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Keeping the Faith: Guerneville’s Grand Jaywalking Tradition
Welcome to "Keeping the Faith, a new (and old) column by Bob Jones
By Bob Jones
We are excited to welcome back longtime west county columnist Bob Jones and his column, Keeping the Faith.
Along with the rain, the new year brought us a new jaywalking law. That’s right, it’s now legal to walk across a street someplace other than a crosswalk, so long as it’s safe. This law came about, apparently, because people caught jaywalking in California were being given citations even though there was no traffic coming in either direction, which seemed a bit much.
I’m not saying whether this is a good idea or not, but I am willing to bet that the effect of the new law will not be noticed in the thriving metropolis of Guerneville. In over five decades of observing the scene here, I would have to say that Guerneville’s Main Street must be the most jaywalked street in the western world. Here, if people go to a crosswalk to cross Main Street, you know they’re from out of town.
We locals just walk across Main Street wherever it seems to make sense to us. If I’m coming out of the Guerneville 5 and 10, truly a fun store on the Russian River as its web site will tell you, and I want to go to Lark’s Drug Store, another fine establishment directly across the street, I just wait for an opening in the traffic and jaywalk.
I’ve probably done this a few thousand times over the last fifty years or so, and I was usually not alone. At any given moment here, several of us may be jaywalking at the same time. I’m not sure this is always safe behavior, but, far as I’ve heard, no one has suffered any dire consequences from jaywalking in Guerneville.
Our jaywalking tradition goes back to times when there was hardly any traffic on local streets. My friend Phil Guidotti talked of playing football on Guerneville’s Main Street when he was a teenager back in the late 1930s. He said the merchants of the town would come out and join in the game. If one of them got a customer, they called time out while the shopkeeper sold a leg of lamb or a pair of boots or whatever, and then the game resumed. They also called time out to let a car or truck pass by, which was rare. Main Street in those days was something of a playground, and people strolled across it with little concern about anything but a flying football.
In the 1960s, the river resorts brought lots of traffic to Guerneville in the summertime, but that didn’t curtail our jaywalking. And the winters were pretty much dead in those days, making Main Street easy to cross anywhere along the way.
Now we’ve got plenty of traffic year-round, but the long jaywalking tradition goes on. I myself have waited longer for an opening in the traffic so I could jaywalk than it would take to walk to the corner crosswalk and down the other side of the street to the place I wanted to go. Many of us do this. It’s the principle of the thing. It’s upholding a grand tradition. And now it’s legal! But even if it wasn’t, we River Rats would continue to cross Main Street anywhere we pleased. We take tradition seriously around here.
In 1917, jay was a common slang word for hick, or, more kindly, a person inexperienced in the ways of the big city. Consequently, a jaywalker was somebody who was clueless about those newfangled traffic signals telling people when they could and couldn't walk.
- Origin of the term “jaywalking”- Almanac.com
Bob Jones has written “Keeping the Faith,” a column in local weeklies, for 50 years. He was pastor of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Churches for 20 years, living in Guerneville since 1966. His column appeared in Sonoma West Times and News for its entire run.
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