lessons at a crosswalk


When we lived in London in the Summer of 2002 I was standing at a busy intersection on Cromwell holding a chubby little boy hand in each of mine. We were trying to cross over to the neighborhood grocery store and I found myself looking at the white letters painted on the road saying "LOOK" with the arrow pointing right. We were in London for weeks, and those little white letters saved our lives more than once, for sure. We Americans look left all the time when we are stepping off curbs.

And as we stood there waiting it out, my little four year-old mentioned the smell of the air. He didn't know how to explain it, but it was some serious exhaust from the mounting traffic. And as the years have passed he continues to say, "It smells like London" when we stand at a crosswalk. But after I looked up from the white letters on the street, and then helped my little son interpret the suffocating exhaust, there was one other thing to catch my attention. I heard engines revving as the traffic light changed from red to yellow, then finally to green. Red to yellow. Red to yellow. It took me a second to realize that this was backwards from what I was used to. We have green to yellow. Get ready to stop. Start slowing down. Be careful. Here, as I gripped two sticky little boy hands at a busy London intersection, I watched the locals work in a different order. Get ready to go. Start your engines. Take off.

11 comments

CHERRANNE | February 25, 2009 at 9:36 PM

Ahhhhhhhhhh. :-) Cool. I will try and smile and think of LONDON every time I am overwhelmed with exhaust. Cool, Kaz. I am goin' there sometime!

Heidi Ashworth | February 25, 2009 at 9:40 PM

I thought that England smelt different than America, too. I don't think it was the exhaust. I still don't know what it was but it as yummy. Are you going to submit this to the annex? Pretty please?

Luann | February 25, 2009 at 9:49 PM

Red to yellow? I never knew that about London. Cool.

Kazzy | February 25, 2009 at 10:21 PM

Cherranne- I have total faith that you will get there one day. No doubt. Heidi- I think the rain makes things smell musty there, not necessarily in a bad way. And maybe I will send this over to B.A. Lu- I am not sure if this is a common thing in London, but it was the case at this intersection at least. Kinda cool, huh?

Stephen Humphrey | February 25, 2009 at 11:11 PM

Yes. And to complete the metaphor, please think for a moment about the role being played by the curb you were standing on.

LisAway | February 25, 2009 at 11:14 PM

In Poland the lights change to yellow after red, too. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that hardly anyone drives an automatic so you really do have to get in gear etc.

Cool post. I love that they show you which way to look. I'd never considered how weird ,that would be. Driving on the wrong side of the road, yes, crossing the street with cars coming from the wrong direction, no.

Linde | February 26, 2009 at 12:15 PM

Why were you in London? How long were you there?

Jeans and a t-shirt | February 26, 2009 at 5:10 PM

I used to say that cities smelled like Madrid, because that't the first time I remember noticing the "city smell"!!!

That Girl in Brazil | February 26, 2009 at 7:09 PM

Ah, this brought me back to when we went to London.

Don't kids notice the coolest things?

Heather of the EO | February 27, 2009 at 5:25 PM

I love that your son remembers it. That sense memory is so powerful.

And moving from yellow hesitation to freen GO, rather than yellow hesitation to red STOP...a lot to think about.

Marivic_Little GrumpyAngel | March 1, 2009 at 11:49 PM

My husband and daughter were in London summer last year and thought the LOOK signs were very helpful and yes, probably saved more lives than we know. My daughter also still remembers the red to yellow lights and she says it makes more sense. Hmmm--maybe because she is young and rearing to take flight.