Walking to Work

(June 15, 2004)  A number of people have asked why I walk to work each day, when I could be driving like everyone else. One gentleman at the bakery suggested to another that I must have lost my license. The truth is, I choose to walk.

Mostly, I walk because I like it. I like the physical feeling. Walking is different from moving while sitting down, if you haven’t tried it in a while. I like the fresh air, the smell and feel of it. I like the songs of the birds and the wind in the trees. I like the feeling of energy, of life, that comes with free movement.

I walk because I can. I do not think for a moment that the gifts I enjoy now — sight, hearing, the ability to walk wherever I want, whenever I want — will be mine forever. Everything is temporary. I watched my mother lose her sense of smell and taste, the ability to read and remember. I watched my father struggle to rise from a chair. I walk because I can, and while I can.

I walk because it enables my wife and I to get about with one car. Aside from $50 every six months for shoes, and $200 every third or fourth year on rain gear or a new winter coat, walking doesn’t cost much. And I’d rather spend the money on a nice meal in a restaurant, on music, on movies, on books. Call me crazy, but I don’t need a car payment to feel happy.

I walk because it’s good for me. Every mile I walk is a mile farther away from heart disease and cancer. And if you saw me eat, you be urging me to walk all day. Pork fat does rule, mayonnaise is one of nature’s most perfect foods, and I like to drink, too. If it was deep-fried, I’d eat a notebook. My idea of a balanced meal is sausage links and sausage patties. I need to walk.

I also walk because I see things. I see chipmunks and squirrels. I see the look in the squirrel’s eye as he works his way around the tree truck to stay away from me. I see sails on the lake, whitecaps on the waves and chestnuts on the sidewalk. I see people taking their first sip of Green Mountain coffee in the morning and picking up a lottery ticket at Riddler’s on the way home. In the winter, I get to see at what temperature men will finally wear hats.

This is not to say that walking is always a good deal. Rain and snow, heat and cold are a legitimate part of the pageant, but when Village officials decide not to plow the sidewalks because there’s no school, I join our postal workers in having a difficult time of it. Also among nature’s challenges, lightning is fairly unforgiving, and I try to avoid it.

Teenage boys are another force of nature, hurling abuse from passing cars. The word that won the war is a fairly common item with them, catch phrases have their season, but on one occasion a carload went by screaming, “Wolves!” and I still have no idea what that was about, unless they were on their way home from a Cub Scout meeting. In their short lives, they have come to equate car ownership with power and thus see pedestrians as powerless and apt targets.

In one way, they are right. Every day in the United States, we kill, on average,16 pedestrians with cars — 13 or 14 in the street, and 2 or 3 on sidewalks and lawns, in coffee shops, stores, parking lots, post offices and bedrooms. According to the files at the Skaneateles Historical Society, cars have driven into two homes here in the Village, and since my arrival six years ago, they’ve entered two businesses as well. Thank you, Mr. Goodwrench.

And am I the only person who finds it ironic that when someone dies in a car accident, we drive to their funeral?

Personally, I’ve had to jump four times, three times on Route 20 and once on State Street. I do understand that as good for my health as walking is, it could kill me. And someone would surely ask, “What was he doing out there, anyway?” But good walks are more frequent than bad, open doors and wide horizons beckon irresistibly, and so I persevere.

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