Author braves hazardous snow-covered city streets
Snowshoe Thompson is legend in these parts for his Herculean treks over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, lugging mail and supplies from Placerville to Genoa, Nev. No matter what the weather, he found a way to get through.
But Thompson never had to brave Lake Tahoe Boulevard, circa 1999. If he had, the hard-bitten mountain man would have been horrified.
Ever try to walk around South Lake Tahoe after a heavy snow? Such a task is not for the faint of heart, my friend. Forget the black bear and the native cutthroat trout, it is the pedestrian which is the true endangered species in these parts.
In many areas of South Lake Tahoe, it is nearly impossible to get from point A to point B on foot. This is particularly true with snow on the ground, but there are hazards even during the summer months. For the most part, the sign in Meyers which welcomes visitors to our fair city should be revised. Instead of a picture of Lake Tahoe, the sign should feature an open palm and the words “Don’t Walk.”
I arrived at these conclusions a couple of months ago, when my car was in the shop. My mechanic is located near the “Y”, and my residence is on Ski Run Boulevard. But instead of taking a cab or waiting for the bus to get home, I decided to use the opportunity to grab some exercise.
“I shall walk home!” I exclaimed, feeling the robust thrill of adventure my pioneer forefathers must have experienced. So off I trekked, with a bounce in my step, whistling a Gordon Lightfoot tune.
I only made it half a mile before I entered a local business and called a cab.
It’s a jungle out there, folks. Half the time there’s no sidewalk, which means you are open season for motorists to splash you, cover you with muck or actually hit you.
But perhaps that was just an unusual day.
I decided to try it one more time, this time walking a longer distance, and taking notes. Photographer Jim Grant came along, watching from a distance (like a backup cop on in a sting operation).
I started at the “Y”, said goodbye to loved ones, and headed east. I was walking to Harrah’s.
It was Tuesday, and there had been a heavy snow the night before.
I was thwarted almost before I began. In order to walk with the flow of traffic, sometimes I had to move out onto the shoulder of the road. Many motorists took great delight at this – some seeming to purposely find ways to splash me with slush.
Intersections are the worst. Most drivers, I have found, do not observe the “Walk-Don’t Walk” crosswalk signs. One has to constantly look over one’s shoulder when in a crosswalk, because cars will come flying around a corner with no heed to unfortunate bipeds.
It’s the law of the jungle out there. The cars are the large carnivores, and I was the Thompson’s Gazelle. I constantly had my head raised like a deer, checking out every noise. Out here, you’re quick or you’re dead.
On sections of Lake Tahoe Boulevard, there are actually sidewalks – and some of them are shoveled. But these paths tend to stop abruptly, when the shoveler either tires, or reaches his property line.
So, it’s either back out onto the street (“Hey, watch it, buddy!”) or blaze a trail in the snow. This isn’t really too difficult in soft powder, but I could not imagine walking down the street over mounds of hardened ice.
At the corner of Third Street and Lake Tahoe Boulevard, I came across a man and his family. They had just made it to a bus stop, and collapsed onto the bench.
I asked the family – Ray Click, his wife Cecile and children Ryan, 11, and Nicole, 8 – what it was like to be pedestrians in South Lake Tahoe.
“Miserable, I hate it,” said Ron, who has lived here for two months. The family had just moved from Palm Springs, and their car was still at their former residence.
“I take the bus to work every day,” said Ron, who works at Barton Memorial Hospital, and walks about a mile a day to and from the bus stops. “When I get to work, my white smock is always covered in mud.
“Motorists don’t pay any attention to pedestrians,” he said. “And the sidewalks are non-existent. None of them are marked; it’s ridiculous.”
“I don’t like it,” said Ryan, who can’t wait until the car is back in the family. “It’s not like Palm Springs at all.”
Ryan’s comment hit home, because people have said that living in Lake Tahoe is like living in paradise. But about a mile later, I found myself in paradise – Paradise Avenue, to be precise. It was there that a large pickup swept around the corner and missed me by about a foot, even though I was in a crosswalk with the little glowing walking guy urging me forward.
The guy in the pickup did, however, pull into a parking lot, lean out his window and wave.
“Sorry!” he yelled. He then shrugged, and pulled out.
Well, Tahoe is life-threatening, but at least the people are friendly about it.
On I walked. Past Killer Chicken (practically impassable). South Tahoe Chamber of Commerce (Dances With Buses). The El Dorado County Library on Rufus Allen Boulevard (snow on walkway about six inches). I could imagine parents with strollers, or people in wheelchairs, or the elderly … stuck, without hope …
On I trudged. Above, sea gulls circled and soared, mocking me. I imagined Colorado communities such as Aspen and Vail, where the people strolled the city boulevards in safety and comfort. They probably walk at a leisurely pace there, I thought, while twirling parasols and discussing the issues of the day.
How I hate them.
“The fact of the matter is that this is a small town, and you don’t have sidewalks,” said Fred Wright, who, ironically, owns The Shoe Corner.
“There is no walk-up business,” he said. “All of my customers come in by car. You have some sidewalks, but most don’t get plowed. It’s a waste of money to put in a sidewalk if you can’t use it.”
Finally, I made it to Ski Run Boulevard, and decided to walk its length. What sidewalks there are lay buried, but the roadway is wide. The lumbering Heavenly shuttle buses do a good job of spraying slush onto any pedestrian, however. And it’s very difficult to even get to the crosswalk buttons – especially at the Pioneer Trail intersection.
I walked back, and continued up toward Stateline. Suddenly, a miraculous thing began to happen. The sidewalks were clear. People were friendly. Strolling, talking, laughing … unencumbered by snow and sludge.
I had entered the “pedestrian friendly” portion of Tahoe. Home free. Here, in the shadow of the casinos, it is the motorist who is at a disadvantage. A steady stream of pedestrians in front of Harrah’s makes it next to impossible to make a right turn onto their property.
“Ha! Sit and wait, you cars!” I shouted gleefully. “I think I’ll take my time walking across this driveway … lum dee dum dum … .”
At Caesar’s Tahoe, I walked inside and sat down at a quarter slot machine. Inserting a coin, I pulled the lever … a sort of metaphor for the trek I had just completed.
I was not a winner.
I took a cab back to the office.
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