It has been a long time since I lived in a city, although I lived in Boston for 12 years in the 80s. Then I came down to Connecticut in 1991 and I’ve been here ever since. However, last week I went for a trip to London and Dublin which gave me the chance to be in a big city again and what a pleasure it was.
Perhaps I should be more accurate: it was both a pleasure and also a bit of a struggle. When I lived in Boston years ago, I was in my 20s, in good physical condition and quite up to the heavy duty walking and standing that is part of traveling around a big city using public transportation. Now that I am in my 60s, however, getting around, i.e. walking up and down staircases, running across cobble stoned streets, and standing for lengthy periods of time holding onto subway straps has become somewhat of a challenge.
For over two decades now I’ve been experiencing travel and the world outside my home from the comfortable interior of an SUV. Thus, during my trip, while I enjoyed walking around the busy city streets full of people, at the same time I discovered a level of exhaustion I haven’t experienced in a long time. In fact, I found out about little bones in my ankle I’ve never known of before that, at the end of a long day going around the City of London and later of Dublin, became extremely painful. Don’t even begin to talk about my lower back and my shoulder blades. They both had additional, mostly disgruntled and complaining stories to tell. Still, I felt exhilarated by the opportunity to walk around, see people, and generally blend in with the city life while getting a really close up look at the architectural splendor surrounding me.
There was an additional benefit that I even lost a few pounds as a result of my activities going around these two cities and began to feel very much back in shape physically. As a result, as soon as I returned home to suburban Connecticut, I thought I’d give it a try continuing on with my vigorous activities. This meant that for a few days this week, I have actually walked to Barnes and Noble where I do my writing over the objection of my partner who clearly believes doing so puts me at risk of losing life and limb. After today, though, who knows if I’ll continue! Today’s trek went like this.
Bring your cell phone, said my partner as I made my way out the door, and if you feel you can’t go any further, I’ll run down in my car and pick you up.
Boy, what a way to weaken your resolve, telling you there is a back door out just as you embark on your challenging adventure.
I’m sure you are eager to know what it was like, this little walking excursion, say a mile or two down the road.
The first aspect I noticed about this adventure was that it was a completely isolating experience. In suburban Connecticut, no one, and I mean no one, walks anywhere. So if you walk to the store, walk to the post office, walk to Barnes and Noble, you will be completely by yourself. As I walked, the silence around me was deafening, and aside from the engine roar of the occasional vehicle that passed by me, the only sound I heard was the crunch of my sneakers on the gravel. I will admit to you, I felt really stupid. I imagined all the drivers of these cars looking at me going by saying to themselves, “Who is that stupid woman walking down the road?”
I felt even more silly because I adopted my Boston habit of putting all my belongings in a backpack and slinging it over my shoulders. Just why did I do that? Who in CT walks around with a backpack—like no one? In Boston, of course, everyone has a backpack, plus a good book to read along the way, but in CT—excuse me? What was I thinking!
So here I am, all alone, looking stupid, and what is worse, I am walking down a road heavy with the overhanging branches of the trees that line the road and I am thinking, OMG, ticks are going to drop on my head, slither through my hair, and take juicy bites out of me and I am going to come down with a seriously bad case of lyme disease. So now, not only am I an embarrassment, I am potentially putting my life in my hands. So immediately I started to think of escape.
Originally, when I started this trek I could have taken two ways to Barnes & Noble, but I’d chosen this one because driving by in my car repeated times I’d seen a path that provided a short cut to the Mall. So I’m looking, looking, looking—after all, my life is in danger from these vicious lyme disease laden ticks, so I am a bit desperate—however, it turns out that things that you might see from your nice, big, climate controlled car are not so readily visible when you are walking on foot. So I walk and I walk and I can’t find it.
That’s just about when I realize that I am only 1/3 way to my goal and it is seriously hot; I am sweating profusely and continuing to feel really stupid. You know that all the people who passed in their cars were probably my neighbors and their opinion of me was never that good anyway.
Now, the pollen is beginning to build up in my nostrils and I pinch both sides of my nose to hold back the inevitable sneeze, but am seriously unsuccessful. So I sneeze and this big blob of snot and pollen explodes from my nose and I am stuck in the middle of nowhere without a tissue. Of course, had I sensibly taken my SUV on this trek, the car would have had filtered air and I never would have sneezed, and if I had sneezed there was a lovely packet of tissues near the console of the car available for me to clean my face with.
Meanwhile, I have been forced to clear off my nose with my fingers which are now smeared with the snot and pollen mixture, and I’m like this is so disgusting. Not sure what to do, I continue to walk, measuring the leaves of various plants considering whether I should wipe my fingers on them. Then I remember that there is a small pond further down the road, so when I arrive at the crossroads at the bottom of the hill, I turn left heading for the pond. However, after several minutes of walking and reaching a dead end, I realize that I’d taken the wrong turn.
Of course, if I’d done this in my car, it would be no big deal, but as I turn around exhaustedly with slick sweat covering every surface of my body, I realize my mistake is going to cost me. I then walk back in the opposite direction and arrive at the entrance to the pond area after a bit of a hike. What I hadn’t noticed about this little path, however, from the great heights of my SUV is that there is a sign that says “Private Property, Do not Enter”. But was I going to pay any attention to a stupid sign at this point as I stand there with my right hand held stiffly away from my body and covered with snot?
So I continue walking until I am able to get to a point where it is easy to get access to the pond and wash my hand in the brackish water and dry it on my pants. Again, as I say, no one was around to stop me and so I got away with using private water to clean up.
You know, I was feeling a tad superior to car drivers when I started off today. But now I can see the point of the majority who drive around in cars. Drivers are actually really sociable people. When they drive around on the roads they follow and are followed by other people they have to pay attention to. When they drive past one another if they recognize each other, they can wave. If there are any complications on the road, they can communicate with sign language and exaggerated facial expressions. Me on my solitary trek to the mall with my silly backpack, I wasn’t talking to anybody!
Ok, I will admit, one bicyclist rode by and we gave each other a mutual nod, but that’s hardly worth talking about.
Eventually, I made it to Barnes & Noble, and by then a whole bunch of my muscles were shrieking, and my speech patterns were completely incoherent when I ordered myself a nice cold tea as a reward for my endeavors. Will I do this again? Thinking about how my knees cracked when I leaned down to clean my hand in the pond, I’m not so sure. I’m tired, I’m sore, and I’m walking like a stork. It’s tough getting old!