There is no good substitute for cycling, and that’s because there are some things that don’t admit of cheap replacement. “Why don’t you take a walk? You’ll feel better!” is right up there with “No sex? Why don’t you watch some baseball?”
Still, millions of people watch baseball and the other balls and I began taking walks.
When you walk it doesn’t clear your head. Rather, walking happens so slowly that everything intensifies. Cycling on the other hand is an eraser. If you’re not constantly processing, noting every crack and pebble and a million other things, you wind up on your ass. Sometimes you wind up on it anyway.
Point is, if you’re doing it right, you finish the ride scrubbed pinky clean.
But walking has its advantages, especially early in the morning when you run into other people just like you, vainly trying to beat out the vestiges of yesterday while building another house of cards for today. When you pass them they generally stare down or at their dog. Everyone out walking early has a dog.
The rudest thing you can do when you see an oncoming dog-and-owner is get off the sidewalk, enter the street and give them a wide berth, which I always do, not because I hate dogs or are afraid of them or want to be rude, but because I feel sorry for the owner who is going to have to feel apologetic or ragingly defensive when their mutt barks, snaps, strains, or bites me.
I’ve been bitten by lots of little dogs on walks. The big ones never do. Like people, the ones who can really tear you apart don’t need to. Like Bruce Lee said, “The fights you win are the ones you never have.”
The thing that walking has over cycling is those brief exchanges with people, even if they are Republicans. Saying hello in the morning, you just don’t know. They can make you happy with a smile or make you think “fuck off” when they grunt or ignore you.
Yesterday I was coming up the path and an African was coming my way. We don’t know each other but he lives in one of the complexes. He was wearing black pants, sandals, and a black shirt with a large white front panel decorated with beautiful, multicolored needlework. In his one hand was a steaming cup of coffee and in the other a newspaper.
“Good morning!” I said.
“Good morning to you, young man!” he enthused in his lightly accented English. His teeth were perfect and white and his whole face crinkled in greeting. What’s not to be happy about? Coffee, newspaper, and a perch somewhere in the cool morning to enjoy the two? I shivered with pleasure at his greeting.
A minute later there was another person in my path. He had one of those 1,000-yard leashes, and at the end was a runty white dog sniffing in the grass. The man had a sour look and stared down, and a car against the curb prevented me from taking to the street.
“Good morning!” I said. “How are you guys?” I always say “guys” when someone has a dog, since I figure their dog is their family and why not include the canine in the hello?
“Good,” he said, glaring downwards. At that moment the leash tightened and we both looked at the runty dog, who had scrunched up his back and begin pushing out a long, brown doggy turd that even had a wisp of steam coming off it. Runty pup had that eyes-rolled-back expression of bliss that we can all relate to when the morning goes well in that way.
“Great way to start the day!” I said, grinning.
The stone-faced guy broke into a deep, genuine laugh, and the angry facade lifted. “Wish they all started like that!” he cracked.
We guffawed as we passed, and runty dog wagged his cute, stumpy tail.
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