Mongolian traffic cops are trying to kill me

Traffic cop in action

My commute every morning starts out with a 10-15 minute walk to the bus stop. I walk along a busy street, but there’s a nice wide sidewalk with irregularly spaced trees that I zigzag between. (On the other side of the street, the trees are mostly planted in a straight line, so it’s not an issue.) I cross three streets on the way to the bus stop. One is a small T-intersection, but it’s a four-lane street coming into the big street, and often three cars across two lanes, so I have to be aware. Fortunately, it’s usually not very busy. The next one is a larger divided street coming in, Japan Town Street, the one that runs past Emerson’s school (and Japan Town, a large apartment complex further down the street). It’s busier, so I have to sometimes just walk in front of moving cars like the Mongolians do and hope for the best. So far so good; I’m still alive. The last one is a big intersection with a traffic light, often supplemented by a traffic cop. Unlike most people, I usually just wait for the pedestrian crossing light to turn green before I cross there.

When we had our first significant snowfall (only an inch or so, but enough to screw up traffic), and our first seriously cold weather, the morning walk changed a little. The change was heralded by a steady chorus of car horns starting outside our apartment early Monday morning, November 22. A traffic cop was out there, screwing up traffic.

When the weather gets really cold here, the volume of traffic increases tremendously. My evening commutes home have stretched to two and a half hours if I take the bus the whole way. (Sometimes I just walk, sometimes I take a bus part way and walk the rest, and sometimes I walk part way and take a taxi for the rest. It’s good to have options.) In the morning, I go in a bit after rush hour (I leave my apartment between 9 and 9:30, usually), so I can get to work in about 40 minutes. But the later in the day, the worse the traffic gets.

When this happens, the traffic cops come out to override the traffic lights. Which basically means they will wave traffic through when they feel like it, as long as they feel like it. Traffic piles up in all directions, and I feel like it piles up worse when the traffic cops are out. Though, of course, correlation doesn’t mean causation.

The drivers don’t like them much either. Hence the horns. Traffic cops can be capricious, and they seem to let some lanes go more than others. A few times, my bus has sat through numerous light cycles waiting for a chance to turn left (in a severely backed up turn lane that overflows into one or two lanes meant to go straight), while a traffic cop blithely allows one lane after another to go through the intersection. But not our lane. Once, after we’d been sitting for a while, and all the cars trying to turn were leaning on their horns in a beautiful symphony, the cop turned to look at our lane for a few seconds, his baton tantalizingly half-raised. Then he shook his head, turned away, and let another lane of traffic go instead.

That’s when I realized that they’re not out there to make the traffic situation better. They’re out there to do whatever they feel like doing.

So, the horns are a routine part of my commute now. Drivers letting the cops know what they think of them. And I wonder how many cops get hit in the line of duty. It seems like a risky job here. Which must make the traffic cops savor what power they have all the more.

Which brings me, I guess, to the title of my post. When the traffic is bad enough for traffic cops to materialize at the light at the entrance to Marshall Town, where we live, there is usually a cop at Japan Town Street, where there is no light, but a pretty steady stream of traffic trying to turn onto the main street. The first couple of days this happened, I was kind of relieved, because I thought, well, as long as the cop is waving the traffic on the main street through, I can cross more easily.

Until I realized the traffic cops were trying to kill me.

One morning, the cop was signaling the traffic to go straight on the main street, so I started across. When I was halfway across, he started signaling traffic to turn left into the lanes I was crossing. I ran the rest of the way across, but I could feel it as a car nearly brushed the back of my coat.

The next morning, I waited until the cop had just started signaling the traffic to go straight, and then I started briskly in front of the stopped lanes of traffic. Suddenly he halted the lanes that were moving to wave the cars I was walking in front of through. Once again, I had to leap out of the way. I’d been outsmarted.

This scenario has played out several times since then. It seems like a different traffic cop every time, or I’d swear it’s someone out to get me. At the time I’m walking, there aren’t that many other pedestrians, so it’s often just me crossing the street. If it’s not, I’ll happily use another pedestrian as a shield. I’m not proud. And I make a pretty distinctive sight in my ankle-length black parka, navy fleece beanie, blue pollution mask, and honking huge knapsack. It’s quite easy to imagine the traffic cops sitting around the coffee room before work, saying, “Hey, let’s take out that foreign woman with that huge black coat. Just for fun.”

If I stop posting, it’s because they got me.

Traffic cops consulting at the Japan Town Street intersection

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