blooming treeI walk. A lot. For the past six years, I’ve been aiming for a minimum of 10,000 steps a day, which is just under five miles.

Over the past year, dating from March 1, 2020 (a couple of weeks before the California Bay Area shut down for the pandemic), I’ve walked about 1,600 miles.

By comparison, I’ve driven my car about 500 miles during the same period.

1,600 miles is actually somewhat less than I usually do in a year. I had to cut back for a couple of months this winter because I was having trouble with my left leg. (I suspect sciatica, though I haven’t seen a doctor because it wasn’t hurting bad enough to brave medical treatment during a pandemic. And now it seems to be going away.)

Still, I walked more than triple the car miles, despite the fact that I was using the car to run errands because I was buying more at the store than I could carry home on foot and picking up farm boxes instead of leisurely pursuing the stalls at the farmers market.

In a normal year, I would have balanced all that out with a lot of public transit, but not this year. In a normal year, I would taken trains and planes to a lot of other places and done my walking there, but this year pretty much all of it has been done within a mile or so of my home.

It has, as they say, been a very strange year.

But the walking has been good. I now know my neighborhood streets very well indeed.

I have a core regular route, which is down my street to Webster, turn north on Webster and go a short block to Rich, then west on Rich until it curves and runs into 42nd, east on 42nd back to Webster, Webster back to 41st and back west to home. That’s a minimum of 1500 steps, on account of the fact that 41st and 42nd are very long blocks.

My sweetheart, who generally prefers bicycling to walking, often joins me on this route.

One great thing about this regular route is that one of the neighbors on Rich has a Little Free Library. At the beginning of the pandemic, she started putting jokes on the front of her library box. (My personal favorite: What do you call a parrot with an umbrella? Polyunsaturated.) I told her the other day that she didn’t ever get to quit.

Another fun thing about this walk is that we almost always see our neighborhood crows on Rich when it runs into 42nd, right in front of the Baptist Church. We throw treats for them there.

The same crows come around to our front window or to the back of our apartment where our office is to yell at us if they haven’t had enough treats.

We also see friends, some of whom we knew before the pandemic and others with whom we’ve become friendly because they’re out on their porches or playing with their kids when we walk by.

During the first months of the pandemic the people on Rich (which is a one-block, one-way street) held a dance party every Friday night. I wish they still did it, but I guess it got to be more than they could handle as things dragged on.

I do go farther, though, walking on the streets that parallel Webster. It seems like every time I go down a street I see something I hadn’t noticed before. Yesterday when I was walking I realized that two houses at the corner of Opal and 41st were mirror images of each other.

And I love to walk on Manila because the co-op at the corner of Manila and 41st has planted all kinds of trees and bushes along the sidewalk and it feels like a tiny bit of forest bathing when you walk through there.

Some days I go over to 38th, where there’s one house set way back from the street that I always stop and peer at. Huge front yards aren’t common in this urban area, and this one is protected by both trees and a fence.

Then there’s the woman on Webster who has stuffed her garage full of all kinds of strange things, from CDs to furniture to dishes to vintage clothes. I notice she’s opened it up again. It’s not exactly a store, more of a permanent garage sale, open whenever she feels like it.

Here in the East Bay, where temperatures are usually mild and sunshine is common, some kind of flowers bloom all year. It’s spring here now and just about everything is blooming, even the few plants that go dormant in winter.

The crows and other birds are out looking for mates and starting to build nests.

I enjoy my walks. I let my mind wander and end up with all kinds of ideas, all while getting exercise and exploring my neighborhood.

But by this time next year, I hope to hell I’ve had a chance to walk somewhere else.

4 thoughts on “Walking

  1. My Fitbit informs me that in the last two years I’ve walked enough to have crossed the Sahara. And I’m pretty sure most of that has been in the last year. I tend to walk at a New Yorker’s pace, which terrifies some of my fellow pedestrians–I never learned to amble, and years spent in adolescence having to match my speed to my mother’s invalid pace made me very impatient if I’m walking behind someone slow. But I love the sensation of walking, particularly in urban areas.

    I’m still a walker in what feels (even after this year) like an overwhelmingly car culture. When we first moved to San Francisco and were looking for a permanent home, one of the questions I would ask was about how close basic shopping–things like food, hardware, drug stores were. “Oh, just five minutes,” I would be assured. “On foot?” I’d ask. And be looked at weirdly because who goes to the grocery store on foot?

    1. Me! I go to the grocery store on foot. Now that I’ve had the vaccine, I’m back to doing that.

      I don’t walk particularly fast, but I get out of the way of those who do. I admire but cannot achieve the New York pace.

      I keep writing science fiction in which car culture changes markedly, though I’m sure it will happen unevenly. I can see a future in which we let all those goddamn freeways crumble. I’ve got a story reprint coming out in an anthology edited by Shannon Page called Black-Eyed Peas on New Year’s Day: An Anthology of Hope in which Interstate 40 is in the process of reverting back to the narrow road it was back when we first started ramping up road construction in the early 20th Century. As someone who grew up in the sticks near a city (Houston) that exists because of car culture and who has been driving since she was 14 because it was necessary, I cannot wait to see these changes.

      On the other hand, I was really glad I still had a car this last year, because shopping in a pandemic was stressful enough without worrying about how to get all that stuff home on foot or a bike. And driving meant we could go somewhere else to be outside every so often. I love public transit. I hope to be on it again soon.

      1. I don’t want to suggest that I walk everywhere–that would rule out my ability to go to Costco and bring in 3-months worth of toilet paper and paper towels. 😏

        As a teenager I went from New York City, where there was abundant, slightly skeevy, public transportation and walking galore. Then we moved to rural Massachusetts, where it was five miles to either of the towns our house was set between. In the spring and summer I could walk, if I was so minded. Bicycled a lot. But when winter came it we were car-dependent or housebound (even the school bus only came to the end of the street–9/10ths of a mile from our house–and on a cold morning we spent a lot of time imploring my mother to drive us to meet the bus). This is one of the reasons I have, since then, lived in cities…

        1. With a few short-term exceptions, I have lived in cities since I left home for college at 18. One major reason: I spent one summer during college living at home and working in Houston. I got up to get to work by 6:30 am to avoid the worst of rush-hour traffic. I swore that I would never have that kind of commute again. And I haven’t.

          I walked more sporadically other places, but used public transit a lot when I lived in DC. I’m at the point now where I really hate driving locally because I hate parking. It occurs to me that when I lived in Adams-Morgan, a very central neighborhood in DC, I often wouldn’t go anywhere in a car on Sundays because it would be impossible to find a good parking place when I got back. But there were loads of restaurants and even movie theaters in walking distance.

          BTW, early on in the pandemic, when paper products were hard to come by, we ordered paper towels and Kleenex from Blaisdell’s, the office supply company here in the Bay Area that delivers. (They couldn’t get toilet paper either.) We finally ran out of Kleenex after about 8 months, but we’re still going through the paper towels. We already used them for printer cartridges and paper and such, so it was much easier than dealing with the big box stores. Probably not cheaper, but I’ve become a big fan of simple in these times.

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