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  • Donald J. Bingle, Writer on Demand

Umbrellas, Pedestrian Etiquette, and Un-Needful Things

I'm not much of a fan of umbrellas. It's not that I don't own one. In fact, I have one which is more than thirty years old at this point. I used it on a regular basis when I walked more than a mile to the train station everyday, rain or shine. It has a cane-like handle which makes it a good walking aid and is of sturdy construction (though I had to repair one rib with coat-hanger wire after I walked into a post and bent the rib). These days, though, it pretty much just sits in the trunk of my car. It's not that I still don't commute by train to work rain or shine, but I drive to the station (7 or so miles away) and only walk a mile from the train to my job once I get downtown. I don't use my umbrella for that because (a) I own a hat, which I do wear regularly, (b) I own a raincoat for those really bad days, and (c) I'm not made of sugar, so I won't melt in the rain. More importantly, though, I don't use an umbrella for the walk in downtown Chicago because I have a lot of experience with pedestrian commuters with umbrellas and, frankly, I don't want to be lumped in with the rest of those carrying umbrellas as idiots of the first order. Commuters with umbrellas regularly commit the following offenses, among many others, which classify them as idiots of the first order (i.e., idiots who are oblivious and narcissistic in crowds). Fair-Weather Jouster: Carries a long, closed umbrella horizontally, jabbing other pedestrians behind and to the fore with either end and whacking people at each twist and turn. Over-Compensator: Size obviously matters to this commuter, as he carries an oversized golf umbrella in bright colors, making it impossible for anyone else near him, whether walking with or past, to also have an open umbrella, hat, face, or eyes without getting them repeatedly poked. Oblivious Climate-Change Denier: Insists on walking with umbrella open despite the fact that it is no longer raining, has not rained, or isn't going to rain. Ignorer of the Laws of Physics: Having no concept of wind dynamics, force, sailing, or metal stress, this person insists on repeatedly letting the wind catch the underside of their (usually cheap) open umbrella and turn it inside out, prompting them to stop and try to fix it without altering its position vis a vis the wind shear, which usually results in halting a column of commuters and much swearing by all involved until the umbrella breaks beyond repair and is dumped in a nearby trash container in such a way that it blocks any other trash from being deposited. Here's a pointer: Point your umbrella into the wind (tilt your head toward into the wind to help keep a wide-brimmed hat on, too). Bubble-Heads: Although owning those special, clear "bubble" umbrellas that extend down so that you can hold them so they completely cover your head and shoulders and you can still see where you are going, these people unclear on the concept insist on holding the entire bubble above their head in order to advertise their idiocy to even those at a distance. Wannabe U-Boat Captains: Damn the commuters; full speed ahead! These self-centered clods tilt the open umbrella forward and move as fast as possible even though they can't see where they are going. One-Size-Fits-Allers: These people fail to recognize that scaffolding, bus pavillions, news stands, train and bus doors, and other obstacles were not built by Dr. Who and, thus, do not expand to fit whatever may be thrust into them. And, what is the result of all of this idiocy? Well, in a steady, light rain, the average umbrella wielder manages to walk to work getting no rain on their face, hair, and one shoulder, at least until water is dumped there by someone else's umbrella. Generally, the second shoulder is wetter than it would be otherwise because of water from the carrier's own bumbershoot (you see, umbrellas just divert water; they don't actually make it disappear). Few are clever enough to hold the umbrella to protect both shoulders and an umbrella does little to protect one's torso and legs from a good rain. Fewer yet think to employ the umbrella to protect themselves from splashing by passing vehicles (just aim at the puddle). My hat, most hats, protect hair and face. My coat protects much more of my torso, shoulders, arms, and legs than an umbrella. Sure, you could have an umbrella in addition to your coat and hat, but why? A coat and hat ensemble doesn't harass other commuters, doesn't break in the wind, doesn't take up inordinate space drying later, doesn't poke people in the privates, and doesn't advertise one's idiocy to the rest of the world. (I have a blog to do that, thank you.) So, why do people insist on carrying umbrellas? Not to stay dry; they're ineffective at that, especially compared to the coat and hat alternative. People carry umbrellas because that's what they were told to do when growing up and because they have an inordinate fear of getting their hair/face/eyes wet. Here's a clue. Getting a bit damp usually won't kill you. And rain can be pretty darn pleasant to walk in. Some people swim or go to water parks just to get wet. And most wet things dry out within a reasonable amount of time (generally quicker than your shoes and socks will and no one has umbrellas on their shoes). More importantly, do what you do for a reason--not just because you were taught to do it or because everyone else is doing it. If an umbrella isn't keeping you dry and easing your walk through commuter throngs, why are you using it? And that's our writing tie-in for this blog. Don't do things in your writing just because you were taught to or because everyone else is doing it. Are you stretching to find new ways to describe a character's jawline or nose even though the reader doesn't really need to know those details? Are you adding scenes and characters to pad word count, even though they aren't moving the plot forward? Are your chapters all the same length for no particular reason? Write words because they have a desired effect. Stop using conventional techniques if they get in the way of the story or don't do what they are intended to do or poke the reader in the eyes or the privates or make you look like an idiot. Be intentional. Or at least have good intentions about being intentional. Think about what you are doing and whether it does what you need it to do for the story and the characters and, most importantly, the readers. They may already have a coat and a hat. They may want to feel the wind and the rain. They may want to get wet. Nuff said. By the way, still looking for some bloggers who specialize in reviewing audio books and for people willing to post honest, thoughtful reviews of my stuff generally. Aloha, Don

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