This particular train of thought began the other night as I was walking down the chilly streets of San Francisco, and came to a culmination a few mornings later as I rode my bike to school. That night in San Francisco, a group of us were deciding - as rational adults - whether or not to jaywalk. The truth is, most stop lights have a period that roughly equates with the time it takes for a group of four individuals to make up their minds to cross against it. If you have to think about it, you probably won't do it. That particular law remained unbroken.
Contrast this with the ride I took on my bike. I have a very clear memory of the time, nine years ago, that I willfully rode straight through a stop sign on my way to my job at the school just over the hill. A motorcycle cop who happened to be in the neighborhood turned on his lights and siren and pulled me over. He gave me a ticket for failing to come to a complete stop. I had no argument. I had broken that law. It occurred to me only briefly to complain or moan about all the other things that this Oakland police officer might be doing with his morning, but I still had to face the reality of being caught breaking the law. I took the ticket. I paid my fine and my debt to society.
Nine years later, I stop at all signals and signs, and yield the right of way to pedestrians and water fowl whenever praticeable. It was at one of these stop signs that I looked up and saw the back window of a parked SUV that had been smashed in, probably overnight. That was a crime: vandalism at least, if not theft of some kind. Then I thought of Bonnie and Clyde, and what made them heroes to many, and of Ocean's 11 (and 12). Why is breaking the law so charming and exciting in some cases, and then so horrible and embarrassing in others?
I think it has to do with grace. Rolling through a stop sign is just sloppy. Smashing someone's car window is annoying and costly. Stealing diamonds from a laser protected vault has an element of the artistic to it. Robbing a bank with a vial of colored water you tell everyone is nitroglycerin is audacious enough to be applauded. Shooting somebody immediately puts you in the idjit category. And the real bottom line? If you've ever been the victim of a crime, big or small, the point becomes moot. It doesn't matter how cleanly they managed to get the tape deck out of your dashboard - all you see is the hole.
So, after careful consideration, I've decided to give up my life of crime, such as it was, and walk the straight and narrow. Look for me at a crosswalk near you.