I think, in a previous life, I must’ve driven in England.
For some reason, even though I’m a native American, I seem to have a natural tendency to move through life on the wrong side of the road.
I am a true contrarian, a habitual opponent of accepted policies, opinions, or practices. If you say something is black, I’ll say it’s white. If you say it’s wrong, I’ll say it’s right. If you say it’s day, I’ll say it’s night.
And this doesn’t just apply to things that rhyme.
All my friends growing up on the suburban Miami block where I lived back in the 1960s were New York Yankee fans. So instinctively, I pulled for the Dodgers. Virtually my entire known family is Republican; naturally I vote Democratic. All my schoolmates claimed to enjoy the oxygen in the air they breathed, while my preference was for the nitrogen and the trace gases.
This philosophy stood me in good stead when I went off to college in 1971. The atmosphere in Tallahassee was essentially the same stuff we had in South Florida, yet it was also filled with the rebelliousness of the times. “There’s Something in the Air,” sang troubadour Norman Greenbaum of the era, and Norman knew what he was talking about. (Or was that Thunderclap Newman and “Spirit in the Sky”? I always get those confused).
I fell in with the anti-establishment crowd almost immediately and questioned all the authority I could lay my hands on. Unfortunately, this led to much righteous indignation, which crowded out my study time and made it difficult to graduate on schedule or, for that matter, in the millennium.
I began tempering my counterintuitive bent within a few years, when I got my first car and realized that traffic laws were probably a good idea, even under the Utopian anarchy I yearned for. Certainly not even libertarian philosophers like Ayn Rand advocated driving on the wrong side of the road or, if they did, they didn’t do it for very long.
Which brings me to the subject of walking down the hallway at work. There’s still a vestigial non-conformist within who compels me to pass oncoming pedestrians on the left rather than the right. It just strikes me as a small, symbolic way of thumbing my nose at Corporate America to feint briefly to one side when I see fellow workers approaching, then cut quickly to the left to pass them.
This typically results in the Awkward Dance, that little side-to-side shuffle where no one seems to know exactly where they’re going. Most of us occasionally experience this phenomenon walking down the sidewalk, not paying attention to who is walking where. This short interlude of high culture, dabbling in what are now known as the “Movement Arts,” briefly elevates us from the pedestrian world to a higher realm.
For all the good that can come from the spirit of dance, there’s generally little time for a full appreciation of the art in these settings.
When you’re walking down the aisle of the neighborhood grocery store, and an oncoming shopper is so caught up in the stunning variety of cereals on display that they park their cart on the left to admire them, you shrug, mutter quietly about what an imbecile they are, and move on to your business in the dairy case.
When you’re at the mall, and a five-wide group of friends is sauntering aimlessly toward you, you duck into the Teavana till they pass. Or, if they’re non-threatening or Asian enough, you barge right through them, like Packer linebacker Clay Matthews intent on a quarterback sack.
You can’t do this to your co-workers in the office. For one thing, the Awkward Dance requires an apologetic conversation from all parties, something to be avoided if one of them is expecting you to deliver a spreadsheet later that afternoon. (Them: “What are you doing walking down the hall when that expense report is due by 3?” You: “Uh …”)
You also might find yourself cutting through the warehouse when this encounter occurs. Here, in the land where we need to stay between the yellow lines to avoid marauding forklifts, such a dance could result in injury or even death. That’s one accident report you don’t want to fill out.
Knowing now that I have this tendency to create such havoc in the hallways of my office, I’ve developed an effective strategy. I don’t go anywhere in the building without a piece of paper in my hand that I can pretend to be reading. (You younger folks out there can substitute a cellphone or a Kindle or a Wii if you’ve successfully migrated to the paper-free office). Intently peruse the paper as you approach the oncoming group, making it their responsibility to swerve and avoid collision. Walk straight into a wall if you have to. It’s still better than the trite discussion usually begun with “Shall we dance?”
Keeping my head down like this keeps my nose clean, out of other people’s business and personal space. If we collide, it’s their fault. I would’ve honked but my horn is broken.
I’m still a rebel. I still refuse to go along to get along. I have a very distinctive outlook on the world around me, and if that causes us to bump heads, that’s your problem.
As Sarah Palin famously said when she resigned the Alaska governorship a while back, “Only dead fish go with the flow.” Then their lifeless corpses block up the reservoir intake.
I’ll live my life as advised by the Seventies synth-pop band Men Without Hats, whose seminal “Safety Dance” proudly proclaimed “you can dance if you want to.”
Or was that Tears For Fears?