When you drive, you’re basically in a kind of self-imposed purgatory
January 2, 2020 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I can actually feel GOOD about the world when I walk around, because I’m seeing it as it stands now, instead through the horrifying prism of online news and discourse. The sun still shines out there. People are smiling. It’s not bad. You wouldn’t even know we’re all gonna die soon. Drew Magary, he of the annual Hater's Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog (previously, with many more previouslies at the link), muses on the joys of walking.
posted by sunset in snow country (34 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
This is obviously old, but I found it while poking around after the latest iteration of the Hater's Guide and saw that it hadn't been posted before. And I like it!
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:49 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]

Deadspin was a good website.
posted by ominous_paws at 11:00 AM on January 2 [6 favorites]

Magary is singing the song of my heart, except with this last line:

Unless it’s raining. Then you should have a beer and chill.

But then I'd never get to use my rain boots. They're pretty close to MeFi blue, and I hope never to be so old that I fail to enjoy occasionally jumping in puddles.

(NB this is not to suggest standing around in flood water or anything like that, that's how you get trench foot.)
posted by asperity at 11:19 AM on January 2 [10 favorites]

seattle walk report is one of my favorite tributes to the joys of walking
posted by josephtate at 11:28 AM on January 2 [9 favorites]

Solvitur ambulando!
posted by gwint at 11:36 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]

I guess. In central Mass, though, my beloved would be approached by dudes looking for prostitutes. So no, she regretted every single walk she took in that town, either because there were creepy dudes in her face or the anxiety that there would be.
posted by turkeybrain at 11:38 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]

I feel fortunate to have been able to move into Philadelphia proper. I grew up in York County, PA, and regularly put 20,000 miles on my car annually. For the last two or three years, my commute has been a 15 minute walk. Before that, it was closer to 40 minutes, but that was an improvement from the 70+ minute train ride preceding our move into the city. And I preferred a train ride - even a delayed one - over driving in and out of the city.

Mostly I'm jumping in to second what asperity wrote. When I lived further away and had the 40 minute walk, I could hop on the subway during inclement weather, and did so for about a year. But then I bought a really good raincoat from Cabela's, and I will walk to and from work in literally any weather. I only find myself somewhat regretful of this choice when the rain is like a monsoon, but otherwise, it's actually made me really appreciate the full spectrum of precipitation we get in Philly. I like the rain better now that I don't think of it as some kind of barrier.

And I find that walking the city during/after a healthy snowfall is particularly wonderful.

It's really changed how I think about getting between places, even outside of urban environments. I had a work trip in North Carolina last year, and I booked a hotel for July instead of June somehow, which became apparent after my coworker dropped me off at what turned out to be a sold out hotel. The woman at the desk helpfully got me a room at another hotel a mile and a half down the road. Pre-Philly me might have called my coworker and asked for a lift, or (being 2019) used Lyft. Instead, I had a nice walk, and when I mentioned that to the woman at the counter at my new hotel, she looked at me like I had performed some astonishing feat.

Edit: To turkeybrain's point, I should note that I am very aware that this is much easier for me because I'm a dude. Walking around is unfortunately very different for women, as that YouTube video from a few years ago made clear for anyone who's not aware. And it's not just like that in cities. My wife would get people yelling out windows when we briefly lived in central PA, as she walked between destinations while we figured out drivers licenses, immigration, and getting a second car.
posted by Leviathant at 11:38 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]

I had a so-so job that slowly got shittier, but the one amazing thing about it was that I could walk there along a tree-lined rail trail. I have a less shitty job now but only have a 15 minute walk (to a bus I sit on for 45 minutes) and I miss my 40 minute walking commute. That was a good walk.

And the only thing I miss about the apartment I lived in before the one I'm in now is the river walk where I occasionally picked volunteer asparagus (escapees from nearby farm fields) in the spring. The chamomile that sprouted in the sandy soil was one of the summer delights. Dangerous in the snow, though, up on a dike along a river.
posted by carrioncomfort at 11:45 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]

When you drive, you’re basically in a kind of self-imposed purgatory

I hear it also makes you less intelligent.
posted by thelonius at 11:52 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]

I've been trying to give up my need for a car for SO LONG and I am currently at a place where I either have to repair my current vehicle for it to be functional or buy a new one or just...not have one. Strangely enough it doesn't bother me to not have one except I can't jump in it and go places on a whim anymore, which is probably good for me. It does feel like I've taken a step back from my own personal "evolution" (where it seemed the main goal is to just...buy things geared toward 'independence') but I realized that is just capitalist bullshit talking.

Last night I took a LYFT to the park where I usually run and he was an asshole, so I decided to walk home rather than deal with some stranger again, about 2 miles. I slept so well.
posted by Young Kullervo at 12:01 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]

In Boston, I end up walking a lot of places because it's either going to be definitely a 45 minute walk, or maybe a 15 minute train ride or maybe an hour and a half train ride, who knows? I like walking. I see birds and babies and dogs and listen to a lot of podcasts.
posted by ChuraChura at 12:10 PM on January 2 [5 favorites]

TBH I think street harassment of women has declined sharply in recent years. Those drivers are sufficiently entertained by their phones and don't feel such a strong urge to engage in casual cruelty to strangers. This has not resulted in a safer world for anyone walking, but if they're watching a video, texting, looking at a map or whatever, they're probably not going to bother catcalling.
posted by asperity at 12:15 PM on January 2

If you can you (probably) should. Seems to be a lot of stuff that's improved in us from walks like this that we (currently) don't have much of a clue about. I think one of the biggest benefits is just getting people out of living in their head so much that screen time just feeds into.
posted by aleph at 12:16 PM on January 2

Walking is so nice. I love walking. Life is really good when you're walking and better when you stop by a pond you somehow live by but had no idea was there. A+ to walks.

A walk is kind of a state of being. The physical act of walking is fine, but it's really about the mental journey. A lot of my walks involve a solid chunk of time dedicated to feeling the breeze on my face and staring into the distance, letting the silence just bang around inside me.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:23 PM on January 2 [4 favorites]

It would be so nice to inhabit a place and body that can safely do this. Unfortunately I live somewhere that is almost always either too hot, too cold, or too icy to safely walk anywhere. The times when it's safe to walk weather-wise, going anywhere more than 10 minutes away means I'll be non-functional when we get there, and runs the risk of me fainting (which can trigger a seizure, because why not). Not saying this is a bad article, but I'm... wistful, I guess, for this existence. I would love to be able to just walk. It sounds great.
posted by brook horse at 12:43 PM on January 2 [12 favorites]

"When you drive, you’re basically in a kind of self-imposed purgatory. The goal is to get wherever you’re headed so that you can resume your life again."

Unless, you know, you actually enjoy driving like I do, and have made it a hobby/passion like millions. #yourfavoritehobbysucks
posted by jordantwodelta at 12:54 PM on January 2 [4 favorites]

Yep. One of the threads on Ram Dass passing mentioned a quote (not him) that "America's form of meditation is driving" or something like that. Very easy to see for long distance (late night/early morning) driving. Don't drive much myself now but I have.
posted by aleph at 1:03 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

Walking is awesome, I do at least 5 miles a day, sometimes closer to 10.
posted by porn in the woods at 1:06 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

I strongly second every single part of this, from "you should walk" (I walk 3 miles every day minimum, usually more like 5-7) to "America is trying to kill people who walk" (I was hit by a car while doing this) to "walking is writing" to "walk around aimlessly for no goddamn reason" (sometimes I set out to do the latter and end up doing the former which is cool and helps me be more awesome at my job). In early-mid 2019 I was having a rough time and feeling depressed so I walked while listening to podcasts, but now I walk without headphones and it rules because I hear music coming out of cars and snippets of intriguing conversations and little rustles in the bushes that turn out to be cute animals.

Yes: I have, of course, been subject to street harassment on these walks. Yet, though the temptation is there, I'm not ready to spin this into a "Magary's take is a very privileged perspective that could only come from a (cis, het) man". People who shout lewd shit at me on the street (or, more commonly, silently sidle up to me and then say "hi beautiful" in a slow, syrupy voice) don't deserve to determine whether I walk or not. Gonna keep doing it.
posted by capricorn at 1:18 PM on January 2 [10 favorites]

Until I see actual data that street harassment has declined in recent years, I'm doing a hard side eye at claims that it has.
posted by agregoli at 1:27 PM on January 2 [11 favorites]

When we got our dog several years ago, we were thinking it would get us out of the house more. Turns out she's terrified of going down our city streets, so we have to drive her out to the woods to get her moving. Sometimes it feels like it's missing the point, but we are all getting more exercise and it's nice to get out in to nature so I'll call it a wash.

In the city, for the most part we move under our own foot power, either walking or biking. It almost feels like a paradox when I compare our lives to my brother's - he and his family live way out in the country and have a big yard and a house, but they can't walk. They live on a rural street with a high speed limit and no sidewalks, so the most they do is go up and down their driveway. They came to visit us last summer and were very skeptical about all the walking.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:51 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]

I'm a middle aged white guy. I like to walk, and I loved this essay.

I get harassed, too. Not as much as women or minorities do, surely. But there are plenty of drivers who are mostly interested in yelling abuse at someone they presume to be of lowly status, without much caring who the someone is. There are even women who yell sexual things at men, although I've never figured out if that was mockery or a private joke or what.

Anyway you should walk if you can. Maybe with partners if you can swing it. Don't let the assholes define the boundaries of your life.
posted by Western Infidels at 2:20 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]

Until I see actual data that street harassment has declined in recent years, I'm doing a hard side eye at claims that it has.

Totally reasonable; that's purely anecdata from one middle-aged white woman. Though the part about more drivers being on their phones for more time while driving is easily verifiable and also super-obvious if you spend time walking.
posted by asperity at 2:29 PM on January 2

Totally reasonable; that's purely anecdata from one middle-aged white woman. Though the part about more drivers being on their phones for more time while driving is easily verifiable and also super-obvious if you spend time walking.

95% of the harassment I've experienced is from other walkers, which is a lot more terrifying. The guy in the car is (probably) not going to drive up onto the sidewalk after me, after all. Of course my walking experience is limited, so YMMV, but that's what I'm picturing when discussing the dangers of walking as a woman.
posted by brook horse at 2:38 PM on January 2 [5 favorites]

I live in NYC and I do a ton of walking -- three hours before work some mornings, and much longer urban day hikes on occasion. I love it, and the chance to do it in a place that's made for it and so visually appealing. That being said, more pedestrians here are being hit by cars these days, and while I often remind myself to be careful, sometimes I really do need to be more careful...
posted by AJaffe at 2:55 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

I try to walk to wherever I am going in the city, if possible. I used to purposely walk to a further train station to get to work so I could get some extra exercise in the mornings. It took just under an hour to get to the train and people were regularly shocked I would walk that long. To the point where I didn't want to tell people how far I walk and have lied on occasion. Plus I would walk for 30 minutes at lunch time, and then another 30 minutes home from the train and all of a sudden I was an extremist!

Eventually I developed this handy phrase: "The sidewalk is my gym." Often followed with "and it's free!" That was a helpful thing to say so people understand my position. I like exercise. I need to get to work. Driving is stressful. I am not using gasoline to get to work. It's a win win win win.

A book I really enjoyed is by Rebecca Solnit. It is called Wanderlust. It is a history of walking, and I re-read it every few years and enjoy it all over again. She talks about rights-of-way in Britain, pilgrimage, Wordsworth and his sister, protest and lots of other walking.

I have not noticed any decrease in street harassment, but I am certainly familiar with waiting on a sidewalk and watching a driver blast through the intersection where I had the right of way and could have been walking had I been less alert. If I had a catchphrase it would be "you didn't even fucking look!"
posted by Emmy Rae at 4:55 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]

Yeah, this reads so much like middle-aged middle-class white guy it's hard to know if it's a parody of itself, like The Haters' Guide. From the random misogyny about soccer moms with Fitbits to the admonition to "walk for cancer because that's a nice thing to walk for" (???!!??), it's an ode to the flâneur -- never the flâneuse -- with a peculiarly macho helping of battle stories (e.g. the 4000 lane highway)

I currently walk about 10 min each way, on residential streets, to the bus stop to get to work. This is perfectly fine in the summer (a bit hot by the end of the day, but I can shower as soon as I get home), and downright dangerous in winter when it's dark. Better street lighting and illuminated crosswalks would go a long way, but that costs money that the city isn't willing to spend. If people in smaller cities aren't walking, it's not because they don't want to -- it's because infrastructure is actively hostile to pedestrians (particularly women and POC) and unlike Drew Magary, most of us are not interested in "crossing the River Styx" to get to Cook Out.
posted by basalganglia at 5:23 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]

Yeah. My problem is not drivers yelling things from windows. My problem is men on foot catcalling me, following me, and even groping me, all of which has vastly reduced my enjoyment of walking in the last decade, and pretty much entirely curbed my walking anywhere after dark.
posted by TwoStride at 5:29 PM on January 2

I love walking and I would like to do more of it. Living in a place where the temperatures are over 30 C (86 F) for about four months of the year (and over 40/104 plenty of days) makes me less inclined to walk everywhere than I was in other places, though. And now we get bushfire smoke on top of that that apparently means the potential damage to our lungs from being outside outweighs the potential health benefits of the exercise. So I guess we have that to look forward to most summers now too.

Fortunately(?) the buses around here are slow and meandering enough that you might as well be going walking pace anyway, so some of the meditative advantages of walking are still there even on public transport. My 6-ish km commute to work can be done as a 1 hour walk, a 15 minute bike ride, or a 50 minute bus trip.
posted by lollusc at 7:47 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]

I don't walk as much as I probably should, but when the girls were young, we had a really kick-ass stroller.
It had a full plastic zip on rain cover (essential in the PNW) and I loved to push that thing around.

During naptime, I zip it up to make a little cocoon and walk in the rain down to the park or wherever, so when it was time to wake up, they woke up with an entirely different view.

There was something strangely zen about wandering the paths with the stroller. When I'm by myself, I'm often concentrating on the getting to the destination, but with kids, you stop and look at the ducks or the trees or even just take a short detour around the fountain.
posted by madajb at 8:06 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]

carrioncomfort, I too had a shitty job whose sole redeeming quality was the half an hour at the start and end of each day walking along the river. Have almost blotted the job out of my mind, but that walk with fresh air, rain, ducks, and a view of Mt Fuji now and then was pretty damn good.

On 1 February I set a goal to walk 5,000,000 steps and been tracking it with an app. Made my goal ahead of time in early December and should hit 5.6~5.7M. Think I'm going to up the goal to 6,000,000 for next year.

Heading out for a walk right about.... now.
posted by Gotanda at 9:05 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

One thing I like about walking is that it makes me visible as a person walking who's unlikely to harass anyone. The more of us there are out there, the better it gets. This is not true of driving. FWIW, I definitely have more negative experiences of people in cars than walking, and they've been more likely to follow me. Something about the whole thing where they're operating a weapon with the potential to kill and get away with it makes them feel more invulnerable and entitled.

Can't help your neighbors walk their groceries home from the bus stop if you don't even notice them because you're in a climate-controlled living room on wheels. Can't clear stuff blocking the sidewalk if you have no reason to notice a sidewalk even exists. Can't call public works to request that a broken beg button be repaired if you never have to press a beg button to cross a street and don't notice the problem.

It's ridiculous to make walking in dangerous and unpleasant circumstances out as a macho thing we should seek out. When we see bad infrastructure that puts people walking and rolling in danger so that people can go fast in cars, it's a cue to do something about it. Every government official or staffer who's involved with anything to do with transportation or land use should consistently spend a significant chunk of time getting around without a car. They will never, ever notice the things that make it hard for anyone else to get around without one if they don't.

Also you get to see birds and shit.
posted by asperity at 9:14 AM on January 3 [5 favorites]

I am down for the birds and shit.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:28 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]

I have noticed less catcalling in my personal life but it's because over the years I have identified certain streets that have higher rates and now bypass those streets. Also, if I'm in exercise clothes, the rate of catcalling goes way up. I think some people want to drag down anyone who seems to be trying to improve their lot in life.
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:23 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]

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