Rothman: Rebellion by jaywalk

When people ask me where I’m from, I say New York. If they inquire further, I say I’m from just outside New York City. It takes great persistence to pull out the fact that I actually reside across the Hudson River from Manhattan, in Bergen County, New Jersey. But really, I reassure those who ask, I’m from New York. I was born in a New York City hospital, my father works downtown, and, most importantly, I jaywalk like a New Yorker.

I jaywalk without a second thought — across busy streets, empty roads, dirt paths — and I brought this skill with me to New Haven. With all the construction that is going on, the skill has proved useful. I can dodge crowds at corners and skip around scaffolding. I remember from geometry that the quickest path between two points is a straight line, and I derive intellectual pleasure in applying this knowledge to my everyday life, jaywalking to expedite my journey.

I’m never alone when I jaywalk, particularly across Elm Street going from Old Campus to Cross Campus. However, I was singled out en route to math class the morning of Sept. 10. After completing a particularly nice maneuver — around a construction truck that was unloading — an officer waved me over. The next thing I knew, I was holding a pink warning slip. Issued by the state of Connecticut, the slip indicated that I had committed a crime under light traffic and sunny weather at half-past ten in the morning. “Motor vehicle violation” was printed at the top, but under offense, the officer hastily had scribbled “crosswalk.”

I’ve never received so much as a parking ticket. I like safety and rules; I’m a cautious driver and value the importance of the law in giving order to society. But now that I’ve tread outside the law, having taken my first step in a new life of crime, who’s to say what I’ll do next? First, there’s jaywalking, but next thing you know, I’ll be vandalizing cars and stealing televisions. Crime is a slippery slope, and I’ll have to work hard to make sure that my four years at Yale aren’t followed by four years in prison. What sorts of shenanigans will I get mixed up in next?

Seriously, I appreciate what the police department is trying to do. I know they want to keep students safe. Issuing a few warnings is a sensible way to convey a message about that safety. But staring down at my pink ticket, I didn’t feel a sense of delinquency or guilt, but only one of amusement and incredulity, as in, “They ticketed me? For jaywalking?”

I haven’t told my parents about my ticket yet, but when I do, I suspect they will laugh rather than chastise me for my crosswalk violation. I imagine that my younger brother will snort at my wrongdoing; my dad will try to keep a snicker back; and my mom will wonder if I now have a criminal record. (I really, really hope I don’t have a criminal record. Is my name in the system now? Will I be called in for lineups? Will a judge give me a harsher sentence in court?)

Until I’m called to the police station, I have the slip posted on the bulletin board above my desk. When I look at it, a giggle catches in my throat, though I’m sure I won’t be laughing when would-be employers run background checks on my criminal history and find this blemish.

The ticket did have an impact: I didn’t step outside a crosswalk for the remainder of the day. The next day, though, I was back to jaywalking — dodging cars, avoiding construction and doing what a true New Yorker does best. Criminal record, be damned.

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