Monday, November 9, 2009

Pedestrian Friendly Cities

I have a strong bias against any part of the world that is not pedestrian-friendly. This bias extends to Amman, a city designed for the automobile (designed, more specifically, for about half as many automobiles as it currently hosts). The bias also extends to any place where walking around in shorts and flip flops is turned into a life-threatening endeavor by hostile weather.

On Friday, after several days of walking to the same tiny stretch of cafes and fast food restaurants for my daily escape from the hotel, I decided to walk in a different direction in order to see how long it would take for me to find somewhere agreeable to eat. This was a stubborn attempt at turning Amman into the pedestrian-friendly city that it is not. Despite being assisted by what I must acknowledge was stunning, sunny, breezy and ideal weather (making insufficent amends for four days of chilly drizzling), my stroll through Amman failed to end pleasurably, on balance, because of how stressful it is to run across highways full of speeding luxury cars, how desolate it is to walk down barren streets of shuttered rent-a-car outlets, how lonely it is to see no other pedestrians in such a populous city and how far I walked in an outward bound trajectory (2-3 miles?), following my well-honed city navigating instincts towards precisely nothing.

At one high point of interactivity, shortly after jumping a fence between two sides of a highway to reach what looked like a promising stretch of commercial businesses, a car pulled to the side of the road not far ahead of me and expelled its driver. The man, dark sun glasses, late forties, somewhat seedy looking, rushed up to me and shook my hand, welcoming me to his country and saying he had seen me from the road. He asked how long I would be in Jordan. As it turned out, I was leaving that evening. He knew my flight number. He asked me to get in his car. He said he worked for (Royal) Jordanian airways and jumped into his car, popping open the passenger side door and gesturing me in. He had been chain smoking in his ashtray, the windows were thickly tinted. I insisted on my love of walking in Amman (which must strain credibility). He insisted that I get into his car and that we could have some food together. I continued to love walking in Amman entirely too much to join him. I thanked him, shook his hand, and forged onwards towards the failure of my walk. I wondered: are all the deeply ingrained alarm bells associated with getting into a stranger's car teaming up with my media-fueled over-willingness to be on guard against politically motivated kidnappings so close to Iraq to prevent me from accepting a kindly and hospitable offer from a Jordanian who knows what a crappy thing it is to be walking around Amman on a Friday afternoon? Well. That's not exactly what I wondered because that is exactly what was happening. What I wonder, is if I would've dined in sociable comfort somewhere other than "Shrimpys" if I had not opted for the path less sketchy.


  1. dude...
    first, there are nice places to walk around in amman
    second, you shouldn't be hopping highway barriers - drivers there aren't used to peds running across the highway
    third, sounds like the dude was sketchy - but ... i think if someone wanted to kidnap you ... they grab you and throw you in the car, not rest on some off chance that you'll hop in and then be like: "oh, we've got some weirdo white dude in this, what do we do now..."

    but... you've lived in enough different places to know that you can always make yourself easily angry by flaunting the norms of a place and then getting pissed off at the reactions/results of that flaunting.

  2. probably a good idea you didn't get in, just to be on the safe side, but probably if he wanted to kidnap you, you would be kidnapped now and not blogging.