Does anyone remember in elementary school when students were released to go home according to your mode of transportation? Our principal would come on the intercom to release walkers and bikers then car riders and last were the bus riders. As a bus rider, I remember thinking how lucky the walkers were. They were going to get a 10-20 minute jump on the rest of us, could stop by the convenience store for a snack and still make it home to see the full episode of Power Rangers. That was not remotely the case for bus riders. We barely made it home to see Oprah. Later in high school, we moved closer to my school and I was able to walk to a friend’s house after school. Needless to say, it wasn’t nearly as magical by then because the cool kids were driving. And that’s when my biggest goal in life was never to be a walker again.
A decade and a half later, I moved purposely to Midtown to be within walking distance of more places that I frequent. While I am much closer, I rarely strike out walking to the grocery store or dinner. I think it’s just a mental block for me because I feel like walking is the least efficient way to get around. If I need to get there quick, I’d rather jump on my bike. But thanks to the challenge, I’m starting to rethink walking. Each morning, I walk from my apartment to the bus stop then from the bus stop to my office equaling about a mile. Multiply that times two for my afternoon commute, I’m averaging just over two miles each day. In those two miles, quite a bit can happen!
With every good thing comes the craptastic part that you can do without. My daily commute has uncovered a few things that I ignored or just never noticed as a frequent driver.
- Memphis sidewalks are garbage! – As a runner, I tend to run (carefully) in the street or in bike lanes. These aren’t options for my commute so I’m forced to maneuver the broken and often missing sidewalks. This is extremely annoying when I’m walking in the morning before it’s completely light out or after it’s been raining. It creates a major trip/fall hazard and can ruin good shoes. On day 1 of the challenge, I wore some cute ballet flats. When I got home, I wanted to burn them! They were as useful as those paper pedicure flip-flops. I switched to my trusty Chucks after that. I live near the Memphis Center for Independent Living and right up from their office is the most offensive sidewalk ever. Similar conditions exist in the area near the VA Medical Center. The City really needs to dedicate funds to correcting this as it hinders patients/clients with wheelchairs attempting to get to their appointments.
- Drivers can be blatantly rude and rarely yield to pedestrians – I’ll spare you my rant on the people who honk and yell out of their cars at pedestrians. It’s rude and if you do it, STOP!! There have been numerous occasions when I have been walking across a driveway and a driver has attempted to squeeze their SUV between me and the 10 feet of driveway left for me to cross. It was almost as if I wasn’t there. Since it happened during daylight, I’m 167% sure they saw me. Whatever their reason for nearly plowing me over, I doubt it was worth the toes that I would have lost.
- The wind-blown look only works in music videos and magazine spread– Weather & outside conditions have a large impact on what I wear each day. Now that we’re in early Spring, I have to pick clothes that are warm enough when it’s 40 degrees in the morning but cool enough when afternoon temps reach 60 degrees. Layers have worked, allowing me to toss my extra sweater or tights in my bag in the afternoon. I’m also more conscious of flowy materials that can cause Marilyn Monroe-like scenes. For now, I’m wearing pants more often than skirts or dresses to avoid it. My curly hair requires a little bit of extra attention to make sure I don’t look like a stray animal by the time that I get to the office. To counter the wind and humidity, I’ve started pulling my hair back into a loose ponytail then covering it with a beanie. Once I get to work I do a quick fluff and I’m good to go. If the wind is just being outright disrespectful, I go with a high puff or bun.
There are an equal number of pros that come with pedestrian life.
- Stopping to smell the roses/dogwood trees – I’m outside quite a bit because I’m a long distance runner but I never really stop to notice scenery. When I’m running, I have such a heightened sense of security to account for traffic and random weirdos that I don’t notice things like flowers. Last week, I noticed that dogwood trees lining Avalon in front of Home Depot, a group of friends walking a makeshift tightrope near P&H on Madison Avenue and the mural at the Washington Bottom Community Garden on Court Avenue (run by the awesome H.O.P.E Garden Crew). I catch myself looking for something new on my walk each day. An added bonus is the stillness of the morning before the Midtown streets are occupied. There are nice chunks of time when you hear absolutely nothing. This morning, I was surprised by the sound of someone’s rooster crowing at 6:00 on the dot!
- More calories burned equals more room for cookies – With the extra mileage, I estimate that I’m burning around an extra 150 calories today. Though any doctor may not advocate working out just to eat more junk, I thought it was worth treating myself to the homemade cookies that my co-worker brought in yesterday. But seriously, walking has just as much of a health benefit as running or any other vigorous sport. If you can squeeze in a mile or two speed-walks at lunch, your heart and doctor will thank you!
- No one is a stranger in the South - Nine days into the challenge, I’ve already made some friends on my commute. I’ve noticed three people who consistently ride the same bus and walk my route to work. One of them is a guy named Karey. I’m not sure where he catches the bus but he’s already on and settled by the time that I get on each morning. I’ve never heard him say a single word beyond ‘Hi’. Yesterday as we were getting off the bus, I joked about how slow our driver was going. He said “Tell me about it! I thought I’d never get here!” then he darted right into Poplar traffic into the Loop. Not wanting to start my week off with a trip to the emergency room, I waited for the cross walk signal to say it was safe. When I finally made it across both crosswalks into the Loop, he was waiting for me. Before I knew it, he was telling me all about his job, experience and asked where I worked. I gave him a quick rundown on me and he was completely floored that I’d been working at the same company for nearly 10 years. He continued to tell me that he has a bit of a sorted past with a number of arrests but was fortunate enough to get a job working at the church right down from my office. He was noticeably excited as he talked about all the great things the church did, how welcoming they were to him and how he hopes to work there many more years. Then he turned to me and said “You know…I believe you won’t be riding the bus long. God has a shiny new Lexus for you, Miss Lady!” I wanted to shout “Amen!” Not wanting to seem like an imposter after hearing his testimony, I explained that I had a car & was part of a car-free challenge for the month. He offered me a few more words of encouragement as we approached my building. Before continuing on his walk, he turned back to let me know the church has a bunch of large umbrellas in the lost & found. Then he offered to bring me a really big one if it was raining by the time that we were set to catch the bus back. I was definitely humbled by the kind gesture especially since I wasn’t expecting a full conversation and to make a new friend at 6:40 a.m.
Getting around by foot is a much slower pace than I’m used to but it has shown to be exactly what I need. With warm days in the forecast, I’m looking forward to getting in a few more strolls before and after work.