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July 15, 2024

Armed and Dangerous

By Ken Dubuque

"Yes officer, I know it was only a stroller but it nearly killed me," I said to one of New York's finest who was helping me up off the pavement. He answered with a shrug of his shoulders.

I moved back to the City after job changes necessitated moves to Pittsburgh, Washington DC and Austin. In all three locales people were less rushed, a little more aware of personal space and even just a bit more courteous than in New York.

And while I enjoy New Yorkers' outspoken helpfulness, like when a perfect stranger says, "No, you won't like that cheese, try my favorite," let's face it , it isn't the land of "Y'all can go ahead of me."

I chose to semi-retire here because of the opportunities: to discover history; to wander through multi-ethnic neighborhoods; to explore the arts, both observing and participating; to eat wonderful, diverse food (way too many opportunities); and to attend numerous events. And as I walk through this wonderful city absorbing its sights, sounds and even the smells, I notice a sense of happiness and lack of fear on peoples faces that wasn't here in the late 70s and 80s. But perhaps there may be a reason to be afraid.

In the first few days of my return, I felt it I might be overly sensitive. I thought as I dodged the first one: she is just in a hurry. The second time, when I was brushed back, I thought: he's just harried. The third time, as I was flattening myself against a storefront, I thought: well, it is hard to do two things at once. I guess the Midwestern, Southern, and Western politeness gained from my various moves was still exerting its influence, as I made excuses for this self-centered behavior.

This oblivious conduct wasn't entirely new to me, however. I had seen and felt this kind of danger before at the local supermarket, where I was continually being rear-ended by shopping carts steered by senior citizens. As a result, I had bruises on my achilles tendons that never seemed to go away. They always pummeled my ankles: those hard-boned, thin-skinned parts of the body with a million pain sensors. I tried to be patient and understand, even with my throbbing tendons and stifled moans, as I would be getting older myself someday. These seniors may have had trouble seeing where they were going and maybe they had lost a little bit of muscle to control their heavy-steel-mesh-mobile containers filled with mounds of cans, bottles, boxes, and plastic wrapped groceries.

I even offered to help push their carts, placing my less heavy basket on top of their booty -- why did their items seem to be so much heavier and bulkier than mine, particularly when their bodies were so much thinner and smaller than I was?

Their usual retort to my offer was : "Do I look helpless, sonny?" or, on rare occasion: "No thank you cutie, but what are you doing later?"

I even tried going to the store very early in the morning or after midnight. It didn't matter; the senior denizens were always there. Those white-haired or in some cases, blue-haired elderly ladies with the rouge powdered cheeks were particularly dangerous; the sweeter they looked, the more damaging they were. Also there were a lot more women than men: maybe male ankles are more vulnerable and subject to gangrene or some other horrid spreading disease leading to amputations, so that men were no longer able to push carts (or maybe they just didn't want to.)

As damaging as these oldster collisions may have been, I didn't believe that they were intentional or a plot: their glasses being disguises for a laser guided ankle finder (LGAF for short) or that I was singled out. No, shoppers were dropping like flies all over the supermarket. But it did seem that more of the victims were younger, carrying only a basket. So I just wore high-backed combat boots when I went grocery shopping and pretended to grimace for old time sake, just to give the seniors a sense of satisfaction when they drove their metal projectiles into me.

Well, now I'm back; my ankles recovered long ago. The supermarket aisles seem to be wider and the cart bottoms higher off the ground. While there is an occasional sore calf, the elder demolition derby seems to be a thing of the past (although those mechanized scooters can be pretty scary). But now there is a new menace on the streets of New York. It is even more dangerous. It is indiscriminate to man or beast, young or old (or older as I've now become), large or small. It is the stroller!

Perhaps it is the age of technology or the 'bigger is better' philosophy or maybe people are just more self-absorbed or just too busy; I don't know. But whatever it is, this danger is lurking around every corner, in every crosswalk, in every alley, behind every door. There is no warning: they quietly roll along on their cushioned suspensions, all items of noise creation soundproofed to avoid announcing their insidious presence. They are equipped with multiple solid or mesh pockets with straps to hold incredible amounts of paraphernalia just in case of any possible contingency, apparently including famine and pestilence. I bet they come in sizes based on heft: heavy, even heavier, really heavy and unbelievably heavy. They have thick metal or plastic everywhere, ostensibly for safety reasons but for whose safety: the occupants or the innocent passersby on the streets? Their operators are generally younger, stronger and equipped with street grabbing shoes, all resulting in more force upon impact. Einstein had a formula for all this, and I paraphrase : mass times velocity equals a heck of a lot of brute force.

That the operators are busily preoccupied with the latest communication devices or filling their stomachs only increases the danger of these machines. Add to that the flailing, multi-appendaged occupant of the beast (who to its credit does occasionally announce its presence with a wail or continuous crying) and the result is downright terrifying. And if that is not enough, they tend to travel in groups: sometimes two, side by side and I've even seen an attempt at three, in a cavalry-charge-like formation, which has an exponentially negative effect; as the drivers are then only paying attention to each other.

They tend to be in deep conversation with a lot of commentary including: "Do you like, believe what she/he said then?" or (closer to home): "Don't you find it like, incredible when people won't get out of your way on the sidewalk?"

Particularly clever is the double-wide (some side by side, others front to back): twice the weight in one. And god forbid you ever question the drivers, especially if you're male: you'll be singing in a higher key, buster.

What can be done to control these ubiquitous beasts, to make the sidewalks, running paths, crosswalks, lobbies and stores safe for humankind again? The supermarkets aisles are more or less once again okay to tread. So someone with similar ingenuity should be able to save us from this stroller menace. I for one am almost out of ideas. Perhaps I'm distracted by the bruises I have at shin height; I've taken to wearing soccer guards. Maybe it's because I am becoming a senior and unable to look forward to causing supermarket ankle destruction as was done to me. Or perhaps the tables have turned and I feel like a target again, except this time of the young. I wonder if I can love and fear the City (or is it aging) at the same time. Whatever the reason I can only suggest one thing: a face-off between the strollers and the shopping carts.

Article © Ken Dubuque. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-09-03
Image(s) are public domain.
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