Monday, February 1, 2010

In Whatever Comes Our Way

Among the factors making driving in Tokyo interesting are the many narrow roads, bad visibility at corners due to foliage and/or structures, vehicles parked at the roadside, ubiquitous construction sites, and widespread lack of sidewalks. When you add all of the death-defying bicyclists and oblivious pedestrians--and not a few wildly incompetent motorists, some driving huge trucks--you have a great arena for lots of excitement, with more thrills than a circus.

Having grown accustomed to the more common street scenarios and the typical antics of the people involved in them, I'm not that easy to surprise any more. It doesn't necessarily require surprise to provide an adrenaline rush, though, and I'd much rather be thrilled than bored, so I'm not averse to a fair bit of excitement and entertainment.

There were more acts than usual in one day recently.

First there was the guy who sprinted out from behind a parked truck, across a narrow but well-traveled road, right in front of me. He didn't merely dash, he was running full out, perhaps because he realized that the light was red for him, and cars were zipping by, and he thought he stood a better chance for survival if he ran faster through the traffic. I probably would have hit him, had I not seen the shocked look on the face of a driver in the oncoming lane. He saw the runner coming from the other side of the truck that hid him from me on my side of the road, and slammed on his brakes just in time to miss him; I downshifted and braked hard on the strength of the driver's expression, so I just brushed the runner's coattails.

A couple of hours later I came across a middle-aged woman on a bicycle, pedaling furiously against the lights, crossing a major multi-lane thoroughfare, with a look of fierce determination, shouting "Get out of the way!" repeatedly and glaring at all of the cars and trucks screeching to sudden stops to avoid hitting her. I have no idea whether she was color blind, or confused, or just clueless.

Only a couple of hundred meters further on, a compact van came up from behind me as I waited for a light on a narrow one-way street, the driver blaring his horn to get the half dozen cars behind me to move over so he could pass. We let him by, and he sped through the red light. I have no idea what his story was.

Later in the evening, another of the Tokyo street circus performers appeared with a new act: this young woman was holding a mirror, a makeup case, and a cell phone; she was attempting to apply makeup and send text messages, while riding her bicycle. Evidently it took a lot of concentration, since she had no attention to spare for the drivers and pedestrians who had to dodge around her.

I thought that was it for the day, and I was only a few minutes from my destination, when the last performer suddenly zipped out of an alley from behind a hedge. I had to swerve a bit to avoid him, and then did a was a junior high school kid riding--somewhat unstably but undeniably--a unicycle.

It's going to take big cats or elephants or something to appear in the Tokyo street circus before I'm surprised or even very thrilled at what comes my way, now.

I've already seen plenty of clowns.

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