Creative jaywalking

My new IBM office is in a building near the intersection of Six Forks Road and Millbrook Avenue in northern Raleigh. Unlike the other IBM sites where I’ve worked, this one has no cafeteria — but that’s not really a problem, because there are plenty of restaurants and fast-food places nearby. In fact, some are within walking distance. A shopping center at this intersection includes a KFC/Taco Bell hybrid, a Subway, a Chinese place, and a restaurant called the Bull and Bear. (What kind of restaurant is it? A dismal one, apparently.)
Although it’s not far away, the shopping center is diagonally opposite the IBM site, requiring me to cross both streets in order to get there. Both crosswalks are equipped with WALK/DON’T WALK signal lights and push-to-walk buttons. After having made use of these crosswalks several times, I have learned something interesting: the signal light for crossing Six Forks Road always says DON’T WALK. I’m not exaggerating — you can stand there as long as you like, but WALK never appears. (Needless to say, pressing the P-T-W button has no effect.) The simplest explanation is that the crossing signal is broken, but I have another theory. I believe that the city’s traffic engineers studied the intersection and concluded that it is never safe to cross Six Forks on foot, so they installed a signal that won’t let you try it.
Of course I don’t let that stop me. Six Forks may be too dangerous for ordinary pedestrians, but I went to the University of South Carolina, where you either learn to dodge cars or you don’t live to graduate. USC’s main campus is located in the middle of downtown Columbia, and a major thoroughfare (Greene Street) runs right through the middle of the campus. This is by design, I’m sure — the university’s founders believed that natural selection should be a part of the curriculum. That also explains the Horseshoe, a large grassy rectangle dotted with trees and crisscrossed by brick walkways. There is no vehicular traffic on the Shoe, but on most days there are multiple impact sprinklers in operation. To traverse one of those brick walkways without getting wet, you must observe the timing of the sprinklers and then carefully choose the correct walking speed and moment of departure. It’s kind of like a live-action version of Pac-Man, and it helps you develop the skills you need to cross Greene Street.
The Horseshoe has a large squirrel population, which provides the opportunity for another entertaining pastime: Squirrel Bingo. The entire Shoe is your Bingo card, divided into triangular spaces by the walkways. The squirrels are your counters. If you can find a contiguous series of spaces, each containing at least one squirrel, that crosses the Horseshoe from side to side, you win. I lived on the Shoe for a year, and by the end of it, I could play Dodge The Sprinklers and Squirrel Bingo simultaneously. Compared to that, crossing Six Forks Road isn’t even a mild challenge.
UPDATE: Marie reminds me that Greene Street had gates that were used to close it to vehicular traffic and save students from being run over. True, but the gates were only closed during the daytime on weekdays; on evenings and weekends, it was back to Pedestrian Roulette. And in any case, the gates only protected a couple of blocks of Greene, from Sumter Street to College Street. If you wanted to walk to class from Sims (where Marie lived), or from the Presbyterian Student Center (where I lived during my senior year), you still had to dodge cars.
Marie also denies any knowledge of Squirrel Bingo, even though she worked on the Horseshoe at the South Caroliniana Library. That just proves that she was spending too much time on her job, and not enough time gazing out the window.
UPDATE: Bob reminisces about life on the Shoe.

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