’ and stayed clear.

Nothing new here. I wrote about this in “Service of We Get What We Deserve” in December, 2009: “When someone crashes into me, or my package, on a city sidewalk, I can’t remember the last time I heard an apology. Has ‘excuse me’ dropped from our vocabulary? Yesterday someone slammed into my niece and said nothing to her as she gathered her footing. If you apologize, be sure to check out the crasher’s expression: He/she will look angry at you!”

Is this the same where you live–on sidewalks, in grocery stores, in lobbies, airports or bus/train stations? Do you have techniques for securing the space around you? Do people do this because they enjoy a brisk game of chicken, is it illustrative of pedestrian rage or have we lost our personal compasses?

Crowded sidewalk NYC turned

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6 Responses to “Service of My Space: Am I Invisible?”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    Everything is changing. The technology of smart phones have a lot to do with it. People used to walk down the street looking where they were actually going! Not any more! And of course with Pokémon go, things have multiplied for the worse. Few weeks ago we went to MOMA, and one was better off walking in the street to make any headway. Tourists, phone gawkers, phone talkers, and other rude people, made the sidewalks impassable.

  2. Lucrezia Said:

    My favorite phrase–“Am I invisible?”–when in line and someone tries to push ahead. Works every time.

    Being “invisible” also has its advantages, especially when passed over by those with malicious intent. Just ask survivors/victims of recent atrocities.

    Inconveniences lurk everywhere. Sure there’s less jostling outside a crowded city, but there are also less advantages. One tends to experience few earthquakes & tornados in the Northeast, but more blizzards and hurricanes. Since complaining can’t fix things, best policy for lower blood pressure is to learn to live with it, or move to what appears to be less threatening surroundings. Just remember not to howl upon seeing the house whirling 100 yards overhead or falling into a crevice caused by a fault. Life is unfair, and not about to change its ways.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Technology has a lot to do with it and is the biggest change to compare navigating streets today with earlier years. In the photos I snapped randomly, one day last week down the block from the office, there is one man on his phone and another is wearing giant earphones and is holding a smart device–he’s no doubt in another world listening to music or a podcast. But what about all the others?

    I often walk in the street for the same reason you do. With bicycles in the mix coming at you from all directions, you must take care when doing this. I’ve seen some close calls.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    True, the city usually ducks major natural disasters with two recent exceptions: The 27-inches of snow this winter [that didn’t shed a flake upstate] and Hurricane Sandy that flooded subways and hospitals and buildings and electric stations and lorded it over the city.

    And I LOVE the city. I would like to be able to defend myself a bit better is all. I used to pride my expertise at weaving in and out of foot traffic and don’t like feeling daunted. I’ve always avoided rush hour when possible–the subway is never fun at that time and I tend to be at my desk in any case. I suppose I should also learn to SLOW DOWN.

  5. hb Said:

    I agree with you. New York was a kinder, gentler place a generation or two back and not just on the streets. But then, we were also more formal in the way we dressed and polite and formal in how we addressed and spoke with one another. We kept our distance.

    That said, if you’ve been to crowded, tropical cities like Lagos, Bombay, Rio de Janeiro or Cairo, or even beautiful, temperate cities such Naples, Athens or Venice in the summer, you’ll know that New York is really a “piece of cake,” and a heck of a lot safer than they are.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Most people in New York have always been brusque and impatient with those who don’t move along or who hesitate and yet there used to be an invisible divider between pedestrians.

    Although not a pedestrian story, I remember being shocked when on business in a Chicago suburb years ago. I was the driver and we were lost about 6 PM. The light turned green and we didn’t know whether to take a right or go straight. I didn’t move. Nobody honked. It felt so strange to me. I’d have been deaf in seconds had this happened in the NYC metro area at that time.

    That said, if you dress as though you’re at the beach–which we see daily, in midtown during the week by people of all ages–I suppose the loosey goosey attitude carries through to how you behave.

    Since writing this I have focused on the confrontational situations at crosswalks, where sidewalks narrow and in Grand Central Station and I admit to feeling a bit of a “let’s play chicken/just make me move, tootse” approach by others. It doesn’t suit my personality one bit but I’ve made an effort to just keep on walking.

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