Sunday, February 13, 2011

And carry a big stick

     I like to walk. Not run, not jog, just walk. I could walk all day if I had to, and if you deposited me on a beach, I just might do it.  Walking is theraputic in more than just a physical manner; it heals my soul as well as my body. I can get lost in my thoughts and my dreams when walking, and I can pretend I am anywhere in the world....a white sandy beach on a Carolina shore, a pine-scented path by an Appalachian stream, a weathered boardwalk down an Everglade trail.  I try to imagine what life would have been like before cars consumed us all, before we would  jump into an automobile just  to run to the post office a block away or to  a friend's house right around the corner. I imagine people were not only healthier before cars took over, but they were probably quite social.  One is much more apt to stop and chat while strolling than while driving, and it is with nostalgia for those slower-paced, friendlier, conversational days that I walk.
       I hail from a sturdily built family, designed for endurance but certainly not speed. You won't catch one of us running a marathon or jumping over hurdles, but we can  go the distance.  If we were of the genus equus, I'm afraid we'd fall more into the catgegory of  mule than racehorse. But with a stubborn resolve, I can walk, and walk, and walk. I won't get there first, I won't win the race, but I will finish and eventually reach my destination. And so I walk.
      I have my quirks when I walk--  the paths I take, the gear I require.  I have a regular routine, a one-hour trek through town that incorporates 4 grueling hills which leave me panting at each summit. I have recently updated to step-and-tone shoes, the newest fad in walking apparel, but have not yet decided if these rock-and-roll sneakers are quite as wonderful as the marketers would have you believe.  I may soon regress back to my tried-and-true, comfortably broken-in, and quite stable oldies-- the shoes which have dutifully gotten me over many a hill and down many a path without throwing me for a single tumble.
     I must have music, the main motivator when I am walking solo.  I started years ago with a walkman, progressed through a series of I-pods, and now plod through town with my smartphone programmed to Pandora, where I can  freely listen to as many musical stations as I can create. Some days it will be a melancholy Frank Sinatra kind of walk, a meandering pace on a slow, bluesy day. Other days I'm motivated to step it up a notch with Pink or Gwen Stefani and I fairly hustle as I boogie through town.  On my cultural and cerebral walks, I tune in to the classics and methodically meditate with the big boys:  Beethoven, Brahms, Bach. Most days, however, I just like to take a pumped-up, country stroll with my regular guys: Kenny, Tim, George and the gang.     
      I refuse to wear ear-buds, having relegated them to the young and vain. Those little white wisps of amplification refuse to stay plugged into my earlobes, and I am convinced there is a secret society that instructs only those born after 1990 in the proper way of effectively instilling micro-speakers into one's ears.  Instead, I plop on a pair of 1980's antiquated headphones with speakers the size of a quarter-pound hamburger covering each ear. The bun-like effect on each side of my head gives me what I prefer to think of as a "Princess Leah" appearance, but in reality, I look more like an FAA-approved aircraft landing technician, and if  I were to walk carrying two lighted flashlights, I could probably safely land a Boeing 747 right on Main Street.
    I also have my stick, a billy-club type of instrument, a solid shaft of hearty wood, sturdy and lethal if properly wielded. It gives me a certain sense of security to have this deadly weapon strapped to my wrist as I go forth on my walks.  Pit bulls, pickpockets, perverts beware-- I am armed and dangerous! The stick was given to me thirty years ago when I first arrived in Charleston, SC. As a college senior, I was scheduled to complete my winter-term as a fledgling reporter for the local newspaper, The Post and Courier. My cousin lived in the village of Mt. Pleasant and I would be staying with her for the duration of my internship. The accommodations were perfect (free room and board!), but it meant I would have to cross the old bridge each morning on my commute to the paper's downtown office. This route took me through a less-than-desirable neighborhood, one that had sprouted underneath the concrete spans of the bridge. I had to drive through a section where the homeless took up residence under the bridge's protective shadows and where a crowded housing complex spilled across the streets.   Afraid that ruffians would attack me as I drove through these questionable areas, Jean insisted that I carry some type of protection, thus she presented me with "the stick". She was advocating the Teddy Roosevelt philosophy of "walk softly and carry a big stick," although Jean's interpretation was more like "carry a big stick, dahling,  and use it."  I was to have the stick in my car at all times in order to knock off potential carjackers and would-be rapists. I was to have it strapped to my wrist whenever walking, ready to bash in the brains of hoodlums and rabid dogs. I obediently took the proffered weapon and never let it stray far from my side.  I am proud to say that to this day, after thirty long years, I have never been attacked by a ruffian or rabid dog. I am convinced it is because of my stick, and I take it everywhere I go.
      My mother is quite embarrassed over my stick and my bulky earphones. She tends to hide them each time I safely return from a walk, and I spend as much time looking for my gear as I do walking.  This morning, she sweetly asked me if I ever tried to hide the stick underneath my arm while I was walking through town, discreetly tucking it just out of sight of neighbors that might be driving by.
      "Good heavens, no!" I replied. "I have that thing swinging out in front of me like I mean to use it."
       It was a juvenile response, but somehow, it still gave me an adolescent thrill to register a look of shock in my mother's eyes.
       So equipped with a representative collection of gear from the last three decades of my life,I venture forth on my daily walks, my moment in the day when I can compose my thoughts, soothe my mind, strenghthen my body, and restore my soul. Armed and dangerous, lost in thought, oblivious to the world around me, I lose myself in music, I go forth, and I walk.      

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