One of the sweetest Flint facts recently is that our PR-challenged old burg got named the 2007 Best City for Walkers by WALK Magazine. People laugh when they hear this.
But I know a lot of devoted walkers. I watch them fondly from the window of my second-story writing room: the judge in his mid-calf socks and white teeshirt, the woman in red with the black Scotty, the doctor cooling off after a run, the mother of twins striding along with her double stroller, the couple across the street who always hold hands. I like being in a neighborhood of walkers, and while I’m not the type to run out and say hello, seeing people stroll by is a quotidian joy.
I walk the ‘hood myself, but I’ve been craving a different kind of walking. I’ve been craving the kind of walking that replaces the car. With the price of oil over eighty bucks a barrel, the earth heating up and my cholesterol too high, why the hell am I driving two miles to work? Call me a Calvinist, but I like walking with a destination. So off I go, until the winter dark and ice settle in, on a daily round trip on foot.
To set the stage, here is what usually happens when I drive: back car out of garage, trying not to hit the chimney (again) or Mary Helen’s flower bed (again). Watch for walkers on sidewalk. Try to hit the green light at Court. Try to hit the green light at Mott. Cuss out other drivers who won’t go fast enough (45, way over the speed limit, but still) to hit all the lights green on Court. Turn on Harrison and curse the jerk who designed that narrow spot. Rush by new MTA Center, trying to ignore the seizure-inducing new digital readout. Turn into UMF faculty lot. Circle to top level, brakes squealing. Pull into same spot I’ve been pulling into for the last 20 years. Lock car, go down stairs, enter French Hall.
Elapsed time: seven minutes. Mood on arrival: cranky and aggressive.
It’s not that I’m all serene about walking. Getting ready requires work, and I’m a fussbudget. I run around muttering where’s my cell phone? Where’s that black umbrella? Driver’s license, Health insurance card? (I’m morbid by nature and afraid of dying anonymously) Where are my keys? Where’s my favorite cap from the Duesy Museum? I check the Weather Channel and hit the john one last time.
Finally, though, I tug on my leather backpack and amble down Maxine. Say hi to neighbor working on front yard. Count Walling signs: five so far. Williamson: none. Count For Sale signs: good, only two. Wait at light on Court and stroll across. Bid hello to Woodside Church, thinking how cool that it was designed by Saarinen. Savor moment of happy vindication for my gender at the pastor’s name on the signboard: Deborah Kohler! Walk through Mott, noting the Gorman Science Center with its lovely sycamores.
Proceed by Parking Lot 6 and Continuing Ed: note purple flowers with dark green leaves. What are those? Will Google later.
Warily approach pedestrian bridge into the MCC north parking lot. Hope it doesn’t have any Minneapolis-type cracks. (I’m a little gephyrophobic – word nerd alert – afraid of bridges, always grabbing my husband’s hand and holding my breath, especially at Zilwaukee) Check out the Gilkey Creek restoration below – a nice distraction -- the water’s sparkling. Make it across okay: Say thank you to the sensor at the automatic doors. Bid courteous good morning to Safety Guy. Walk through lot and exit through entrance ramp to assert my libertarian rights. Take a gander at the perfect mammary dome of the Longway Planetarium. What IS that color, anyway? Fuschia? Periwinkle? No, just turquoise, like an Albuquerque sky.
Walk by FIA, admiring the oxidized sculpture of kids dancing around the maypole. Note to self: join FIA on Internet quickly, before tonight’s opening. Scare squirrel on Kearsley. Cross Crapo on green, to assert my libertarian rights. Note beautiful stone house on corner of Kearsley and Thomson, watch out for oldsters at Kearsley Manor. Pass the stately Whaley House. Note to self: go tour it some Sunday afternoon. Cross Chavez and note with pleasure the new castiron railings on the bridge (take a breath, Jan) over 475, bedecked with daffodil bouquets and musical notes. Stride past the UMF dorm construction, ogling the giant dirt pile and noisy bustling trucks. Note hardhat construction guy walking around with -- my god, is that an actual blueprint? How attractive!-- rolled up under his arm. Note construction guys taking a break at the smokers’ picnic table. Go in the back door and up the stairs past the blocked off second floor of French Hall, hoping to see more construction guys. Have to settle for pounding and drilling.
Elapsed time: 39 minutes. Mood on arrival: mellow, full of sense delight and ever so slightly…saintly.
It’s a win-win thing, this walking to work. How nice to replace a carbon footprint with – novel idea! – my actual footprint, falling gratefully and gently on the earth.
(This is my new "Village Life" column for East Village Magazine. You get a sneak peek here. For more good stuff, check out www.eastvillagemagazine.org. They're undergoing some site repairs so it may call for patience.)
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