Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Monday, June 12, 2017


We Hollywood walker types are intrigued by street signs involving pedestrians, and I happened to be reading an article in the New York Times by Mokoto Rich about the “Daunting economic woes” of South Korea.  And one of the photographs illustrating the article showed university students in Seoul “where job prospects are a concern.”  This one

And I saw, rather small, in the picture there was a yellow triangular sign, too small to make out very clearly but it definitely showed a walking man and a car, and there was some kind of curvy symbol between them, apparently emerging from the car.  I thought it looked like the car was farting on the man – or I supposed, more realistically, showering him with exhaust fumes.  But I showed it to my companion and she reckoned it looked as though the car was shouting at him.

We were both wrong, as you see above: the “curvy symbol” indicated a collision between man and machine, and what we hadn’t noticed in the picture because it was too small, was that the pedestrian was staring at his cell phone.  The sign is simply telling pedestrians not to get so engrossed in their phones that they bump into cars.  A message we can all get behind surely.  Though of course, if you were totally engrossed in your phone you wouldn’t have seen the sign,even if it were on the ground, as below, but this is the paradox with which distracted pedestrians, and drivers, have to live.

Denounce me as a libertarian if you like, but it seems to me that people should take responsibility for their own lives, and if they’re really too stupid not to have worked out that walking while messing with a phone is dangerous, then I suspect no amount of signage is likely to help. 

The Koreans also have the sign above: I think the idea is that you place your feet on the footprints and stand there playing with your phone – much to the annoyance of passersby as they swarm around you, I assume.

And there is the one above that strikes me as vaguely insulting: two old geezers holding hands.  I imagine it’s supposed to be sweet but it strikes me as condescending (and ageist) because it’s not warning old people about cars, it’s warning car drivers about old people, with their walking sticks and their handbags, as though they’re too feeble to look out for themselves.  There are a great many old people to whom this does not apply.

Which brings me to the life and death of Seuk Doo Kim (above), a 78 year old hiker, of Korean origin, who planned to climb Mount Baldy 1000 times.  Now Mount Baldy has always struck me as sheer hell; a 10,000 foot peak in California’s San Gabriel Range, a punishing ascent to be sure, but whenever I’ve seen pictures it’s always looked overpopulated.  Still, to each his own.  And in fact he walked plenty of other places too.  

Seuk Doo Kim, known as Sam, didn’t make it to 1000 ascents.  He’d done about 800 when he fell to his death from a trail on the northwest side of the mountain.  By all accounts Sam was ‘irrepressible,” talking exuberantly to anybody he met, helping lost hikers, handing out food, posing for selfies.  The LA Times quoted him as saying, “My shortcut is the Holy Spirit.”  I don’t suppose the Koreans, or anybody else, have a sign for that.

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