The Compton Crosswalk Stroll
Patience Meets the Street


My life has been a battle with impatience.  Sometimes my exasperation with the pace of progress boils down to the way people cross the street in front my car.  I like to imagine that everyone wants the gears of transportation (and forward momentum) to move smoothly and effectively.  This is not always the case.  Nevertheless, it’s a struggle to be not annoyed about the unavoidable.  Let me try your patience by going back in time.

It is February 3, 1965, 11:30 am and two great rivals of 20th century American momentum are about to meet.

My father Frank is driving his red Corvair.  He’s at the corner Magnolia and Dwight in Compton, California.   Frank works for and believes in General Motors Corporation.  Raised on the pace of business success, IBM and Dale Carnegie’s self-help upwardly mobile enthusiasm, Frank lives at a quickened mid-management pace.  

In the crosswalk directly in front of Frank, a group of young men are negotiating the street.  But rather than move at the industrial speed of General Motors, these men move in a measured slow motion. The Compton crosswalk stroller's gait is like pouring honey  — and it is blocking Frank’s way.  Frank reads this as arrogance.  The strollers aren’t handicapped, old, or distracted.  So, why the downtempo?  Is it bad attitude?  Pantomime slowmo?  Pre-commodified cool?  Whatever, Frank is squirming.  They’re in front of his car and he can’t move.  The pace of his world is challenged — the GM timeclock threatened.

The crosswalk strollers are in the way of Frank’s agenda. He is motionless and annoyed.  Don’t they know they’re in front of a ton of steel on wheels guided by a disciple of social Darwinism?

Their walking grows slower.  Maybe it’s the stroller’s pathetic way of exercising the only power they have over Frank.  Maybe it’s a challenge.  Maybe it’s what it is.  Or maybe it’s the spark of a Mario Savio moment — a small-scale statement against runaway corporate group think:  Block the crosswalk — slow the engine.

“There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies in the crosswalk and walk as slowly as you can.”

Whatever, the Compton crosswalk strollers stop directly in front of Frank’s Corvair.  Now, they crouch down to the pavement.  Frank’s impatience grows large.  Just as he reaches for the horn, the strollers stand, one holding a ring in his hand. A crisis has been averted.  The strollers move on and so does Frank. 

Today, I just laugh when my patience is tested.  Time is meant to be slowed down.  A delay may be a benediction — a moment out of sync, a simple misunderstanding between two great rivals of 20th century American momentum, not yet done with their engagement. 

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast August 10, 2010

© / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


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