Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hurry up and wait

In Santiago Centro, they have installed a lot of crossing lights with the little walking-man and a box below him to tell you how long it will be before the light changes again.

I don't know if it makes it better or worse to know exactly how many seconds of my day are spent waiting. Sometimes I stand there and stare at the number, "29" or "43" or "91" and think, "I am wasting 91 seconds of my life waiting here!"

Who comes up with these numbers? "91." Not "90" or "92," precisely "91" seconds are allotted for people to cross at this particular corner. I'm sure that the numbers were not assigned randomly. Someone, somewhere, must have conducted an exhaustive survey on the subject.

I can see it now--some man out on the corner with a stopwatch in his hands, timing people as they cross. Or maybe they time the cars. How many should pass through before the light changes? Someone decides these things.

If you're waiting at a red with the little still-man figure, when the light changes, he turns green and starts "walking." As the timer ticks down, he starts walking faster and faster until he's running as though he were in a dead heat at the Olympics. I wouldn't recommend trying to dash across in the final few seconds because the drivers here are both lead-footed and sporting.

As I waited at one of the long ones today, I observed three men waiting to cross ahead of me. One of the nicely dressed, middle-aged men was laughing heartily and practically skipping in a circle around the other two.

I watched in amazement as he did it twice more. Other passersby kept glancing sideways at him as they gave this most un-Chilean-like behavior a wide berth. Exhibiting joy and frivolity at 2:00pm on a Thursday afternoon in downtown Santiago? Nah, not done.

Wondering if he were actually Chilean, I turned the other way at the next block, but I hope he got hold of himself before he reached Plaza de Armas. Otherwise, the carabineros might have revoked his carnet.


  1. I really like those. When I first saw them, about 10 years ago, it was one of the first cities in the world at the time where I'd seen them. I think they are very informative. It tells me whether I need to approach running to avoid just missing it, normal speed or casually. You can wait in the shade (Why I am the only person ever that does this) and leave the shade 2 secs before they are going to change!

    By the way, have your posts from last year been taken down? About the other school? What happened there? Those were really good, really interesting.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Jamie. The other school was sold and converted into an elementary school. "My" kids and a couple of the teachers are still trying to get me into the new high school. So far, no pasa nada. More drama than an episode of "As the World Turns." Thanks for following La Gringa.