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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 7 (October 1, 1937.)

The Old Alacrity

page 50

The Old Alacrity

Peds, Petrol and The Past.

Pedestrianism is now a protected industry. After all, a motorist is only a petrol-propelled pedestrian; and a pedestrian is bound sooner on later, to become a motorist, either in sorrow or in anger. The streets are only bits of land reserved from sale so that people can get from one place to another without climbing over buildings. Certainly some of the streets look as though they were preserved only by sheer luck. Most of them came into being as cow tracks anyway, and there was always the chance of some go-getter running up a public house in the middle of them so that travellers had either to go round it or through it, the hypothesis being that no sane person would go round a pub if he could go through it.

No one would be surprised if the city road-holers or perennial bitumen-bur-rowers were to dig up the ossified remains of a pre-petrol man, with a pint pot in his hand, caught by the internal-combustion era in the centre of Willis Street There may be other interesting relics of the past awaiting discovery under our streets, such as a pre-traffic policeman still on his beat, just as he stood when the city was overwhelmed by the great motor inruption. If we dug sufficiently deep we might even find the complete remains of a boy without a bicycle or a bullock-driver being reprimanded by a city father for reckless driving.

No doubt, in those days when the pedestrian strolled down the centre of the street with a horse breathing on the jback of his neck, many people were-caught and overwhelmed by a sudden onslaught of progress.

But what would be the use of disinterring the pre-petrol past? It would only cause us to envy the time when a street-walker was not a toe-dancer with a swivel eye, a ball-and-socket neck, and two-way feet.

“Happy Days Are Here Again.”

But we have travelled the celeritous cycle and once again it is recognised that the pedestrian has rights pre-dating the time when the first motor-car got itself run down by a horse-and-cart. While not encouraged to pick doubles, quarrels or daisies in the centre of traffic he is now deemed, within the meaning of the Riot Act, to be a visible and indivisible part of the pandemonium. He is permitted, nay! encouraged, to cross from one side of, the street to the other in a manner that does not suggest that he is sickening for painter's palsey or kangaroo fever. Where once he hesitated on the curb
“Dig up the ossified remains of a pre-petrol man with a pint-pot in his hand.”

“Dig up the ossified remains of a pre-petrol man with a pint-pot in his hand.”

until little girls tied their skipping ropes to him and little boys tried to carve their initials on him, now, courteous men in the uniform of the Legion of Liftmen, beckon him across as though he were their rich uncle from Kalgoorlie. At one time the valiant ped., after waiting his opportunity until mushrooms sprouted out of his boots, would gather up his gallopers and brave the bitumen-bouncers, the gasolene-go-getters and the pedestrian-pouncers. He would plunge in, feet first, and keep going until he reached the other side, or the hospital, whichever his luck deemed desirable. He defied both the rule of the road and the role of the rude.

But now all that is changed. There are crossing places for him, as clearly defined as the jungle track to the old water-hole. There are uniformed street-day collectors (see above) to keep him on the straight and narrow path; there page 51 are safety zones in which he can regain his “sangfroid” and his umbrella.

The Sign of the Zoneiac.

The safety zone is yet something of a solecism to the time-toughened ped, who has ploughed a lonely furrow on this part and that, for so many moons that he finds it difficult to credit such a sanctuary. He is still inclined to eye it with the shy suspicion of the wild buck who senses the zoo; and who can blame him? For years he has braved the bounding main (street). As a lisping infant he was warned at his mother's knee to look, listen and leap. It is a little difficult for him to retire so suddenly from the heat and burden of the bitumen. For too long has he flirted with peril to realise that there is now a campaign afoot to preserve the pedestrian for posterity. As one of the vanishing races, in common with the bison, the blacksmith and the peanut-roaster, he is to be protected so that, when little Carburetter Jones asks his father, in the year 20002 a.b. (after bowser) “What is a pedestrian?” it will be possible to run one down for the little fellow without taking him to the museum.

In another decade one can envision old gentlemen shaking their heads at one another and wheezing. “Remember how we crossed Cuba Street in ‘34, old timer?” And there will certainly be a Returned Pedestrian's Association where nimble veterans will swap anecdotes of the nifty “nineteens” and recount breathless tales of tip-and-run. Tough old pedestrian petrol-pioneers will deplore the softness of an age that shrinks from plunging into the monoxide and braving the bonnets.

The Jay-walkers' Jamboree.

And, it is reasonable to imagine, there will be an annual jamboree of jay-walkers in aid of the Free Ambulance,
Making The Best Of It

Making The Best Of It

“A kind of benzinian bull-ring where veterans will ware red lights at maddened motors.”

“A kind of benzinian bull-ring where veterans will ware red lights at maddened motors.”

with a mooch-past in the main thoroughfare at five o'clock and a trophy, presented by the Magician's Society, for the best hair-breadth escape.

Also, tough old veterans will congregate at radiator-rodeos to recapture the old-time zest in life destroyed by the advent of pedestrian-preservation. In a kind of benzinian bull-ring they will wave red lights at maddened motors and leap with their old-time adroitness as trumpeting tourers, savage sedans, careering coupes, herds of wild motor cycles and untamed taxis charge down upon them. These old gasolene gladiators must have their little bit of fun. We can&t let the old spirit die. After all, these are the men who trod the trackless wilderness and made the roads fit for heroes. If they rear and roar like a bull-moose in a milk cart we must be patient. The time will come when we will regard them proudly as bulwarks of the bitumen and write books about them with titles like “Street Rovers of the Brave Old Days,” and “Traffic Tales for Boys.”

For the old order of cross-as-cross-can passeth. The jay-walker is being forced back before the relentless advance of the traffic cop. The diagonal-dodger is defunct, the hesitator is lost.

But the crowning glory of this war-to-end-whirr is achieved when a motorist stops—yes, sir Stops—to let you cross. It takes some getting used to. At first you imagine that he is a boyhood's friend who craves word of the old home town. In consequence, you drape yourself over his door for a spot of reminiscence before you realise that he represents The New Humanity—the return to The Age of Chivalry.

Ah, me! Life goes on—benzine.