This past weekend, I completed six years of walking to work. My daily commute is a thirty-minute walk, give or take a few minutes depending on whether I’m trying to get to class on time, or perhaps lugging a slightly heavier backpack than usual. Somehow, miraculously, my walking commute has ensured that while living in New York City, I can evoke for myself some of the sensations of a campus town; somehow, incredibly enough, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a city of eight million souls, I have been able to find this mobile oasis of relative calm. My walk takes me through Ditmas Park into Midwood (home to Brooklyn College); I try not to take the same route every day so that I can sample more of the neighborhood’s beautiful Victorian homes (I don’t live in one unfortunately), but I’ve noticed certain routes show up more often than others (we are creatures of habit after all).
While walking to work is pleasant enough, it is when I walk back home in the evenings that the pleasure of the walking commute really manifests itself. For no matter how stressful the workday, a thirty-minute walk, away from the office, away from workday demands, through tree-lined streets and past magnificent testimonials to a time when beautiful homes were still being built, is often enough to bring me back to a far more quiescent mental state. While a walk does mean exposure to the misanthropic antics of car drivers, I’ve sheltered myself reasonably well from the indignities that they most commonly visit on pedestrians (refusing to yield when I have the Walk signal or at pedestrian crossings marked with a stop sign, or most irritatingly of all, blowing their horns loudly and persistently at a minor delay).
Rain, snow, and extreme heat, all unfortunately features of the New York weather, often make me wish I had a more convenient way to get to campus, but their interruptions are not severe enough to make me do anything more than find a raincoat, bundle up a bit better or think about the air-conditioner waiting for me. (If I had to pick my most implacable foe on these walks it would be rain, and especially in the early spring and late fall; there is nothing quite as miserable as a cold, grey, East Coast shower at these times of the year.) And of course, nothing quite puts my walk, and these minor discomforts, in perspective than the misery inflicted on those millions who brave traffic jams to drive to workplaces.
Perhaps more than anything else, this walk to work feels like a throwback, back to a perhaps imagined time, when ‘workzones’ were not so centralized, when city spaces were not clogged with fume-spewing monsters that killed thousands every year, when work schedules were not so tightly calibrated. This walk of mine functions then, like a little time-machine; I leave behind in my office (and home), my usual technological accompaniments, and head out the door to indulge in the most basic of human activities.
Note: Unbelievably enough, yesterday, after I posted this, and started my morning commute, this happened: I stopped at the corner of Argyle and Dorchester (I think), and stared; the streets and blossoms looked incredibly beautiful, the dappled shade making each street even more inviting. I hesitated: which route should I take? A lady in a car pulled up and asked, “Are you lost?” I said, “No, just checking out these beautiful streets!”. She smiled, waved, and took off. And I kept walking.