This lonely crosswalk at the corner of Depot Street and Bloomingdale Avenue waits to help people cross the street safely. (Provided photo — Diane Chase)

I’ve always been curious about the term “Jaywalking.” It seems unrelated to the person I almost hit while he squeezed between two cars, a construction vehicle, and a few safety cones. I also feel the name doesn’t sum up my frustration with the hand gestures I received that did not indicate an apology or gratitude for not maiming or even killing him with my minivan.

I know. I’m as surprised as you are. He was not giving me the thumbs up but a different single-digit salute.

I have little room to complain as I’ve walked across streets looking at the crosswalk like it had a different zip code. I understand it’s a matter of convenience, laziness, or both. Is a jaywalker the predecessor to the annoying “Karen?” My apologies to my Aunt Karen and all the fantastic Karens who have had their lovely name hijacked.

We’ve taught our children to look both ways before crossing at the crosswalk. Yes. We have taught our children to push the button, wait for the appropriate symbol, and use the crosswalk. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t slipped across the road now and then. I hope tickets for jaywalking aren’t retroactive.

My son used to argue with us about how the crosswalk was a safe zone (similar to the game of Tag), and it didn’t matter if he looked or not because it would be the driver’s fault. Yes, but he wasn’t taking into consideration he would also be injured. It seems to be a similar thought process to my finger-flashing friend.

As with most 100-year-old terminology, there are different versions of how words came to be. In a 1905 article from the Junction City Union, drivers who didn’t stay on the right side of the road were labeled jay drivers. The “jay” wasn’t referring to someone’s name, but the chatterbox, flighty Bluejay. Eventually shortened to just “jay,” the term usually referred to the ignorant person who was not used to traffic or didn’t know the road rules. Don’t be such a jay.

After fierce lobbying from the automotive industry, the term flipped to the pedestrian and quickly moved beyond the Midwest. Now there are codes across the country associated with jaywalking. Having a law and enforcing it are two different things. At one point, the fine for jaywalking in Boston was only one dollar, which made it nearly impossible to implement.

Now when we choose to jaywalk, we know a snippet of how the term evolved. Please be careful whether you are weaving in and out of traffic or avoiding those illegally crossing pedestrians. My son still reminds me it is the driver’s fault, even if the pedestrian is a jay.


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