It don't come easy....
© David Volk

Long before he became the host of The Tonight Show, stand-up comedian Jay Leno captured how I feel in a bit he did about a commercial for Pepto- Bismol:

Have you seen this ad that has a couple standing in a Mexican plaza in the rain saying "Diarrhea, it's not nice in weather like this."

What does that mean?

Does that mean that if you wake up and the birds are singing and the sun is shining, you throw open your window and yell, 'Hey, what a great day for diarrhea?'

I don't have diarrhea, but I found I could identify with the sentiment in the final days of my mother's life because I had a deadline to turn in a humor piece about jaywalking to Seattle Magazine. In fact, it turned out that the deadline ended up being on the day my mother died.


It's not easy at a time like this.

Fortunately, my editor was kind enough to give me a month extension. Unfortunately, I still had to come up with something funny while trying to deal with my mother's death, the closure of her store, shutting down the company and the impending storm of estate issues headed my way.

Don't ask me how, but I managed to write something pretty damn funny. The problem is, my editor didn't like it so much. So, she wanted me to rewrite it, which I did.

Still, I think the piece is pretty funny, so I wanted to get some mileage out of it. Which is why I've decided to share it with you. That way, when you read Seattle Magazine later this summer, you'll get a perspective on what sometimes ends up on the editing room floor.

Without further ado and with much appreciation for your notes, letters, e-mails, prayers and kind thoughts, a piece I call, "The Jaywalk Follies":


David Volk -----------------------

It was one of those strange moments in life when I found myself in a place I never expected to be: Sitting in front of a magistrate trying to justify jaywalking.

There was no question I was guilty. A motorcycle cop had caught me flat-footed crossing the street when the traffic signal clearly read "Don't Walk." Worse, I made the mistake days after the city had announced an emphasis patrol, whatever that is.

So, I not only had to admit to being stupid, I had to come up with a reasonable sounding explanation for my apparent sudden bout of cluelessness.

Somehow, I figured, "Well, your honor, I saw my chance and took it" didn't seem like a good explanation. In addition, I was pretty sure saying, "I didn't know it was against the law" would work, either, because I'd lived in Seattle for 10 years and should have known better.

Considering that I was trying to curry favor with a judge who had the power to reduce my fine, I wasn't about to say what I really thought, but I was tempted.

"To be perfectly honest, your honor, it's a dumb law."

Yes, I know it's all about public safety. Granted, we don't want people running out in front of cars and getting hit, but it does have a certain Darwinian survival of the fittest appeal. After all, I can't think of anyone who doesn't love reading the Darwin Awards' annual recounting of the creative way stupid people have managed to off themselves in the previous year.

Regardless, all of my brushes with efforts to enforce the law have all been quite strange.

I didn't even know the local constabulary wrote citations for the infraction until the day I crossed Third Avenue without waiting until I reached an intersection. That's when the policeman stopped me.

"Excuse me, have you heard of jaywalking?" he asked.

How do you answer a question like that? Say yes and you're admitting guilt. Say no and you're displaying ignorance.

I must have answered correctly because he added, "I could write you jaywalking ticket right here, right now. Is that what you want?"

Wait, is this a trick question?

A year later I was Broadway when I saw a police cruiser round the corner. It was too late to do anything because I was already half way across the street.

"That will be $19 the next time you jaywalk," the officer announced over his car's loud speaker.

I'm not alone. Most Emerald City citizens have jaywalking stories.

When two police officers stopped a friend of mine a few years back, they asked her, "Didn't you see us coming?"

Is this another trick question?

"If I had, I wouldn't have done it," she said. Apparently, that was the right answer because she didn't get a ticket, either.

A friend of hers wasn't as lucky after crossing a quiet Queen Anne street at 2 a.m. Even though there was no traffic, a cruiser pulled up on the sidewalk behind her and flashed its lights to get her attention and give her a ticket. Apparently, she must have answered the question wrong.

And let's not forget the Asian American students who were stopped for illegally crossing the street in the International District in 1991 and were held against their will for 45 minutes while a fun-loving police officer kept asking them if they spoke English?

I was so shocked a motorcycle cop pulled me over that I readily gave him my driver's license when he asked for it. I'm still not sure why he requested it. I wasn't driving. I mean, no one at Costco asks to see my license when I shop there and my gym doesn't ask to see it before I work out, either. So, why should the city be able to ask for such unrelated documentation?

More importantly, what if I hadn't had my license at the time? Would the officer have confiscated my shoes? And what if I became a repeat offender? Should he have impounded my legs or would taking my feet have been enough?

That's why I think the city should begin issuing walking permits. I'm not sure how long Walker's Education programs would be part of the curriculum at local schools, how old you would have to be to take them or even how long the classes would work. Now that many conservatives are calling for the end of sex education classes in schools, however, this would undoubtedly be the perfect non-controversial class to fill a gaping hole in the curriculum.

As long as the instructors didn't discuss skipping. Or dancing.

In a rare show of self-restraint, I mentioned none of this to the magistrate, however. Instead, I explained that I was a freelance writer who worked out of his home, didn't get out much and didn't know I was committing a crime. Never mind that I was editor at a trade publication and worked downtown every day.

The magistrate rolled his eyes and expressed some skepticism, but still lowered my fine from $38 to $19.

I didn't get off scot-free however. The magistrate suspended my poetic license and I have been unable to write in iambic pentameter ever since.