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Let's take a walk together

I'm a walker.

No, "Walking Dead" addicts, I'm not telling you I'm a zombie, an undead copy editor with a thirst for blood and proper subject-verb agreement.  I'm simply saying that I walk everywhere.

I walk to work. I walk to the mall. I walk to pay bills. Hours of my week are spent standing up and putting one foot in front of the other to reach destinations required for me to be a functional, adult human.

Make no mistake, I don't do this because of some fitness regimen or Forrest Gump-like determination. I walk because I simply have to get places.

For most of my life, this is the way I've done things. Whether to get across towns to interview sources for articles or simply satisfy a recurring pizza craving, this has been my main mode of transportation.

It's one of the few things of which I feel I am a master. I'm like the Fonz of walking, minus the leather jacket and uncanny ability to produce soda cans from machines with a simple knock. Our vending area at this newspaper has security cameras, after all.

As a guru of the gait, I feel it is my duty to lend pearls of walking wisdom to you, my fellow residents. Pedestrian crashes and sidewalk mishaps are serious, active threats for those traveling around town on two feet. And though several walking guidelines are no-brainers, others are less obvious and require your alertness.

1. Look both ways, no matter what.

Yes, we've been told this our entire lives, ever since we knew that humans (and chickens) cross roads. But let me take this further:

You must do this on every street you encounter. Even if it's a one-way road, you must check left and right before crossing.

As a veteran walker, you experience the occasionally comical - but mostly just dangerous - phenomenon of confused drivers going the wrong way. You never know what may be coming from that forbidden direction. Even overzealous cyclists who feel that the rules of the road are only for mere mortals can pose a threat. It's best just to sacrifice that precious extra second to make sure the coast is truly clear.

2. Think like a car.

This isn't to say you should start making honking noises at strangers. You can get arrested for that kind of thing. Just try to understand the fact that not every car will stop for you just because you wear your pedestrian badge proudly.

The truth is that you have the responsibility to adhere to traffic rules just like all of those strange, moving machines on the road. Use a crosswalk; just do it. If there isn't one, think like an automobile and anticipate all the ways in which objects will be traveling on that particular street. The concept of yielding isn't limited to vehicles, and sometimes you'll have to change your own path in the face of traffic congestion. Control your "Frogger" instinct.

3. If you have to use headphones, don't overdo it.

Though some believe that pedestrians should avoid using their iPods all together, I  believe that you can have it both ways. Just suppress that part of you that wants to shut off the world and feel that extended, bootlegged jam from '71 in your bones, you crazed hippie. Instead, just keep the volume down to the point of coherency.

Your brain has to be on while you're walking, regardless of how many times you've walked that same, glorious path to biscuits. If you find yourself too distracted by your current soundtrack -emulating every drum fill with wild, flailing arms -  I suggest you find something more ignorable (and less embarrassing for all of us). Furthermore, choose an album and stick with it, or just put your player on shuffle; you don't need to be fiddling between the Green Day, Guided By Voices and Guster selections in the middle of the street.

4. Slow down, and keep it simple.

A few weeks ago, I auditioned for a Marx Brothers movie by stumbling on the sidewalk and splashing my own face with hot coffee on the way to work. How did this comical display of ineptness happen? I was in a hurry.

Now, I'm certain you're more sure-footed than I am. You could probably Moon Walk from here to the mall if formally challenged. But when you're rushed, the most basic functions just become sloppy. And sometimes, the "work" message from your brain to your feet gets lost in the mail, and you fall. As you lay defeated on a sidewalk, you may be looking for a banana to hold responsible, but we all know how this happened.

Another contributor to missteps: You're too distracted. Extended phone conversations, checking Facebook, calculating the correlation coefficient for a given set of data - these are common things people think they can do simply along the way. But just relax, enjoy the scenery and remember that those Likes on that latest picture of your prized canine will still be there when you get to a computer.

Walking seems like an easy task, and it absolutely is. You just have to make it simple by paying attention and understanding that the rest of the world isn't your backdrop. Those cars and fellow pedestrians aren't extras in the movie of your life. If anything, the thousands of people you see on the road are playing the same role as you.

You just have to make sure you're portraying the part of "Walker No. 248" to best of your ability.


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