Graduating Senior Reflects on Sidewalk Etiquette

Anasuya Shekhar, College senior

To the Editors:

As I prepare to graduate this December, I think back on the many experiences I have had here at Oberlin College. Some have been middling; others have been pretty nice. I could not be happier, however, that I will never have one particular experience again, and that is playing real-life Frogger as I attempt to avoid being hit by people’s loogies.

Often, as I walk along the sidewalk, minding my own business, the person in front of me hucks a giant gob of spit out of their mouth. If I am not quick, it will land on me. My reflexes have quickened after four years here, but every miss is narrow. I know I’m not alone. I know there are other students on this campus who live in fear of being indirectly spat upon. Even if the loogie lands wide of the sidewalk, I frequently find myself unable to look away as the saliva hits the ground, and after intense examination of the gob I am reduced to a state of emotional confusion. I have lived this life for four years. My hope is that in writing this letter to the editors, I may make a positive change for Oberlin students of the future.

My experiences of horror and self-doubt on the sidewalks of Oberlin are not limited to salivary discharge. I live in fear of that awful experience, which seems to happen at least daily, of attempting to move to one side to let someone pass and having them inevitably drift in the same direction. The result is a dance of shame. In my time here I have learned to be a good sport about this situation, and I try to laugh with the person about it. However, there are always those, out of intense shyness or perhaps pride, who refuse to acknowledge my friendly laughter. In these situations I am left dancing around the sidewalk, laughing at nothing in particular, while inside I am hurt and bewildered.

Relative walking speed is also an issue on our sidewalks. I have often had the experience of being trapped behind a pack of people all walking at a leisurely pace. In this situation, I feel that there are a few options. One might scream and push the people out of the way. One might instead passive-aggressively make a comment mentioning Galapagos tortoises or other slow-moving animals in the hope that they will take the hint and walk faster. Or one might accept one’s fate and walk behind these leisure seekers until a window opens up, and one is able to dart past them. However, this leads to a Catch-22-like quandary, because whenever someone walks swiftly by me, I become offended. Clearly, when someone walks quickly by you, they are making a statement that you are walking too slowly. This is rude and unacceptable. Therefore, if you speed past the pack of leisurely walkers, you are being rude and also unacceptable. The choice is yours; walk behind the amblers until you are late for class and your academic career is ruined, or be rude and unacceptable. You might think that adjusting your speed to other people’s on the sidewalk is the answer. You are wrong. If you do this, you will end up walking next to them, but not with them. This is creepy and will lead to an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure. I must stress to you that this is not an option.

These and countless other mishaps that plague our sidewalks could be avoided if we implemented some basic etiquette. If you feel that you must spit, just politely shout “LOOGIE” beforehand, giving people behind you the chance to get out of the way. If you find yourself in the let-me-move-to-the-sideoh-no-you-moved-to-the-side position, simply stand still in the middle of the sidewalk and scream “NO” until it’s over. And, if you are unsure about the appropriateness of your walking speed, why not make a general announcement to everyone else on the sidewalk that you’ve chosen a brisk pace, for instance, but that you’re open to suggestions. Together, my friends, we can make the sidewalks of Oberlin safe.

–Anasuya Shekhar

College senior