I was just reading a nice little write-up of Traffic in O: The Oprah Magazine, and I noticed it was just adjacent to a similar plug for Joseph O’Neill’s fine novel Netherland.
The pairing may have been accidental, but I couldn’t help notice, when reading Netherland, a subtle fascination with traffic. There’s a scene at the DMV, for example, and Chuck Ramkissoon takes the narrator on a series of less than altruistic driving lessons. There’s talk of “crazed traffic diagonals” and “triangular traffic islands.”
My favorite bit, though, was this short description of the comparative physiognomy of “green men”:
“At a certain point, Chuck grabbed my arm and said, ‘Let’s cross now,’ and he trotted quickly across the avenue as a surge of traffic came roaring up. He had, I realized, waited for a moment when the pedestrian light showed the fierce red hand, and then taken his chance. Evidently he felt this gave him an edge—and it did, because it meant that, walking on down Sixth Avenue, he and I were signaled forward at every cross street by the purposeful white-glowing pedestrian whose missionary stride was plainly conceived as an example to all (and whom I cannot help contrasting with his London counterpart, a green gentleman undoubtedly rambling with his golden retriever).”
He’s right about this, Chuck is: Typically the only way for a pedestrian to not encounter a “don’t walk” sign on the next block is to cross against the light on the previous block. The lights are timed for cars, not pedestrians — even though pedestrian traffic is often much heavier in New York City.